Valentine's Day Find

golden words from long ago

Happy Valentine’s Day!

People get humbug about this holiday, but my mom saluted love so fully when I was growing up that I adore Valentines still. We made our own cards with construction paper and paper doilies, magic markers and crayons. We had special dinners, and fun. I’ve carried this spirit and habit into my life, and love making paper Valentines and sometimes, cookies.

I started baking with Ellie Friday afternoon. We turned on our phones and made her beautiful cardamom sugar cookies long distance. She pressed a crocheted table runner into her cookies, and I used the tines of a fork. Without Ellie, I wouldn’t have gotten decorative, and I’m in love with the way it felt, not just to make a cookie, but to make it beautiful. Then I got on an inadvertent roll, and made some shortbreads from a recipe my friend Rose Wilde demonstrated. And then I decided I needed to figure out how to make a gingerbread cookie bar. And then! I decided we needed some chocolate chip cookie bars because another cooking instructor friend, Katherine Deumling, had posted a beautiful recipe I wanted to try. Before I knew it, the day was gone and I hadn’t left the kitchen, so I called up my grief buddy Rich for a walk in the cemetery near his house. 

The gravestones looked strange in the snow, promising infinity while nature piled over them. The littler stones looked like rows of gray teeth. We walked in the gathering dark and talked about the conundrums of loss.

His mom died a week before my father did. We morbidly joked that our parents would have died January 6th, when the insurrection happened. And now they would have died again, mortified by how the impeachment trial ended.

I complained about reading something about death not being a loss, but a way to keep noticing the gifts our loved ones gave us. I understand this idea, but I feel bereft. One day when I was out walking, I told Rich, I realized that losing a parent is like losing an ocean, or any geographic element you’ve grown used to knowing. Now, my ocean, my father, a part of nature I’ve relied upon, is gone. The lack repaints, or unpaints, my imagination. 

Of course, I am keenly aware of what my father gave me. For the funeral, my siblings and I characterized our love for him, each of us naming what he gave us. My younger sister thanked him for what he gently taught us about being human and humane, not just alive. My brother thanked Dad for inspiring him to teach ESL, because as an English teacher, my father looked out for everyone. He made people who were marginalized feel seen. I said that our dad was engaged and engaging, full of love for people. His embrace of life was contagious. Would I hug the world so much if I were not his?

I have not been hugging the world very much lately. I’ve been sad.

This morning in my journal, I wrote about being mad about death being framed in a positive light. Did it feel good to get that off my chest, again? Maybe a smidge. I looked at the front page of the New York Times. TRUMP ACQUITTED FOR THE SECOND TIME AFTER FIERY TRIAL. The word acquitted usually trips me up, but now that I’ve seen that headline, maybe I will learn its meaning. I didn’t trust myself, so I took down the nearest dictionary to look it up. Opening the book, the first word I saw was fugacious, fleeting, volatile, ready to fly. Yup, I thought, the dictionary is an oracle. Before I looked up acquit, I turned to the front to check what year it was printed (1905), and I found this poem.

A game of exquisite corpse played by my parents, me & a friend in the early 90s. My handwriting is the first, then my friend’s, then my mother’s, then my father’s.

When I was in my 20s, I loved to play a game the Surrealists did. I made people play exquisite corpse whenever I could, mining our collective consciousness for words of gold. Here is how it works. Everyone gets a sheet of paper, and writes three lines or phrases at the top, folds over the top two and passes the page to the next person, who only sees the last line -- an inspiration. Quickly, we each write two lines and fold the papers again so the next person can only see one line. Then we hand our papers to the person next to us again. This continues, passing and writing, folding and passing, until we get to the bottom of the page. Then everyone reads the paper they end up holding.

This particular poem of sorts was captured in Seattle, when my parents came to visit. I recognize my handwriting, and my parents’, and think maybe my friend Heather was the fourth writer. What a treasure.

“And the truth will bring us freedom,” my mother wrote. She folded the paper so my dad would only read bring us freedom. He took the paper, and wrote these lines, a reflex: “And bring us bread. And bring us more stuff to catalog.”

The last pair of lines they wrote are lovely, too.

“The flower wilted, crying its fragrance,” wrote my mom. And then she folded over everything on the list but crying its fragrance. Seeing that, my dad wrote, “To loose her petals on a world that waits its final kiss.”

Oh, what synchronicity to find this piece of paper today! A Valentine from my father, from my parents, from another, easier time. Maybe the bits of him that I carry in me drew my hand to that pretty red dictionary, not to teach me about the meaning of a word, but to show me that the gifts of life are always hiding close at hand, ready to surface. How else to explain finding this when lament was leading me? I could have walked across the room to get the other, more modern dictionary, even though I reached for this one out of sheer laziness. But maybe laziness is sometimes prescient, guiding you to the thing you need to see next.  

I hope you are finding love in books or snow or cookies, and friends and lovers and memories.

Your flour pal, Amy

PS — I have to leave you with this:

The flower wilted, crying its fragrance, to loose her petals on a world that waits its final kiss.