Painted Lady

As you now know, Norman had an enormous impression on me. But he wasn’t alone. As I’ve gone through life, I’ve gotten bits of advice that I’ve stored and tapped into over and over. Here are just a few:

I want nothing more than one day to see someone on my team take my job. Their success means I had success. 

– a boss at McGraw-Hill

Our days are filled with so many things we could be doing. It’s important to compartmentalize and be in the moment. If you’re at your kid’s soccer game. Be at that soccer game… your whole effort in that moment 

– a client at Target

Matt, the hardest but most important business lesson, is knowing how and when to say no. 

– my Dad

So this morning I’m saying no. There will be a one-week hiatus on Breakfast at The Cottage. Not because I don’t know what comes next. But because my daughters have been begging me to go fishing. So I’m surprising them this morning. I’m not really sure what to expect. Neither of them eat fish and they fluctuate between bravery and hilarious fear when it comes to seeing or touching anything remotely gross. They’ll run screaming at the site of a gnat one minute. The next I’ll turn around and Lainey will have stick bugs crawling up her arms. It’s confusing. It’s hysterical. 

Instead of the next installment of Breakfast at The Cottage, below is a short non-fiction piece called Painted Lady that’s in my Porch Stories collection. These are my girls.

We gather at Great Mommom’s home. The smell of escarole and beans fills every room. She holds up her body and eyelids for a polaroid and smiles. Her lungs allow her one last moment with her great granddaughters. 

The all-too-common death was supposed to have taken her two years ago. She fought her way out of the hospital, back to her retirement neighborhood, and into to her regular Wednesday Mahjong game. But her run has come and gone. I sit beside her bed. “Squeeze my hand,” she whispers. I feed her ice chips to keep her throat from fully drying out. We watch The Virginian with the volume at 100 because apparently her ears are failing her, too. I squeeze her fingers throughout. “I’m here,” I say. 

She passes. 

“Girls,” I say, “Great Mommom has died.” They cry. We cry. We sit on the front porch and tell stories of visiting her house. They talk about loving their hike through the woods behind her yard, playing with her nesting dolls, and sitting next to her on the piano bench while she played Send in the Clowns. Liliana is seven and Lainey is four, but they understand life and death enough to know they miss her. 

A butterfly flits by us. “It’s Great Mommom. It’s Great Mommom,” they cheer and skip across the front porch. They know the lore. The butterfly – tan and orange and white – dances in the air between their twirls. “Maybe it is,” I say. 

The night wind is cold. 

The next morning, we eat our breakfast on our porch chairs, lined up and looking out at the road. The girls don’t forget anything. “Where’s Great Mommom? Where is she?” They’re unable to contain their excitement to see Great Mommom reincarnate. And here she comes. 

Stiff and tumbling with the soft breeze, the Painted Lady stops at the girl’s feet. “Great Mommom?” My seven-year-old reaches down and cups her in her hands. I believed. I went all in with them in their excitement. “It’s just a butterfly,” I say. 

Nonsense. Real Great Mommom lies peacefully in the earth next to Great Poppop. Painted Lady Great Mommom lies in an old wonton soup container in our garage. 

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