You know how you can whip a tea towel at someone, especially if it's wet from drying the dishes, a quick flick of the wrist and that towel snaps against a vulnerable part of the body - usually exposed skin is best for maximum effect but that snap of pain can be felt even under clothing.
When we were growing up, my sister and I used to do the dishes every night after dinner. I always dried and so I perfected the art of the tea towel snap. Of course the tables often turned and I was on the receiving end of defensive action: one of those ghastly 'burns' where you grab someone's arm with both hands and twist the skin. My sister was quite adept at this.
Yesterday I was reading Anne Lamott's Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. I had some music playing in the background, I was just kinda hanging out. One of the chapters in Anne's book made me think about how we are hardwired to survive and to keep going. Even when we are old, or sick, and failing, we hold on to life, even if it's just for one more bite of ice cream.
It made me think of my Mom in the weeks before she died. She spent most of her time in bed but did still enjoy being taken out for some sunshine and flower-time in her wheelchair. She couldn't really say much but made it very clear when she wanted her 'sweet treats' - a can of Coke with a straw was a particular favourite, or a small tub of vanilla ice cream that we'd bring in for her.
So I was remembering this and then the iPod shuffling through its playlist kicked into See you later alligator by Bill Haley. It was like a snap of that tea towel. That's how grief can be sometimes. It snaps at you, out of nowhere, it stings, it catches you so off guard all you can do is cry. And that's what I did.
It was the song that did it. For several months before she died, Mom was still able to converse with us and every time I visited, we said good bye the same way.
'See you later alligator!' I'd say.
'After 'while crocodile,' she'd reply.
And we'd give each other the 'secret signal' of our love for each other (to this day, only me and Mom know what this is and if anyone ever says they can communicate with her on the 'other side', I would get them to tell me what the 'secret signal' is, then I'd know for sure it was Mom parting the veil) and I'd end my visit.
That's how grief can be. It lashes out and stings you so hard you cry with the pain of it. The startling speed of it is so surprising it makes you catch your breath. Other times it's like that slow burn your sister used to give you when she'd had enough of you flicking her with the tea towel. It grabs hold and slowly burns.
Mom has been gone now for almost nine years and I suppose I can say that grief's tea towel snaps are less frequent than they were. But the sting and the pain is as acute, singular, and painful as ever. The slow burn is an ember that flares up now and then. Both can be triggered by songs, pictures, the smell of Chanel No. 5 that was Mom's favourite, things she loved that I now have and so grief is woven into the fabric of my life now, into the everyday. It's part of me.
I often start my journal entries with a description of the weather. It acts as a kind of trigger for me, a way in to the writing of the day's activities and thoughts. And let's face it, we all have stories about experiences - good and bad - with weather, so climate can be a rich source of writing material.
Looking out at the Hauraki Gulf over the last few days I've seen a patchwork of white-capped waves, winds gusty and ruffling up the water just off the beach. We've had intermittent squalls of heavy rain with a driving cold westerly wind that has brought snow down south. The weather has real, raw, scary energy to it.
My Mom was raised in Florida and very early on developed a healthy respect for what she called 'weather', meaning 'bad storms and such.' She held such weather in equal measures of respect and a kind of meteorological fascination mixed with sheer terror. If 'weather' was approaching our place, she'd say, 'Weather on the way! Ominous nimbus!' and she was always tuned in to the hurricanes that routinely came ashore in her neck of the woods, the American south.
'Looks like that one is heading up into the Carolinas,' she'd say with the authority of one who knew about such things.
I can relate to the storms of Florida too, having spent a lot of time there. The raw power of those thunderstorms is something to behold: grey black clouds boiling up into the heavens, bringing fist-pummeling thunder, hurling rain and sky-cracking lightning along with winds that would sweep away everything including the cat.
When Mom was growing up, her Mom would gather everyone together into the basement area of the old hotel they used to run (the famous Keystone Hotel in Fernandina Beach) when a storm was coming. They would sit there around the table until the crisis had passed. Sensible.
My brother recalls one time he was out in the open on a Florida golf course and a 'thunder-boomer' rolled in. He felt the hairs rising on his arm right before a lightning bolt hit a tree close by with a percussive force that knocked him down.
Our house in Murray's Bay on Auckland's North Shore sat up on a cliff on Churchill Rd with a great view down the Gulf towards Auckland city. A good sou'wester would roar up and the house would 'cop it' as Mom used to say. Across the front of the house, facing the teeth of any gale from the south or west, were three very large windows, 'quarter inch plate glass' as Mom would tell you. When there was a good blow, these glass panels would literally bend and move with the gusts.
When this happened, Mom would retreat. If it was dark, she'd go to bed. 'Those windows are breathing,' she would say. 'I'm out of here.'
I remember placing my hands on the windows once, and they were indeed breathing in and out with the winds of the storm.
I have inherited my Mum's respect for wild weather but rather than retreat to my bed, I prefer to hang out with it, listen and watch - except for one particular time a few months ago when a thunderbolt hit close to the house. Betsy cat was sleeping in her chair and the noise made her leap up and we both ran into the toilet which seemed like the safest place to be.
What weather stories do you have?