Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Cardinal Rue

I saw a beautiful cardinal in my back yard yesterday, blissfully warming itself in the indulgent sun, sitting so stunningly stark against the barely budding Forsythia branches that my breath caught.

I had no one to tell that to.

Cardinals were among my mother’s favorite birds. When I was young, a chatty family of cardinals lived in the fat holly bush scrunched beneath our kitchen window. My mother loved to watch the handsome male come and go with wiggling insect legs sticking outside his beak, while the more subdued female tended the home. My mother considered them honored guests. She’d lift her youngest children onto the kitchen counter and the rest of us would carry over dining chairs to stand on so we could peer through the large panes above the sink and witness the tiny, grey-green eggs nestled in the prickly cushion of leaves. She’d hold her finger to her lips and her eyes would crinkle in excitement as she’d usher us over en masse to hear the first peeps of our scrawny, hungry neighbors. She’d thrill when she'd catch those babies eventually flying out, one by one, radiating the same pride I’d watch her exude decades later when my twin sons staggered their first steps.

After I left the nest, I found myself calling mom whenever I caught a glimpse of brilliant scarlet perched in a tree or bush. I’d verbally paint her a detailed picture of the scene and we’d ooh and ah as if we were on the highest mountaintop gazing down. Through my mother I learned to recognize great joy in the smallest drops of beauty.

When I became a mother, I called my mom every evening while I made dinner or, more often than I should admit, waited for the delivery man to knock on the door with a stack of steamy goods. Mom and I talked about the little things, the nothing things. I’d go on about how I liked clovers because they made my yard green with pretty white flowers. Where I didn’t have clovers, I had burnt grass or dirt. Although my mother was a gifted gardener with ten emerald-enameled fingers that cultivated an acre of thick lawn each summer, she couldn’t have been happier for me and the common weed that brought color into my life. For my birthday last year, she sent me a small, crystal clover so I could have the green “all year round.”

Will there ever be a greater champion in your life than your mother? 

Who will celebrate my peculiarities now? Who will send me a CD of Christmas music in July because she knows I miss it? Whose voice will right my slanted world with a simple “Hi, Sweetheart”?

Who am I going to tell about the cardinal?