So yesterday was Mom’s birthday, which she would not realize if we neglected to tell her, but I am not going to ignore the birthday of the woman who, on the occasion of my 50th birthday, sent me 50 birthday cards, with Happy Birthday written in a different language on each and every one. This is not an exaggeration. Back in those distant benighted days before the Google Translate App, my mother sought out, researched, asked friends and acquaintances and somehow managed to learn how to say Happy Birthday in 50 languages. Between the two of them, my parents could manage nine languages…some of them fluently, others raggedly, but still. (English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Flemish) That meant she had to get forty more languages.
But before we would celebrate Mom’s birthday in the evening, I had the ladies of the Literature Club coming for our annual midsummer picnic. All was, or seemed to be, under control. CSB had mowed the lawn and helped me gather our random assortment of lawn chairs in a loose circle, in the shade of an unnaturally large birch tree. I had set out iced tea and lemonade and pink wine. Just in case someone wanted to soak her feet, I left the red and yellow plastic kiddie pool filled with water, and hoped no one would notice the flotilla of bugs. Then I headed down to the end of the field to pick sunflowers and…there, lying in the grass like a discarded rumpled tee shirt, was a dead raccoon. Quite newly dead. Eyes still open, mouth still agape.
This was a bad thing for two specific reasons. No three. First, the chickens were out of their pen and running all over the yard, and I didn’t want them finding this dead - and possibly rabid? - raccoon. Second, fifteen ladies were showing up in an hour or so, and in case one of them wanted to wander a bit, I really did not want them to come up a raccoon carcass. Third, Mom and her caregiver, Ava, generally took a daily walk around the garden going past exactly this spot, and while a dead raccoon would give just about anyone pause, a dead raccoon could very likely cause Ava to have genuine hysterics. Ava has many fine qualities, but any degree of comfort with animals, rodents, or insects, dead and alive, is not among them.
But I wasn’t keen to touch this dead raccoon.
So I went to the shed and found an empty metal garbage bucket, and placed it directly atop poor dead Ranger Rick. CSB would do the rest.
Then the literary ladies came, and everything was fine, and no one was troubled by the upside down garbage bin concealing the dead and rotting raccoon, and we discussed books such as A Summer without Men and Exit West and The Idiot (by Batumen, not Dostoyevsky, though of course Dostoyevsky is the inspiration), and we sang the praises of the The Traveler Restaurant, a wonderful eatery and bookshop off 1-84 on the Connecticut-Massachusetts border, filled with discarded books, where one can depart with THREE FREE (!!!) books, and we announced the blooming corpse flower at the Des Moines Botanical Garden, serendipitously concurrent with the annual Rag Ride (bike ride across Iowa),and we also discussed whether it was possible to acquire dual citizenship, as in from the country of one’s ancestors, and according to one member, , one could - with proper proofs and documents - indeed acquire the nationality of one’s grandparent, though no farther back than that. For those of us with family relatively new upon these shores - that is to say, immigrants -- all sorts of possibilities were raised. Would I rather be Belgian or French or German? Would I get to vote in both countries’ elections?
Meanwhile the chickens clucked, and wandered around, and happily pecked the lawn looking for worms and grubs and ticks. Until a large (larger even than the dead raccoon under the metal garbage bin, but I didn’t mention that) woodchuck appeared. He just waddled out onto the lawn while chickens clucked at him. Who was more distraught? Several literary ladies saw the woodchuck, and that provoked a discussion of whether or not woodchucks are crepuscular animals. While we were not sure about the woodchuck’s habits, we all agreed that crepuscular was a fine word. Foxes are definitely crepuscular, except for the fox who recently attacked and ran off with one of our chickens (an Araucana) neatly clutched between his, or her, jaws. The woodchuck, being an herbivore, I think, never attacked the chickens, and finally returned to the ferns. The chickens continued their clucking.
Later the deer arrived, munching in their usual spot under the apple trees. Our resident ungulates have already consumed every apple they can reach, and they have likewise eaten all the young leaves and fresh bark on any new trees. The upper apples, high on the tree, are however quite available for the squirrels. Who have already consumed all, as in 100%, of our peaches.
With all the wildlife, dead and alive, I had occasion to miss Bruno and Daisy, in their salad days, back when the four-legged animals running round the yard were members of the family, beloved creatures.
Later Mom came for dinner so we could celebrate her birthday. I made lamb chops and sweet potato fries and salad with endives and cucumbers, all favorite foods, once.
She is losing nouns at about the same rate we are losing peaches. Yet I surprise myself by understanding what she means when she says: “The thing… it was a color…over there, before.” (Regarding a red dress she bought in Brussels.)
One of her sons called to wish her Happy Birthday. She looked at me with confusion. “Who is this? What do I do?” I told her it was her son Michael, her favorite (I always tell her the one on the phone is her favorite), and that the scarf I’d just given her to open was from him, so she should say thank you. This was both Mom and Michael (who had not given her the scarf) could be equally confused.
Then I brought out the cake and explained about blowing out the candle. Eighty seven years and one inexplicable candle.