Me’me’ Mondays

Me’me’ Mondays

By Priscilla F. Bourgoine

imageMondays have become my favorite day of the week. This is thanks to my older daughter and son-in-law for asking me to take care of my grandson.

Since last October, I have driven down from New Hampshire to Boston to spend the day with my baby grandson, while my daughter and son-in-law go to work. With the arrival of April weather and his turning ten-months-old, my daughter and I have been brainstorming about events I can share with Jacob.

Outings were a staple of how I mothered my own three children, how my own mom mothered us, and can be traced back at least two more generations. My mom gave my brother and me a kaleidoscope of new activities, sprinkled with the notion that curiosity about life, shared together, created joy. She encouraged us to step out into the world with her and go beyond our fears of the unknown: riding the train into Manhattan to stand in the grandness of the 42nd Street library, hiking mini-parts of the Appalachian Trail, fishing with bamboo rods, at dusk, along the jetty at Stamford’s Cove Beach, and she brought us to the circus at Madison Square Garden. She had a backstage pass. We held hands and stood inches from the ferocious tigers in their cages.

One of my fondest outings was picking strawberries. My Scottish great-Aunt Teen and her older sister, my Gram, visited us during my first summer living in New Hampshire. My parents had shed their Connecticut roots for the bucolic state of pine trees and lakes, during my sophomore year of high school.

That New Hampshire summer, the Scottish sisters decided to resurrect an activity their mother used to do with them. My mom drove all of us in her station wagon to the local farm. Side by side, Aunt Teen and Gram, instructed us in how to snap the berry from its plant. I plunked handfuls of plump strawberries into our bucket, and I popped some into my mouth. Sweet juice danced on my thirsty tongue. The strong sun burned my sore arms, and the berries stained my fingertips deep red. We had begged to stop. Gram and her sister had told us “Aye, just a wee bit more.” Then, they laughed. In the afternoon, at our home, they had taught us how to make preserves with a pressure cooker, a skill I haven’t duplicated, but one I am glad I learned. Since then, anytime I have bitten into the fleshy meat of a berry, I have been transported to that June day where I knelt in the dusty rows of that farm with my Great Aunt, Gram, and my mom. My remembrance of their Scottish voices soothes me with the notes of their faded melodies.

Bagpipes hummed in the distance this Monday morning, April 21st 2014, Patriots’ Day. My daughter and son-in-law and I had agreed today’s parade would make a great first outing. Jacob napped extra-long. He was probably exhausted from a weekend of Passover and Easter celebrations.

Sleepy-eyed, I zipped Jacob up in his teddy-bear jacket and carried him outside. The blue sky covered cool crisp air with a promise of warmth. Fans soldiered along the sidewalk toward the Alewife T- Station to ride downtown to the Boylston Street Finish Line, the battlefield of last year’s bombings; their arms loaded with clear plastic bags, filled with survival blankets and clean, cushioned socks for their Marathoners.

I covered Jacob’s lap with a quilt, and steered his stroller away from the apartment, as if I was on reconnaissance to locate costumed Rebels or band members or clowns, roaming the streets after the parade disbanded. In a few moments, the intersection with the main road was in view. Blue strobe lights flashed from a police car, which crept along Massachusetts Avenue.

“Hold on Jakey!” I said. I turned my fast walk into a sprint and dug deep to resurrect my decades ago skill in the fifty-yard dash. I huffed and puffed. The moment we landed near the intersection, we saw Paul Revere in his triangular black hat with his cape flowing, mounted on a chestnut horse. Two other period-clothed riders flanked Paul. In a flash, the entourage passed us. I found myself running along the sidewalk with the horse escort. Less than two blocks later, my legs ached, my breathing forced, I changed to a walking pace, resigned to the fact that once a sprinter, not always a sprinter. I’m a grandmother now, so I may have slowed a bit. The horses disappeared around the curve at Arlington Center.

While I am pleased I exposed Jacob to a little bit of history today and stimulated his curiosity, I’m not sure whether he enjoyed the man with the funny hat riding horseback or if he was more captivated by the blue strobe lights from the police car.  I’ll take either, because both were new experiences. Mission accomplished. The point was reveling in the joy of doing something new together.

This sunny April day reminds me strawberry season will arrive soon. While it has been years since I took my own children to the farm, when my grandson is older, and with all the grandchildren to come, I will take them strawberry picking and, under the warmth of a summer day, I will egg them on to pluck ripe berries “a wee bit more.”

Priscilla Bourgoine practices as a psychotherapist outside of Boston and, offers web therapy through a Manhattan company. She earned a MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Priscilla lives with her husband in southern New Hampshire. 

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The Favor

The Favor

By Priscilla F. Bourgoine

0-22For months I avoided the fitness center. I didn’t want to run into Faith who worked there. She had lost her son five years before. She knew what I was going through. I didn’t want to talk to Faith because I didn’t want to join her club.

My doctor had ordered me on Thursday back to the gym.  “Exercise will help you,” she said. The last thing I wanted to do was move.  Dr. Whyte passed me the prescription: “30 min. of cardio, 3x per wk.” I imagined that I turned her to ice. When my middle daughter was young, she loved how Kimberly the Pink Power Ranger froze whatever got in her way. Every morning and every night, since the June day of our horrible loss, I willed superhero magic. I commanded life halted: the summer breeze, the blossomed lilies, the honey bees, the deep oceans, even the orbited planets.

On Friday, at the gym’s entryway, I sat down and put on my sneakers. I glanced up and saw Faith headed my way. Early daylight illuminated her auburn hair. Her slight smile acknowledged me. The twinkle in Faith’s brown eyes misplaced for good somewhere along the sidewalk of her life like a button that never turned up. I looked down and concentrated on making tight double-knotted loops with my laces.

Faith stood in front of me. “I have a favor to ask of you,” she said.

I raised my chin.

That afternoon, back home, with a bottle in hand, I climbed downstairs into our basement to search for the photo Faith desired. I heaved the large Rubbermaid tub with a thud to the cement floor. The photos of my three children shook loose inside the container. Faith knew too well what she had asked of me. I guzzled the Pinot Noir and wiped my lips. Since our own awful afternoon eleven months ago, it was the facts of my middle child’s twenty-three-year life that I clung to like a rescue rope thrown to me in the deep rising waters of grief.  How can I deny Faith the next stone to step on to stay afloat from the thunderous current of despair?

Months before, when the summer sun hung high, the goldenrod bloomed, blueberries hung plump on the lakeside bushes, and the sticky heat weighted down my work dress, a small paper bag had been left in my office mailbox.  Inside was a book of mediations on loss with a postcard, a field of forget-me-nots. Faith had written: “We found this book the most helpful. We hope it gives you some peace. Call me when you are ready to walk.” That’s when I made the connection. Five years before, my oldest daughter had called me from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She had cried into the telephone. A wretched ice storm had covered most of New Hampshire and had shut down electricity. I had mistaken her sadness for worry over those of us trapped in the frozen darkness. She told me that wasn’t it, though she was upset for us. There had been a sudden death. That kind and handsome boy with the dark eyes who had been her date for her senior prom had been killed in a car accident on a slippery mountain road.

On Sunday, my husband held his oval glasses in his hand and pressed his eyes close to the newspaper article. “Listen to this French interior designer’s meaning of color: Every color has a psychological effect on a room. Particular color combinations give one another balance. Colors like vibrant vermillion red and chartreuse green, when paired together, properly symbolize survival.” He cleared his throat. “Colors give us permanence.”

 *   *   *

The dampness from our home’s foundation seeped into my flesh and bones. I swigged another sip of bitter wine, and put the bottle down on the cement floor. With both hands I dug through the plastic tub of loose photos. Like someone at a contest, I pulled a photo free and held it up toward the light. There we were. My three children and I had picnicked by the ocean. The day’s brightness had beamed. I remembered the breeze that summer day had fluttered our beach towels and sand had stuck to our bodies, covered in cocoa butter lotion. We had used our sandals to tack down the corners. The endless blue had spread-out above us. Our bare legs had touched. For our lunch we had gobbled our usual homemade bread slathered with butter and sliced bananas, drizzled with honey.

 *   *   *

On Monday, I bought a picture frame for the prom photo I had uncovered at the bottom of the bin. Years before on that spring day, the four teens had stood outdoors beside a stand of pines. My older daughter wore a little black dress with a wrist corsage. The outline of what would become a full moon had peeked out from the dusk. Off camera, my middle daughter had swung on the swing set. Valerie yelled to me, to them, that she would sway high and fly.

At the gym, in my workout clothes, with silence, I placed the package wrapped in bright red and bright green paper with ribbon into Faith’s empty hands, and headed to the treadmill. This will be the only evidence Faith will ever have of her son in a black-tie tuxedo.

Colors remain. People fade.

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy. 

Priscilla Bourgoine practices as a psychotherapist outside of Boston and, offers web therapy through a Manhattan company. She earned a MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Priscilla lives with her husband in southern New Hampshire.