I’ve missed you. Easter made me think of you.
Your spirit is always close in the springtime, dear Brenda. What about all those Easter parties down on McGee? What about all the holidays we shared?
Trying to get the conversion van across that perpetual creek in your driveway?
The gravel. The splashing. The “Damnit-John-we-just-got-this-washed,” comments from the peanut gallery as we made our way up to your place for fellowship, food, bright hearts. Easter, renewal, resurrection. So much family. So much fun.
Handmade suits. Pastel mint and navy, special family recipes. Amma’s apple pie.
Your house, Brenda. It was yours. Dennis loved you so much he designed a sleek architectural marvel out in the woods. He may have drawn up the plans, but you’re the one who so brightly lit that home.
Remember the Easter you first let me and Scotty hide the eggs? We were so excited to be the boss of something and wanted to present a challenge to our cousins. We stashed the eggs thoroughly – tall grass, nooks in the rock, in the split neck of a spreading tree, cradled in the crick, stashed in thickest thickets. Nestling Paas stained eggs on ledges, in puddles, even under the hood of the barbecue grill.
("The BBQ is OFF LIMITS!" Norma following behind us, beseeching us, remember the smallest cousins! "Remember to include the smallest of us in the adventure! Guys? Guys! Hide some out in the open for the little ones!")
In a way, it was always Easter at your place, Brenda. You hired me to wash your walls once a year, and indeed I walked away from that exchange richer – full of confidence, new knowledge – a feeling that renewal always resides right around the corner from the house on McGee.
It was you who taught me to bake, dear Brenda. How to take butter out to soften it up, how to bring the eggs to temp. How the little things we do in life affect the consistency of what we’ll finally pull out of the oven. How the texture of things can be the differential that elevates something from a trifle to a work of art. How the proper balance of flavor, texture, consistency, and presentation can be the difference between carving out a life, or whittling your own self down. You taught me to stand up for who I am. You taught me Old Testament in Lutheran catechism. Esther and Ruth, and the meaning of my namesake.
“You’re Michael,” you said to me, when I was 12 years old. You taught us Old Testament in Lutheran catechism. “Guard the garden, pass over the Jews while taking the first-born of the rest of Egypt. Oh yeah – and you kill the devil at the end, with a flaming sword.”
I felt so mortified! Other folks in the class were named after tertiary characters in the narrative. Suddenly I was the Archangel, while someone else in the class might have been named after a cobbler. I blushed, felt flushed. I still had a very strong faith in the Lutheran God back then. Before I saw what the world is, and which people get to move freely through it.
At any rate – now I just have faith in us. I hope that’s good enough. I can certainly live with it. I have to anyway.
Brenda, I went through some tough times; you let me confide in you. You were always available for emotional council. You were ursine of spirit. You helped me process some of the more difficult things children shouldn’t have to process.
(I’m getting a little choked up writing this actually. I just realized I’ll never be able to ask you how to fight bullies ever again! Then again, “hit them back” works in so many situations - at least as a metaphor.)
Where did you go? Why can’t we have you somewhere, planning Easter? Even just once a year would be cool. Who could ever take your place? When will our spirits ever be reunited? Is that maybe too much to ask? What’s the buzz?
What a crushing loss for all of us Brenda. Which is not to be dramatic, but rather, just to say, we all miss you. We all think of you all the time. We speak well of you – always fond words in remembrance.
I speak your name, sometimes, to myself – late at night, treasuring small remnants like the wedding gifts you gave us. A vintage photo-study book on Love from Amma. The magic wand you picked up for us the day after. Right before we had to drive down from Big Sur to Pebble Beach, to say goodbye.
The last time I ever got to see you face to face – that fancy restaurant on the golf course, you, radiant, a flower in your hair. California coast behind you, placid, raw cliffs tucked behind close-pruned putting greens. You, smiling. Distant waves crashing. A sense of possibility wafting in on ocean winds.
Sea birds – held aloft on updraft, faraway – just above the horizon.
Finishing up, we moved back through the grandiose country club lobby. I tried to coax Scotty into playing the piano, but he demurred.
You caught me by the elbow, Brenda, and you told me that you loved me, that you loved who I was, who I am. That you don’t quite understand the mysterious magic I carry – but that you see it, you sanction it.
It clicked the moment you said magic – you’d given me a literal magic wand.
(It rings so clear when I tap it on my desk, but I promise, I’m not tapping it very often. I understand it’s to be used sparingly, and never with ill intent. I understand it’s primarily a way to communicate intent to the rest of the world. I’m being respectful with it, I promise.)
All the love you fostered there in the Easter house. All good advice given. Practical, tidy, rarely judgmental. Strong, charismatic, full of twinkling Martin charm.
I know you bore quite a bit of your mother’s ancestral sorrow when you were young, and I know life had other sorrows in store for you. We all have our share of sorrow to bear. It’s how we process and move forward that counts. How can we turn this painful mess of life into some ordered elegance. Even rustic! Still elegant. Like a true Dóttir of Iceland.
This is what you were good at Brenda, moving through things toward the next iteration. Evolving while staying grounded. A class act! Vibrant, kind, fair minded – even through your own perceptions, and strongly held beliefs.
Listen to this gushing! When you were with us, you never would have suffered such a long list of compliments. You would have laughed, told a joke, changed subject. Redirected.
Moved it along.
But now I get to come here once in a while and remind you what a superstar you were. How bright your light was. How cold it is sometimes with you far away. Being around you made me feel confident and proud of who I am. Thanks for those Easters. Religion might happen in a church but God happens around the barbecue pit, squirreling away eggs. God happens when you’re inside a warm home, when you seek the fellowship of family.
It was only three of us this year. I took some photos after church, when I got to thinking of you. Anyway, we got all dolled up, and had well-made, succulent food afterward.
But it was only the three of us, as I mentioned.
I do wish it had been four.
Sorry, I know that’s difficult of me. I’m a bit difficult sometimes. But because I know women like you, I know I’m worth any difficulty my family suffers for having me.
I guess that’s too much to ask of life, though. What a mystery, though. What a lucky mystery it is to be alive!
Drop by anytime Brenda. I know you’re still with us anyhow. But I can’t say too many times how missed you are.
All of us feel the loss. All of us bear the mark of your kindness. All of us have you in our full, bittersweet hearts.
Peace be with you. And, with thy spirit.