I set my purse down on the kitchen counter along with some groceries for Pops. A cherry trivet sat on the stove next to its last working burner. The oven portion of the appliance no longer worked either. You see, the oven was an original fixture of the house, built in the 1950’s- much like its residents. This was Chris’s childhood home. She loved living in it as an adult, and having grandkids over to swim in the pool.
My eyes drifted over to the old red kettle perched on that back burner. Pops made Mom a cup of tea every night. Constant Comment was her favorite. Without fail, I would tease her mercilessly about it. A woman known for her quick, witty repartee whose favorite tea was CONSTANT COMMENT?! What could be more perfect?! It was low hanging comedic fruit, but I’m not too proud.
The kettle sat. Red paint chipping like a three month old pedicure. Dents in it undoubtedly from Pops banging around in the kitchen to fill it up or moving it out of the way for one reason or another. It sat unused now, but worn. It holds within it countless stories. Tales of cold winter nights of steaming hot cocoa at Christmas. The evening tea ritual of Constant Comment. It was there in good times and bad; sitting, waiting to be used. It sits now awaiting use, but likely never to feel the heat of boiling water and whistling that it’s ready.
All around, it seems, there are fragments of a life interrupted. Things unfinished, that appear like someone is returning, when they aren’t.
And I’m staring at this tea kettle and all I can think is- this kettle isn’t done yet. She still needs that hot cocoa with the grandkids. That cup of Constant Comment for me to tease her about. This one-working-burner stovetop and the cherry trivet are like pieces of her and I still can’t believe she’s gone. Even her jacket hangs on a hook on the entryway, as if to await covering her loving arms as she leaves to visit her grandkids, go to the bank and other things of normal, daily life.
The world continues to turn without her. The mail still comes. The neighbor’s annoying dog still barks. How does life continue? I want to scream, “STOP EVERYTHING! Chris Conlee isn’t here any more!” Somehow those words swirl and I’m left feeling a dizzying surreality.
My mother in law. My other “mom”. One of the dearest friends I’ve ever had. Reduced to past tense, which feels so wrong. When someone dies, you don’t stop loving them. I can’t say, “I loved her.” It implies the love is gone. Love is still very much here. It is only HER that is gone.
Mom inherited her grandmother’s cabin in Lake Tahoe. It held so many sweet memories for her and she was excited to fix it up, make it her own and have a place to bring her kids and grandkids. As we stood in the cabin for the first time, on the dates we’d planned to be there WITH her, my heart sank thinking of what could and should be. I looked around at glimpses of her everywhere. She’d bought a red plaid shower curtain and valance for the bathroom. The kitchen had red accents and red kitchen towels. Then, I saw it. An identical red kettle like she had at home. This one was clearly brand new. This one didn’t have dents from Pops banging around in the kitchen. It didn’t have scratches. It didn’t have scorch marks from use because it had never been used. It was new. Just like her – she is new.
How can I come to a place of thinking of her life as a complete work when there’s so many memories I’d still like to make? I think of the red kettle.