Joan S. Powers
The February sky was steel-grey. It felt as if night would fall momentarily though it was barely three in the afternoon. Fortunately the wind was more westerly than anything. It had little fierceness to it, though sand danced along the mammoth granite boulders that formed the inlet jetty jutting out into Block Island Sound. Two white swans performed an elegant paddling adagio as we gathered along the rocks in our heavy woolen coats and jackets. In the many thirteen years I’d been out here, I’ve never before seen swans in the inlet nor near the water at Gin Beach.
Fortunately, hours earlier we had all fortified ourselves against the harsh winter cold with a hearty lunch I’d prepared and with fine wine that my husband Raph had served at our home in Montauk. Three generations gathered around the comfort of the huge, blazing fire Raph had made. There were a sprinkling of first and second cousins, our only aunt nicknamed “Chick,” the widow of our father’s brother, my sister Lina and her husband Arnie, and their three surviving adult children as well as some of their several grandchildren. My family was represented by my son Michael and his wife, my daughter Francesca, her husband and infant son Benjy.
We were all crowded into our modest living room which we had rearranged to accommodate the large group. Sadly it was but a small remnant of what once had been a large extended family.
My daughter Francesca lit a large, fragrant candle and placed it on the glass table in front of a lovely photograph of Mom taken some time in her mid-seventies by a professional photographer. Hiring a professional for her own photo was so uncharacteristic, as she had always been somewhat careful about expending money. I think she took care to be remembered just the way she was in the photo: with a lovely serene smile, dressed in an elegant pink, feminine blouse, her moderately short gray hair swept back gently, her arms poised in her lap.
Dropping into available chairs, the younger ones lying on the carpet, we all listened silently and attentively to segments of the tapes I had made talking with Mom years ago. I taped on every opportunity I could when I visited her in Florida where she lived. (Most interesting as my daughter Francesca had observed, commenting on my truly unconscious choice of the tape I selected, I had zeroed in on my mother’s excessively caring relationship with her crippled older sister.) My mother’s voice came through vibrant with life.
Though everyone was exceedingly polite, the tension in the room was almost palpable. Even so, a few of the older children were moved to share remembrances of Mom, many of them amusing. Lina and I did not participate. Soon after our mother died Lina and I had expended a great deal of emotional energy trying to deal with our sibling relationship which eventually had boiled over into anger, still unresolved and affecting all of us and our adult children. And so, there was little lightness in any of us. A protracted, profound silence followed the sparse anecdotes about Mom.
“It’s time,” someone finally declared. Bundled up in our protective clothing against the bitter winter, we piled into our cars. In caravan style five cars drove to the very special, now desolate place which our mother loved when she came in summer to visit us from
Florida. Over the years she used to sit at Gin Beach to watch the fishing boats come and go through the inlet. As long as she could walk she would come to these boulders, alone or with us. Later on she required some assistance in managing the challenging climb. We often would sit quietly together, sharing a boulder and the pleasure in the scene and the sharing of it. This was one of those rare times when she wouldn’t talk through an experience, but quietly ingest it. Sometimes when I return to this place in the summertime, I wonder what she was thinking and feeling at those moments. I wonder whether she felt lonely, or thought about my father, dead so many years, who loved the sea and fishing here, or whether Mom thought about her numbered days. I know I loved being with her in those shared fleeting moments, aware of her increasing fragility and that our time together was limited.