Do you remember the little Italian restaurant where we stopped on one of our first road trips to Aunt Dorothy’s house, shortly after she and Uncle Larry bought their “retirement home” at the beach? It is just a little ways past the Bay Bridge, in a strip mall kind of place. You and Shannon and I had wanted to wait until we got to Delaware to eat “beach food,” but we were starving, so we pulled in. The owner was an older man with salt-and-paper hair and kind eyes. He hovered over us like we were a royal entourage, because he thought you were beautiful.
Well, of course he did. How could he not?
We drove past that restaurant on our way to Aunt Dorothy’s last Saturday, and my eyes filled with unexpected tears. I knew the weekend would be an emotional one for me. It was our first trip to “the retirement home” since your passing, and my first-ever visit without you. It would be my first time seeing my aunts and cousins (your sisters and nieces) since the funeral – and I can’t look at them and not see you any more than they can be with me and not feel your presence. Plus, spending weekends at Aunt Dorothy’s was always “our thing,” a mother-daughter tradition we started building that was cut short.
We should have had twenty more summers of laying on the beach by day and drinking wine on her porch at night. There should have been twenty more autumns and springs of making a trip to shop til’ we dropped at the outlets, twenty more nights of gearing ourselves up to get into the hot tub in spite of the evening chill that would nip at us when we got out of the water.
But we don’t, and I was a little afraid that when I went for the first time without you, the reality of that would break me and I would spend the weekend in tears.
As it turned out, there were some tears, and not just from me. We can’t talk about you without our eyes filling.
But there were a lot of smiles and laughs. You know why? Because you were with us.
You were with us when Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Cindy got to see Deb for the first time since your funeral, where she gave the “Love you like a Dog” eulogy that was balm to all of our spirits.
Your were with us when Uncle Larry wiped the mock sweat off his brow as he emptied trash or carried a load of laundry. You loved picking on him.
You were with us when Chrissy’s precious new dog – who is shy and skittish around strangers – slowly warmed up to Katie and I over the weekend. I felt like I’d won the lottery when she came up of her own accord, plopped down beside me, and gave me a lick. You were there when Katie told me that you are the reason she became a girl who would always want a big dog by her side, and how she’d text you seeking your advice when her four-legged family members had medical issues. Every time a dog finds the best-ever forever home because he chooses Katie as his person, it will be because of your influence.
You were with us when we had Thrasher’s on the Boardwalk, hunching over our buckets of vinegary fries so the seagulls wouldn’t swoop down and get them.
Your were there when the frogs sang in the quiet of the evening as we sat on the porch, and when the hummingbirds flitted around the feeders in the muggy morning air.
You were there when Deb and Shannon and Laura and I slept in the living room, sprawled on air mattresses and the couch. Laura was on the couch – the one where you told me you’d gotten one of the most relaxing sleeps of your life a few years ago.
You were there in Aunt Cindy’s stories of being a little girl who would sneak into your closets to play with your shoes.
You were there in Baxter and Julie’s eyes. They both loved you and couldn’t wait to get cuddles and pats from you when we visited.
You were there in the sound of the surf and the smell of the saltwater.
You were there when I drank wine on Aunt Dorothy’s porch. How many “just one more glass and then time for bed” glasses did we drink, sitting right there?
You were there in the shops we visited in Rehoboth Like me, you weren’t much of one for “regular” stores, preferring to shop online to braving the crowds. But we loved the quirky little shops there. You loved finding the perfect gifts – clothes for Jordyn or jewelry for Jamie.
You were there when we went to the outlets. They were the only place I remember being able to talk you into spending your money on yourself rather than someone else. I’ll never forget the smile on your face when me, Chrissy and Aunt Dorothy talked you into splurging on that purse you REALLY wanted.
You were there, and so there was a lot more laughter and smiles and hugs than there were tears – although of course there were some of those, too. And I realized that bits of pieces of your mannerisms and turns of phrase and appearance and just … you-ness … live on in Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Cindy, in Laura and Katie and Chrissy as they do in your daughters and granddaughter.
If family is there, then you are there. Each of us is a glimpse of you, and I think you smile when you see the bits and pieces come together in one place.
Thank you for being with us this weekend, Mom. Love you. Like a Dog.