It’s Tuesday, Oct. 9, and I’m leaving my guitar lesson feeling good. We tried some new stuff, my teacher and I, and I didn’t sound terrible.
Now I drive to Slide Hill Park.
As I pull into the parking lot, I’m reminded that summer is over. The pools are empty, and the parking lot holds only one dusty vehicle. I step out of my car and walk towards the large concrete sculptures of two dolphins and an otter who wait silently in a sand playground for children to play with them. A bench, generously supplied many years ago by the City of Davis, encourages me to sit down.
No one is there.
This is my mother’s park. Not the whole thing, of course, but those dolphins and that otter were sculpted in her memory and dedicated many years ago. A small plaque explains that her friends and family sponsored this play area.
My mother passed away when I was 40 years old, with young children of my own — 2 and 5 years old.
Suddenly, she was gone. Not coming back. She went from a diagnosis of curable breast cancer in early September to unexpected death on Oct. 9, 1987.
After that, I was heartbroken, looking for something to do with my grief. I felt confused and alone, especially since few people my age had lost a parent. I went on a trip but came home unsatisfied.
Finally, with the help of family, a better idea emerged. Over a two-year period we interviewed artists, helped with construction, and finally had a dedication party at Slide Hill Park. It all passed in weepy blur, but afterward, I felt better.
Today as I walk towards the bench, I notice that someone has left sticky plastic foil between the slats. I extract it and toss it into a trash can. I notice that the oak tree has grown and the bushes have spread.
Impulsively, I return to my car and grab my guitar.
Today is the 25th anniversary of my mother’s sudden passing. I know this anniversary is big for me because I haven’t been able to tell anyone. Half a dozen times, I’ve started to say to a friend “my mother died 25 years ago” but I can feel the tears building before the words, so I stop.
My hands stumble as I open my guitar case. People like me don’t play in public. I’m not a guitar player yet; I’m a student, trying to train my fingers while fighting to overcome my fear of singing for others.
I look around. The coast is clear.
What songs would Mommy like? She’d probably say, “Play what you like, Marion,” so I do. Songs in A minor, my favorite key. One about life, one about romance, one about death. I play quietly, without my pick, and I sing quietly, too.
My mother also took up something new and different when she was in her sixties. After a lifetime of hiding her fear of water, she went to the Y and learned to swim, an amazing, brave thing to do. She asked me to come to New York and serve as her guardian angel when she swam the length of the pool for the first time. Could her example have led to my guitar-playing?
I go silent for half a minute while a man passes with a pit bull-mix dog on a leash. Then I begin again.
Thirty-four years separated us when my mother died: I was 40, she was 74, but we’re only nine years apart now, and our lives are more similar: We’re both Grandmas. I wish we could sit down together and talk.
The passing years have brought me closer to who my mother was at the end of her life but she hasn’t been around to see new sides of me.
How surprised she would be to hear me sing. But she can’t hear me, even for a moment. I lay the guitar back in its case, soothed and saddened at the same time. The sun shines hard on my bench. The pools glisten in their emptiness. There are still no children around.
Something in the sculpted otter’s eye catches my attention, and I stand and walk over to him. His head is disproportionally bigger than a real otter’s; his eyes are, too. My mother had large eyes, and sometimes they held the same expression as this otter. Peaceful. Gentle. Waiting.
Waiting for the children.
This month, sadness leaks. The good life feels far away from me, like the moon when it is high in the sky, tiny and distant. I want a warm harvest moon on the horizon, the kind that feels so big it fills you. I want my mother to fill me in that way, but with 25 years absence, it’s hard now.
I try. I’m sitting in her park. I’m playing for her, showing off to Mommy like a little girl. I want her back so badly. As one friend said, you only get mother love from one person. I’ve been 25 years without it now.
No longer can I hear her voice. I don’t remember her smell. But later today I plan to bake a much-loved apple cake from her recipe, and I will look at her handwriting in the recipe book.
Round, symmetrical letters. Gentle right-leaning slope. A teacher’s handwriting. I miss her so.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]