Mother’s day looms with expectation, pressure. Once upon a time though here in this faded suburb of a city my son made magic happen. No lukewarm brunch, no potted geranium, no cliché momma gift for me, nope I got a treasure hunt. On little scraps of paper, in his grown up scrawl I was to follow each clue until I came to the next.
Santa and God always disappointed making me suspect of surprise events. But on this perfect May Sunday, a day so fertile with spring ‘s burst I felt like a believer again. “ Go down to the end of the driveway and find an a winged creature.” Under the garden statue of my deceased mothers porch angel ornament was another clue. “Walk in the direction of the sunset.” On went the puzzle. I followed each clue, clueless as to where I was going or what I would find.
Perhaps this was not a treasure hunt; perhaps my prankster son was just sending me on a wild goose chase. The directions required that the dog accompany me. We came to the muddy hill that led up to the railroad tracks. I frequented this path on walkabouts with my dog on our regular walks.
The wild far away feel of the tracks, always made my itchy feet long for adventure. The hill to the tracks steeper each week for my aging dog, but the whiff of freedom associated with trains spurred us on.
There at the top of the hill was a hand written wooden posted sign with a figurine of a boy and his pup glued up top. This roads sign designated the name of the path. It read, “The JoelWalk dedicated to Collette and Avery.” Joel Walkowski, my son named a path after himself and dedicated it to his momma and her dog, his dog, Avery.
I sat in the scratchy grasses next to the track gazing on the hand done sign. One thousand heart beats of momma memories and magic. Being a mom took me down uncharted paths, round turns, up hills and often to my knees. But in this parched landscape, looking at the sign I was transported to the land of redemption, where all is love.
I wept a bit, snapped some photos. Went home, thanked the son and filed the days event under good memories.
Good memories that were rekindled whenever the dog and I hiked that same hill.
It was always a surprise to see the sign sitting in the middle of the urban landscape like an art instillation with no audience. I always expected some vandal to steal the dollar store statue, or someone to make away with the sign. But it remained, through season upon season. It remained till the season of death. On that hot summers end day, when there was no one, the son the living far away, I had to tend to the dogs ashes.
No more walk abouts. I carried her ashes up the hill and at our signpost I spilled her cremains at the foot of our sign. In a life with few anchors I was home in the weedy world of our “walk”. I held her memory at our memorialized spot, on the JoelWalk, less alone in my grief.
Always looking for signs. My whole life I have been looking for signs. Shooting stars in the sky, a death a birth. The untimely toll of church bells. The robin’s song a hello from the heavens, mom is around.
Monthly, me who never visit a gravesite with a floral memorial blanket went up the muddy path to visit the dog’s grave. Really I was on walk but choose a route that allowed me to see the sign. I missed my dog and my children less there on the rocky side of the Amtrak route.
Did passengers gaze out the speeding window and wonder about the sign randomly peeking through cornflowers?
A year, four seasons came and left. The sign weathered more than a few storms, the son became more man than boy.
The little statue went missing The JoelWalk sign remained. And the ashes sat in a clump at the base, defying the biblical adage “remember man that you are dust…”
When the boy/son had troubles in grade school the dog took to his bed intuiting his sorrow. When I intervened thinking dogs do not belong in beds the always-docile dog snarled at me. Do not become between my boy and me.
When the boy went off to college and I moved to a house fenceless yard the dog who had tended to take frequent walk about never ran from the yard. She stood steadfast at my side, walking me through my valley of sorrow.
Now her ashes remained through all elements, seeming once again not wanting to be far from the boy or his mom. Even her ashes were a constant.
Two springs later the sign was gone, and they ashes were covered by over grown brush. Mom’s adages’ ever a litany in my head, “life goes on.” I had ben working on attachment and a shrine to dog and a moment of time though a magic one lived in my heart, it was time to let go.
Still I walked that railroad walk. It made the cityscape go away. I was a kid who might jump a rail car.
Late when summer light was leaving on stroll I made my way home through the short cut and by chance found the sign in some weeds.
I brought it home and put it in the garden. Another lesson in attachment’s. Another circle gone round again.
I did not wane philosophically. I was just glad for the sign and the memory.
Faith is a gift; seekers have their own gift. In dark nights kings follow stars to find a prophet. I am not a fan of surprises but life’s mysteries enchant me.
Life senseless and am always trying to make sense of it. Just like I did with all moms’ adages that left me baffled and her bemused.
“Can I go, Can I go? “ I would implore. “Why take a ham sandwich to a banquet?” she would retort.
There are folks who believe that there are spiritual epicenters on the planet, Sedona, Lourdes, Manchu Pichu. Some of us make alters in our home. Some us wear talismans or blessed relics to remind us of the sacred. Streets corners have makeshift shrines where life has been aborted by trauma or violence.
I had a sanctuary next to the railroad tracks, a place where I reflected and prayed and cried. Though littered and scented with diesel oil it was my own holy landscape.
I am left only with walking. No sign, no dog. Son far away, dancing the Sufi dance of youth taunting life and death.
I do not pray, I just always have a holy heart that fiercely longs for something bigger than I to tend to my children. Saints, angels, Allah, Buddha, my mother heart so tender I call on all practices and deities.
Children have that thing, of bringing us to our knees to our God.
On my return from a visit to New York to see my cubs I noted that mom’s angel statue had been knocked sideways.
Her wings were intact. This soothed me.
Off my mark and weary I walked, and walked. So far, so long that I needed the short cut.
In summers dusk peeking out from the brush, just where the dog’s ashes had become earth was a garden gnome standing on a tree trunk. He was holding a lantern as if to illumine the way. In the exact same spot where the JoelWalk sign had stood and the dog was laid to rest was this elfin figurine holding up a lantern to the darkness.
Life just gets amended sometime. I was taken from my musings on whatever junk and fear had spurred me on to the walk.
The garden gnome seemed a wise sage, not unlike a Garden of Gethsemane image where the dark is illumined by an apostle lifting a lantern to guide the way. Gnomes are earth dwellers who guard treasures. The males of the species are guardians of animals. They travel the forest and farms to find wounded animals and guide them on their way. I live the lore. A middle-aged mom, living in the middle kingdom of life, prodding along encumbered at times. But somehow lighter, the holy place was sacred again, revered by a stranger who placed a garden gnome. A Random act of extreme love, angels as always abound, no wings broken, hearts do mend.