On Tuesday, once again, we made the trip north from Los Angeles to the beautiful Ojai Valley. We are blessed to have a friend who makes our sojourns possible by allowing us to stay at their lovely home here. It is our third visit this year, and this time, Spring is fully evident everywhere. Trees adorned with bright new leaves: yellow-green sycamores, feathery acacia, the glossy green leaves of the towering oaks. Tiny birch leaves twinkle in the soft sunlight as gentle breezes waft by. Yellow-orange orioles, red-headed tanagers, rusty towhees, little spotted thrushes flit by, rustling the underbrush, singing from the highest branches. The incessant coo-COO-coo of nearby doves, the WACK-a, WACK-a, WACK-a of the acorn woodpeckers, chirrs, whistles, and peeps (along with the occasional leaf blower, passing siren or beeping trash truck) provide the soundtrack. Wind chimes tinkle merrily amid the rustling leaves. A lovely idyllic setting, and yet we can never be truly at peace here, or anywhere else.
This past weekend we came especially to escape. To escape the incessant reminders about the impending Mother’s Day, the media blitz, the card displays in the drug stores, the barrage of advertisements on television. To escape, for a moment, from our home, the house Jake lived in, filled to overflowing with memories, photos, and belongings, the constant reminders of a life not fulfilled. To escape from the sorrow that covers our lives like a harsh, scratchy blanket. This last is impossible of course; we bring our sorrow with us. Sometimes it is less immediate here, we can temporarily lose ourselves in the natural beauty that surrounds us. The solitude is a welcome respite from the daily demands, the minutiae that fill our lives. But even here, amid the quiet, sorrow interrupts the tranquility.
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We spend most of our time on the property; we did most of the Ojai Tourist activities the first two times we stayed here, with a few exceptions. On Thursday, we went to a nearby winery for a tasting. We checked them online, and were advised to bring a picnic lunch, as it is situated in a picturesque spot. We wound the few miles through the forest, past fruit orchards and newly planted gardens to the end of the road, the Old Creek Winery. The wines were okay; we were there mostly for the scenery. We bought a glass of their passable Syrah and settled down on the deck overlooking their property for our turkey sandwiches, huge salad, and chips and salsa. There were a few other people enjoying the glorious vista, sipping wine, chatting and laughing in the perfect warmth of a California spring afternoon. Sounds lovely, right? Well, it was and it wasn’t. No matter what we do, where we are, how much we look for enjoyment, and make no mistake it was very enjoyable, there is always a little hollow place where Jake should be. Jake loved turkey sandwiches, enjoyed wine tasting and liked looking out on fruit orchards and flowers, but that wasn’t what got me. It wasn’t that he would necessarily have been there with us if he was alive, but knowing he is not, carved out a space in my being that will always be empty. There is a continual longing for him, missing him more each day. Sucks, doesn’t it?
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Sunday we wanted to lay low most of the day, but Terry is an inveterate Farmer’s Market junkie, so we went to the market to get a few vegetables and check out the local scene. Mother’s Day, or as a friend of ours who has also lost a son calls it, Effing Mother’s Day. We bought some fresh asparagus, sugar snap peas, a couple of yummy tamales, some delicious local grass-fed Jersey cow cheese and butter and tried not to notice all the moms with their families. The accomplished trio of Irish musicians I saw the last time here was nowhere to be found. In their place, at the shadiest corner of the market, perfect for temperamental instruments, a young girl and her younger brother stood playing fiddle duets and singing while accompanying herself on the ukulele. They had a fiddle case open into which we dropped our donation. So far so good. But suddenly, out of the blue, a small child, about three or four came up shyly and dropped a handful of coins into the case with a squeal of delight and danced away into the shelter of her mothers shadow. Just the kind of thing Jake did when he was a kid. Fortunately, I was wearing my sunglasses to hide the tears.
His memory is everywhere. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but everything, and I mean everything reminds me of him. There is an ebb and flow throughout each day. Some days more ebb and some more flow. It can be something as innocent as a child dropping coins into a musicians hat, or a piece of smoked trout, or a passing Ford Mustang that evokes the vivid picture of my son from another time, enjoying his life, laughing with his friends, laughing with us. A friend of mine wrote “The very, very last thing on earth that you need worry about is that anyone who knew Jake will forget him.” That is so true. What hurts so much is that is all we can do with him now, is remember him. We can’t have pastrami sandwiches with him, I can’t play golf with him, Terry can’t go shopping with him, we can’t go to Hawaii with him ever again, we can’t go trout fishing in the Sierras together, we can’t make pancakes with him, we can’t watch him grow into the wonderful man he could have been, we can’t play with his children; we can’t do any of the million things that made up our lives together. All we can do is remember him. I am sure that anyone who knew him will always remember him too.