Dear Diary, by Sharon M. Kennedy
As you know, the mobile home I live in is 48 years old and still holding its own. Years ago, Mom wanted a new house, but Dad said we couldn’t afford one. He offered to fix up the old place, but Mom couldn’t endure the thought of living in a remodeling mess. Thus began a 25-year standoff. Eventually, when we kids were grown and gone, Mom got her new house—this Marlette trailer, the queen of trailers in 1968—and Dad christened it The Tin Can. I don’t think he meant to be derogatory towards his new living quarters. I think he merely meant that as a tin can gets warm when held over a fire, so the trailer was warm only when the heat was on. Once the furnace shut off, warmth left the place as quickly as heat leaves a tin can taken from a flame.
I think Dad missed his woodstove. He probably never admitted it to anyone, but I think he missed the smell and warmth of the wood. I think he even missed the blocking and splitting and stacking—the hard work of getting wood ready for a long, cold Upper Peninsula winter. Dad was 58 years old when he and Mom moved into the Marlette, so he had all those years behind him, all those memories of burning wood.
My parents bought the trailer in late August, and I remember Mom telling me that sometimes during the first winter Dad snuck over to the old house and lit a fire in the woodstove. He might work a jigsaw puzzle at the kitchen table or just tinker around, not doing anything in particular, just not being in the trailer. One Christmas when I was visiting from Detroit, I chanced upon Dad making his way to the old house. He put his finger to his lips and pointed to the trailer. Don’t tell your Ma, he said. She thinks I’m mucking the barn.
After a few years, my brother put up a garage for Dad, and he stopped going to the old house. He had a cement block chimney put in and made a stove from an oil barrel. He brought over as much wood as remained of the old woodpile and stacked it in the garage. He felled, blocked, split, and stacked a lot of birch trees from the woods behind the house. He hauled the chrome kitchen table to the garage and worked his puzzles in his new domain.
Mom and Dad are both gone now, and I stay in the trailer. There’s still no heat in it when the furnace shuts off, but I’m learning to live with it. I keep a heavy sweater handy, and on cold days when the northwest wind blows hard off Lake Superior, I fold myself into the sweater. That’s when I’m flooded with memories. Dad passed away 32 years ago, but I can see him as clearly as I can feel the cold seeping into my bones. He would laugh if he could see me. He’s say something like, Fire up the woodstove, make me a piece of toast, fry me an egg, and be quick about it before the fire dies out. Then he’d make himself a cup of tea and put two drops of milk in it. Any more and he said the milk spoiled the taste of the tea.
Strange how things go, Diary. I wasn’t supposed to end up in this trailer. You know that, don’t you? Living here wasn’t supposed to be part of my history, but life makes crazy twists and turns as we go through it. I’ll never like living in a trailer. It’s punishment for some random, phantom crime. There’s no east or west within this metal box. There’s only north and south, but I call it home as a salute to my parents. The old house still stands. It’s listing to the east, but I don’t think it will take a bow before I do. And this trailer is still in pretty good shape. After all, it was the top of the line in 1968, and if you overlook the carnage of Vietnam, 1968 was a pretty good year, wasn’t it?
I walked around the site of the old barn today and thought about the kittens. Remember them? I was twelve years old when I found them in Silver’s stall. They were all dead, so it was left to me to bury them. I was very religious in those days, raised Catholic, you know, and believed every word the priest said. So after burying the four lifeless newborns, I knew I should say a prayer, but I had prayed while digging the hole and figured that was good enough. So instead of praying, I sang what I remembered of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I thought the kittens would agree it was a fine song. All these years later, I still think it’s a good song. I’ve battled all my life with one thing or another, and I’ll battle until the end. So sing with me, Diary. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord… Feel better, don’t you? Life, and even death, is always better with a song, don’t you agree?
I am 69 years old. I told an acquaintance the other day that I was languishing. The word sounded appropriate as it fell from my lips, but my friend laughed. Later that evening, when I thought about the word, I, too, laughed. What a fancy word to describe my state. I’m not really languishing. I’m expiring from boredom. How about you?
I was sitting at the kitchen table one day, and it came to me as clear and quick as a cold snap freezes over a pond. You can’t do anything without your Mom. She’s more a part of you than your arm or your leg, and when she passes—if you’re like me—the better part of you passes with her.
Well, Diary, those are my thoughts for now. Goodnight, sleep tight.
Sharon M. Kennedy lives in Brimley, a small country town on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After teaching English Composition for a few years at the college level, Sharon turned to her real love, writing. Her newspaper column, “Common Sense at 60,” appears in a number of local papers. Sometimes poignant, often amusing, her stories are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances at the past.
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Tags: family, loss, Sharon Kennedy