Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Room with a View
by Joanna Hurst

I'm lying here with my baby on Mike and Denise's bed. My boy has been struggling, fighting sleep for the past hour at his godparent's home. As soon as his head hits the pillow he starts nudging towards me, fingers tugging and pushing, pawing me like a kitten taken from his mama too soon, lips anxiously latching onto my breast. His eyes begin to roll and flutter, humming and moaning with the soft pull of sleep. The smell of fresh baked bread drifts from the kitchen coupled with the thrills of Denise's laughter as she assists my husband cooking mussels and clams. 

Mike's setting the musical tone of the evening, Italian soundtrack, while the soft clatter of porcelain and silver signal dinner is nearly ready. I snuggle closer to Jake, enjoying Denise's indulgence in bedding, corduroy comforter with 100% Egyptian cotton sheets, the enveloping feather mattress. The window shares its view of the cedar elm trees dancing.

Trees amaze me. Grand, lovely trees filled with the sincerity of a history that cannot be altered by the interpretations of time. They survive amongst us for hundreds of years, no matter what the size of the town, the trees continue to thrive. Maybe not as many as before, but there are plenty enough for me. They are like mothers -- grounded, swaying, strong, never leaving, always growing and renewing with the seasons of life.

I think of my grandma while I watch one in particular. This tree is powerful and swaying largely with the wind, way high up in the air, its branches fan the sky brushing the clouds along their way. My grandma has just passed through this world, this life, and I'm wondering where she has gone. I'm wondering how long it takes to get there and who's there with her. I feel her presence at this moment so real, just there in the highest branches of that giant old elm. She's so strong now that she can see me through the tiny window of this comfy room with the rough red walls. She can see me lying with my son, giving him my breast and my love. I know she is smiling at me, happy I have finally found a purpose, a real reason to quit blowing off life. 

I think about her when I see that old elm because it reminds me of my grandparent’s home. The home they had when I was born, the home I spent many years living in from time to time. Floods of memories rush me now. I remember her dog, Silver, taking my hand so gently in his mouth, leading me around the yard to his special places. Her heart broke for the first time when he died. This home where she set my hot cereal out on the porch, letting it cool just enough for me to eat. I remember her rich, home-cooked meals of chicken fried steak, green beans, mashed potatoes, iced tea and peach cobbler. The rusty old dinner bell she used to ring to let Grandpa and the rest of us know it was suppertime. I could never sleep in any room in that big old house but theirs. Grandma would put out a cot for me to sleep on, but I would always end up crawling between them, waiting for Grandpa to mutter "spoon" then we'd all curl up real tight. God, I loved them, they were my home. 

Now I lay here with my son, wishing I had one more talk with grandma. I wish she'd follow me into my room one more time to watch me pack, asking questions about all my clothes, books, jewelry. I wish I could get grumpy one more time so she would tell me how much I reminded her of Grandpa. I wish I'd hugged her more and how I wish I'd crawled into bed with her in those later years, snuggling up behind her, feeling her soft skin smelling of cold cream and the smooth satin of her gown. 

I know she needed more hugs than I thought I could afford. Selfish on my part, I'd go to visit her when I needed to run away from my own life, not realizing how precious those moments were. I always thought I would have one more trip, one more chance. I wish I had listened better when she talked about her French grandfather, showing up drunk and ornery, full of adventurous stories, or when she spoke of the early years with Grandpa, running off with him against her father's wishes.

It's been just over a week since she died and I think to call her everyday, I miss her so. It was never easy for her to say goodbye. She would stand on her tiny front porch, covered with vibrant ceramic roosters and tiny floral shrubs, waving until she couldn't see me any longer, tears hiding in the distance. I can still see her waving there in the tall trees above. I try to wave back, hoping she sees me. Then, looking down, I rub my face against the soft cheeks of my baby boy, snuggling into his crinkled neck, sucking in the bitter smell of milk. I pray to someone that I'll be as good a mother to him as she was a grandmother to me. I know she'll help as much as she can. I know she’s nearby, right here by my side, smoothing down the wrinkles, wiping off the counters, airing out the rooms. This much I know.
Joanna Hurst is a native Texan who's made Austin her home for 18 years. She is currently on hiatus from her career as a Commercial Production Coordinator to work on a non-profit project in Ft. Worth called "Jake Unlimited." This project is almost five-months-old and consists of nursing, crying, sleeping, pooping, and most of all, laughing. She has derived great joy from the opportunity but knows its lack of payment will soon drag her back into the profit-earning world of commercials. Late at night, when she's not totally consumed with "Jake Unlimited," she works on her original dream of writing, practicing night yoga and baking too many loaves of bread.