It’s been 31 years since Weena Fish died. It’s funny how some days you never ever seem to forget. This is one of them. I was living on Taylor Street, and there is so little I remember about that time in my life, but there are things about that night I think I remember so clearly, or is it just that I’ve filled in the holes in my mind and created my own story? I remember having spent so much time with her during those final days, and I so clearly recall her opening her eyes and, after not having spoken for days, whispering that she loved me in a way that was so clear, there was no doubt it was anything but my grandmother in a completely lucid state of mind. I remember that it was rainy and cold that evening, and that it was the time in May when lilacs usually bloom. Maybe I have memory of the smell and that’s why I always think of lilacs when I think of Weena’s death. Of course, she loved them, hyacinths, June roses and hydrangeas, too.
What I remember most after she had passed but before the funeral home was called was saying that we were now officially orphans. Our parents had too much on their minds to think much about us, and while I know that sounds cruel to say about our parents, that’s the way it was in that time. When you graduated from high school, you were expected to move out of the house and make it on your own because the parents’ commitment was only and 18 year one. I remember thinking I was kind of lucky that my 18th birthday didn’t fall until November when I’d be away at college, so they couldn’t exactly throw me out of the house for just the month or two of summer just before I left for college.
But when Weena died, it was after I’d already left David, my first husband, and I had spent time staying in my car until, as always, Weena came to the rescue and offered to let me stay with her. I did, but only for a few weeks, then my cousin’s husband decided that it wasn’t going to work having me in the house where they were living, taking care of Weena, even though it was her house and her decision.
I left quietly and stayed in my car for a bit, slept under the drafting table at Pickle Development, and eventually Bob and Pete and Myron came through with an apartment deal for me there on Orchard Street. That was all so long ago, and it’s so strange that these memories seem to surface when I think of my beloved grandmother’s death. I guess because I was feeling like an orphan; I had no home, no place to go to after I left David, and even though I felt safe at Weena’s for a short time and had some hope, when my cousin and her husband said it wasn’t going to work with me there in an extra bedroom, I didn’t question whose decision it really should have been; I just left.
Finding the place on Taylor Street had seemed like such an act of God, a ‘Godincidence,’ if you will, and I believed so much that I took it without even looking at it other than through the windows. I had bumped into Doug on Tompkins Street one day while walking my dog, Nood, and though we’d never met before, we got to talking about Olde English Sheepdogs. He had two, and he and Rik were just getting ready to by that house and needed someone to take on the little apartment in it. I agreed immediately, and I loved that little apartment so much. Living next to Doug and Rik ended up being like being part of a family, too, and it was all part of what was supposed to happen to help me turn the corner and head into being self-sufficient and having a purpose in life again. It was while I was working there that I got the job at Ithaca College, and it was while I was there that I started to believe in myself a little bit again.
But that night when Weena died, I felt like I was an orphan with absolutely no one who would every love me unconditionally the way she did. There would never be anyone else in my life who would just sit and hang out with me or intiuitively know I was hungry and send me up the driveway to grab a hamburger. There was no one who would stock the cupboards with Campbell’s Chicken Noodle or Vegetable Beef soup simply because she knew I’d be hungry at lunch time and not have any money, and there was no one left in the world to believe in me and tell me how amazed she was at my boundless talent and ability to do anything.
I miss my grandmother so much; when I see the cardinals here, I think maybe it’s her making sure I’m okay or just doing a fly-by to let me know she’s watching over me and still believes in me. And I think she’s the real reason why I wanted to plant lilacs all over here on Blueberry Hill. It’s like I’m thinking ahead to a May morning next year, or maybe the one after that, when I’ll open the porch door to let the dogs out and suddenly be transported back in time to a place and day when I knew someone believed in me and loved me no matter what. And maybe just knowing that I’ve had someone like that in my life is what has allowed me to actually be that someone who could do so much more than anyone else expected and even found a way to believe in herself along the way…with a little help from the guardian angels who whispered, “I love you,” and blew the desire for life back into her heart when it seemed like all was lost. And maybe that desire for life smells just a little bit like lilacs in May.