My mother, Joan Craig, passed away last month from Alzheimer’s disease. Nothing seems so important now. Thinking I’m okay feels part of a kind of denial. Past Orbit Obits may have seemed tongue-in-cheek yet they were reverential in their documentation of the loss of a place or thing. Obits bring up nostalgic feelings for businesses I’ve known were on their way out. This was, in a sense, similar to what I went through with my Mom because of her illness. I am sad about that. I’m also okay with it. Life goes on but it’s never the same.
When trying to think about how I got here, a middle aged blogger revising this piece on an iPhone with frozen fingers waiting to pick up a burrito order, it occurred to me that it started earlier than I realized. It began with my Mom asking us, her three sons, if we wanted to see “the smiling rock.” We’d be on our way to our Aunt and Uncle’s house in Westwood, Massachusetts. The rock was one of those New England boulders that stuck out of the earth in random places. Boulder might be an overestimation. It wasn’t a huge rock but it was visible from the car. The rock was painted white and defaced with a red spray painted smile and black, beady eyes. The smile gave me the sense that that inanimate objects were capable of emotions. It sparked an interest in random, and sometimes hidden creative expression. I have no idea how my mother discovered it. She made a special event out of every showing. I was always excited and never too jaded to see that mysterious rock.
My Mom was like that. She took different routes to the places she went so she never got bored. Our furniture got rearranged every six months. She loved history and exploring new places like learning about the Gullahs when she lived in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She was always up for a trip to that funky store in Bluffton. All this has unleashed memories of other stores: a creepy antique store in Massachusetts full of old, dark furniture where I mostly remember getting a stuffed animal named Bucky Beaver. My big brother, Jack, later twisted his head off unleashing a spray of sawdust. There was an antique place in the Atlanta area we weren’t allowed to enter. A woman with an exotic accent stopped us at the door saying, “We are mopping the floor.” The strangest details are unforgettable.
My Mom was also a heavy reader. Her interest in pulp fiction had her entertaining the idea of opening a used book store. My parents passed on a love of reading in the days when that was what we did. The house was stuffed with newspapers, magazines, comic books and regular books. My reading habit was fueled by Weekly Reader monthly hardback book deliveries and a subscription to Mad Magazine. I was compulsive about anything with words. Even the backs of cereal boxes were a source of fascination. My parents supported my pursuit of my potentially uncommercial English degree.
When my mom had time, I’d say in her retirement, she got the collecting bug. That bug is a genetic thing. I remember seeing more and more blue plates on the walls with each visit of her Toano, Virginia house and there were ceramic lighthouses too, but I know she had to stop that. Me, well, my collections are embarrassing. These days I’m more about collecting and obsessing over images but I’m a reluctant coin collector having to look at every quarter I come across. There always seems to be a different National Park commemorated on the back. It’s a given that without her I wouldn’t be here. Literally. There was also a gentle influence of her curiosity about the world that inspired me. It led me to this blog where I catalog ideas and inspirations within the landscapes I pass through. It offers me another chance to say goodbye knowing it will always be okay to look around and seek out the things that spark my inextinguishable imagination.
Another mystery from my childhood was the spike in the rock on the way to “the pond” at my Grandmother’s house. We never stopped wondering who pounded the spike in the giant rock. We always stopped to have a look to make sure it was still there as we considered whether anyone would ever remove it. I took this not so great photo on a visit in the early 90’s. The wonder of it all has kept me wondering my whole life.