So I was able to visit my mom’s grave and it was wonderful … you know what I mean.

I was surprised to see some artificial flowers at her grave. There were yellow and pink chrysanthemums that my dad and I left when he came to visit. There was also a small bouquet slipped inside the headstone’s metal vase. I don’t know who left them there. As a matter of fact, there have been a few times when I’ve gone to visit and there were flowers at her grave that I didn’t place,

Thank you to the soul who has visited my mom.

I also noticed that the grave site had some of the errant grass trimmed away. No doubt it was the secret visitor’s handiwork. I took out the small broom to sweep away old leaves and grass. From my canvas bag I pulled out some scissors to cut away more wisps of grass that had regrown. As I clipped the dry grass around her grave marker, it reminded me of the times I’d help mom pull weeds from the various gardens from various houses where we lived. I hated doing it because we’d spend all day working in the fields only to come home and work in the garden.

“Look,” I remember saying to her, “pickles.”

“No, those are cucumbers.”

“They look like baby pickles.”

“They are,” she said. “Cucumbers are pickles.”

What? Huh? Cucumbers? I thought about the big pickles from the movie theater that cost fifty cents. I thought about the pickles on the hamburgers that were cut all wavy. I thought of the little pickles my Tia Noche would cut into the tuna.

“See, look, I’ll show you.” she said pinching a few small cucumbers free from their vines. “We’ll take these inside and make pickles.”

After we finished weeding and watering the garden, mom took the almost empty jar of dill pickles out  of the refrigerator. We washed the cucumbers and she slicked them into small circles. She placed them back in the refrigerator and said we would have to wait for them to turn into pickles.

Everyday when we came home from the fields, I’d check the jar. No pickles. Just sliced cucumbers floating in pickle juice. After a while I forgot about the jar until mom called me from whatever I was doing — probably laying on my bed staring at the popcorn ceiling playing a mental game of connect the dots. I did that a lot.

When I got to the kitchen, she held the pickle jar in her hands. The cucumber slices weren’t floating anymore and they weren’t white with dark green borders. They were … pickle colored. I took the jar and opened it. I slid my hand inside grabbing the first slice I could reach. It looked strange. Not floppy like a pickle but not firm like the cucumber slices we’d place in the jar. It smelled like a pickle. I bit into it. It crunched. A vinegary taste spread in my mouth. It was a crunchy pickle. I mean it still kinda had the cucumber taste and look but it was definitely some sort of pickle.

Wow. A food had just turned into another food. How many other foods had I eaten that were other things first?

I took a kitchen sponge from the canvas bag and poured some bottled water over it. I gently began wiping dirt from between the raised lettering on mom’s headstone. I poured some water on the marker and felt a rush of emotion. It’s probably the first time anyone has cleaned her marker. There was also something about cleaning it that made me feel like I was cleaning her when she had mobility problems getting in and out of the bath. I was wiping her face and arms. I was rinsing her feet. I was cleaning her neck and back.

Up until this point I hadn’t said a word aloud or otherwise. Cleaning her marker made me want to talk. I told her about my year. I told her about the blog and how it was good and bad. I told her about how this year I felt both depressed and confident. I told her about my illnesses and down time. I reminded her of the promise I made last year of not wanting to come back to her grave and cry out of desperation and longing.

I removed the plastic flowers placing them in my canvas bag. I filled the vase with fresh red roses. I took all my supplies and put them back in the car which was only a few feet away. I came back to her grave with two dozen roses that I bought for her wedding anniversary in March. I arranged them in a bouquet and let them dry. One by one I gently pulled off the dried rosebud letting the petals float down to her grave. A cold wind was moving in and gently carried the petals in whimsical patterns before letting them settle.

“I should take a picture,” I thought but decided to just let the wind encircle me with petals, let them dance.

It was beautiful to be there in the moment, not recalling the pain of losing her, not anticipating future pain of her absence, and not feeling alone. I don’t know if my mom ever had that sort of moment when it came to her mother. Grandma died young of an aneurysm.

I started to think of how when the end was coming, mom wanted to live. She’d stopped treatment for her cancer because it was painful and, probably because of her pharmacist, it was killing her.

I though about how she wanted to do so much but her body failed her. I thought about the garden. I thought about all the beautiful food she cooked. I thought about how she used food to show us love. I though about how she used food to manage other emotions. I thought about how she taught us the same. There were times we didn’t have any food and it was up to my sisters to make sure we were fed because mom was in such a depression that she couldn’t handle the responsibility and dad … well, he wasn’t around.

I thought about how I want to make the coming year a good one. For that to happen, I need to be able to get around and maneuver comfortably in my skin. I need to be able to wear my clothes instead of pulling on them and fighting them. I need to be more active and less sedentary. I mean, I’m a fat guy and I will probably always be a fat guy. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be healthy. The last year, I haven’t been healthy.

The last year I haven’t been healthy.

#TheLastYear. Healthy.

Standing at my mom’s grave, this blog came back to me.

I started this blog because I was turning 46 and my mom died when she was 47. I wanted to try to experience some of her life in her final year. A year had passed so it was done, right? Well, maybe not.

Maybe the garden, the food, her illness, my desire to move forward maybe mom was trying to tell me that this is the last year to be unhealthy.

So like last year, I knelt at her grave and made a promise. This is the last year I will be unhealthy. Certainly, I’ll get sick. I may even have a trip or two to the doctor in my future but I need to get this under control before it’s too late.

Who knows, if I can begin to manage this par of my life, maybe I can also bring order to the other parts of it.

March 13, 1960


Wedding Day

I wonder what Grandpa thought
as you smiled for the camera
on this your wedding day.
Did he object to you marrying so young?
Did he have other dreams for you?

Did Grandma wish for more time
with you as her daughter
instead of as dad’s wife?
Did her hands help sew your wedding dress?
Did you “borrow” her white hat and gloves?

Did they fear losing you to the chaotic world
into which you decisively stepped?
Did reports from the kitchen radio of sit-ins
at Woolworth’s lunch counters concern them?

Who were the people at your side
standing as witnesses before God
listening to your sacred vows?

Where was your younger sister, my Tia Noche?
Where stood dad’s many siblings?
Did they try to talk you out of it?

Did they support your desire
for a family of your own
or did they voice concerns
of a lifetime of struggle?

Did they forewarn that brown skin,
bilingual tongues, and a limited education
would condemn dad to work years
in a congested meatpacking plant
and us to labor in the fields?

Perhaps like other young people of the time,
you found hope for your generation
in John F. Kennedy
in Martin Luther King
in yourselves.

Happily you breezed into a new life.
You were having your cake and eating it too.
After all, 1960 was a leap year
and that you did.