“Did you feed the birds?” Richard appeared at the foot of the stairs looking irritated. I felt for an instant that he might be jealous of the time Leif and I spent together each morning, but I think he knew I needed Leif’s company, that I needed a cushion for my heart, for the part that he knew little about, for the part that loved momma.
The next few months played out slow and uneventful. I found comfort in routine, not just our coffee time in the mornings but in other simple activities as well, like sitting in my parked car before going to work and watching the moon. I’d arrive at the parking garage and find the same spot on the third floor every day. In February the moon moved through it’s stages to fullness and I watched it grow big and soft like a ball of butter. At one point a jet passed in front of the moon, just a black cut out against yellow and I smiled thinking of those Halloween pictures I liked to draw when I was little, of the witch on her broomstick with the moon behind her.
Leif got word a bed would open up on March 1st. He’d get treatment at the Thunderbird Center and would probably stay at least three months, maybe more. He would get counseling and medical management, which he was in dire need of, as his blood sugars were high, usually in the 300’s, thanks I’m sure to Richard’s rice cooker always being full and to Leif’s appetite which seemed to have replaced food for alcohol. We celebrated his last night with us by making homemade milkshakes.
By March I’d shed a layer of my grief and was beginning to feel good about things. I was making plans to go see daddy again and I awoke each day without that heavy dread I’d lived with for so long. The bricks, stones and gravel had gone.
I didn’t want to think of Ola Mae but I couldn’t help it. I’d never thought of her as my grandmother, but she was. What kind of woman disowns grandchildren—-even great grandchildren? I grew bitter thinking of her with her gold ankle bracelet and momma dead—-her ashes washed out to sea. I wanted to visit Ola Mae and tell her about momma. She deserved to know and I had the right to ask her a few questions. I did a search in Google, not hoping for any results but there it was right on the screen—-an address in Enumclaw! I wrote down the address and tried to put it out of my mind but by the end of the work- day I knew I’d have to go see her. I excitedly told Richard of my discovery. I’d gotten Map Quest directions and learned it should only be about a 40 minute drive.
We ate a quick dinner then headed out in the Yukon. We drove East on State Route 169, continuing for miles in one direction. Soon we were in farmland with green pastures on each side and the Cascade Mountains up ahead growing dark violet as the sun dipped. Turning right on Semanski Street we found the house easily. It was a small yellow rambler with three white pillars and a small narrow concrete porch. Richard pulled the car into the driveway and I felt a flutter of nerves in my stomach. I lifted the metal door knocker and rapped three times. We heard movement on the other side but the door remained closed. The sound came nearer; a dragging, shuffling sound that suddenly stopped. The door opened slowly. A tall, burly man stood before us with dark longish hair and full beard. Although he was big, he was not intimating and he said hello cautiously and waited for us to respond. “Is Ola Mae here?” I asked, clasping my hands together nervously. It was barely a shadow, a second of longing and grief remembered. It passed from his eyes and over his face and caused him to steady himself and hold a little tighter to the cane that helped support his weight. I noticed his foot in a soft cast of sorts and he inched a little closer to us and said slowly, “She died almost a year and a half ago.” I sighed and looked down, my eyes settling on his injured foot. Richard put his arm around my shoulder, “This is her granddaughter.”
“Are you Alan?” I asked. I knew Ola Mae had given birth to a son after she left her husband in Tennessee and I remembered momma said his name was Alan.
The man looked perplexed but nodded and waited for me to explain. “I just wanted to let Ola Mae know her daughter, Maggie, has died.” I said, and kept my eyes on his, anxious to see his reaction. He looked at both of us saying nothing. I could see the confusion and surprise. “You had no idea, did you? I’m so sorry. You didn’t know?” He shook his head slowly. “I knew mom had a sister in Tennessee and they’d had a fallin’out. But when she died I couldn’t find a phone number or address.” I smiled and quickly told Alan that he had four half brothers and sisters and he had at least six or seven nieces and nephews. Alan stepped aside and asked if we’d like to come in. It was hard to gage his reaction, he said so little. Richard and I stood in the shadows of the small living room listening to Alan tell us about Ola Mae’s bout with Shingles and how she never quite recovered, falling sicker and passing away shortly after. His dad was now in a nursing home with dementia and he was struggling with the payments and trying to get some state assistance for his father. Alan sighed and shrugged his shoulders. The house and everything in it would have to be sold. I looked around the room, wanting some clue to the kind of woman Ola Mae was. I saw shelves full of knick -knacks and noticed a pair of hoot owls made from tiny seashells. I glanced over Alan’s shoulders to where the kitchen was. A dull yellow light barely illuminated a small table. I imagined me and Ola Mae having tea there, her patting my hand with her own, leaning in to tell me something about her daughter, ‘Maggie never gave me a moments peace. She was feisty, a real spitfire!’ But I’d come too late and Alan couldn’t answer any of my questions. He’d grown up thinking he was an only child. I felt sorry for his troubles and quickly dug in my purse for a piece of paper. I wrote our phone number and address down and handed it to him and thinking he probably needed some time to absorb all this new information.
The sun had just set over the horizon giving the neighborhood a silvery gray cast and the air felt clean and smelled of pine. Ola Mae kept four children and seven grandchildren secret. After she left her husband in Tennessee she started a new life as if her old life had never happened. Even on her death bed she had not told her youngest son about his half brothers and sisters. I couldn’t understand why and I cried in frustration, anger and disbelief.
The sky grew dark and the long country road in Enumclaw became lit by the occasional headlights of passing cars. The farmlands that were lush and green earlier in the day were now just black voids, sad and depressing in their emptiness. I was empty too, and tired. I had to refill myself with all the good things I’d come to know, to remember how I loved my husband, my children and our life together.
I let the days and months roll out from under me. I let my mind rest and put aside my hearts hunger for answers. Why some things happen and why people do what they do is God’s mystery. I know momma didn’t mean to hurt me. Maybe she was just trying to shake off the pain her own momma left, to give a bit of it to everyone who came her way, forcing it on others to ease her own burden of it.
It was just her way. That’s just how mamma was– loving everyone with the jagged edge of her heart.
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