Sticks

As a very young girl, I spent many a Saturday afternoon outside helping my parents with yard work.  I usually got the chore of picking up sticks.  Mom seemed to love it.  She was always picking up sticks – even during the work week.  I didn’t like picking up sticks.  It was boring.  I wanted to use the push mower.  It looked like so much fun.  I begged and pleaded with Dad and finally wore him down.  He started up the mower for me, and I took my first swipe around a large stump.  Weed-eaters didn’t exist back then.  We used a pair of manual hand-clippers around the trees.  (Squeeze hand.  Clip grass.  Get a hand cramp.  Squeeze hand.  Clip grass.  Is that a blister?)  It took forever.  I figured if I could get close enough to the stumps, I could alleviate that chore.

So, in my first swipe, I totally succeeded.  I got very close to the stump.  And, with my second swipe, I created a wide, deep line straight through the middle of the bright green grass.  Dad sprinted in my direction, frantically waving his hands in the air.  (OH NO, IS THERE A BEE BEHIND ME?)  He grabbed the mower handle from my hands and quickly turned off the engine.  He never said a word.  He simply looked at the close-shaven line that ran through the entire back yard and shook his head.  Later that morning, we headed to the hardware store, and Dad bought a new mower blade.  I didn’t understand why we needed a new blade.  Ours was working perfectly earlier this morning.  It wasn’t until a few days later, when the wide, deep line turned a drab shade of yellow that I understood what had happened.  Even then, Dad never said a word, but it was years before I was allowed to use the push mower again.  I was banished back to the sticks.

Fast forward to present day.  Mom is tired.  The chemo is wreaking havoc.  She’s frustrated.  I’m anxious.  Dad’s worried.  There must be something I can do.  I research her symptoms online, write down the list of recommended foods, and go shopping.  I take the food to Mom, but she’s not hungry.  I hover.  They send me shopping for more supplies.  I return and hover some more.  This is nothing I can do.  NOTHING.

I call her every day, twice a day.  Two days later, she tells me she’s called the hospital ER for advice.  She won’t go to the ER, and she won’t call 911 for an ambulance.  I should go visit her again, I think.  Maybe I can talk her into going to the hospital – then again, maybe not.  I already know how that discussion will go.  Mother knows best.

I walk outside.  The bright sun is warm on my face.  Daffodils sway in the breeze.  In the yard, I see sticks.  We had some wind the night before.  I start picking them up without thinking.  My hands become full.  I walk around to the back yard and get the wheelbarrow.  I spy a dead limb on a nearby shrub.  I walk over with the intention of snapping off a single twig, but half the darn plant breaks off in my hands.  I have a mini-meltdown.  My handsaw is nearby.  I slash.  I hack.  I sever.  I carve.  I chop.  (I get out my thesaurus!)  Five minutes later, the shrub is gone.  Only a small stump remains.  I feel better, but I’m not sure why.  Mom is still sick, and I can’t fix it.

Looking back, I remember how Mom loved to work outside – picking up sticks, planting flowers, pulling weeds, growing a garden full of vegetables.  And, suddenly, I think I understand.  (Light bulb!)  It was something she could control.  Something she had created.  The crap of life continued, but she made her part of the world just a little better, a little brighter.  Mother knows best.

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