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Love in a Box

(A repeat performance of a post first published in Feb, 2011)

Three days ago, my 82-year-old mother had what her doctor termed a “mini-stroke.”  She’s had several now. Aside from slowing down and the normal signs of aging, she remains unimpaired. Mom still lives on her own, on six acres in the middle of Oregon’s wine country, tending the chickens she loves and rises early to cook for each morning. Yes, she actually cooks them warm meals, made of the sorts of things they’d never find on their own, living chicken-like lives: bread soaked in warm milk, perhaps an egg spun in, some leftover oatmeal, a colorful scattering of vegetables from the night before. She lovingly heats and stirs the pot before she’s had her own coffee, before she re-kindles the fire to get her own body warm. And then, with her walking stick (and the unlikely cell phone in her pocket) she sets out for the coop. Making little noises as she nears them, they respond in kind. She unlatches the creaky door, and they burst from the roost, making fluffy circles around her feet. One hen in particular begs to be lifted into her cradling arms. The total effect is a flurry of feathery clucking bodies creating a welcome party just for her, each and every morning. Mom scatters lettuce and scratch, then serves them their breakfast in an enameled cast-iron gratin dish with remnants of blue Fleur de Lys, worn, but still visible on its sides. She may fill her one empty pocket with eggs, if there are any. This time of year there tend not to be, but she doesn’t love them for their eggs. She simply loves them.

Mom’s place sits on a hill and through most of her windows (or from the chickens’ yard) the views that stretch are of a lovely gentle valley, a few stands of trees, and acres upon acres of wine grapes staked in their rolling rows. Horses run next door. V’s of geese fly overhead. A lone hawk coasts the thermals on tilty wings. Chickadees and sparrows eat the scattered seed out back. It IS a little piece of Eden. Cracks streak through my heart as I glimpse the sorrow that lies ahead. One day soon Mom will need to leave this place she loves. She can’t make the choice. And I understand it.

I’m sitting in my morning chair, journaling as I do before my husband rises and we share a cup. I can’t write anymore. I need to cook! Is it in the genes? Pure instinct or conditioned? I don’t know, but suddenly and unmistakably, I know I must cook for my mom. Comfort foods. Bread. Soup. A warm apple crisp.

Memories flood. How special I felt when as a child sick and in bed, my mom would bring me a bowl filled with shimmering, squiggling squares of red cherry jello, on which she’d spooned her own, still-warm, vanilla custard sauce. And she’d sing an Irish lullaby, “Tura, lura, lural.” Instantly better by half, I might say I still had room for a little more. It was a wee bit of her love served in a bowl.

And now, with a wee bit of loved packed in a box, still warm, I head to my Mom’s place on its wide and sunny hill.

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