a treasure in thread

Once upon a late summer afternoon, just before the new school year began, my youngest daughter, all of age 9, was bored. She asked if I might help her learn to cross stitch, and I was delighted to comply. First, I let her sift through my charts until she found a pattern she liked. Next, I gave her a slender tapestry needle, some sturdy Aida fabric stretched in a small hoop, and a few skeins of DMC floss. She proved to be a quick learner, and soon she was happily stitching away. I can see her still in mind’s eye, perched there on the living room loveseat, glancing up from her embroidery with a valiant, “Look what I can do!” grin.

When her lovely star was complete, she felt satisfied. She set her hoop aside and scampered off to play. School started. She stashed her hoop in a drawer.

Leaves turned scarlet, snowflakes fell, violets unfurled. Soon, it would be Mother’s Day, and she knew just what she’d do. She unearthed some white floss, took up her needle, and carefully stitched three small letters into the fabric. She paused, surveyed the letters, then underscored them with one final, affirming stitch. There. Now her gift was ready.

On Mother’s Day when I unwrapped her small offering, I wrapped her up in a huge hug. It was a perfect gift: a moment of captured time to hold in my hand and cherish forever, a daughter’s love made visible, a treasure in thread.

A cup of everlasting beauty

I spent a quiet, thoughtful day yesterday as the first snow of the season sifted down — wet, white flakes gorgeous against boughs of oak and maple, the backyard a patchwork of fallen leaves, our gardens dozing. Daylight dozed, too, wrapped in thick blankets of low-lying cloud…

Days like this used to evoke a certain wistfulness in me. Something inside felt lonesome when November skies darkened and days grew short and chilly. But my perspective shifted…. Once upon a November night, (thirty-one years ago last night, to be exact), a miracle happened: In a hush of snow while frozen gardens drowsed all through our town, a tiny new rose unfurled — a rose perfect for my husband and me, a tender rose in the form of our first child, our precious newborn daughter. We were smitten. And because of our sweet Margaret, Novembers always blossom for us now. They will never feel lonesome again…

To celebrate the arrival of her first grandchild, my sweet mother gave me a wonderful gift. She selected one of her mother’s bone china teacups, a pale pink one embellished with roses, and filled it to overflowing with fresh flowers. There were delicate sprays of pink mini-roses, and baby’s breath, and stems of English ivy. The result was decidedly Victorian, the most charming teacup bouquet ever to brighten a hospital maternity ward. I was enchanted. When the fresh flowers faded, Momma said she’d like me to keep her mother’s teacup and saucer. So the lovely china cup and saucer once owned by my grandmother became the first, and by far the most treasured, piece in my vintage teacup collection.

What’s not to love about vintage teacups? To me, each one is a work of art, a dainty reminder of times long past, when daily life was slower, simpler, and certainly more genteel… When I look at a teacup, I think of hand-embroidered linen tablecloths and lace-edged napkins, of afternoon teas and delectable cakes. Teacups serve as a transport for me. Each one I see whisks me away to a place of my imagining, a place filled with warmth and beauty and laughter and delight….

I’d like to share with you a few of the teacups in my collection. This one is painstakingly hand-painted and dates back to the 1850’s. I found this treasure in an antique shop two years ago, and it’s a particular favorite of mine.


Here’s another of my special favorites. It’s an Italian demitasse cup, complete with mermaids on one side and muses on the other. It’s perfect!

I found this hand-painted Jacobean beauty in a shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. Its soft colors and design are enormously appealing to me.

Here is another cup from the same antique shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This one dazzled me with its rich cranberry color and gold embellishment.

As my mother so artfully demonstrated thirty-one years ago today, vintage teacups aren’t just for tea. They also can serve as containers for fresh flowers. Below are two of my favorite teacups, in which I arranged cut flowers from our gardens. I’m passionate about English transferware. This little transferware demitasse cup holds the last blossoms from our November garden.

I acquired this little beauty of a teacup last summer. The butterflies in this design turn me inside out. I filled this cup with cuttings from our late-spring gardens. The cup rests on hand-tatted lace my mother made. (Momma was Victorian to her very core.) Everything about this photo makes me smile…

Although my vintage teacups impart joy to me strictly as a collection, they clamor to be used on special occasions. One such opportunity arose last spring, when my far-flung, grown daughters, Margaret and Clare, happened to be home on the same weekend. To celebrate both girls’ belated birthdays, Margaret’s best friend, Addie, offered to bake a special cake, if I would kindly make arrangements for the tea. Happily, I agreed. But oh my! When the day of our party arrived, I was unprepared for the gorgeousness of the cake our dear Addie had made! She lovingly created a stunning cake in the shape of a teapot, from whose spout poured the loveliest sugar flowers imaginable.

The flowers cascaded into a teacup belonging to Addie’s maternal grandmother. And! …the cup actually held a mini-cake, just the right size for Addie’s young daughter to enjoy. (Because what tea party could be complete without a child to share it with? It’s a special joy to pass down a tradition as lovely as this to a member of our future generation.)

Addie’s cake was so flawless, so perfect, we hated to cut it. But oh, we were glad we did! The cake was as succulent and delicious as it was beautiful — a true feast for the senses, and certainly an elegant companion to my teacup collection.

For those of you who live locally, Addie is starting her own cake-baking business. Her artistic talent, marvelous creativity and attention to detail are already thrilling her lucky customers. If you’d like Addie to create a special masterpiece just for you, she can be reached at this email address: adriannacorby@gmail.com


It’s another overcast, chilly November morning here. As leaves of russet and gold whirl past my window, I recall the birth-day of our beautiful Margaret, and I bask in that glow…. The heirloom teacup Momma gave me thirty-one years ago today links four generations of our family, uniting past and present. It is a cup of blessings, a cup of sweetest memories, a cup of everlasting beauty.

tears without end

Today is the sorrowful fourth anniversary of the unspeakable horror at Sandy Hook, a moment forever seared into my memory. In remembrance of the many lives so tragically lost that day, I’m posting a piece I wrote just one day after the tragedy took place…


I am wakeful with the rain.

Beyond my window, our backyard oak lifts empty arms to a leaden sky; every tree holds a posture of profound supplication. Oh, please, please, let this not be so…

It’s getting late, but how can I close my eyes? Incomprehensible violence has visited Newtown, Connecticut, and sorrow keeps sliding down the windowpane. The rain began as evening fell on Friday, the day of the terrible shootings; it pattered on the rooftop all night long. Morning dawned grey, tear-spattered. I barely slept, if I slept at all. Rain continued all through the day, tears without end.

When the dreadful news reached me, my first thoughts were of the Holy Innocents. How could any person, past or present, look into the clear eyes of a little child and brandish a sword or pull a trigger? With the rest of the nation, I wrestled with my emotions. No, no… please, not the babies, not the little darling ones…

Later, a pile of letters to be mailed and other necessary errands put me behind the wheel. Renewed sorrow clawed my heart at Hamilton Elementary as I passed a line of parents sitting in cars, waiting to pick up their living, breathing, precious children. Gratitude and grief collided, welled up, streaked down my cheeks.

At Butterworth Center, I met a bright yellow school bus. I suppressed a half-crazed impulse to leap from my car to embrace every child on that bus.

As I turned down 16th Street, several parents were walking hand in hand with their children. A glance in my rear view mirror revealed a scattering of children walking home from school, a commonplace sight at this hour of day. But not everywhere… I thought of the sweet children who would never come home again and wept my way to the post office.

Next stop was the high school, where I was volunteering to set up for the next day’s Speech Tournament. I caught sight of one of my daughter’s friends at the end of a long hallway. I opened my arms to her and she came running, arms flung wide. I hugged that golden child to my heart. Dear God, make my arms a protective circle to surround all children everywhere…

But it was when I returned home again that I came entirely unglued. My son texted these simple words from Des Moines: “I love you, Momma.” Memories of him at age five, at age six, sprang to mind… my gentle, dreamy-eyed boy, now a young man. Reading his words, I paradoxically began keening over his sweet life as if he, also, had been lost. Never one to pose the question mathematical, I dared in that moment to multiply my love for him by twenty-six; the staggering equation of loss in Connecticut broke over me and swept me under. I sobbed again when our oldest daughter phoned from Minneapolis, yet again when our youngest phoned on her way home from work…

The woeful, grey day sank to its knees and faded to black while the rain kept its vigil, tears from a star.

How fragile we are…

love gathered softly to place in her hands

love gathered softly to place in her hands

It’s spring again, miraculous spring. Every street in town is lined with flowering dogwood, crab, pear – everywhere, boughs are in riotous bloom. In my gardens, something new unfurls daily. The woods are awash with wildflowers, and all along the driveway, violets gem the grass…

For me each year, the first violets of spring bear on fragile stems the weight of perennial tenderness. I stoop down to hook a finger beneath a bowed purple head. As I study the contour of this familiar face, I’m amazed by the power one simple flower wields over my heart and mind…

From the time I was old enough to toddle off to woods’ edge, I kept my mother in fresh-picked wildflowers. The first bouquets I carried home to her each spring always included several long-stemmed wood violets. One year, when I was seven or eight, Momma sent me off to the woods on a special mission to select only the choicest violets. I returned with dozens of flawless specimens. Together, we washed the flowers, a delicate task. We shook them gently dry and arranged them on clean white dish towels, taking care not to bend or bruise any petals. We snipped blossoms from stems. Then, after using tiny brushes to paint the flowers with a wash of egg whites and water, we sprinkled each one with a shower of sugar crystals.

Later, the house filled with the aroma of angel food cake pulled fresh from the oven. When it cooled, Momma frosted it with a white sugar glaze into which she pressed a pattern of sweet sugared violets. It was simply a vision, that cake, and young though I was, I was limp with the romance of a cake covered in violets…. (Alas, no photos were snapped of that eye-popping confection, but in my heart’s album, it glistens on a page all its own.)

Twenty years of violets bloomed and faded…

Then came a day like no other, a day I could never have imagined when I was a child wandering among the wildflowers – the day I held a newborn flower in my arms, a blossom fresh-plucked from heaven: our first child, our sweet Margaret, a precious baby girl newly home from the hospital, bathed and swaddled and dressed in a long white hand-smocked gown Momma had made for her. Margaret was just a day or two old when I looked from her face into Momma’s eyes and said, “I so look forward to all her firsts – her first smile, her first words, her first steps…”

My gentle mother had more poetic firsts in mind for her granddaughter. She said softly, so softly I barely could hear, “Imagine showing Margaret her first violet, her first star. . .” Momma looked at me, yet somehow right through me as the words fell from her lips. For a heartbeat or two, time stood still for me, just as it does when I chance to read a line of perfect poetry: the words ring and resonate – beautiful, mysterious, fleeting, bells in the wind…

When the snows of winter melted away to reveal Margaret’s first spring, I showed her her first violet with deep emotion. I showed her her first star. Sang her every beautiful song I knew, read her every good book I could find, pointed her toward every lovely thing I could think of, filled her days with as much beauty and poetry and joy and mystery as I could – love gathered softly to place in her hands, like the wildflowers I carried to Momma so many years ago…

As Mother’s Day nears, I have asked myself, what does it mean to mother another soul, to nurture another life? I believe it is to pluck from one’s surroundings the good things, the beautiful, the eternal, the true, and place them in another heart, like a bouquet of violets.

the sweetest hours I knew

A couple of years ago, my son sent me an unexpected text message I loved so much, I took a screen shot of it to squirrel away in my Forever File. Why? Because this was no mere text message; for me, this was a special delivery, a momentous occasion.

In November of 2013, while doing a bit of early Christmas shopping with his sweetheart, my son, James, wandered into a little gift shop where a pair of handmade, felted wool creatures happened to catch his eye. A dapper owl, sporting a bow tie and straw hat and clutching a tiny guitar, was seated in a small boat beside an elegant feline in pearls and a fancy dress. Stepping closer to examine the tag, James drew back, snapped a photo, and fired it off to me with the following text:

191-the sweetest hours I ever knew 1

Oh, how I rejoiced in this text – words that made not only my day, but my week, month, and year. My dear James knew his Edward Lear!! Right here, on my phone’s tiny screen, was proof! I didn’t take gymnastics back in school, but let me assure you, my heart turned a back flip with a half twist when this text chimed in.

I have countless cherished memories of motherhood, too many to enumerate here. But surely, the sweetest hours I knew as a mother were those I spent reading to my children. We sailed away for a year and a day with The Owl and the Pussy-cat, vowed with Peter Pan that we’d never grow up, frolicked in the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh and Piglet, marveled with Lurvy at the miracle of words woven into a spider’s web. Yes, we knew the Muffin Man; we sailed on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew with Wynken, Blynken, and Nod; oh, how we loved to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue!

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing ever a mother can do – to read to her children….

My precious three are grown and gone now. Each one of them, I’m happy to report, has grown up to be a bona fide bibliophile. I like to think I had a lot to do with this. I still stop to admire children’s books in bookstores and continue to add new titles to my ever-growing collection. These books, like my children, are my treasure.

I reach for the shelf, pull down our worn copy of The Owl and The Pussy-cat, thumb through the pages. And suddenly, perhaps by magic, here on my left is a golden-haired girl with intelligent green eyes; on my right, a wide-eyed boy who twirls my hair while I read; in my lap, a long-lashed, rosy-cheeked toddler who knows these words by heart. They’re here with me, all three of them. They always will be.

And right here in my memory, hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, we dance by the light of the moon, the moon, moon, we dance by the light of the moon.

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(This post is the first in a 5-day Photo Challenge to which I was nominated by my dear friend, Kristine, who blogs regularly at candidkay.)


Her name means clear, bright, shining. . .


Her name means clear, bright, shining, brilliant to the sight. She sparkles, scintillates, always has.

I close my eyes, lean back in my chair. Looking down the bedroom hallway, she’s there in mind’s eye, prancing along with her stuffed sidekick, a pony she named Shadowfax.

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She had such love for ponies. The summer she was eight, our family vacationed in Estes Park. As our car passed a roadside corral near our hotel, she pressed her nose to the window and caught a glimpse of a brown and white pony. She cast adoring eyes on his beauty, locked him in her gaze until our car curved around the mountain road.

She turned from the window with impossibly long-lashed, expressive eyes. “If I owned that pony,” she said with a wistful sigh, “I know what I’d call him – his name would be Melting Snow.”

Melting Snow, a name so poetic, it still enchants me. It’s a rare privilege when a creative child lifts the veil just enough to allow a glimpse of her world, of what she sees through shining eyes. Melting snow, first sign of spring. . .

Our little dreamer was not born in spring, but in the white snows of February. I called her my early Valentine, loved that her birth flower is the violet, sweet harbinger of spring.

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A sketch of violets I drew and began embroidering for a pillow for Clare’s room. I got off to a good start, but, alas, I set it aside in the busy whirl of life, and forgot about it until I unearthed it a few years ago.


Clare is five years younger than her brother, James, and eight years younger than her sister, Margaret. As a former teacher and lover of children’s literature, Clare’s arrival bequeathed me an extra six or seven delicious years of story time. She’d curl into my lap like a kitten in fuzzy, footed jammies, then off we’d fly to Neverland. We’d visit Heidi’s mountain, or slip into the shadowy barn at twilight to watch Charlotte spin her wondrous web. Clare and I traveled fast and far. (She remains a voracious reader whose most prized possession is her fine and ever-growing collection of books.)

0137_Her name 2

When Clare was growing up, we sang and danced as often as we read. At four, she’d waltz around the living room singing “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty. When she was five-going-on-six, she’d sing “Where is Love?” from the musical, Oliver! every night while I dried her hair. Other special favorites were “The Riddle Song” and “The Owl and the Pussycat” by John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers.

Over Christmas break of her fourth grade year, I took Clare and her friend, Morgan, to see Phantom of the Opera. Clare, a confirmed aficionada of musical theatre, was mesmerized and saw the movie several more times. Later, she rather shyly told me she could sing “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” I must admit, I was skeptical; after all, she was only ten. But I asked her to sing it for me.

“Don’t watch, Momma,” she said, and walked out to our sunroom. There, in the dim light of evening, arms at her sides, she began to sing. I was unprepared for the clear soprano voice that belied the singer’s age, soaring to the song’s most poignant notes, filling my heart, and my tear ducts. . .

She’ll be twenty soon, this child who has brought so much light and joy to our lives, this child who is no longer a child. Clare – clear, bright, and shining, whose playful, ethereal presence, though unseen, was palpable before she existed.

I remember it so well, that sun-dappled spring afternoon. Our children were at play.

Jeff and I leaned together on the front steps of our first house, a pale yellow clapboard nestled on a wooded cul-de-sac. We watched as seven-year-old Margaret and four-year-old James clambered in and out of their shiny red Radio Flyer wagon, taking turns tugging one another up and down the long sidewalk.

Cardinals called from the treetops, butterflies fluttered in the garden, golden light dripped like honey through the leaves of our flowering crab. The infectious giggles of our merry two made us smile.

As we watched our children frolic in the sunlight that April afternoon, I heard a distinct inner voice.

Someone isn’t here who should be, the voice said. Someone’s missing.

I made no remark to Jeff at the time, but the words I heard interiorly stayed with me. This lovely day, this moment in time, perfect and beautiful as it was, whispered of beauty yet to come.

Roses blossomed, acorns dropped, snowflakes sailed the skies.

Less than a year later, our precious daughter, Clare, was born. In the quiet hours that followed her birth, I confided to Jeff what I heard on that balmy spring day while Margaret and James frolicked in their red wagon.

Jeff looked at me for a moment in stunned silence. “Amy,” he said. “I can’t believe it….. That’s exactly what I heard, that same day.”

We stared at one another in wonderment, then looked down at our newborn child. . .

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That’s how our darling daughter came to be – our someone-who-was-missing, the little rosebud who fit into our arms, just so, to complete our family’s joy. . .

Clare – brilliant to the sight. She lights up a stage, sings like a lark, writes up a storm, lives life with wide open arms. Like the sea, like the sky, she has depth and strength and beauty and unlimited possibilities. She’s going somewhere, although I can’t know where – not just yet; her story is just unfolding.

But I do know this: she is well on her way.

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Happy birthday to you, dearest Clare,

A bright future awaits you. May you embrace your journey with unbounded joy, with your characteristic sparkle, with all the love in your heart. Dream of life, then live your dream.

Shine on.

I love you, my littlest one, always and always. xoxox


Tidings of comfort and joy

0120_Tidings of Comfort and Joy

A Victorian wreath I designed and created this year in memory of my lovely mother.

As I mark my first anniversary of blogging here on My Path with Stars Bestrewn, I find myself feeling humbled and amazed. When I posted my first offering, The Gate of the Year, on January 1, 2014, I was secretly filled with trepidation. Where would my words go, and who might read them? I had no way of knowing what wonderful new friends I’d make here in the blogosphere, lovely souls across the United States, Canada, and various countries around the globe. It has been the most incredible experience. Thank you!

Through our ever-lovely mutual friend, Katrina Kenison, I happened to meet a new and wonderful friend, Melodye Shore. Last February, Melodye and I bonded over While my pretty one sleeps, a tribute I wrote in memory of my beautiful mother. Over the course of this year, Melodye and I have continued to discover the many ideas and ideals we happen to share: a mutual love of gardening, music, poetry, photography, and the mystical wonders of creation.

Intrigued by a photo I posted of a Victorian wreath I designed and lovingly placed on my mother’s grave this year, Melodye struck up a series of conversations with me which led to an extraordinarily loving gift she recently gave me, a gift she has also dedicated to the memory of her beloved Nana. She has written all about it today on her blog, Joyful Noise, in a new post entitled “Tidings of Comfort and Joy.” I’d love to share it with you now: please click here to read this beautiful story!

Melodye’s thoughtfulness and generosity are love made manifest. From her careful attention to the metaphorical meaning of each minute detail of the handmade gift she created, to the lovely photographs she snapped to document this gift, to the magical way she relates this story, Melodye reveals her rare and beautiful heart as she pays homage to the divine and eternal spirit of loving and giving.

This is a Christmas tale to tuck in your heart, one whose lessons are never-ending. (Melodye’s post today also features a haiku written by my mother in 1982 – three precious lines that mean absolutely everything to me. I hope you’ll love them, too.)

Whether you’re near or far, I wish you peace, love, and joy today, and many, many blessings. Thank you, so very much, for the gift of your presence here with me on My Path with Stars Bestrewn.



Conversation with a child

0033_Conversation with a child

He glanced up from his toys one afternoon and asked me, “Momma, was I here when you were born?”

I looked at him – my sensitive, thoughtful, three-year-old son – and answered, “No, honey, you weren’t here when I was born.”

He considered this for a moment, then asked, “Was I here when Daddy was born?”

“No, sweetheart,” I responded, “you weren’t here.”

Another pause. “Was I here when Sissy was born?” he asked, meaning Margaret, his much-adored, six-year-old big sister.

“No, James,” I said, looking gently into his wide, brown eyes. “You weren’t here when Sissy was born. You hadn’t been born yet.”

A lengthy silence ensued. Then, “Momma?”


“Did you miss me when I wasn’t here?”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I can’t count the number of times this sweet, existential, innocent question has echoed back to me over the years, nor can I recall precisely how I responded as I pulled my darling boy into my arms to cuddle him close.  I do know how my heart answers every time — even now, though he’s grown and gone:

Oh, my precious child, yes. Yes, I did.

While my pretty one sleeps


A portrait of Momma, painted in 1960 by Shirley Heysinger.

When I was a child, Momma used to sing to me. As sunset petaled the evening sky, she’d gather me in her arms and rock me in my small bedroom with its dormer window and sing Tennyson’s “Sweet and Low” before tucking me into bed. Nestled close to her heart, I loved to feel her calmly inhale before she’d croon the familiar words:

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon and blow,
Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one sleeps.

Music and poetry were my nighttime coverlet, and my gentle mother filled my waking hours with beauty. When I was small, she’d recite for me the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Eugene Field – all the magical poems of childhood. She showered me with words, and my budding heart absorbed them.

From a tender age, I understood that poetry was a powerful vehicle that could spirit my beautiful mother away to a mysterious, tangent plane. As she spoke the words she loved and knew by heart, I’d watch her eyes soften, then fix on a point somewhere beyond my sight. She was with me, yes. But she was also in a faintly wistful, ineffable elsewhere. Not fully comprehending it, I was witnessing her poetic otherness. I called it her “faraway look” or her “faraway place,” and often wondered to myself about it.

Momma was, and will ever be, my muse. She instilled in me a love for all things beautiful – language, music, art, and the whole of creation. An accomplished poet in her own right, she taught me by example: the transcendent words she chose, the exquisite, handmade things she created, the ideals she cherished showed me that poetry is everywhere, in absolutely everything. The name of my blog – My Path with Stars Bestrewn – is a line drawn from one of her lovely poems. Because of her, I go always in search of the beautiful – not to bring her back, because she lives now in all things, but to be with her in her faraway place, a place of beauty, a place where my soul feels at home.

0021_Momma with Maymer

Momma, on the left, sits with her sister in my grandmother’s lap.

A dreamy, thoughtful child with large, blue-grey eyes and dark, baby fine hair, Momma grew up in Denver, Colorado during the Depression. She had a deep attachment to the mountains, which were visible from her doorstep. She confided to me that she felt most at home wandering the alpine meadow near her family’s summer cabin in the Rockies, where she’d pick wildflower bouquets and make little hideaways for herself among the nodding, sky blue columbines. Even now, when cumulus clouds billow like dreams on the midwestern horizon and form magnificent mountain kingdoms, I envision her, a child once more, traversing an enchanted heaven, clambering up sunlit slopes lighter than air, wandering endless, starry meadows.

Momma remains so vivid, so indelible, so completely alive to me. It doesn’t seem possible that today – February 10th, 2014 – marks the tenth anniversary of her death.

In the first days after Momma died, I’d walk to the mailbox to search the day’s mail with an insistent sense that I should be hearing from her. In all my forty-five years, I had never gone so long without communicating with her. I half expected to find a postcard addressed to me in her elegant hand, detailing her whereabouts, what she had seen thus far, telling me how much she loves me.

Momma was a wise, loving, gifted artist whose creativity touched every facet of her life. Highly attuned to the wonders of the natural world and the creatures who inhabit it, she had a special love for birds.

Her favorite way to begin the day was to slip outdoors at sunrise to hear the chickadees chant their morning praises. Beneath her kitchen window, which looked out over a wooded hill, she supplied a sumptuous, year-round banquet for the birds: black oil sunflower seeds and millet, ears of dried corn and peanuts in the shell, suet cages and stockings filled with thistle. She took delight in watching her feathered throng flutter in throughout the day to feast at her table and sing in her trees.

One December, Momma was seized with an urge to reinvent her Christmas tree. Ornaments from previous Christmases were banished to the basement while she adorned her tree with, as she termed it, “only things that sing, or fly.” From that year on, her tree was an object of delicate beauty. Spare and elegant, its boughs were a shimmer of white lights, an artful scattering of lovely birds, a butterfly or two, and a gorgeous renaissance angel with airy wings and flowing robes.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a special date with providence one April Saturday in 2003, less than a year before Momma died. I went to a local garden show and was inexorably drawn to a set of plush Audubon birds created in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Each realistic bird featured a mechanical button that played a recording of its authentic song. Cardinals, robins, bluebirds, and woodpeckers heaped the bin. Intrigued, I sorted through the various birds, testing the song of this one and that, until I unearthed a house finch, whose wild, sweet call embodies the very soul of spring. I purchased the little house finch and brought it home to give to Momma as a simple Easter gift.

One balmy afternoon just before Easter, Momma phoned. “Amy,” she said, “if you’re not busy, will you come over and help me with something? There’s a bird singing in the woods, and I don’t know who it is.” Momma’s home was nearby, and her wish was ever my command. I jumped in my car and drove over.

I found her out on her back deck, gripping her cane, quivering from the effort of moving her frail body through space. Her neck was craned upward, her face filled with joy. “There,” she said, and pointed to the outstretched arms of a budding oak. “Listen! Who is singing?”

I listened for a moment, and then, sure enough, sweet and clear, the ethereal song of a house finch wafted down from a lacework of greening branches. I couldn’t believe my good fortune and secretly rejoiced. She was going to love the little gift I’d just bought for her. We stood there together, Momma and I, listening to the house finch’s ravishing song. Like liquid sunlight, the sublime melody cascaded over us.

The secret underpinning of Momma’s beautiful life, I have come to realize, was that she viewed the world through a rare lens of innocence. Her tender, blue-grey eyes were the eyes of a child. She retained an open-hearted, childlike soul without ever being a childish person. And, oh – how much the child in her adored that little plush house finch I brought to her on Easter, tucked in a nest-like basket.

Patient, brave, and uncomplaining, Momma accepted the illnesses that leached life and mobility from her – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, painful osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis. Discouraged by the ways her world was shrinking and worn from pain, Momma would cry at night. I was helping her with her housework at that time, and, finding wadded tissues scattered around her bed, I’d say to myself, “Momma, don’t cry, don’t cry.” As I straightened her blankets and smoothed her embroidered, lace-edged sheets, the tears I never allowed her to see would drip from my cheeks.

During Momma’s long, wakeful nights, the little house finch kept her company. When I’d come over, I’d find it in her bed, resting among her pillows. She told me she loved to hold it close and press its little button, just to hear it sing the wild, free song she so loved. She played it night after night and month after month until it stopped playing altogether. During Momma’s last days, it sat on her bedside table beside her prayer books. I bless the day I happened upon that little bird – the small house finch that tempered her nights with the beauty of its song.

Which brings me back to those first, tear-spattered days after Momma died. Ten days after she was buried, I was in my bedroom, dressing after a shower. As I sat down on the bed to pull on a pair of socks, I dropped my hands in my lap and felt adrift on a bleak, unknown sea. Silence and emptiness washed over me, and I was capsized by a sudden wave of unreality and disbelief. Surely, this must be some kind of bad dream. I wanted to wake up, to shake away the loneliness. Submerged beneath leagues of loss and sorrow, I felt this heaviness might just crush me. I said aloud to her, as I have always firmly believed that those who no longer live can, somehow, hear us, “Oh, Momma, is this real?”

At the precise moment these words left my lips, something wonderful happened: an unexpected postcard arrived after all. Directly outside my window, sweet and clear, like sunlight refracting through raindrops, a house finch began to sing. I couldn’t believe it. What were the odds? A million to one? I had never heard a house finch’s song from our bedroom before, nor have I since. Nor had I ever heard a house finch sing in winter, in deeply frozen February. In that moment of heaven-sent synchronicity, I understood that while she cannot be with me temporally, Momma is with me spiritually, somewhere just outside of time, yet, somehow, closer than the beating of my heart. No need to search for her a moment longer. She is here with me – always.

In birdsong, in blossoms, in the patter of the rain and the sigh of the wind, in sunlight and in moonbeams, in the changing seasons, in the things she loved, and in love itself, bright and eternal, she lives on.

0022_Valentine heart

A valentine heart Momma designed, cross-stitched and crocheted for me in 1979 hangs in the branches of the magnolia tree in front of her home.