It had been a long day, you see, and my quickest remedy is this: Get Outside. Even though it’s flirting below-zero and the sun is setting, we need to be outside. So here, this is me, sweaty and wrestling three tinies into their winter gear, Evelynn doing her Maggie-Simpson-in-a-snowsuit impression, immobile on the floor as she waits, toques and mitts and boots for stomping loud are on us all, I strap that big baby to my chest and we head out, I am determined, in the dusk. It’s only 2 o’clock.
Here we go, walking up the slippery hill to the field across the road. We pass through the bent and ancient barbed wire fence and then there we are, in the wide opens spaces at last, breathing out a breath we didn’t know we had been holding. Anne is off exploring and I snap pictures of the back of her, gesturing wildly, narrating every thought. Joe isn’t paying attention – is he ever? – and nearly falls into a blackberry thicket, all thorny, so I hold his hand, thumb carefully stuck into the right spot of his mittens, he’s so proud, and we walk together.
I saw a rabbit, a little brown one with a snow white tail, leaping away from us and oh, I wish I had taken a picture but instead I held on tight to the little mitten hand and three-year-old Joe said into the dim, “You helpin’ me, Mumma. You a good helper. I really love ya. We not an angry family, we a love family.”
I said, yes, yes, we are. And I thought, most of the time, I hope, always aware of the miles to go.
We walked across the field, knee deep in last summer’s clover with ice now clinging to it, the sun low on the horizon, sinking into the graveyard before us. Anne dashes this way and that, her nose bright red, but Joe stays close, holding my hand still, Evelynn always looking right up at me, her blue eyes full of something brave and gentle. I feel the weight of them all in the late day hours.
Rosehips shrivel on the bushes and the tinies call the graveyard a garden. We wander through the old gentle stones on the way home, most covered with lichen, even the barest details of their lives now nondescript. We somehow find ourselves in the little corner from the 1950s for the lost babies, the stones with small lambs etched on them. I feel like sitting on the cold earth and crying for the babies lost 60 years ago, for the mama who made sure that they wrote “A Lifetime of Love” on the grave of her 6 month old boy. Anne and Joe walk slowly, well instructed in how to behave in this place, but they lay down the pretty leaves they’ve found, the red ones, for the lonely stones without plastic flowers or wreaths. We turn towards home.
I am the axis, we’re turning. Joe holds one hand and Anne holds the other, Evelynn still content because she is close to me. I sing old songs in the cold twilight as we walk, thinking of what to make for supper, my voice thin but the stars are coming out, the pines stark as black lace on the sky. Anne is clinging to my hand with both of her mittens, she feels it all, too, and her head is on my forearm, like she can’t be close enough. I’m carrying us all home.