It's very nice to be home, and I'm making an attempt to return to normal, though I know that nothing will ever be "normal" in the way it was before. Time goes on, the seasons of life fade and change, and what's "normal" must adapt.
How strange it was to open the window shade as the pilot announced that we were making our final descent and look onto the tiny houses below. This is the same flight path I've taken a dozen times, and these are the same rooftops I see every time. There is the terracotta colored one with the kidney bean swimming pool in the backyard; the grey one with the old red truck next to a small grey shed. They're so familiar - landmarks that signal the end of a long journey - nothing has changed . . . and yet everything has. How strange - as I look down and see the thick white lines of the runway approaching fast - that the person I'm here to see lies cold and stiff in a morgue somewhere below. How strange - as the wheels touch down in a puff of white smoke - that I will never again in this life see that smiling face just outside the restricted gate area, arms open, anxiously waiting to hug her running grandchildren . . .
The house, so full of her things, feels so empty. The human spirit brings a palpable warmth and life to the walls and floors and items in a house. The sudden absence of that spirit creates a vacuum of sorts, that leaves everything cold, dead, and empty. Treasured items turn back into stuff that grieving loved ones struggle to get rid of.
It feels so bizarre, so disrespectful, to riffle though someone's stuff. I am a vulture searching for things of value. And who am I to determine the value of something that is not mine? Yet, that's what I'm here to do.
I come across a ring dish pushed to the back of a bedside table, layered with decades of dust. I wipe it clean and see that it says, "Mom, You're a Wish come True." I think about the child who gave her this dish. Was she really treasured as a dream come true? Or was this just something that could fill a box, be wrapped in pretty paper, and placed under the Christmas tree. What is its value?
I'm tired and melancholy as I fly home. I know that this is one journey in my life that has come to an abrupt end. It's night and I gaze out the airplane window into blackness so dark that it's almost hypnotic. I feel vaguely like Peter Pan as a faraway town appears, its lights shimmer like a smattering of dusty gold and silver treasure just out of reach on the earth below. Left by Captain Hook and his pirates perhaps, but maybe not. I begin to drift off, the mild turbulence feels strangely like a car ride over a bumpy highway. I'm a kid again on a long road trip, safely snuggled into the back of our van with my daddy behind the wheel. It suddenly occurs to me that this is air turbulence and I jerk awake, unable to fall asleep again.
I invited my family over for dinner tonight. I'm desperate for the company of those who are still with me. To feel their warmth, their love, their life. I made one of my favorite fall meals, Baked Acorn Squashed with Apples and Sausage, and we talked and laughed long into the night. My children are playing with their puppy in the next room. Giggles erupt like wildflowers after a hard spring rainstorm as the puppy licks their tiny toes. Life continues . . .
Baked Acorn Squash with Apples and Sausage
3 acorn squash, cut in half and seeds removed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1/2 a small onion, diced
2 firm apples, cored and diced
1 Tbsp butter, melted
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced
2 Tbsp cold butter
Preheat your over to 375 degrees. Pour 1 Tablespoon of olive oil into one or two pans that are large enough for all the squash. Place the squash cut side up in the pans and brush the flesh with some of the oil. Cover with foil and bake until tender, about 35 minutes. Let cool until you can handle them.
Meanwhile cook the sausage and onions in a skillet. When brown add the apples and cook for 5 more minutes. Scoop out some of the flesh of the squash, leaving a shell that's about 1/2 inch thick. Mix the squash with the apples and sausage. Then add the melted butter, maple syrup, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Stuff the squash shells with this mixture and dot the tops with little pieces of the cold butter. Bake, uncovered, until brown - about 20 minutes. Serves 6