I’ve neglected writing much on the Blog lately but I had a good reason. We took a detour to go time-traveling instead.
Oh, it’s nothing slick like a Hoverboard ride in Back To The Future. This part of the trip has been more like a quiet, reflective stroll through a foggy Victorian moor.
Our original plan for this year included an extended stay with Peter’s mother in rural Australia. Retirement meant we could linger for the longest time since Peter left for foreign shores so many years ago. This time, this year, he could be his mother’s date to a family wedding. He would be home to celebrate her birthday, Christmas, and New Year. He hoped to tempt her away from the farm for a day at the racetrack and to splurge on a few nice dinners in town. None of it happened.
Essie McDermott died unexpectedly 12 days before we arrived in Australia. All that was left by the time we got here was a gravesite and the family farm.
It wasn’t until we started to organize her things that we realized she wasn’t really gone at all. Every cupboard and drawer is a magic window back in time. We see traces of Essie in the shed, or wandering her garden, or out in the pasture with the cattle and the sheep she raised.
Essie, my mother-in-law, was a grand lady of simple pleasures. She kept her nicest things packed away for special people and used the old and worn out things herself. Touchstones to those she loved were her treasures. Old broken toys, too alive with memories to discard, wait patiently in boxes for happy children. Greeting cards from 60 years overwhelm the drawers with reminders of good cheer. Playful crayon drawings hide in nooks and crannies. Congratulatory telegrams from her wedding to Leo still echo “Bon Voyage!” in the pantry. Yellowed newspapers on the shelf herald the achievements and somber milestones of life.
Sometimes I cradle her things in my hands and close my eyes to see what stories they have left to tell. Delicate china cups and a silver set whisper of a glowing bride serving afternoon tea to pretty young lady friends. Stacks of old dishes from her cafe now sit quiet and dusty in the larder. I rinse them in the sink and imagine the savory aroma of lamb roast wafting through the room. Leo’s red riding coat, retired in 1983, hangs ramrod straight in the closet where Essie kept it all these years. Smoothing my hand down its woolen front, I see him astride Socks as they prance by a delighted grandstand.
A few days ago Peter found a bundle of letters hidden high on a closet shelf. He untied the stack and dozens of fragile packets fluttered down on the bed like crisp autumn leaves. We blinked back our tears. In that package was every note Peter ever sent home, preserved and treasured, testimony to a mother’s ever-present love.
I could wander these dusty Victorian backroads forever but we cannot stay. The cattle and sheep must go to market. Photos and clippings are scanned and stored. Mementos pass into the hands of Essie and Leo’s sons. The house and farm will soon be sold and, when it is, the memories that live here will move on too.
It’s a bittersweet trip when you travel through time. We are happy. We are sad. Our hearts are heavy but our backpacks are light. Goodbye, dear Essie. Goodbye, Leo. Goodbye, old farm. We won’t ever forget you. Goodbye.