When did we stop being of the soil and begin to fear it, to tell our children not to touch the ground, it is dirty where once it was only dirt, and we put in our mouths, from time to time if only to drive our mothers crazy. She says if you are going to plant wear gloves, and when she walks away I pull them off my hands and plunge fingers into the turned and dampened soil. This, I am convinced, is how it is supposed to be, how nature intended, before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch before we became the robots our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated. Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt from beneath fingernails, I watch as it flows reluctantly down the drain I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.
As a child, a Jewish child no less, December was always a bit difficult. We had Channukah, which no Jew would dare claim grew solely to compete with Christmas, although we all knew that was precisely what had happened.
The problem was Christmas, but had nothing to do with Jesus, or the church or even its historical teachings about the supposed role we Jews played in that story, a role for which we had been paying for two millennia.
The problem was far more basic, and all you needed to do was drive down virtually any street in any city and it would be at once apparent. Christmas-celebrating homes were decked out in all colors of lights, while Jewish homes, those few who competed, were left with a palate of white and blue, or up to nine candles, and that was a guaranteed for sure last place finish in the December game.
What I want to tell her is this: it’s fitting, perfectly, that you who so assiduously hid the past from me, your past and mine, now bars your entry, refusing you even the briefest glimpse. You want so to grab onto it to have it carry you to a place removed from here by time and distance, where it is warm and most of the time, cozy. It is also fitting that you call out his name, as though he was in the yard pruning a tree, delaying dinner, the same he you cursed glad to have him out of your life and out of your house, you wished him dead so that you might call yourself a widow and share condolences with the other black draped women. You never mentioned the six months of foster care or the little sister who came and went so quickly when he had the audacity to drop dead on you one morning. This is what I would say to her, this is the curse I would place upon her but she no longer recognizes me, I am no more than a well dressed orderly come to remove her lunch tray.
She wrapped him carefully in an old blanket and several sections of the Times and put him in the basket with the broken handle she found out behind the Safeway near the culvert that was home until the rains came. She placed him among the weeds and beer bottles, where the river’s smell licked the wicker, and she hoped he would be found quickly. She envisioned him at the right hand of Kings, holding forth on all manner of life and death, princes seeking his insight, hanging on his words. He would not be like others dying at the hand, whim of wealth. He was found a week later lodged against a grate at the intake of the power station and placed in a far corner of the city cemetery under a simple stone “Baby Doe.”
My mother was a firm believer In lecturing, offering vast bits of knowledge, culled from here and there. One of her favorites was Edison’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, and she leaned toward quantity, “It’s all about hard work, go clean your room, clutter will get you nowhere.” Sitting here today amid what I prefer to think of as eclectically arranged items of potentially great importance, I see her picture, before the chemo took her bottled red hair looking disapprovingly at me, saying, “You are killing your genius, Edison would agree with me.” I want to say to her, “But I’m with Einstein and if a cluttered desk is evidence of a cluttered mind, why was hers always empty.
My mother no longer speaks to me. It is not that she has been dead two years, that passage would hardly be an impediment for her. I would like to think she has nothing left to say, having said it all so many times in the past. Some say we will see each other again in heaven, but it is unclear which, if either of us, will be there, and I don’t look forward to once again being a child who can do nothing quite right enough for her, yet again, and for eternity, this time.