by Tina Lampman
The lavender meadow I stumbled upon during a particularly dark time in my life is a place that will be etched into my heart forever. Even before seeing the rolling hills of purple for the first time, the relaxing fragrance of the flowers was carried on the wind. As I entered the field, I noticed a number of opossums, shuffling about the grounds, as if participating in a choreographed dance. I maintained an aggressive posture, as I had been walking for quite a long time and wanted to relax without being bothered. The opossum matriarch welcomed me, inviting me to join in the merriment.
“Why are they all so gleeful?” I asked.
“You’re an opossum. How could you wonder that?” she said. “How can anyone be sad on a glorious day, like today? Come, celebrate with us. Won’t you join us for dinner?”
Clearly, the collective minds of the group were hypnotized by the medicinal properties of the flowers. I was hungry and my feet were blistered from travelling, so I accepted her invitation. The home that I left had lavender growing wild, but I never enjoyed it or even noticed them.
“What brings you to our magnificent field?” she asked.
“I needed a change of scenery after my father’s death,” I said. “I didn’t have a destination in mind. I traveled north and ended up here.”
I shared a big meal with the others, settled into a soft bed of purple sachet and slept peacefully for the first time in months.
“I might just stay here,” I said to myself.
So, I did.
It was a relief to find this flowering paradise. I certainly couldn’t remain at home. Constantly tracing my dead father’s once travelled steps in the brush made me progressively sadder. I knew all of his hiding places. He had plenty of make-shift shelters that he used to escape from the foxes or coyotes or anyone else that wanted to kill him and parade his lifeless corpse around the forest on a stick to make an example out of him for trespassing.
I left home on the day of Dad’s funeral dinner, largely because it was getting too crowded at Mom’s place. After noticing how hard my mother had worked to satisfy their every need, some of the guests decided to stay with her for the season. They said it was to “help her grieve.” I told Mom if she didn’t make her home so inviting, her guests might go back where they belong.
“At least stop ironing their bed sheets,” I said.
“Everybody enjoys smooth sheets,” she said in defense of her actions. “I also infused them with rose water. We opossums didn’t survive the ice age by being selfish,” she said.
Mom has always been the consummate hostess. She had been an army wife for quite some time and learned how to be everything a marsupial soldier, looking to make rank, would need in a mate. Dad’s family and war buddies were quick to take advantage of her good nature and make themselves at home.
“What happens when all of this food is gone?” I said.
“It’s true, we have more mouths to feed,” she said, “but we also have more opposable thumbs and functioning tails to help us hunt and gather.”
Mom was happy to have the company, but the endless questions from the guests became too much for me to handle.
“You look just like your father, were you two close?” they would say. “Do you have a fond memory of him from when you were growing up?”
“The answer is no,” I would tell them.
Mom rolled her eyes and said, “My little Jill should have been an actress. She’s so dramatic. Her daddy loved her very much. He just worked too many hours, protecting the marsupial way of life. So, he didn’t have much off duty time for the foolishness of children.”
At that point, I had heard enough.
So, I took
a long walk.
That’s how I found my purple field of bliss.
I was just growing accustomed to life among the lavender when Mom contacted me via airmail. Our crazy old homing pigeon delivered the letter. Visibly upset, he couldn’t wait for me to read it. Out of breath from old age and wind shear, he just kept repeating over and over,
“Come home now. Mom needs you. Come home now….”
I knew something serious had happened. The pigeon had always charged a hefty fee to deliver letters. No doubt, Mom sacrificed a great deal of food in payment to the bird to get me home.
Dad’s family and friends that remained at the house unknowingly violated a coral snake den on their way to a hunting lodge in the adjoining meadow. Because they were ignorant of their surroundings, not being from Florida, the hapless victims didn’t realize that they were hours away from an excruciating death. The corals were as narrow as tulip stems. While their bites are deadly, the actual puncture probably didn’t hurt much. It inevitably felt more like a bee sting than a death grip. We opossums are immune to every kind of snake bite in America, except that of the coral. Its venom attacks our nervous system. Mom didn’t find her guests until it was too late. They had collapsed and died on her doorstep after killing and dragging the deadly snakes home. When I was growing up, Mom was terrified that I would mistake a tasty king snake for a deadly coral.
“Red next to black is a friend to Jack. Red next to yellow can kill a fellow.” she would have me repeat, each time I left home to gather sustenance for the family.
The snakes that have yellow, black and red stripes are harmless and delicious. The snakes that have red, yellow and black stripes in that order will kill anything they bite.
After the accident, there was much to do in preparation for Mom’s second funeral feast in one year. She can make healthy, delicious soup out of almost anything. I’m sure she couldn’t wait for me to come home and share in the bounty. Some of the opossums were on the heavy side. No doubt, the meat would have contained some nice marbling.
The day before my trip back home, I spent most of my time grooming my fur. My new friends even helped me pull some of the tangles out of it. It was colder in the purple meadow. I lost half of my tail the winter before from frost bite and never told Mom. I teased my fur into a fluffy bouffant to compensate for my prehensile amputation.
“She will certainly notice my shortcoming, though she will pretend not to see it,” I told the lavender loving ladies that surrounded me.
And, that’s what happened.
When I got home, and Mom and I prepared the dinner, she expressed admiration for opossums with long tails.
“Have you seen little Priscilla?” Mom said. “She is not so little now and has really grown into her face. I was wondering when she would become attractive. She has that long, sleek tail that not only helps her balance on a tree limb but also makes all of the boys’ hearts skip a beat.”
I tried to change the subject, but she relented.
“Your father once told me that it didn’t matter if a jill had an ugly face, as long as she kept her figure. I’m not sure I ever believed him though. Thank goodness our Priscilla has that long tail.”
By the end of dinner, I didn’t know if it was my tail she found distasteful or my face. After the dishes were washed, I walked out of the kitchen mumbling with my head hung low.
“I have 50 beautiful teeth that I whiten regularly. You don’t ever talk about that.”
Don’t get me wrong; it was good to be home. Mom’s house was the perfect place to grow up. Garden vegetables fill her land in the spring. All summer and fall, we can feast on peaches, figs, palm fruit, loquats and beauty berries. When the weather turns cool, our menu will include marigolds, clover, hibiscus and other flowering delicacies that the winter chill keeps fresh for us. Neither Mom nor I eat much protein. Both of us watch our figures. Mom wants to retain her beauty. I just need to remain as healthy as possible in case of hardship. We will only eat the occasional snake or opossum if one is dropped off at our doorstep.
“Something new and exciting seems to happen every day here,” Mom said. “I planned to have salad the night of the mass killing and ended up with a tasty soup and salad.”
Mom was, once again, an empty-nester. But, she was taking it all very well. It was summer, and she lives for that time of year. She enjoys the life of a nomad, bouncing between friends’ homes, attending luncheons, garden parties and the periodic date, dinner and dancing with a new beau. She is happiest when she is running free and having children. Mom is known for her sunny disposition and hourglass figure, so her dance card is normally full. She has always had this insane ability to look on the bright side of life, even when the future seems particularly dim.
No matter how tough her life got, I never saw her sweat. When I was small, I thought she was obsessed with her looks because of her constant grooming. Turns out, she was keeping herself cool with saliva because she lacked sweat glands.
“Your father went to war to preserve our freedom. I may as well enjoy that freedom,” she would say.
Every time Mom mentioned Dad, I would get angry that he was never around when I grew up. As a child, I made up stories about his absence. Maybe I failed an intelligence test when I was little, and Dad could no longer look at me with the loving eyes of a father.
“Colonel Carrion,” I imagined the doctor saying, “Your daughter is of below average intelligence. I’m sorry to report that she is what we doctors call a throw-away child. Many of my ex-military patients with war trauma drown their sorrows in alcohol. Did you hit the sauce a little too hard around the time you mated with her mother?”
“No,” Dad would protest, wondering if my mother had been sneaking alcohol when I lived in her pouch. “Don’t worry Doc, I’m still a young jack,” he would say with a wink of his eye. “I’ve never had a problem spontaneously sending my females into season. This little joey will be a burden on society, but her mother can raise her. That woman can love anyone, even an imbecile.”
Having remembered that story after all of this time, I finally asked Mom if I had ever received an IQ test and if that was the reason Dad left.
“Parents don’t give their children intelligence tests. They just watch them and foster the talents that are noticed,” she said. “You thought he left us because he didn’t love you? Your father is dead, gone and digested. Perhaps, it’s time you stopped blaming him for everything that has ever gone wrong in your life. He gave you strength and bravery. That is going to have to be enough,” she said.
“And, stop being a narcissist. The world doesn’t revolve around you. It revolves around me. Everyone knows that,” she chuckled.
“It would be different if he had given you that horribly frizzy hairdo of yours or cut off your tail,” she said. “The Great Marsupial War was too much for him to handle. Most opossums are able to “play dead” when they are frightened. He never had that luxury.
‘Cowards lose conflicts,’” he would say.
“You have never worried about anything, have you Mom? Why is that? And, why can’t I be that way?” I asked her.
I handle my life the same way my mother and her mother handled their lives. Our family was not born into privilege. You are going to have to grow up sooner or later, my darling jill. We have to fight every day to be happy, just like we fight to eat and protect ourselves. We live for our children; we live to make the lives of the less fortunate better, or we live for misadventure. Your dad never backed away from a fight. That’s why I chose him. He led a solitary life full of love and folly. I hung onto his coat tails until our offspring arrived. Like many soldiers, he made grand plans for our future. But, before those promises were fulfilled, he was gone. I have never regretted meeting him, only that he couldn’t stay a bit longer. If I hadn’t known your father, I would never have met you. Don’t forget that in those days, raising children was not a man’s job. In some circles it’s still that way.
Then she started twirling in circles.
“Circle, circle, circle, WEEEE,” she said.
When she stopped spinning, I gently held on to her to keep her from falling. We both laughed, and I poured us warm beverages for sipping.
“Good tea,” she said.
“It’s lavender,” I said.
Her eyes went from playful to serious.
When I’m of no more use, I will make room for the next generation. In the beginning of your life, you attached yourself to me. I happily supplied you with security and food because you needed me. In the end, I won’t feel scared or cheated because I’ll have known you. Beautiful baby jill, you have your father’s lust for calamity and my long, shapely legs. And for the record, I don’t care how short your tail gets from frost bite. It only matters that you didn’t trust me with that information when it happened.
She arose from the table to fetch an old black and white picture of Dad to show me.
“Ouch,” she said, stumbling over the table leg. “I guess I should be more careful, so that the next funeral dinner isn’t in my honor,” she giggled.
“You will outlive us all Mom,” I said.
She lingered for a moment, looking into my eyes.
“It looks like you put hairspray on that teased fur of yours,” she said. “Be a lamb, and go wash it out before lunch. You look like a harlot. You’re beautiful without all of that fluffiness. Why do you want to look like someone you’re not?”
I wanted to be angry with her for her comments about my hair. Since my father died, I also wanted to scream at him for leaving me and cry to heaven for taking him away. But, that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Instead, I took a bath and readied myself for a lunch of leftover opossum coral soup. It was at that point, I decided to stay home instead of moving back to the lavender fields. I could say it was to help Mom grieve, but winter would arrive soon, and last year’s frost bite convinced me that this Carrion family doesn’t have the proper clothing or stamina required to live in a cold climate, that’s why we made our home in the south.
Besides, Mom likes my tea.