Sunday Afternoons at Three
Don’t worry. I don’t have to watch a television show at exactly three o’clock on Sundays or huddle in a dark corner to meditate. In fact; the routine, rut, tradition, whatever you want to call it is based on something quite simple. Love.
From my earliest memories, I toddled alongside my mother through the pastures of our three hundred acre family farm on a daily basis. Everywhere she went, I went. Farmers were not in the practice of hiring babysitters, I suppose and I was quite an unusual occurrence within the constellation of my immediate family. My sisters and brother were eighteen, sixteen, and twelve years old when I was born, officially making me an accident (surprise) and giving me an odd birth order that more closely resembled that of an only child. I accompanied mamma while she milked the cow, gathered the eggs, and checked the endless fences hand set by my father. If you don’t think checking the fences is important, try driving to the lake along a busy highway with a cow trotting around in your path.
As the years unfolded, my parent’s advanced age proved to be a source of embarrassment for my teenage self. It is pretty typical to feign dislike around your parents during adolescence, but that is severely amplified when they are extremely out of step with the culture and look like grandparents or great-grandparents. Sadly, my father only embarrassed me until I turned fifteen, leaving me to finish growing up alone with mamma.
The twist of roles began when I returned from a year long stint in Indiana with my oldest sister while mamma recovered from the loss of my father. At sixteen I had to teach my anxious mother to drive, crossing my fingers that she would finally get her license so I would not have to ride beside her any more. Let’s just say the pedestrians usually got more exercise than they intended. I taught her how to navigate shopping trips, eat out (yes you have to tip your server), and how to handle solicitors. No. Just say no. I even negotiated my own curfew as if I were buying a used car. The roles blurred more intensely as I became an adult.
She cared deeply for me by keeping in touch while I jaunted about the country attending college and finding work and experiences while she sacrificed for my education and lived a humble existence back on the farm. She road buses and planes to visit me no matter where I landed and whenever I returned home, we always did one thing that felt oddly necessary. We walked the fences. Mamma popped her homemade popcorn over the stove and filled a brown paper bag. I can still smell the buttery flavor filling her little kitchen. Then we would head out to scan the fencerows, even when the fields were leased by another farmer. Those Sunday afternoons often included homemade fudge mamma would pour into a dish and let harden while we hiked about the back land, returning to rest and discard an empty bag of salty kernels.
Mamma succumbed to congestive heart failure just after her eighty-ninth birthday. I was only forty-two. She had lived with me the last eight years of her life and I fully evolved into her caretaker like many adult children at that point of our journey. Mamma left the world in my arms, just as she would have wanted. I know that because she had promised as much to her own mother decades before.
Despite knowing she is in a much better place and her worries and pain are over, I selfishly long for her soft voice and gentle touch. I am well aware that coping with great loss is vital to our health and will keep me going for my own daughters, so I developed a practice that helps me honor her and make time for her memories. Every Sunday afternoon around three in the afternoon, I settle down somewhere with my popcorn and reflect on that quiet lady, who sang the old-fashioned hymns while shoving a dust mop around her hardwood floors, perfected pans of fried chicken over a steamy stove, and most of all; trudging through tall, dry weeds checking the fences.