Chasing Away Sorrow
This entire month of blog challenge, dealing with family, led me to yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Obvious, I know. I knew that at some point I was going to have to speak seriously about my mother, and I knew how difficult that would be for me.
The stories I’ve written this month have taken me to places where emotions have near drop-kicked me on many days. This one will lay me out completely and I know it. I was going to write it yesterday. I just couldn’t force myself to do it. I wasn’t ready yet to drown in all of those feelings that had been swirling for a month, just under the surface where they would swallow me at the slightest provocation.
Let sleeping dogs lie is the old adage that covers this situation, and I’m about to begin poking that big brute that lives below the waves. That being the case, I’ll share a part of my mother that has less sorrow for me.
Mom loved kids and animals better than anything else in the world, family excluded, of course. She was a natural mother, who could sooth any child, tame just about any creature, and generally get along with the world regardless of circumstance.
From the time I was about thirteen or so, old bird cages, boxes, baskets, etc. shared Mom’s kitchen with us. Inside those cages, boxes, baskets, etc. were babies. Some were birds, some baby bunnies, or any number of other wild things. She definitely took after her mother in that regard.
There were orphans that stick strongly in my memory. I came home one day to find baby groundhogs nestled inside an old towel in a cardboard box on a chair beside the stove. They were two of the sweetest little creatures I’d ever seen; all brown and cuddly, rolled up into balls keeping warm against each other. Someone had found them abandoned and had brought them to Mom.
I don’t remember how long she had them before the groundhogs were released, and I don’t know that it matters now. I do know that there were few weeks during spring or summer when orphans didn’t come to our house.
Dad brought her the baby bunnies. He was mowing the yard and didn’t realize that one of the local cottontails had made her warren near the edge of the driveway. The rabbits were tiny things and terrified. Dad knew that the mother would never return to the nest warren after it had been disturbed.
On another occasion, a friend brought her a pair of silver fox babies to tend for a few weeks, until they were weaned. He bred silver foxes and needed a surrogate mother for them for a while. Mom did her thing and they soon went back to their rightful home.
One wet, cold spring day, Mom went mushroom hunting. Keeping her out of the woods during mushroom season was unheard of. Having her come home with a baby Great Horned Owl, though, was different. The wee thing had fallen/or been pushed from its next.
She heard it, found it, and scooped it up. It was in shock; its down feathers were soaked, and it couldn’t stop shivering from the cold. It was so young that its talons hadn’t completely hardened. She perched it on her shoulder, under her hood where it could get dry and warm. Mushroom bag in one hand, and one holding the owl in place, she returned to the house.
Peeper, named for the sound he made, sat on the rim of a half-peck basket in the kitchen when I came in. I’d never seen an owl baby before, especially up close. I fell in love with those big, sincere eyes. Mom just laughed. She had one convert.
Mom ended up with all of us vying for owl-holding privileges. He ate fresh ground beef, fresh fish, and chicken. Meat wasn’t difficult to get for him.
During his growth period, we all rallied to teach him how to be an owl, but Mom was the one he looked to. She was his mother. Dad could teach him to hoot. All of us could help teach him to fly. We could all help to teach him to hunt on the fly and catch his prey.
But Mom was the one to whom he returned the next spring to show off his new mate. She was the one’s whose approval he needed before leaving for his adult life.
When I think about all of her orphans, Peeper and Jim, the crow, stand out as the most like family members. Jim was the orphan who remained with her to the end, the one she grieved for when his curiosity and trust turned fatal.
Jim gave her more delight than all of her other orphans. He lived in the house with us. He went on our outings. He talked to us, but he held conversations with her. And his laughter rang through the air from the roof of the house. Jim was a character that enlivened our lives and made us smile.
I try to keep these memories to the forefront of my mental file cabinet. They help push back the later ones that center on her excruciating pain and life cut short. These orphan memories carry their own tears, but they don’t taint the rest of the day with sorrow.
And these, above all, portray Mom as she was to us more than any others; loving, generous, willing to take in any orphan as a new family member.