My mom used to tell me that when people died, sometimes you could still feel their presence in certain places like their houses or offices. I didn't really understand that. Until now.
I'm sitting at the table at The Cottage. The Cottage was built by my mother in law's father way back when. It's a small structure - really, a cottage. It sits on Lake Ontario which is a BIG lake - more like a pretty calm ocean (until a storm hits).
I came up here regularly early in my marriage. It didn't hold many good memories for me. My MIL and I didn't enjoy each other's company here much. My FIL and I did, though. He understood me better than anyone. But when he was gone (mentally, he had Alzheimer's), there was no one left. Or so I thought.
The first time I came here, Uncle John would eat off my plate if he thought I wasn't going to finish something. The man was in perfect condition - I didn't get it. He could eat everything, clean his plates and everyone else's too, and be so thin. He was an engineer at Kodak - super smart man. He was always polite to me; I just didn't think he understood me. He was a Bishop after all. And they all thought I was nuts. Or just different. I was. I am.
Then I started to stand my ground: no, I don't want to go to the Cottage this year for my only vacation. I want a vacation with just my family, not all the others, too. No one understood it. I was the pariah for a long time. Then one year, the husband and kids came up for several days without me. They picked me up from the Buffalo airport and we went to Niagara Falls before heading back here. By the time we got back here, my MIL was gone. It was just John. Everyone was mad at me. Except John. One evening he stayed up to watch the stars with me. Stand your ground, he said. Don't give in. You have a right to be happy, too. He understood me. Finally. It changed our relationship.
Divorces happen. People drift apart. I still saw John when he visited his sister but not often. His death, shortly before my MIL's, was unexpected and extremely painful for all. It still is. Now here I sit, in his house at his table (now really his daughter's), thinking about him. I can almost hear his voice. "Judi, how are you doing?" he'd ask genuinely. I can feel him hug me, giving me a firm pat on the back, his hand open and warm. His voice was a little raspy, deep and had a Rochester accent. I miss him and Ruth here. But I feel him here.
This place used to give me anxiety. Now it brings me calm. A function of age? Perhaps. The fact that I no longer have to be the dutiful wife and daughter-in-law? Probably. Mostly it's the sound of the water, the smell of the air and knowing this house is always full of love. I just couldn't see it before. Such wasted time! I wish I could turn back the clock a bit. I would have enjoyed my weeks here more. So, for now, I take solace in knowing my kids are experiencing this the way their Grandma and Uncle would have wanted. That's good enough.