It’s spring, my eyes are running from allergies and the yard is filled with dandelions. Most people would be depressed about that and on their way to fetch the weed-killer, but not me. Sure, the allergy thing is a bummer. When I bend over to look at one of the yellow discs my nose cuts loose like Niagara Falls after a snow-melt. But the dandelion itself slides the key into the lock of a sweet memory and the ground around it blurs. No longer surrounded by dirt and stray cat hair, the feathery yellow bloom is now surrounded by a fat little fist that belongs to my son, who offers it to me as a Mommy Bouquet, the first of many.
The memory takes me back to a crowded rest area off I-40. Our son was newly three and ran like a pony. We were traveling back on one of the busiest weekends of the year from an Easter visit to my parents’ home in the hills of West Virginia and we needed a potty break. The place was packed with vans, overheated cars, tractor-trailers and a convoy of motorcycles.
My husband wanted to check the oil in what we’ll just call a vintage vehicle so I took my son with me to go potty. As we exited the restroom, I let go of his hand so I could fill my water bottle from the fountain outside. I asked him to stay put and just assumed he would. But when I finished and turned around he was no where in sight. My heart lept into my throat. I called out his name in that high-pitched Mommy voice that in retrospect always sounds like a scalded cat. I yelled for his Dad, waving my hands in the air. But he had his head under the hood checking the oil so that was a wasted effort and he couldn’t hear me over the din of the interstate. On my own in this disaster, I dashed around the building into the side yard of the rest area, my heart pounding in fear, only to see a set of stubby legs in plaid seersucker shorts squating over the neon green grass. As hysterical Moms do, I screamed his name as I ran and fell on my knees next to him in the soft grass. “Here Mommy,” he said, rising up and extending a wilting dandelion, “Here a pretty for you!”
As I breathlessly received the soggy blossom, he turned and ran across the grass to his Dad, who, thank you God, saw him coming, scooped him up in his strong arms and spun him around in the air. I could hear his shriek of delight and see the flush on his little cheeks. I knew he was safe and happy in his Daddy’s arms. It was another reminder that men and women have very different definitions of adventure.
Anytime I see dandelions now, that memory floods back and it’s very bittersweet. The chubby toddler is six foot three. He’s in college and yes, still brings me flowers! But his Daddy’s strong arms stopped holding us a few years ago when we lost him to a massive stroke. If you tried to tell me, back on that spring day, that I’d be a widow in eighteen years, I’d have laughed in your face. My man was as healthy as a horse, no one ever saw it coming.
One of the oddest things about being widowed is how large your memory bank becomes. It’s what you have left after they are gone. It expands and expands, year after year. Memories keep rising up, sometimes at the oddest of times, often triggered by something (like a dandelion). Not all memories are good ones. So, when a good ones come, I treat them like a special guest. I offer them a soft bed with fresh sheets, put out the clean towels and ask them to spend some time with me.