In my mind, I can see and feel it as clearly as my present reality of cursor blinking, coffee brewing, head pounding. We have driven for an hour and a half to get here. Bill makes the right turn onto their driveway and as we drive down the steep gravel, the garage door is already opening. My mom knows we are here because she’s been waiting at the window in her closet for at least a half hour. She always does. We back up to the garage door and get out of the car. I look beyond the driveway at the view. Route 17 appears as two gray lines made with a Sharpie, drawn up and curving to the left. A river, popular with fly fishermen, meanders gently across my line of sight, running under a stunningly well-preserved covered bridge. I am surrounded by my mom’s plants. Baskets and pots and flowering beds create a riot of color everywhere I look. I walk toward my mom and give her the obligatory kiss on the cheek as she strains her face to the right to accept it. We empty the car of whatever we have brought. Is today a birthday? Mother’s Day? Father’s Day? Just a random Saturday visit? No matter; there is always something to bring inside, always a bag packed with something that I’m hoping will bring a bit of happiness into my parents’ lives.
The sound of the door opening gets my dad up from his chair. His legs don’t want to work as well as they used to, so he walks slowly toward us. He puts his arms on my shoulders to give the German-style hug: nothing too grandiose, but enough so that one knows it’s a hug. I kiss him on the cheek and he kisses mine.
I proceed with unloading whatever stuff I have brought. There could be Lindt chocolates because they are always a welcome treat, a raisin cake for my dad, sugar-free cookies for Bill. My mother says the coffee should be ready soon because she “just plugged it in.” My mother never turned off her coffee maker. It was just plugged and unplugged day after day.
Bill sits in the living room with my dad and I help my mom put out the day’s offerings for coffee and cake. This is a German thing; whenever company arrives, whether it’s family from far away or just us, their daughter and son-in-law, coffee and cake is served. When everything is ready, we all gather in the dining room to sit and have our coffee and cake. The coffee is strong. It always is. My mom uses half coffee and half milk. We eat and the conversation begins. We talk about everything that’s happening, about us and about them, politics and the stock market, our cats and their health.
As I sip my coffee, I look around me at all my parents have made. They have a beautiful house, six acres of land, a car. To some, this may not seem like very much. They are not rich or in possession of huge reserves of cash in a bank somewhere, nor are they concerned about stock market fluctuations, because they have everything they need and that is enough. For two people who arrived in America on a ship in 1954, they have made a wonderful life, borne of hard work and steely determination.
I don’t know why my mind wants to write about this today, but it is overwhelming. I want to go back there. I want the simplicity of sitting around my parents’ dining room table talking about everything and nothing at the same time. I want to see their faces sitting across from me. I want to know that inside their chests, hearts are still beating, and in their heads, brains signals are still flying around making their random connections. I want to smell the freshly made coffee, gaze across the table and see two people who made so much from so little, who made this wonderful life, who made me. I want to see my dad’s smile.
Of course, none of this can happen. Both of my parents are gone now, the house was sold, and everything I yearn for can no longer happen. So I put those memories back into that corner of my heart where I will always be able to find them, always be able to be sitting around that table with Bill and my parents, eating our cake and drinking our coffee while we chat until it’s time to put the food and the dishes, like my memories, back into the cabinet. In my imagination I can go back anytime I want, I know this, but nothing will ever match the real thing. Nothing.
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