The Moms in the Mountains, continued.
|Captured at the kitchen table: (front) Lisa, Cindy, Chris; (back) Jo, Sara, me. 1998|
In my imagination, I can take the trip with my friends to the cabin in the Sierra foothills any time I want. A group of women on the lam, families left behind for a brief girls-only escapade to the mountains in California’s Gold Country. It’s Sunday morning...
In the morning, the early birds go on a walk while others sleep in. The water in the nearby lake is low in the fall, exposing its sandy banks. We sometimes see families of ducks– little fluff balls of down, paddling behind their mamas. No sound here, except the wind rushing through the trees and the echoes of birdsong across the lake.
The weather in the mountains can turn in an instant. One year we set out for a walk to the lake and were caught in a heavy downpour that left us soaked to the skin. We were a bit embarrassed to be walking around the neighborhood in our see-through wet T-shirts, but there was nothing to be done about it. Might as well smile and strut. We rushed back to the cabin and took hot showers, shivering with cold and pure joy. Another year, we decided to go up in late autumn after realizing that the kids were too old for Halloween and didn’t need us around anyway. Surprised by an early snow flurry, we rushed outside like kids ourselves, holding out our hands and tongues to catch snowflakes as they drifted down.
|Lisa, Cindy,and me, under the Big Trees 1995|
We walk back to the cabin and hope that someone has made coffee. We slice the bread or bake the rolls, cut up the fruit, and fill our mugs. The morning passes this way, and then we start gathering our stuff together. We shower and pack, and go about straightening up. My job is to “stage” the cabin, so that any potential burglar might think the occupants have just stepped out of the room for a moment. I casually drop a sweater over the back of the couch, and leave a magazine open on the kitchen table’s green-and-white checked tablecloth. I place two coffee cups and a plate next to the magazine. Then I set up a Scrabble game that would no doubt convince the casual observer that two highly intelligent and alert people are in the next room, merely looking up a word in the dictionary. Meanwhile, others mop the floors, scrub the sinks, and wash and put away the dishes. When the clean-up and staging are finished, we start loading the car, making sure that the leftover snacks are within reach for the ride.
It’s only Sunday, but it feels like the last day of summer vacation. The trip isn’t over yet—we still have to stop in and see what’s new at Angel’s Camp. We have lunch and wander through the shops briefly, but then it’s time to go home. Back in the car, back on the road. The countryside shifts from the foothills to the flatlands, then opens up into the vast Central Valley. After the windmills at Altamont Pass, it’s a short ride back home to Oakland.
* * *
|Some of us at Christmas more recently, with our matching red scarves.|
Of course, nothing stays the same.
Chris and I lost our houses in the fire that swept through the Oakland hills in 1991. The moms helped us move into temporary homes and didn’t leave until all the beds were made and the kitchen cupboards were filled. We kept up our meetings while the two of us rebuilt our houses, up the street from each other again.
And we don’t go to Arnold anymore; the cabin was sold several years ago. Chris moved from the house she rebuilt on our block, and lives three hours away now. Other things have changed: two more divorces; four of our children have gotten married, one is just about to tie the knot, and one grandchild has been born. Some of us have changed jobs and careers, several have moved, and three of us went back to grad school. The youngest of the children is in college now.
And then, a few months ago, the unthinkable happened. We lost Lisa to leukemia.
The empty chair at the table, the candle that glows in her memory—words can’t really convey an absence felt so keenly. We miss her laugh and her spirit of fun, le bon temps. She asked to be buried here in Oakland, near her mommies.
I long to turn back the clock and spend one more evening in the mountain cabin with my friends: sitting by the fire with a mug of hot tea, glowing with the warmth, cheeks flushed from the walk through the trees, sharing a laugh one more time…with all of us there.
Lovely and moving and…well, sad. Ah.