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The year Mother didn’t die was an aberration.

It was a year of El Nino, a time when global conditions, cloud cover, tides, and wind currents somehow make a mockery of the Sunny Southern California expectation. Normally bright, clear, blue skies stretch over an endless horizon of rippling saltwater and the sun makes diamonds in the curve of the waves that splash with a latte-froth of foam and sand, then disappear before your very eyes, leaving a heavy, wet slope, exposed.

Before your very eyes.

In the year of El Nino, the sun went into hiding and layer upon layer of fog rested heavily on the scrub brush of the cliffs along the water’s edge. Rain beat against the rag top of my convertible, making a swift riverlet along the top and spraying far behind, but constant and unrelenting against the windshield heading north, where Mother lay not dying day after day after day. Rains came unforgiving and covered the black asphalt with puddles that made the wheels splash. Whooshing cars raced up and down the concrete ribbon that defined the Very End of the United States – the tilted, off-balance strip of highway along the Southern California coast that made the drive from San Diego to Dana Point swift and frightening. Off-kilter. As if a wave of grain in the Midwest could start a rumble that would build westward, gather strength through the Rockies and slap down the Western slope, scattering cars into the Pacific like tub toys.

Others raced past me, too fast, as I plodded faithfully north three nights a week, jumpy from the speed and the headlights and the darkness and the rain and the rain and the rain. Past the yellow traffic-sign silhouette of a desperate immigrant family dragging a child across the eight deadly lanes. Hurry. Hurry. Mother is dying. My Mother is dying. My Mother is dying. I whispered the words in time with the windshield wipers – sometimes shouted them, sometimes added hot wet tears to the huge drops beating outside the car. Hurry.

Instead, El Nino died. The rain was held back and, briefly, winds would take the churning clouds to one corner of the sky and expose a patient blue. There are scientists who can explain the weather. Different scientists than the ones that deal with sagging flesh, bloodclots, brittle bones and faint hearts. Weather scientists who depend on the perspective of satellites far, far above the earth, who can see the whole thing at once, and watch the inevitable collision of forces. These scientists declared that El Nino was dead and in its place was dead calm.

By the end of the year that Mother didn’t die, the forces around us were quiet — a condition called La Nina, or Little Girl.

 The year Mother didn’t die

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Seasonal Self-loathing

  This year, a wreath of pastel eggs and rustic foliage crowns the hutch. On the shelves are dessert plates – yellow, green, blue, pink – each with a raised impression of running bunnies, chasing each other around the rims. For contrast, my daughter’s ceramic café plate in pomegranate red stands up next to the wreath. In her handwriting, the plate reads, “Laugh until your heart overflows…” Opposite that, in the exact red, is a jaunty straw hat perched, tilting, on a milk bottle. In one corner a fluffy ball of white wool fashioned to look like a lamb wobbles on four little stick legs, not the same length.  A while ago the lamb fell to its side.

  It’s a charming tableau of Spring sprung, new life, new beginnings, rose buds, the end of winter.  There’s only one problem.

  It’s June.

 The roses have been full-blown for at least a month. I’ve deadheaded them twice.

 So what’s with theme decorating?  Why is it in our lives?  In my case I know it comes directly from my mother, Maxine. She was queen of her household in the peak of post-war homemaking with Better Homes & Gardens dictating the height of best practices – a term that had not yet been articulated. Mother had a long, curved white sectional couch and a closet with an array of throw pillows for every season.  Pastel for spring, bold brights for summer, amber and avocado for fall and, of course, red and gold for Christmas. Not only the couch pillows, but the items on her hutch, the figurines on the end tables, the trinkets in the kitchen window – these would change each season with strict precision.  No white shoes after Labor Day? Ha! That’s child’s play. The rules go much deeper than that.

 The year Maxine died it was rough at the end. My sisters and I stayed at her house while she lingered at a nearby hospital. She was on life support for weeks. Then, after we turned off life support she continued to hang on for 10 days, breathing seven times each minute. Time it for yourself – eternity between each breath.

 When she finally breathed her last on June 13, there was a whirlwind of planning the perfect funeral, writing notices, arranging for flowers, creating a display of photographs and her quilts, accommodations for out of town guests, the luncheon afterward. Days flew by.  We pulled it all off and finally headed home, exhausted. I walked in the front door and burst into tears. Loud.  Hysterical.

 “What’s wrong?” my husband asked.

I lifted a tear-stained face.

 “I haven’t put away Easter yet. Mom would be horrified.”

 So, now, over ten years later, it’s June and Easter is still up and I am filled with dread. My sister is coming in two days. I have to change the hutch…

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