Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Can See You Shining in the Sun

I had inadvertently parked next to it at the grocery store: an older model, white Cadillac with a blue top.

For a moment I stood there and just reminisced. It looked conspicuous in the Wal-Mart parking lot, stretching absurdly long like a small yacht in a sea of rowboats. It even glinted in the sunlight, looking far cleaner and more perfect than the much newer cars around it. The hubcaps bore the Cadillac insignia, which has always reminded me of the crest on a country club blazer.

I knew this car. My soul knew this car. La voiture d’une grande dame. It was exactly the car my mother would have owned if she were still alive.

My mother died when I was thirty, but for at least as long as I was alive, her signature car was a blue and white Cadillac. The most memorable one was her ’54 Coupe Deville convertible that she kept over twenty years. It was white with a blue top, although she always claimed it was really an extremely light gray. And she would’ve known, since she always had a little jar of paint with which to do touch ups. She would go out to the garage and dab carefully with her sable artist’s brush at any imperfections. It was no joke to say that Mother was outside working on her car again. She was reputed to have been quite an artist at one time, but sadly, the only thing I ever saw her paint was her car.

When I think of that car, I can’t help but picture my mother’s brown arm rested carelessly on the window in summer, a Salem menthol balanced chop-stick-style in between pink, frosted nails. She rarely put the top down, but…oh...when she did, it was an ecstasy of wind and sunlight that swirled my hair into a face-whipping frenzy.

I remember those slick leather seats and the way we children used to catapult forward when she stopped too fast—because of course we were never buckled in. In fact, I remember often standing as she drove. If she even had seat belts, they were probably tucked neatly away so as not to detract from the light blue leather.

It may have been from a different era, but it was undeniably a more glamorous one. My mother kept her car shiny and spotless and elegant. Although the Mean Kid in grade school once referred to it as “that big old tin can,” he came across as merely jealous. Far more often, strangers at stoplights would look over and ask if it was for sale.

My smile lingered long after I went inside the grocery store. Later on, rounding the paper goods aisle, I heard her. “Oh, my goodness!” she laughed, wrestling with the direction of her cart, as if maneuvering a cart were an adventurous and slightly exotic thing, exactly as my mother would have done. She managed to right it just before I could get there to help her. She was slim, neatly dressed, and well-preserved enough that it was hard to say if she was in her seventies or eighties. Not too different from anyone else, yet she was somehow conspicuous in a Wal-Mart aisle. There was no question in my mind who she was.

I didn’t ask her, though, imagining that it might scare her momentarily; she might think that someone had scratched it. So I just kept going, but I knew. I smiled, but the lump in my throat knew.

A little voice inside my head said, ‘Don’t look back, you can never look back.’ I thought I knew what love was/What did I know? Those days are gone forever/I should just let them go ~Don Henley, “Boys of Summer”

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