Dad has a tendency to hide the ice cream. He no longer leaves the tub of Costco vanilla in the upstairs freezer, but has relinquished it to the back of the dimly lit basement freezer, shrouded in its cardboard. Sometimes you’ll find the gallons cozied up to the Omaha Steaks he’s forgotten about or sticks of frozen butter that they over bought due to uncoordinated grocery lists and memory loss. Pivot to your left and your eye catches a blur of pillowed stacks of Haagen-Daz wrappers, the wooden sticks somewhere between the pockets of air that have invaded each wrapper, the package’s contents now in Mom’s belly.
Tiptoeing down the basement stairs, she’d likely devour them in silence. Standing over the industrial garbage can with the florescent basement light reflecting off the beige wrapper, the hue that lights her frame becomes almost golden, angelic. Her right hand cradling the wrapper, while her left hand turns the bar—crunch, lick, crunch, lick-her head cocked to the side, her mouth content with this ritual. Her eyes closed, enjoying every, single, damn second. The sweetness. Familiar.
Her smile is wide as Dad calls to her, “Rose, honey? Where are you?”
“Down here, Joe. Hold on,.. I am coming up.”
She makes a face to herself now, maybe a scowl. She isn’t mad, no, not that. But perhaps she knows she’s just had her 3rd Haagen-Daz vanilla-milk chocolate-almond bar of the day, or maybe not. All she knows is, maybe her shorts are getting a bit tighter.. And Joe is calling. Her sometimes boyfriend, Sometimes brother. Sometimes lover. Sometimes father. Sometimes task master. But her forever, Joe.
She licks the wooden stick before tucking it into its resting place, her breakfast, lunch, perhaps dinner of the day.
So, it makes sense then that Rosie’s swimsuit was a bit tighter in Minnesota. Mom and I’d sit on the dock and watch the grandkids negotiate the seaweed as they paddled to the raft that awaited their squeals and smiles. We’d watch them bat the flies away, Jonas, Luke, Michael-running and jumping off the raft into a splash of lake water.
“Mom, do you want me to help you put your suit on?” I’d offer as we sat there looking out.
Footsteps on the dock, ambling up and down as Katie, Jaime, Matt, Meghan, Holly, Dad-as all of us–gently persuading Mom to put her suit on.
“Me, swimming? No, I don’t really feel like swimming. Maybe another day, but right now I just wanna go home,” she’d say eyes straight ahead on the water. Her response teetering somewhere between a level of absurdity to mild frustration as the reel of nudging persisted.
We needed Mom to swim. Yes, because we wanted her to want to swim, but more than that. Persevering to put that suit on in Aunt Mary’s now unfamiliar cabin, signaled normalcy. Rosie was in there-somewhere fighting to survive, the water, her possible rebirth. The sacredness of water has always been a theme in her life, a thread that is such a part of her being that she referenced it in her writings in grad school time and time again:
When While raising our first four children, I wore God more as a life jacket. In the last fifteen years with our two youngest daughters, God has become the water in which I stay afloat relishing the swim.
And then with some of our eyes wet, Mom lowers herself into the water from the pier, floating at first, then relishing her swim in the water, her refrain:
“Oh this is Heaven! she exclaims..I LOVE this water.”
And in that moment, God was there with all of us.