It's a quiet night, midweek. It's been a tough few days. A tough winter. Bitter cold. It's one of those weeks where you feel like you just could be coming down with something. The cough is worse, the throat a little sore and the fatigue never ending. One of Lizzie's birds has taken to huddling close to the bird feeder for long periods of time. At first I thought it might be because he was sick but I really think he was using the glass to shelter from the wind.
I had bad news the week before last when I learned that a friend had died after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He lives across the sea and I've felt helpless that all I can do is offer words -- no doubt redundant -- to his wife, who was his greatest champion and advocate. I didn't know him all that well, but some of the best evenings of my life were spent at their dining table, sharing stories, drinking wine, eating bread and cheese. I would like to bring flowers. Or a cake. Just sit and be present. And I feel helpless.
And so, I have the flowers and I made the cake. In truth, the flowers (a lovely plant, really) and cake (a decadent flourless chocolate cake with only four ingredients) are to take to dinner when Rick and I join friends who recently sold their longtime home of more than 20 years and downsized into a smaller space. While I saw it during the moving process, they've since done renovations and I'm eager to see how it changed.
They, too, have had their share of struggles, most importantly the death of their son when he was 12. I cannot begin to imagine the depths of grief that accompany such a loss. Their new home is a step toward new experiences, not in any way leaving the memory of their son behind, but moving those memories to a new spot, waiting for new experiences and memories that will take them through the next two decades.
I look at the beautiful plant sitting in my family room. It's a white one -- I'm not really sure what it is, and I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm just relieved I haven't killed it yet. Between forgetting to water and the lack of good sunlight in my house, I am akin to the death squad for all plants that enter. It is why I take such good care of my Valentine flowers from Rick. Yes, they will die -- they are supposed to. But at least it will be natural, not from my own hand.
I'd love to keep that plant. The white flowers remind me of spring, something that they tell me will come here to Michigan sooner or later. At the moment I'm skeptical, but then I'm always skeptical in February. I just want this month over.
Only I know that isn't really true. I don't want time to go too fast. It seems to fly more rapidly than ever before. It's been nearly 20 years since Rick and I have been together and in that time I have seen the boys grow from cute little kids into handsome young men. I've had a good career, a boatload of sickness and a wonderful retirement. But it seems the years that will be left will bring changes. Hands stiffening from arthritis, knees that don't work the way they did before and who knows what will happen with the lungs. One day something will happen -- internally or externally -- that will change everything. And how I will long for that frigid day in February when I bundled up like Nanook of the North just to run to the store.
I'm sure Gretel wanted another day or week or month when she left us late last month. She was waiting for the birth of her two grandchildren. Gretel was a professor when I was studying theatre at MSU, teaching costume design. But we became better friends decades later, after her retirement. Her cancer was quick and unexpected and it turned her world upside down so rapidly it was a shock. Before she moved north to be with her son, we had some good visits and conversations, conversations that continued on the phone as she shared some of her holiday traditions, her hopes, her concerns. Gretel would grab onto this frozen day and hold it tight if she could.
I whip the eggs for my cake with fury -- five minutes, fast. They're large, light and fluffy. Then I melt the chocolate and butter for the cake slowly, add a bit of strong coffee and gently stir it together, pouring into the springform pan I felt lucky to find in the basement. (But I couldn't find the roaster for the water bath. I bet it's at Rick's. Well, a jelly roll sheet pan will have to do.) I take a good lick from the spatula and the leftovers in the bowl (precious few!). It's creamy and sweet -- but not too sweet. Bitter sweet. The day is bitter sweet.
I knew Bernie from my time at WKAR. She and her son were volunteers and you never saw two more dedicated people. When RJ was old enough, he became a hired student employee. Her heart was as big as her smile and there was never a task she didn't take on. When I saw her up north last summer, she said she expected not to see things through the winter. There was little more they could do for her cancer and she wanted to focus on the quality of life. Another life too short, I learned from today's Facebook posts. No, it hasn't been a good month for news.
Tomorrow (which by the time this posts will probably be last week) we will have dinner with our friends and share in their joy of starting something new. The conversation will be lively and I'll hear about their new grandchild, enjoy the warmth of a shared meal and a darned remarkable flourless chocolate cake, if I do say so myself! We'll see the house and leave full and happy for them.
But I think it's going to take me some time to really get my happy going again. Maybe I need to go buy some flowers. I suspect the Valentine bouquet won't last forever. Just the Valentine. Which, really, is the most important.
Photos of Judy and me and me with the cake by Judy Winter.
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