Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Garden of Memory: Father's Day Gifts


The photo at the top of page is a Father's Day gift from Patty Surprenant, who recently paid us a visit. She's the youngest person in the picture; posed between Anne and me. I don't know the exact date of the photo, but from Patty's recollection, it's over thirty years old.
            There's no simple way to describe our relationship to Patty. Way back in the days when everybody was still skinny, Anne and I were hired to be house parents in a therapeutic milieu program for adolescent girls. The four girls in the house were no longer able to live with their own parents for various reasons. We were the subs. We lived all together as an ad hoc nuclear family suburban style in Lexington, Mass. Our daughter Sonya was a toddler when we moved in; Patty and a couple of girls were already living there. In the nature of things we got close, lived close, learned a lot about each other, endured trials and tribulations.
            Patty is a remarkable human being today. Seeing her recently made me feel good about the two years we spent as house parents. I was going to graduate school at the time, reading Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Austen and Joyce. But real life in 'the house' was teaching me things as well; sometimes more important things.
            Since Sunday was not only Father's Day, but Sonya's birthday, we took a walk in the Arnold Arboretum, where we were likely to see mountain laurel. Sonya, the first of our two children, was born on June 15. About a week before her birth, Anne joined me (for reasons not easily explained) on a walk up a mountain trail near our house in the Pioneer Valley. The wild laurel -- the flowers look like wedding cake decorations, spun sugar, white with pink coverings that fade when the flowers open -- was blooming all along the path we climbed.
            When Sonya was born a week later, hurried into the world perhaps by her mother's strenuous, though stately outing -- the 'Mountain Laurel Progress,' to name it in the manner of royal excursions -- some of the flowers we had picked that day were still in the house, waiting in a vase (on top of the space heater, Anne recalls) when mother and baby returned from the hospital. So laurel flowers have always been associated with Sonya's birthday for us.
            We spoke to both Sonya and Saul on the phone today. We have long-distance children; hearing their voices is always a gift.
            It was a beautiful day -- blue, green, and flowerful. So many gifts.