I’m going to need to see some I.D.

In recent years, many of the small country general stores in areas around our cottage have started selling beer and wine and liquor. This is a godsend; there is nothing worse than trying to justify a half hour trip – each way – for a bottle of wine, even when you camouflage it with needing a newspaper or butter tarts. That explanation can only fly so many times, and people can only eat so many butter tarts.

One of the conditions of non-restrictive establishments selling restricted goods is that they have to be, well, restrictive: fines are steep and that magic liquor licence is tightly guarded. That’s a fair trade. I’ve watched owners require people to fill out a registry tracking their identification for regulatory follow up, and I’m not inconvenienced waiting for this to happen. Then again, I am willing to drive an hour to get a bottle of wine.

My sister Roz and I dropped into one such shop in Orrville; there is a fabulous bakery just up the road (The Orville Bakery) and because woman cannot live by chocolate croissants alone, we stopped into the Orrville General Store to get some extra supplies. I plunked a bottle of vodka on the counter to check out (because iced tea on the dock just wouldn’t be the same without it) and the clerk smiled and started apologizing.

“I’m so sorry, but I have to check for I.D.,” she began. I laughed, but stopped her. I’ve been in Las Vegas where they carded the 75-year-old at the next table. Keeping that liquor licence is important. I hauled out my driver’s licence as Roz came up to the counter with a couple bottles of wine. The lady behind the counter looked at my licence, and did what I like to think was a small gasp of amazement.

“You do not look that old; I’m serious. Wow.” Now, at the cottage the Sommerfeld women could rarely be called stylish. Hairdos involve a lot of ponytails, and I never wear any makeup to interfere with my girlish aura.

“She’s gonna card you,” I told Roz, who was already reaching for her licence.

“You can card her,” I told the clerk, “but she’s five years older than I am.” This time the clerk really did gasp. I later used the word “giddy” to describe Roz. Roz denies it.

“No way. She’s older than you?”

Now, Roz has a certain je ne sais Dorian Grey quality about her. I long ago stopped pretending it bothered me because it makes her so happy. I am the bigger person, obviously. I knew this encounter at the Orrville General Store would be replayed for years to come; it was replayed twice on the ten minute drive back to the cottage.

Back home, I told the story to Gilly so she could be sure to go get herself some carding before the summer was over. I’m sure she wouldn’t be mistaken as being the oldest instead of the youngest – that honour apparently is all mine – but it’s a nice boost for shallow people. She started giggling immediately.

“Manny got carded the other day,” she said. Her husband is younger than all of us; he’s a few years off reaching his 50th, even. Where I’m usually a tangle of unbrushed hair and questionable fashion choices, Manny always looks like he happened on purpose.

“Ha! He must have loved it!” I said, because getting carded at home actually means something.

“Nope, it was at Shopper’s Drug Mart.”

It took about two seconds for it to register.

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Can a kid use a Visa wisely? Giving credit where it’s due

“I’ve applied for a Visa card,” said Ari, 20. “I have to pay my tuition, and I think I should do it myself this time.”

Credit card companies start sending applications to kids while they’re still in high school. I noticed the trend with Christopher, and I was appalled. They wanted to give a credit card to someone who once went on a three day winter camping trip with a steak and four pairs of socks.

When I was a teen, we’d all go to Eaton’s to get our first credit card. They’d issue one to anyone who knew their postal code, and we’d happily sign up for the usurious thirty percent interest rate to have the ability to hide forty dollar jean purchases from our parents. I worked at the library; my weekly take home pay every two weeks was about one pair of those jeans. It was hard to amass a fortune on $2.15 an hour. But at least you were limited in where you could throw caution to the wind; Eaton’s had more offerings to my grandmother’s set than to mine, so it was a safe proving ground.

A Visa or Mastercard though? I destroyed the applications as they came in. Because I’m away a fair bit, both boys have had a card in their own names on my account for years, but I’ve also had it patiently explained to me why nachos were an emergency. Once they became legal adults, I understood my control was imaginary, but I did try to pass on the best advice I ever got from my Dad, who despised credit cards: never charge anything you’re going to poop out.

I have an odd relationship with my sons. If I want to know something, I ask them. I never snoop. I’ve lived with a snoop and it is a soul destroying situation. My kid could be a pen pal with a serial killer and I wouldn’t know it unless he volunteered the information. Instead, I know their friends, and we talk. A lot. It’s an amazing concept.

Ari showed me his new card when it came in. I glanced at the credit limit.

“Huh. You must be doing something right, they don’t usually give students a thousand dollar limit,” I told him.

“What’s the normal one?” he asked.

“I think they offered your brother fourteen cents.”

With Ari handling his own tuition deposits, I gave the matter little more thought until his first statement arrived. I called him down.

“How’d you know this is my Visa bill?” he asked me. “Because they always have pictures of missing kids on the back of the envelope,” I explained. He squinted at the before and after photos. “This boy would be like, 21 now,” he said. I then told him that a parent would never, ever stop looking. Ever. For all the razzing I give my kids, that envelope gives my heart a squeeze every month. I still look for your kid.

He opened it and scanned the statement. “So, debit and then credit for a thousand,” he pointed out. “I have zero balance. Good.”

I looked at it more closely. He had paid the thousand dollar deposit with the Visa, then immediately transferred the money from his account to the credit card. Within a few minutes.

“You’ll get a statement every month. It will show what you owe, and give a date it’s due by,” I explained.

“But I don’t want to pay interest.”

“But interest doesn’t start unless you don’t pay off the balance by the due date.”

“I’m okay with doing it my way,” he said.

Another set of training wheels gone.

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Seasonal depression: clean up on aisle one

In a couple of months, around mid-October or so, my shrink will raise one of her perfect eyebrows just slightly and wait for me to say what we both know. It might be time to do your annual meds tweaking, her eyebrow will say. And I’ll waste fifteen minutes explaining why this year will be different and another fifteen accepting that it won’t.

Many of us have certain times of year that are worse than others; maybe it’s the anniversary of some loss, still felt profoundly long after you thought it would be neatly knitted into the rest of your life or maybe it’s simply as basic as a loss of sunshine during winter’s grey grasp. It’s usually on you before you know it, because it’s more like a train that mows you down instead of one you sit waiting to catch.

Growing up, there was no better time of year than September. Back to school was magic; my sisters thought I was crazy (I should tell The Eyebrow that) for ushering out summer on a pile of Seventeen magazines full of dog-eared pages and lists of the mythical outfits I’d be wearing as I reinvented myself in a new grade. Seventeen was for thirteen-year-olds; by seventeen, I’d be reading Cosmopolitan to learn new sexcapades (though I slept in a twin bed with a cat named Nooley) instead of pining for Bass Weejuns. As a kid, those two months held promise. I could be a first round draft pick for a few shiny moments even if only in my ever fertile imagination. I believed anything was possible.

For now, the cicadas continue to drill the air with their buzzing operas, a sound so pervasive I notice only when it stops. My Dad showed me one in his hand once, and I was suitably grossed out while simultaneously fascinated that something could wait thirteen years to put on a show for a few weeks and then disappear. Kind of like me and my new back to school outfits, come to think of it.

I’ve always found it difficult to explain to The Eyebrow how I could love September yet dread October. Contemplating that inevitable chilly slide is hard to do during my favourite month, like having your seatbelt on when the car wasn’t even running. This year I’ve been more aware, however. I’ve recognized that August is the problem; I used to be able to bury it in new pencil crayons and three-ringed binders but I finally realize it’s those damned cicadas power drilling home the message that summer is over. Like those bugs, we wait far too long for far too little.

Dad died in October, and The Eyebrow and I both know that plays a huge part in my upheaval. I pay so little attention to birthdays and Hallmark holidays that I didn’t even get a connection until someone else pointed it out. After nearly nineteen years you’d think I’d be over it already, or at least find a more attractive sack to drag it around in. Mom and Dad now reside under a small tree at the cottage; at the time, we’d envisioned it growing into a majestic pine overlooking the lake, but instead it got run over by some snowmobile one winter and now sits stunted, crookedly on guard. It’s stubborn and more than a little sad; my father hated snowmobiles.

I’ll ride out August so I can flirt with September, then let The Eyebrow help me power through the rest of the year.

I still want to believe that anything is possible.

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Every house needs a bag of googly eyes and a psychic mother

When Ari, 20, and his girlfriend got to the cottage, I greeted them in the usual way.

“Did you remember your toothbrushes?”

They hadn’t, and I tossed them two new ones I’d brought along for precisely this purpose. I’m not sure how it happens, but becoming a mother somehow triggers things lying dormant deep in your genetic coding. I knew over the course of several days up north, someone would be looking for toothbrushes, Polysporin, tweezers, socks, ping pong balls, a machete (don’t ask), marshmallows, my red shirt no my other red shirt and Cheez Whiz. I’m aware Cheez Whiz is as close to being food as a ping pong ball is, but I’m also aware that cottage traditions die hard.

When I go away on my own, I can happily — and precisely — pack seven things and be fully prepared. When I know the kids are along, my car suddenly resembles a tinker’s cart. I think the slippery slope begins with the diaper bag. When we finally get to ditch that, we just move all the junk to our purses. I don’t carry a purse, mostly so I don’t have to “can you hold this?” for everyone in proximity.

It took becoming a mother for me to appreciate just how many bases my own mother had covered. Things like Q-Tips and toilet paper and vinegar and detergent and soap and Benadryl and toothpicks and flour and Band-Aids and soup and shoelaces and cream of tartar, something I found out I needed once when I was making play dough. Mom had it.

I think mothers bolster their supplies and use crystal balls for shopping lists out of self defence: I know if I only have one of something and a kid wants it, I’ll give it to the kid. We have a running joke around here; if someone goes through a drive-thru to grab dinner, the order in the bag is inevitably short. The boys will unload everything, then peer into the empty bag and tell me the restaurant forgot my burger. Doesn’t matter if we all ordered the same thing, if it’s short, it’s mine that was left out. I don’t think I’ve had an entire meal since Christopher was out of a high chair.

As the boys need me less, I’ve transferred my pack mule skills. When I travel, everybody I’m with knows I have tissues, wetnaps, an array of drugs, earplugs, mints, licorice, apples, pens and a lot of other things, but not cream of tartar. My backpack is like some bottomless pit of things you didn’t know you’d ever need. Boy scouts can brag about being prepared, but I’m a mother. We invented it.

The kids of the house do most of the grocery shopping now, but every once in awhile I have to go and buy things like sugar or baking powder or pasta, or the hundred other things that just happen. I think of Mom every time one of them yells “where do we keep” instead of “do we have.”

One of the cats was playing with some googly eyes the other day, torn from a bag long forgotten in that kitchen drawer we all have. It was a hangover from early craft days, when we didn’t just have packages of googly eyes, we had different sizes of them. We kept them next to the glue sticks and pompoms. I made a joke on Facebook about the interesting litter box possibilities with a cat that was eating googly eyes. The comments were fairly predictable, but I laughed over one of them that said he had bags — yes bags — of googly eyes!

Must be a Dad.

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Tapping into my inner handyman

We have some general cottage rules: claim times before you set your holiday schedule at work; first one up cuts the grass; last one up stores the canoes; and leave it as clean as you found it.

My sisters both think I’m a slob and that I don’t know they talk about me behind my back. I know.

Probably the toughest rule is this one: if it breaks on your watch, you have to get it fixed. If that means finding a plumber or electrician during high season, that’s what you have to do.

Gilly has an edge because her husband is really handy and we have no problem allowing Manny to spend his holiday fixing things. Roz is super organized and can find receipts and knows things like when the septic tank should be cleared.

I have Christopher and Ari and everyone is just happy we don’t burn down the place.

As Gilly was packing up last week, we got a note that the bathroom tap had started leaking. I was coming up the next day, so I told her not to worry, I’d handle it. Roz said we probably needed new taps, as the ones on there came from the Sears Early Poverty line. No problem.

I picked up a set of taps in town, paying careful attention to the size and knowing we wanted something with a higher spout. I did not pay attention to the drain part. This becomes important later on.

We still work with the tools my father left behind, many of which were in turn left behind by the previous owner 43 years ago. My father believed he could fix most problems with a hammer.

I rounded up some tools that looked promising, if a little rusty.

I read the instructions (it was only going to take three simple steps), shut off the water and got to work. It wasn’t hard to get the offending taps off and the new ones on.

I spent an hour lying with a cricked up back under a tiny vanity alternately swearing and saying lefty loosey tighty righty under my breath.

I got the little water hoses hooked up and couldn’t figure out why the taps were still all wobbly. I spotted the little black things you screw on to anchor them, and took everything apart to get them on.

I still had a part left over. The drain in the kit was very different from the drain in the sink. I’d already disconnected some bits, and now they just lay there looking at me.

Making an executive decision, I started tugging out the old drain. I felt some pride in finally using tools the instructions hadn’t thought to tell me I’d need.

When everything looked about right, I turned on the taps and water fell all over me. I picked up the phone to call our local contractor, Rod. He calls us Those Crazy Sommerfeld Women. The next morning, he surveyed my handiwork.

“The taps aren’t quite centred,” he told me. I was aware of that, and knew it would make Roz nuts. She’s a little OCD-ish and I knew she’d say how nice they looked while silently measuring the half centimetre they were off.

After a couple of days, I’d call and tell her how to straighten them.

“You’d do that to your sister,” he said.

“Of course,” I replied.

Turned out the issue was in the black bendy bits under the sink, not my mad skills. Rod did a bunch of real plumbing while I watched, though he gave me points for getting the taps on.

Never did use the hammer.

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If you’re going to break a trophy, make it a loser

We were sitting down for dinner when Ari looked quizzically at a stout, glass trophy in the middle of the table.

“Oh, that’s only there because one of the cats broke it last night. Check the base,” I told him. A good sized chunk of glass had broken cleanly off. I was considering gluing it back together.

“Well, good thing it’s not a winner or anything,” he said.

You could have driven a truck through the slow motion moment of silence that ensued. Emblazoned on the piece were the words Runner Up; while technically correct, the rest of the table knew it was a second-place grab for a national auto writing award that only issues two spots.

Not a win, but not bad.

Even as he finished the sentence, Ari was slowly looking up at me to make eye contact. Like he could stop me from reaching for my gun holster or something. Everyone else at the table froze

“All I mean is busting the other one would have been worse.”

There is actually a first placer the cats could have knocked over instead, because I never put anything away.

“If one had to be broken, it’s better it’s that one.”

Pammy started laughing; Ari’s girlfriend Taryn gave him a deliberate look before saying, “you need to stop talking.”

“No! All I mean is if one of my fifth place track and field ribbons got lost, I wouldn’t care!”

By now Pammy was laughing so hard she put her fork down. Taryn was shaking her head in disbelief.

“So, let me get this straight. You’re comparing my writing award to your Grade 3 track day ribbon.”

“Just the fifth place one.”

“The ones that everyone got just for attending the meet.”

“I’d be mad if it was the first place ones,” he said after some consideration.

“You were eight years old.”

A few years ago when I changed papers with my car work, I thought Motherlode was done. Though still a freelancer, I thought leaving a parent company might spell the end of the column.

The boys have pretty much grown up in this space, the highs and lows of our world unspooling each week. They have never paid it much attention because it’s always just been there.

When I sat them down that night to tell them the news, I was surprised most by Ari’s reaction.

“Why can’t you still write Motherlode?” he asked.

“Not sure if I’ll have a conflict, but it’s been a great run. I’ll miss it,” I said, which was a very big understatement. I’d been walking around all day imagining the end of Motherlode like a small death.

“Look,” Ari said with some force. “I’ve never read a single one, but that’s just not right.” He and his brother have threatened to have silent days, to withhold what they call my material.

I make a living doing something I love and to my sons, it’s just business as usual, albeit comparable to a third grade track day. I sit at my computer in the kitchen as the household pulses around me. Look at a weather map when they’re forecasting a hurricane; I’m that swirly crazy part in the middle.

There have been many don’t-you-dare-write-that moments, and many more times I’ve self-censored to protect the guilty, including myself.

I long ago stopped looking for what sets us apart from other families by understanding that our strengths lie in the things that make us the same.

I actually don’t care much about the trophies, only the material.

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You’ve got mail. Sort of

My mail – my actual mail in the mailbox on the front of my house mail – is pretty slender these days. I use email for most things, though Canada Post needn’t worry; Pammy orders enough on-line to keep the wheels of that corporation well greased.

But letters, cards, bills and cheques have for the most part been electronically replaced. Fewer dead trees and less clutter make me a fan. I haven’t sent out Christmas cards in years and years so I don’t expect to receive them. I used to do Christmas cards, just like my Mom, but the first year after the divorce I sent out a batch signed with just three names and got launched headlong into yet another discussion from a pearl-clutching tutting friend of my mother’s about the errors of my ways. No more Christmas cards. I hold my mother’s graces alongside my father’s grudges.

I do smile when I receive mail forwarded from readers, lovely handwritten missives that I not only read, I keep.

Which is in direct contrast to the holiday cards I receive from people like insurance agents and financial planners. Why? I wouldn’t know the man who juggles my kids’ school accounts if I ran over him with my car. I’m not revealing a dark side here; just that if he was trapped beneath the wheels and emergency services were desperately asking “does anyone know who this man is?” I’m afraid I’d have to shake my head sadly, in spite of the fact that he’s been sending me Christmas and birthday greetings for over two decades.

My sister and I exchange a Thanksgiving card back and forth. A company she deals with sends out greetings for every single thing noted on the calendar. I’m slightly jealous, as I only get Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, whereas she is encouraged to celebrate not just her own birthday, but Queen Victoria’s, as well. She now crosses out her own name and forwards it to me, usually for an unrelated event.

I wish they’d just follow the lead of other places I know and make a donation to a local charity, instead of ordering yet more foil-lined envelopes. I often wonder why I read headlines saying I’m wasting money if I buy a frou frou coffee when I should be investing for my feeble retirement, yet the very place I entrust to invest that money thinks greeting cards (that are seldom opened, scarcely read and rarely appreciated) are a sound decision. I’m sure politicians of all stripe are shooting their festive holiday pictures as I write this, and the media will scan them come December like they’re reading tea leaves. Stephen Harper in a snowflake sweater. Awesome.

I get little calendars I can’t use from realtors I don’t know. My entire history is encapsulated on Milk Calendars because I need squares big enough to write in and recipes made from things I actually have in the house.

Someone needs to inform the fridge magnet people only the sides of popular stainless steel appliances are magnetic, severely limiting the acreage available to post that phone number. I’ve heard some places that annually send out gorgeous poinsettias defend themselves against their poisonous-to-pet qualities (the plants, not the companies) stating they’re only a little toxic. Nothing says happy holidays like mild signs of vomiting, drooling, or diarrhea.

I’m a fan of reminders from eye doctors and dentists, and the free toothbrushes at every checkup. I like samples that’ll do a load of dishes or laundry. But birthday and holiday greetings that have been sent out from an assembly line?

No, thank you.

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One of Mama Lorraine’s proudest moments

Christopher and I were sitting in a convocation hall filled with people, all proudly watching their loved ones receive degrees. It was noisy and busy, but when I saw his girlfriend Pammy, 23, enter the hall in her graduation robe, I waved excitedly. She excitedly waved back. Christer pretended he didn’t know me.

Pam“Never fall in love with the girlfriends,” a reader told me years and years ago. The thought has lingered in the back of my mind. I’ve dismissed it, of course, because every kid who crosses my threshold is welcome whether they make me jump for joy or hide the silver. I’m aware romantic relationships can be more fraught than other friendships, but my sons have been free to bring home anyone they care about. Every kid is special.

I learned a while ago that not a lot of girls were brought around because of me, not them. “You can kind of be a bit much,” I was told. I found this confusing. I make excellent conversation and consider myself an adequate hostess, and I always make sure I have pants on when new people are around. I have erred, it seems, in being visible at all. Roles have reversed; I should be seen and not heard. And preferably not even seen.

Pammy was different. She’s been dating Christopher for 5 years now, a feat I find simultaneously astounding and darling. She’s lived with us for the past 4 years, and though I was hesitant at first, this young woman has worked harder than anyone I know, and every time I threaten to throw my son out, I stop to consider I would be throwing her out, too. And then I don’t do it.

She has worked part time jobs as she studied. I’ve seen her at her laptop long into the night; early classes; late classes; group projects and midnight deadlines. I come home to a full fridge and a clean bathroom; she scoops litter; she folds laundry. She recently bought her first car and not only asked for my advice, but took it. She is paying off her student loans early. She calls me Mama Lorraine.

So don’t fall in love with the girlfriends, they say. I get it. But what seems to be forgotten is that this girl, this young woman, is someone I admire beyond the bounds of her role in my son’s life. I would work with her in a professional setting (in fact, I do; she is my lead hand on a project I’m working on), and I would support her regardless of her relationship with my son. He looked at me one day and said, “she’s pretty special, isn’t she,” and it wasn’t a question. I didn’t raise her; I just raised a young man who appreciates her. Nobody knows the future, but this is a lovely present.

As we watched her accept her degree, I glanced at Christopher. His formal schooling is on hold, as we say in polite company. There was no denying the pride in his eyes as he bellowed out a line from Game of Thrones as his beloved’s name was announced. I looked at him quizzically, but the laughter that ensued made me realize I was about the only one who didn’t get the joke. He knew what I was thinking, though.

“I think I’d only consider going back for a degree in keilbasa,” he said over the noise. I looked at him in horror.

“Are you kidding me? Kielbasa?” His turn to stare at me. “I said philosophy. You seriously just thought I said I wanted a degree in kielbasa?”

Like I said, every kid is special.

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Forget the Smartie Philosophy: Eat the red ones first

My Mom’s mother died when she – my grandmother – was just 54; it was before I was born, but I remember Mom telling me she lived life up until her own 54th birthday with her breath slightly held. Crossing that imaginary tape was a relief.

For my dad, it was the opposite. His own father had plugged away until 93, and as Dad grew progressively more ill in his 60s, it became clear to all of us he would never meet the Sommerfeld longevity standard. As it was, the doctors who poked and prodded him as his lungs gave out were astounded he was still alive. They told us privately it was only because he’d been so active and never smoked that he was here at all. The bad news was that he was dying; the good news is that it was taking him longer than they thought it would.

My parents lived their lives, in some ways, with very different philosophies. I know now it was directly because of the arc of their own parents’ lives. Mom lived every day completely while Dad festered over a tomorrow that might never come. Mom saw every year after age 54 as a bonus, while Dad felt he was ripped off for the 23 his father got that he didn’t.

My father started a subscription to National Geographic in 1966; I know this because it was the year my sister was born, and it’s where the stacks of magazines in the basement begin. There is no way any would have been thrown out, because National Geographic was a religion in this house. You didn’t turn down a page you were reading, you used a bookmark; you didn’t set a drink on it; you didn’t take it until Dad had finished reading it, which could take awhile because he read the entire thing. It was from him I learned this habit, reading something cover to cover regardless of topic.”Learn something,” he’d growl as I spent too much time poring over the familiar and dodging the unknown.

In grade 6 – 1973 – I was doing a project on Russia. I spent the requisite hours at the library creating a masterpiece that encompassed all things Russian: agriculture, trade, history, geography, sports and art. I liked to do a thorough job, and I’m sure I got all those headings directly out of an encyclopedia. After colouring a few maps, my project was decidedly lacklustre and the photocopies I was running for a dime apiece added nothing. As I dug through reference materials, I realized we had a whole trove at home. National Geographic magazines.

I showed Dad the glossy photos on a pictorial of Russia. I’m sure it was from 1966 because it was near the beginning of the shelf. I asked him if I could cut out the pictures to use for my project. It was like I’d asked if I could cut out his heart. You did not cut up National Geographic magazines. You saved them. For some tomorrow.

I cut out the pictures.

When I got the project back, I carefully taped all the pictures back in their windowpanes. It looked exactly like a 9-year-old had scissored them out and cobbled them back together. I don’t know if he ever knew, but I doubt it. I’d have remembered the trouble if he had. Clearing out the basement a few years ago, I discovered scores of National Geographics, and found that one as well as a few others I take full responsibility for; I’d defied him to live in the moment.

Dad would have turned 89 yesterday. He’d still give me hell if he found out.

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Forget seven stages of grief. There’s only one: I miss you

“I think I missed the Maggie column, can you tell me when it ran?”

This email flipped across my laptop while I was out of the country for work. I’d just finished getting dressed for dinner and was trying not to wrinkle/tear/spill anything on the only grownup outfit I’d brought along. My makeup was done and I immediately started crying it off my face.

Maggie was my cat. As a part of the household, she’s served many roles in this column, from star to cameos to supporting cast. Fourteen years ago when the boys were young, I’d promised them a cat when the time was right. Vet bills and cat food were nowhere in our ridiculously tight budget at the time, so I used mystic phrases like “when it’s meant to be” and “we’ll get a sign”.

The sign was Free Kittens propped by the curb of a house that looked like it had been condemned years before. Sensing a bad outcome, I left the kids at home. I crept around the back to find three drunken men holding two chainsaws aloft, empty beer cans everywhere. It took them a moment to notice me, a moment I nearly seized to run far, far away.

“Free cats?” I asked, trembling. I never tremble, but the beer- chainsaw combo rarely ends well. I went home with a few ounces of calico kitten, fur so sparse it was more like feathers. She was trembling, too.

I don’t use the word “besotted” often, but we were besotted with this tiny beast. She reached her full weight of six pounds and maintained her kittenish good looks her entire life. She sat on my lap all day and slept with me every night. I would carry her around while I put on the kettle or fetched the mail, neither of us thinking there was anything odd about this.

Around age 12, she started getting cranky if I was away. She would usually stop eating, and Christopher would race her to the vet. I still have one memorable text: “I know the Visa card is for emergencies, but I took Maggie to the vet and told them to do whatever they had to. I know that’s what you would want.” We paid $600 to find out she was sulking.

She’d have blood work every six months or so in the final two years. I think she just had a crush on her vet. She dropped a half pound each time and it stayed off, my tiny girl shrinking before my eyes. I’d await the results with the vet’s cautionary words ringing in my ears. And each time, both the vet and I would be amazed to find out she was essentially fine. Maggie had perfected faking it. She only needed a small fainting couch to complete her drama.

Except the last time, of course. In January of this year, I looked at the vet, the test results, and my four-and-a-half pound girl who refused to eat, and said no to surgery. Christer and I endured a tearful exchange where he was prepared to use his own Visa card, but I shook my head.

Resilience, like youth, is wasted on the young. I keep barricades around my heart to keep things out, because once in, they take up permanent residence. It’s like a cupboard full of broken dishes in there, and I walk around with small ghosts hanging from me like charms on a bracelet.

That reader hadn’t missed the Maggie column. I’ve just never been able to write it. It’s too hard to articulate things I can’t bear.

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