Mailboxes along the roads and old barns set back in fields overgrown with weeds often served as landmarks that told us where we were and how far we had to go in the high dry prairie country of northeastern Montana where I grew up. Sometimes the mailboxes signaled “home” and the end of the road; at other times, barely visible through swirling snow, an old barn told us we had miles to go. When I started compiling word pictures of those times a few years back I realized they were like those mailboxes and old barns–still identifying important places along the road, still signaling where I am and how far I have to go.
There are mailboxes and old barns surrounding us now ...we don’t have to wait twenty years or fifty.
Breathe them in now. Touch them now. Think about them now. Let them encourage now. Talk about them now.
In the comments thread of my first tentative effort (April 6) to resume writing after my husband’s death, texas59 left this thought for all of us
…we are here to continue…on your and our journey past many more Mailboxes and Old Barns.
There’s a broadness to that thought of the “journey past many more Mailboxes and Old Barns” that affirms they are not limited to the past, the present, or the future. MBOBs are not inherently nostalgic – they are also now.
We need present encouragement. Some present sentiment. Some present gentle touches. Some present flashes of courage.
Such things have been all around me throughout the last eight months. Since last October my life’s landscape has been generously littered with MBOBs, and the foundations of these recent MBOBS are as deeply sunk into my life as any from the 1950s or the 1940s. Here’s one.
It had been an unusually cold December. The chill in the air was pretty much ignored because matters of life and death took precedence but every afternoon a roaring fire was invited to do its thing in the fireplace as we pursued profligate consumption of hardwood. Almost all of the people I know have ethanol burning fireplace, but I am old fashioned and can’t seem to get away from the smell of lumber.
The Christmas tree was decorated early because a son flew cross-country the first week in December. The decorations stayed up into January because taking them down marked a closing, a right-hand close-parenthesis that was acknowledged with a brief conversation before both the thoughts and the traditional handmade treasures were gently laid aside, never to be enjoyed together again.
The predictable gift of a nightgown for her on Christmas Eve was followed by less predictable gifts for him — gifts suited to the unusually cold December.
Our number two son repeatedly set back under the tree some of the gifts he had prepared. As gift distribution unfolded, he returned them to their hiding place. Now. And again. Finally, at the last, he placed his gifts in our hands and said, “N0w open them slowly because they’re special. And then I’ll explain.”
In addition to the mixed Chihuahua (Thorson – who actually has a good bark – yippers not being allowed at our house) his gift to us was a container of six fine cigars, a box of brandy snifters, and a fifth of some fine brandy.
We learned that we had a date with them on New Year’s Day to enjoy these items around their fire pit.
Our son had researched both the cigars and the brandy, asking about the interwoven relationship between/and best uses of the two, having told the tobacconist his purpose. He had gotten the advice of seasoned experts on how best to introduce neophytes to such an occasion.
It was his desire that our family enter into a deliberate exercise of affection and good fellowship, albeit in a completely unfamiliar context, a shoulder to shoulder type event on New Year’s Day, 2014.
He explained his hope that we could use this occasion to deliberately settle back to bask in one another’s presence, in full contemplation of the issues of life and death. He proposed that we make a deliberate and loving family statement that ...cancer may win this battle but it’s not to going to win the war and we are not going to willingly give it one inch.
What serious planning.
What intentional love.
What willingness to risk.
I’m here to tell you he had no way of knowing whether or if Dad and Mom would rise to his loving occasion, neither of us ever having used any alcohol (and didn’t run with those who did) and Dad having smoked for only a few years about half a century ago.
We did rise to the occasion.
So there it was -the first Mailbox/Old Barn of 2014, delivered with love.
On a cloudy and cool New Year’s Day eight days later, we gathered at his house. In earlier years there would have been snow on the ground – other times and other places, far away. This time, in an unusually cold Oregon winter, there was no snow but the smoke got in our eyes. A lot.
He instructed those of us who didn’t know (that would be five of the six present) in the business of removing this…leaving that…snipping this…don’t worry about that…here’s what yer gonna do…with an emphasis on….No need to inhale, Mom, so don’t worry about it.
So the cigars are lit all around.
As the evening unfolded Grandma got her cigar going nicely and within moments, realized that there was something to be said for a silently implemented “My ash is longer than your ash…” with the grandson who quietly smiled at his dad’s repeated admonition, “It’s not a competition, young man,” before returning to the lively competition with Grandma. He casually extended his lead, finally making eye contact with her only when her ash (impressive for a neophyte) fell away and she yielded the crown.
When my husband’s cigar got fired up anyone looking on would have thought he was friends with Rush Limbaugh. He made that cigar serve him well and he looked good doing it. We busted up at that, enjoyed it thoroughly, and there was much laughter.
Then son remembered something from forty-years ago or so — that when he was a wee kid Dad had smoked a pipe for awhile, bought at Disneyland of all places. He favored a sweet cherry tobacco of some kind. Our son reminded Dad of those days in some detail and described how he had loved sitting on his Dad’s lap when the pipe was being smoked in the evening. Remembering how he loved the fragrance of those moments.
He provided the simple toast.
“We know why we’re here. And why we are doing this. We are making a statement, together and to one another – and so let’s lift our glasses:
Live like there’s no tomorrow. Dance like nobody’s watching.”
Sitting for twenty, then thirty, then sixty minutes. Loving one another. Ninety minutes. Seeing the lowering darkness. Laughing. Talking quietly. Acknowledging that just two weeks earlier the oncologist had said six to nine months.
Drawing the quiet comfort of inviolable solidarity around our hearts. Hearts bound together as we eventually sat silent between the darkness behind us and the warm glow before us.
As nearly as I could tell then and looking back now, considering the mix of timidity, formal intention, and amateurs on board – we couldn’t have loved better.
Part of me still can’t believe we actually pulled it off
but the pristine memory
documents the wonderful gift our son gave us
which we then gave to one another
with eyes wide open, paddles in.