Mom is sleeping; a fragile figure in a sea of white. I’d never seen her like this before the tornado. She was always so strong, so dependable.
I gently touch her hand. “Hello Mom.”
She stirs, wincing as she remembers the wires and pulleys that clamp her leg into position. “Abby.” Her face softens into a smile. It’s good to see her cheerful again but I know she’s still vulnerable, still hurting inside.
The tornado was one of those freak occurrences; a violent twister that lifted the roof from our home and dumped it several miles away. With it went a lot of our furniture and part of Mom’s heart. I was in the library that afternoon, surrounded by my favourite technology: laptop, camera and cell phone. Mom was trying to secure the shutters and a flying log smashed her right leg in three places.
Aunt Heather found me in the library and together we rushed to the hospital. Mom was in severe pain but her tears were all for the house. Woozy with painkillers, the whole story had come pouring out. How she and Dad had bought the house just after they married. How they decorated it together, scraping, painting, papering, landscaping. Dad died of kidney disease three years ago when I was only twelve.
Until now, I had never known how much the house meant to her.
I arrange Mom’s pillows before handing her the giant gift bag. “I’ve been working on this for a while. I hope it’ll help you feel better.”
She’s curious, I can see it in her face; the way her eyes widen slightly and her lips part. Carefully she pulls out what I have named The Memory Book. I came up with the idea a couple of nights after the tornado and Aunt Heather was willing to help. She had the finances and I had the inspiration.
Mom opens the cover and her eyes soak up the front view of our home; a white weatherboard bungalow trimmed in apricot and knee-deep in marigolds and geraniums. A hesitant smile touches her lips. “Where did you get the photo?”
“You know me – photo-freak - it was a personal project a few months ago. I was practicing photographing buildings from unusual angles.”
She turns the page and there’s our hallway with polished pine floors and an old wooden chest. On the opposite page, I’ve mounted a square of floral wallpaper that matches the one in the photo. Mom touches it with a fingertip. “Oh, Abby. Is this really from the house?”
I don’t want to tell her how I squeezed through the hazard tape that was holding our home together. How I ignored the condemned signs as I went from room to room with a cutting knife. How Aunt Heather exploded when she saw the scraps of paper, fabric, carpet and wood that I had salvaged. Instead I encourage her to keep looking. “You’ll like the next page.”
It’s a close up of the kitchen light switch, complete with scorch marks. I always thought it strange that she never had it replaced, but now I understand. It wasn’t just a burnt switch. It was a memory of Dad and how he always tried to fix things himself.
She’s crying by page four as she runs her hand across the bedroom window. “Dad spent weeks restoring these frames for me and we chose the drapes together.” I rescued a corner of those curtains and soft folds are glued to the picture; tiny butterflies dancing in swirls of sunshine.
The album is bulky and full of memories for both of us. I included everything I could think of; dried flowers, the key to the front door, chips from the white picket fence, a strip of linoleum flooring.
“Oh, Abby. I don’t know what to say.” She pulls me into an awkward hug around the pulleys and wires and I see the masks have gone. This is raw Mom, the woman I glimpsed after the tornado. “I’ve felt so guilty… mourning a house of all things... but it was such a shock and I never got to say goodbye…you understand don’t you?” She pulls back and searches my face for agreement.
We’re silent for a while and then she draws The Memory Book closer, cradling it like a newborn to her chest. “This is something I’ll treasure forever…but I think we’ll need another one soon; for the new home we’re going to build together.”
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