Mother’s Day has been a disappointment since my son and stepson have both flown the nest. But this year was different. Lily requested two nights in the treehouse as a gift to her mother, and they arrived late Friday night after driving up from Martha’s Vineyard. H and I had spiffed up the treehouse and put fresh flowers around. At midnight they were road weary but giggling at the treehouse lit with colored lights and the spa heated and ready for them.
Saturday we gave them the usual breakfast fare of granola, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, scones and juice. Jan, the mom, had tea and Lily, a seraphic 25-year-old, had coffee. Lily works at Morning Glory Farm on the Vineyard. Jan owns Vineyard Stories, a niche publishing company she started a few years ago with her husband, a journalist and one of the founders of USA Today. They met while working at a Baltimore newspaper. Jan was a reporter, and when she called in her story for the night, John answered the phone and took it down. Then he asked her a few questions about the report. No one had ever questioned one of her stories before.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked.
“I’m the managing editor,” he said.
A few years and many questions later, they began dating and eventually married. After their third child, Jan said it was too hard to work in journalism and raise a family, so they retired to Martha’s Vineyard, where John ran the local newspaper. Eventually he left the news business and they launched Vineyard Stories, publishing nonfiction, fiction and children’s books related to Martha’s Vineyard. You can find Jan’s website online.
John developed a painful nerve condition in his face and two years ago agreed to experimental surgery. His last words to Jan as he was being wheeled into the O.R. were, “I love you and I love our family.” Something went wrong during the surgery, and she lost the love of her life. People who knew John say he was brilliant and one of the nicest guys on the planet. His death was an unspeakable tragedy.
Saturday afternoon H and I attended the funeral of his best friend’s father, a doctor who was about to turn 95. Dr. Mac had been H’s pediatrician, and he’d known the doctor and his son Alex most of his life. Dr. Mac was a character, the life of every party, and he practiced medicine until he was 93, when he reluctantly retired. But he kept reading medical journals and asked about my triglycerides whenever he saw me. He died peacefully without losing a synapse. At the service, the minister asked if anyone wanted to speak, and several people told funny stories—my favorite about Dr. Mac dancing on a bar in Austria with light bulbs in his ears. If there was a piano nearby, he’d play boogie-woogie and get everyone dancing. He loved life.
I stood up and told of Dr. Mac treating a spring rash by giving me samples of cortisone (“I won’t have to charge you for these,” he said). When I got home and looked at the package, I saw the pills were twelve years out of date. The rash cured itself without cortisone, as I figured Dr. Mac knew it would. Think for a minute about how many people always show joy at seeing you—I can count them on my fingers. Dr. Mac was one of those people for me, greeting me with open arms and a kiss whenever he came to visit or we went to his house for pizza and a baseball game on his old TV. With his passing, there’s one fewer person to welcome me with such enthusiasm. But I can pay it forward. Now every time I greet an old friend, I open my arms for a hug and a kiss and think of Dr. Mac.
Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, came cold and snowy. Lily had trouble sleeping with the treehouse rocking and creaking in the wind and sometime during the night came in to sleep in the guest room. Jan’s tough and stuck it out. In the morning we heated them up by the wood stove, and I served French toast croissants stuffed with macerated fruit and whipped cream and drizzled with Vermont maple syrup. H and I sat and ate with them, which we rarely do with guests. But we enjoyed them so much that we wanted to savor their company. Jan talked to me about custom publishing, and Lily told H about her farm work—snow whitening the woods outside the dining room windows.
I can only imagine the grief Jan and Lily must feel at the loss of a beloved husband and father, but they’re lucky to have each other. Jan might build an apartment addition to her house for Lily to live in, since she’s just a couple miles from Morning Glory Farm, and they talked about taking a trip to India together. I wish I could go with them. When they left, planning lunch at Simon Pearce Restaurant before catching the ferry back to the Vineyard, we gave them hugs and kisses and waved until their car drifted down the driveway. Next time they come to Fern Forest, or if we find our way to Martha’s Vineyard, I know we’ll throw out our arms with the joy of seeing them. They can count on it.