My infant daughter lay on her activity mat examining her hands, as if she wondered what they were and who they belonged to and what they did. Dad and I sat in the living room watching her play, allowing her to distract us from the awkwardness of my Mom’s absence. Occasionally my daughter’s arm would rise and accidentally bat the lime-green stuffed firefly hanging down from the rainbow arch above her. When it swung, the mirrors on its multicolored wings would catch the low winter sun that streamed in the window. My daughter would coo in delight at the movement then return to studying her hands.
“Did your mother ever tell you about our first kiss?” My dad sat forward on the sofa.
“Where is this coming from?” I wondered. I sensed that Dad had something on his mind. I repositioned myself on the living room carpet, tucking my feet under me, in the process kicking the arch, sending the toys on a rock-and-roll ride that elicited a series of excited squeals from my daughter.
“You know we met on a blind date?”
“She did tell me that much. Who set you up?”
“Mary Andrews. I don’t know how exactly she and your momma met. I was best friends with Mary’s boyfriend, Bob. Your momma saw me hanging out with Bob, and asked Mary about me. She said she would like to date me. So Mary told Bob, and Bob asked me if I would be interested in a blind date.
I wanted to know what your momma looked like, so Bob arranged for her to wave at us from the city bus she took to the University. We went to the fillin’ station on the bus route. When it came by, your mother stood up and waved from her window. My first thought was how pretty she was.
She had previously had a date with Mary’s cousin Bobby W. I knew him but not well. He said I would not like your mom because she wouldn’t let anybody kiss her. Secretly, I was glad she had not kissed him.
Anyway, two weeks later Bob and Bobby picked me and your momma up for our date, and we were going to meet Mary and another girl. Bobby was the only one of us who had a car. When I got in the back seat with your momma, she said hello, and I said hello and leaned over to kiss her right away.
She could’ve slapped me, but she didn’t. I have thought about it often, and I just wondered if your mother said anything to you. I’m curious to know if she kissed me because she was interested, or if she kissed me to get back at Bobby. I suspect she knew what he was saying about her.”
“She never said anything to me. But, Dad, she married you, and you were married 55 years, I would guess she was interested.”
My dad sat back, tired from the long trip to visit us and the stresses of losing a spouse of 55 years. He drifted somewhere far away. I turned my attention to my daughter who continued to study her hands.
Since Mom’s death, I was discovering that there was a lot I didn’t know about her. I replayed memories, turning them upside-down and inside out, trying to learn more about my mother, this person who was a constant in my life, as constant as the hands that type on this keyboard now. Apparently, I wasn’t alone: my dad wanted to know more too.
My daughter’s arm rose again and knocked the firefly. She laughed and whacked the firefly again, deliberately this time, scattering light from its mirrored wings. She brought her hands down to her face and studied them more intently, bringing them together in front of her—finger tip to finger tip.
How do babies know to be fascinated with the ordinary things like hands? or noses? or eyelashes? Amazing things that adults take for granted because they are always around, so we think we know them. Just like the people near and dear to us, whom we think we know, until they are gone—and suddenly we want to know more.
© 2010 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.