Grand Old Time

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It was a busy spring with kids’ soccer games, recitals, and many other weekend obligations. It was hard to find the time to make the trip to Arlington to visit my parents. We finally got the chance to go this weekend.

Time becomes mercurial when I’m at my parents’ house. I simultaneously regress and age. Time reverses as I reassume my place as my parents’ third child. I confide in them my troubles and joys. I ask for their advice. I eat my mother’s Korean food. She takes care of things like sewing Panda’s arm back on:

At the same time, I senesce as I fall into the gentle rhythm  of my parents’ household. I shuffle around in a borrowed cardigan and slippers. I fall asleep sitting in an armchair, my legs covered with a throw, my mouth undoubtedly hanging open. I putter around town, chauffeuring my mom and dad on leisurely errands and outings. We take walks around the garden and the neighborhood.

There was much to admire in my parents’ garden this weekend. The hydrangea my mother-in-law gave to my mother when she came from England for a visit is blooming in that typically extravagant way hydrangeas do:

A new hydrangea my mother’s sister brought her:

My dad’s beloved cacti:

You’d be mistaken if you thought he grew these for their spectacular flowers. Nope. This cactus is for eating!

There are food crops all around the house, and I really do mean all around the house. In the back there’s a small orchard of fruit trees. There are also rows of raspberry canes, corn, squash, and more exotic vegetables. There’s a lettuce bed on the side of the house:

And in the front of the house…YES, at the front of the house, nestled in amongst the more pedestrian rhododendron and euonymus are onions, pepper plants, and wild sesame:

My mother informed me in a bemused tone of voice that people seemed to want to use flowers as their foundation plants. As a nod to the prevailing neighborhood culture, she put some geraniums in pots…right next to the pepper plants.

After admiring their garden, I accompanied my parents on their daily crawl around the ‘hood. I adjusted my stride to match my mother’s snail pace. It’s good to be forced to walk slowly every now and then. It gives you a chance to observe and appreciate all the ordinary yet wondrous things that surround us every day, but that we don’t usually have the time or inclination to notice.

We saw chipmunks:

We stopped and communed with a bunny that stood her ground as we slowly filed past.

“She’s always there,” my mom commented, “She must have a nest nearby.”

To my, “How cute!” my mother countered in Korean, “‘Cute’ joah ha ne!” (Translation: “Psht!”)

We discovered this sweet memorial in one garden, and surmised that there must be a pet fish or perhaps a gerbil buried under the stone in the center…

This little mushroom prompted all sorts of recollections…

My dad recounted how in Korea, his family would gather poisonous mushrooms that would grow on the thatched roof of their house. They would crush and mix them into rice that would be placed around the house as a natural and very effective insecticide. He recalled how his mother would go into the pine forest on summer days after the rain to pick baskets of delicious, edible mushrooms. In turn, I told him about an astonishing confession I heard from a professor leading an expedition I was on in Russia. He told us that he had been showing off his knowledge of mushrooms to another group of  students. One of them picked a mushroom and asked him if it was safe to eat. Not wanting to lose face, the professor assured him that it was, though he was not in fact at all sure. The student popped it into his mouth and for the rest of the outing, the professor was gripped in a rictus of fear, wondering if the student would keel over dead! (Fortunately, the mushroom was not poisonous)!

We saw this overgrown patch of weeds:

“It’s an eyesore, but I don’t say anything,” my dad noted mildly.

“A tiger could have babies in there,” my mom muttered darkly.

We finished circling the block and walked back into the house. I spotted a photo I hadn’t seen before. It’s so new it doesn’t yet have a frame, and has been propped against a painting on the mantel. It’s a photo of my beautiful and talented niece performing at Carnegie Hall after winning a piano competition.

As I was admiring the photo, my mother said wistfully, “When I saw the picture, the first thing I thought of was my parents. I wish they were still living, so that I could brag about my granddaughter to them. I wish they could see how beautiful she is, and hear her play the piano. Isn’t that silly? I still miss them so much.”

Every day is a gift of staggering, incalculable value. There is truly nothing more precious than time.

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