By the time we got home. we would always be refreshed and exhausted, and loaded down with purple berries - sometimes so many it was laughable.
Yesterday, I went alone for the first time. The route is so very familiar to me at this point - the historical monuments (not exactly overwhelming), the drive-in that sells broasted chicken, the frozen custard place where you can squish pennies as a souvenir, the dog food factory (that actually might smell a little bit like broasted chicken), the local campaign signs, the beautiful bluffs along the river, the eagles and hawks wheeling overhead, the neat farms, and the tiny towns with amazing lawn ornament collections.
Simple stuff - but a landscape of memories. The first time Alex and I went together, I was so enraptured, I suggested that we sell up, get a place on the river, live off the land, bake our own bread, and get away from it all. "You wouldn't last a week," said Alex - and it made me laugh out loud to remember that.
I remember the last trip we took together just before Colin was born, and how wistful I felt. That year we actually did stop at the historical monument, and we realized that once the baby was born, it would never be the same again - just the two of us. There was a tinge of nostalgia, and at the same time anticipation. It turned out to be a great year for berries. We enjoyed the jam for months after Colin was born. And it also turned out that although it never WAS the same, it was all so full and rich, it didn't matter.
The years bleed together - but I remember taking Colin and Laura as they grew old enough to go with us. The peacefulness of the place and slower pace that Alex and I relished contrasted with the crazy energy of two young kids made for wonderful trips. They were restless, for sure, but the payoff was frozen custard and squished pennies and blueberries. They would sit in the back seat with a giant box between them, and stuff their faces on the long drive home. Months later, we would find blueberries stuck in nooks and crannies in the back seat and have a good laugh remembering.
Last year, I picked Alex up and we took the trip together one last time. So much of what I could remember vividly was lost for him, so we couldn't reminisce together. But it was an absolutely perfect summer day - green and blue, full of sunlight and shadow. He drew pictures while I picked berries and worried about how he was doing. That was the day I learned how compromised his sense of balance had become, because he was unable to sit on a stool anymore. He was so very quiet, I assumed he was drawing, and when I looked over my shoulder, he was lying on his back with his feet in the air like an upturned beetle.
I got someone to help right him, we found him a chair, and he drew inappropriate art while I tried to make sure no small children approached to see what he was doing. It was both heartbreaking and wonderful at once. I was delighted to have him along, even in such a compromised way. What a day! At the end of it, there was frozen custard and enough berries to share with his friends at Breck. I knew it would be the last time I could take him, but it felt like a victory, not a defeat.
All of that, and a lot more besides went through my mind as I made the drive. There is a point at which there is no radio service, and that's when I switch to whatever CD I have loaded up in the car. As it happens, it was Schubert , and at the moment I turned off for the final drive up to the farm, Ian Bostridge was singing the very song that I chose for Alex's memorial - Du Bist die Ruh. In English, the opening stanza (which is somehow so much better in German) is:
You are rest, and gentle peace
You are longing, and what stills it
I consecrate to you, full of pleasure and pain,
As a dwelling here,
My eyes and heart.
I didn't plan it that way - but I am glad that's how it worked out. So I got a bit misty, and then I just got to work picking berries and taking it all in.
As I drove away with my boxful of blueberries, a beautiful flock of turkey vultures swooped onto the road, and I stopped to take their picture. I loved seeing them - just as much as I loved the lush green all around me, and the sticky berries, and the bald eagle perched on the tree by the side of the road. They had bright read heads and majestic wingspans and they were full of purpose.
On July 24th, my mother, Yvonne Kuzma, died peacefully in her sleep. She was going to be 87 in a little more than a month. It has been a rough year for her. She had been diagnosed with vascular dementia and late stage multiple myeloma, and we were dreading everything she was going to have to suffer in the days and months leading to her death, but we were putting all of our effort into making the time she had left as good as possible.
She completely surprised us by checking out right away rather than going through more of that. In the end, her frail body just couldn't take it any more - and although we are very sad that she is gone, we are also relieved that she will not have to live through further indignities and the inevitable waste and pain she would be facing. When I visited her in June, we were able to reminisce and laugh and enjoy each other's company like the good friends we have become.
I am kind of numb and kind of burned out but I am also simply weary of mourning. Life calls to me - sometimes I wondered if it ever would again after Alex died, but I can feel an energy waking up inside me. Realizing yet again how absolutely precarious all of our positions are, it feels more urgent that ever to savor this precious life. And besides - there is so much that needs DOING.
So today, I will bake a blueberry pie to honor my very practical mother, and to appreciate the bounty of late summer. I won't use her piecrust recipe, because, well, we loved each other very much, but let's just say I don't cook the way she did. And to her infinite credit, she would not be at all offended by that - simply curious and appreciative. Thanks for that, Mom!