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Mom’s Birthday Bench

            For Mom’s birthday this year I bought her a glider bench. She’s been wanting a bench in the yard for years, and in my endless random searches on Amazon I came across this glider (and a hammock, and a small green house, and a few other things I thought she’d like), and she went to the board of the co-op to ask if it would be okay to put the glider bench in the back yard, and they said a resounding yes. So I ordered it, and it came in two days, faster than expected, and I decided to put it together right away, in the downstairs hall, because the box was too heavy to carry upstairs. Mom helped where she could, holding this or that steady, but I seem to have a knack for putting things together with an Allen wrench and blurry pictorial instructions.

            As soon as we finished construction and set the bench up in the yard, I ran upstairs to get the dogs (and our jackets, because it was getting chilly). The whole idea of the bench, or the vision I had in my head, was that Mom could sit on the bench and glide back and forth while Cricket spent hours (or minutes) exploring the yard.

Ellie guarding Grandma, and the bench

            We attached a long rope to the bench and looped the leashes through it and sat down on the bench to see how things would go. Ellie immediately asked for uppies, but Cricket set off on her adventure. She was frustrated when the rope stopped before she could reach Kevin’s building (her bestie, Kevin, the mini-Golden Doodle), but she survived, and pulled the rope all the way in the other direction, expressing frustration again when she reached the limits on that side and couldn’t explore the back of beyond.

Cricket hitting her limit.

            The glider bench is light enough so that the gardeners will be able to move it out of the way when they mow the lawn, though Mom was considering putting it right under the paw paw tree – to warn them away from doing any more damage. There really isn’t room for the bench under the paw paw tree, though, so maybe she’ll just sit on her bench, twenty feet away, and glare at them. She’s tiny, but she’s fierce when it comes to protecting her trees.

            And she has a stockpile of allergy meds ready for just such an occasion.

            I’m pretty sure there will be a significant amount of sewing done on that bench – especially now that she’s had her second carpal tunnel surgery, so she’s good for at least another year.

            She also likes to do sun prints with all kinds of flowers and leaves, so she’ll have a comfortable place to sit while the sun does its work. She could even move the bench over to her vegetable plot (or, I could move the bench over to her vegetable plot), so she can watch her garlic grow. I prefer to sit in the air-conditioning and watch TV, but to each her own.

Ellie prefers watching her people.

            I still wish I could set up a hammock for her, string it up between two of the tall trees the way she’s always wanted, but we keep deciding against it, because getting in and out of it would be difficult, and Cricket would be no help at all.

            I’m not a huge fan of Mom’s birthdays, to be honest. Mother’s day is better, because it feels timeless and universal, but birthdays mean that she’s getting older, and I’m against that. I need my Mommy to live forever, and stay superhuman, the way she’s always been. Cricket and I are on the same page here. Cricket is as much in denial about her own aging as she is about her Grandma’s. She prefers to believe that time stopped the day she first met her Grandma and nothing has to change ever again.

            Short of that, the plan is to revel in the ability to sit outside on the glider bench, two people and two dogs, letting time stop every once in a while. For as long as possible.

Puppy Cricket and her Grandma, the beginning.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Olivia

 

According to the New York Times, Olivia Cole died a week ago Friday, on January 19th, which was only a few days after the last time my Mom had spoken to her on the phone. At first, we weren’t sure the news was real; maybe someone had confused her with her mother, who died this fall. But her mother had a different last name, and lived in NY, while Olivia lived in Mexico, and the news stories had that detail right. And then we saw a quote from her agent, and too many more details that made it all sound true.

Olivia was dead.

Olivia is dead.

Oivia & Mom stacked

Olivia and her Mom

It still seemed so unlikely, though. She was just in New York in December, traipsing across the city by foot, despite her rheumatoid arthritis, because she didn’t like spending money on taxis. She even refused to take a cab when she had to be at the airport at five o’clock in the morning, and instead chose to wear most of the clothes, so she wouldn’t have to carry them, and take the subway at three o’clock AM, in the middle of winter.

Mom was worried about that trip back to Mexico, with twenty four hours in transit, and called Olivia a number of times to check if she’d made it home safely. Olivia had a landline, but no cell phone, or email, or even a computer, so when Mom didn’t hear back, so she emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel and finally heard that Olivia had made it home safely. It still took a few weeks for Olivia herself to call, though. She didn’t like to use her phone for international calls, so she would borrow her friend’s computer-based phone system, on Mondays, to make her calls. She called on MLK day, and the two old friends talked about the need to take care of oneself, and about the foundation Olivia wanted to build, to help finance early education for children of color.

Olivia was one of my mom’s lifelong friends, from their years in the drama club at Hunter High School, and she would pop in and out of our lives every few years, sending tickets to plays she was in, and visiting when she came to New York to see her Mom. The first time I met her in person was when I was eleven, when she played Mama in A Raisin in the Sun at the Roundabout theatre in Manhattan. Seeing Olivia on stage was just like seeing her in real life: she was a character. She was larger than life. She was stubborn and opinionated and fiercely intellectual, delving into the Shakespearean canon for life lessons in even the most obscure of areas. She loved acting, and reading, and opining, but she didn’t like fame, or compromise.

Then Mom received the email, this Thursday, from a high school friend, with the attached announcement of Olivia’s death in the New York Times. The article said that she’d died of a heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she’d lived for the past thirty years. Mom called to me from the living room, sounding odd, and the only word I understood was “Olivia” and I thought, that’s weird, Olivia wouldn’t call on a Thursday. When I reached her and she repeated “Olivia’s dead?” as a question, I was sure it was a mistake. Yes, Olivia was 75, and had rheumatoid arthritis, and no sense of her own limits, but she took good care of her health and went to all of her doctors on her most recent visit to New York. She hadn’t mentioned any heart issues to my Mom, but then again, she wouldn’t. She was full of plans for the future, and still full of piss and vinegar, never changing, and never really aging.

 

Norah Olivia and me

Three old friends on a recent visit

Since we were still not quite believing the news. Mom emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel for confirmation. The email came back, yes, Olivia was found on her porch, sitting upright in a chair, reading an old article about Barack Obama. Friends hadn’t heard from her in a couple of days and decided to check on her, and they found her there on the porch. The comfort for the people who knew her is that this is exactly how Olivia would have wanted to go: reading and thinking and full of hope for the future.

I had to go to my internship soon after the death was confirmed, but Mom’s high school classmates stepped in, sending messages on their class listserv, offering memories and kindness and compassion. These New York girls grew up knowing that all that mattered was how smart you were, not the color of your skin, or which neighborhood you lived in; and a woman could become anything she wanted to be: a lawyer, a doctor, a mother, a teacher, a writer, or an actress.

There’s a sweet coda to this story. We had a visit from a bird last weekend, two days after Olivia’s death, though we didn’t know that at the time. The bird stayed in the apartment for a while, resting in the quilting closet, and on the vitamin bottles on the entertainment center, and then in the light fixture in the dining room. The bird seemed to want to stay with us, fluttering from place to place indoors, even though the window in mom’s room was wide open. Looking back at that visit, after the news of Olivia’s death, Mom is convinced it was Olivia, saying goodbye. Because that would be a very Olivia thing to do.

 

bird in the fabric closet 2