Hearts and Flowers

It is 8:30 when I leave the clinic, and snow is shredding down in big ragged hunks. I let the car warm up a little—there’s a skim of frost on the windshield—and I roll my shoulders to loosen them up, and I pull out onto the street.

I turn the lights on and veer into the turning lane; I take a left onto Maple Avenue and head off to Donald’s Doughnuts.

The parking lot is full, and there is a line that edges the door open. No matter, I think; I promised Donald’s doughnuts, and I will bring them home.

But when I push past the door and queue up, I see the reality: the shelves are bare. All that’s left is a tray of glazed doughnuts and a few iced, filled, long Johns. And by the time I get to the counter even those will be gone.

I back out sadly, shake my head at the hopefuls who come after me, and, in the warmth of the car, I text the boyos the bad news.

They send back emojis with streaming tears.

At Kroger, I buy a half dozen supermarket bakery doughnuts with white icing and hot pink swirls. I get some ham, too, so we can make a special scramble on this Donald’s-less day.

*****************************

The boyos have the coffee churgling for me, and they help me unpack the bags. Mark chops ham; I beat eggs and heat the old black cast iron skillet, a little slick of oil rolling on its surface. Jim gets plates and silverware out and opens the doughnut box, just, as he says, to inspect things.

While I crack eggs into the old ceramic bowl with its one blue stripe, Mark slides the ham into the pan. It sizzles and pops.

I beat the eggs with a dash of onion powder, salt and pepper, and a little parsley, and take them over to meet the ham. And while I stir and scrape and turn that mixture, Jim grates the last of a little bar of extra sharp cheddar.

Just before the eggs get firm, we turn down the heat, sprinkle the cheddar, and put a lid on the pan.  Jim runs to get his dad; by the time they are back in the kitchen, the eggs are ready.

We pour juice and coffee and brew tea.

The eggs are perfect; we sigh, first with satisfaction, and then with regret when we realize we did not make enough for seconds.

The doughnuts are okay, but they are not Donald’s.

*****************************

In that moment between the end of eating and the beginning of clean-up, I slide Valentines onto the table.

Identical looks of realization and horror spread across the boyos’ faces.

“I’ll do the dishes,” says Mark, “and then I have to go out and…get a haircut.”

“Yeah,” says Jim. “And I need to go with you.”

“Hey,” I say, as I pull down the box of wood matches so I can light the fire, “you do NOT have to run out and get me a last-minute Valentine.”

“Excuse me,” says Mark haughtily, “but I need to get a haircut. And what I do with my time after that is up to ME.”

I have 90 minutes of reading time, snuggled up by the fire, before the boyos come back home, bearing a pretty posy of flowers and a bag of delicious organic cheddar cheese popcorn.

******************************

The snow stops just before noon, and the sun gradually emerges until it is shining brilliantly. When I go out to sweep the front walk, though, I realize how cold it is.

It realize, too, what Valentines Day always signals: Jim’s birthday is days away. I am ready for an outing, and Mark wants to come along, so we head out to walk and shop.

******************************

We stop first at the coffee shop; I forgot to order my two bags last week, and while they are pending, I need an emergency stash. I find dark roast decaf beans and take them to the counter.

The young barista is just that perfect combination of pleasant and professional; he offers to grind the beans for me (we decline), brews up a medium Earl Gray for Mark, bids us a happy Valentines Day as we wander out.

“What a cute old couple,” I imagine him thinking.

Mark, though, is thinking about The Youngest Granddaughter, who has texted him a Valentine wish. His face softens, and he punches in a fast return message.

**********************************

The mall is crowded, which is a nice thing, because sometimes, when Jim and I go there to walk on rainy days, we see very few people. Today, there are special displays. A wonderful inner city mission organization is having their annual fund-raiser auction. Each of the auction prizes involves some kind of chair—a rocker, a camp chair, a child’s plush seat, a bar stool,—and incentives. There are wreaths and gift certificates, dinner packages, locally made snacks, and books and toys and garden tools.

We stroll and look; the auction organizers bustle, and the crowd shifts and explores. We head off from the chairs and circuit the mall, Mark sipping his tea, noting the changes in storefronts. I see a couple deep in conversation with two men, and I realize the woman is a former colleague. She and her husband both wear red Valentine’s Day sweatshirts.  

I remember her confiding that she is twelve years older than ‘the hubs,’ and that many people advised her the union would not last.

They’ve been together, I think, at least 25 years.

**********************************

We end up at the sporting goods store, where we look for a sturdy backpack for Jim; his has gaping pockets where zippers no longer work. We find a confusing welter: there are backpacks now, specially made, for each sport. We wonder as we browse what would happen if you had, these days, a child playing say, softball and soccer. Would that child have to have separate backpacks for each sport to be athletically correct?

We find a tech-friendly backpack on a back wall. As we head to the register, Mark gets another text from The Youngest Granddaughter.

“I got a Valentine from a BOY,” she tells him.

“WHAT????” Grandpa texts back.

“Is she old enough to be getting Valentines from boys?” he asks me.

“That ‘baby’ is 13,” I remind him. He humphs. We thank the nice lady at the counter; she has registered me for the store’s awards program, which gave me 20 per cent off the price of the backpack.

We wend out way back to the exit, and out into the brisk sunshine.

By the time we reach the car, The Youngest Granddaughter has texted again.

“He gave her a teddy bear and chocolate, too!” says Mark. “And his name is SAM.”

I think he likes me, TYG texts.

He might not like you so much after I get done interviewing him, the Grandpa texts back darkly.

No doubt, she replies, resigned.

********************************

We stop at the hardware store; this year, a right of passage year for young James, he is getting his own tool kit. Mark has clipped coupons; he picks out a sturdy canvas tool bag, and then he examines and rejects and chooses, finding a hammer, screwdrivers, a wrench and pliers, a measuring tape and a flashlight. For a long while, Jim had little time for learning to use tools, but in the past year, his interest has turned. Mark is touched by this, and he takes great care in putting this gift together.

********************************

At the supermarket, we see a colleague of Mark at the entrance. She shakes her head.

“It is CRAZY in there,” she says. “Be careful!”

The aisles are crowded, largely with grim-faced men pushing carts loaded with flowers, balloons, and chocolate.

We locate the few things we need, round off the birthday shopping with a gift card, and head back to the car. It’s a good walk; I like to park as far away as I can. It gives me the steps I need, and it removes me from the avid competition for the Best Parking Spot.

“I was going,” Mark remarks slowly, “to say something about those last minute Valentines shoppers. And then I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’d better just shut up.’ ”

We laugh. At home, we bundle birthday treasures up the stairs while Jim studiously averts his eyes, and I head off for a walk. Rounding the corner for home, I stop to talk with our lovely across the street neighbor. She has her two pups out to exercise. Caesar, a big boxer, gives me an obligatory bark, then takes care of business. When our neighbor calls him, he bounds obediently into the house.

Little Izzy is not quite so easy, though. Still a baby, she badly wants to be obedient. When called, she heads right over to the mama…circles around her and flies around for another run. Izzy bounds toward me, practically runs up my leg to lick my hand, leaps away and heads back to her mama, again.

“She’s a pistol,” our neighbor says, “but I can’t bring myself to be annoyed with her.”

Watching that pup soar through the yard is like seeing the word ‘joy’ kinetically defined.

*******************************

In honor of Valentines day, James and I watch an episode of Modern Love on Amazon Prime while Mark does some paperwork. Based on letters to a New York Times column, each episode of the show is a rooted-in-truth story (I am especially interested because my nephew, a gifted writer, had an essay published in this column a while back.)

We watch a show about a gay couple who decide to do an open adoption. The birth mother is an offbeat but lovable young woman who cannot settle down; she knows that her homeless, rootless lifestyle is not right for her baby and she likes the fact that the couple are deeply in love.

Paths to important peaks are never, it seems, without brambles, and there is a blow up when she stays with the parents-to-be, and brings home a man she meets on the street.

But everyone persists, and the baby is born, and the parents—all three of them—work through their stubborn beliefs and their prejudices and preconceptions and they provide a loving, stable home. In the last scene, the two dads are reading their daughter, now three perhaps, to sleep, and telling her the story of what a brave woman her mama is.

The shows wraps up and Jim is silent for a moment.

Then, “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he says, “but that was pretty good.”

And we realize it is dinner time and head off to pat burger into patties and to air fry shoestring potatoes.

*****************************

Later, sock feet toasting by the fire, I think about this Valentines Day. There is the greeting card ideal, and there is reality…there are doughnut disappointments and last-minute shopping trips. There are beautiful young 13-year-olds flushed with the excitement of their first heart-felt chocolates. There are offbeat, unexpected pairings. Little dogs leap and laugh; some people, aching loss, watch the day go by in quiet and alone.

The glitter of commercial diamonds and the perfection of advertising bouquets do not, really, apply. But the day is a reminder in a world that is gritty with deception and dirty-dealing. Love is real, and love is present, in all its guises and manifestations. That’s a truth, I think, that I need always to remember.

I get a bowl and fill it with organic popcorn, and I pad out to the family room to watch TV with my husband and my son.

8 thoughts on “Hearts and Flowers

  1. Debbi

    What a beautiful Valentine’s Day it is to read your blog Pam😊💕 Everyday should be celebrated as Valentine’s Day. As you pointed out there are so many to experience it. A friendly Barista, dogs so excited to see us each day, the simple things we do for each other to show our love and appreciation. Today I add one more for you Pam. A very dear friend that I may not see as often as I would like, but still close to my heart as someone special ! Happy Valentine’s Day to you and the boys!😊💕

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