Category Archives: Animal friends

Morning Ritual

Up, take shower, dress, come downstairs for breakfast. Often the dogs linger, sleeping in while I eat. Later they wander downstairs, go outside with me as I water the plants. After I come inside, I wait till they’re curled up on the couch before I creep upstairs to make the bed, which is still warm from their fuzzy little bodies. Carefully and slowly I pull the covers up. I’m never quiet enough. Sadie always hears the sound of sheets sliding over each other, and I hear the jingle of her tags as she bounds up the stairs and leaps onto the bed, ready for DOG WRESTLING. And then it’s a wild five minutes of her growling and snarling at me, baring her substantial Jack Russell fangs, as I try to wrap her in the bedclothes. She sounds fierce, but with an undertone of laughter. Yes, dogs laugh. It’s buried in the tone of their play growling. You just have to listen for the nuances. When her teeth connect with my hands, they do so with a gentleness that wouldn’t bruise a flower. She lunges for me with her mouth wide open and her lips drawn back, and right before the fatal, piercing bite, pulls back just enough that she doesn’t hurt me, her bite as gentle as if she were play biting a tiny puppy. No. Gentler. I’ve seen her play with tiny puppies.

Finally I get her wrapped up, and she fights with all her muscular terrier self to escape, and I pretend I just can’t hold her, and she gets a paw free, a muzzle, her head, her fierce biting bangs,and then all of her, and I roll her around on the bed till she grows floppy and lets me rub her belly, her eyes all crinkled with happiness.

Can you imagine she almost died 10 months ago?

Finally we’re both ready to start our morning.

Molly, tears and being a mom

This made me cry. It reminded me of what I would could confess right now, were confession possible at this hour. I miss my horse. More than that, I cannot face my own culpability in the way my life changed, in the way I had to give him up in order to help Zeke. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The divorce destroyed something in her — her trust, her faith that things would turn out all right. They always had before, but when she was 10 — almost 11 — they didn’t. By the time she had turned 13, she was struggling. Adolescence stretched before her — before me — and I dreaded what was happening. I was struggling to keep my horse, and working off his board, and rarely home, and she said, one day, “You love that horse more than me.” And I said, “It’s not true.” And she didn’t believe me.

My friend, who was letting me keep my horse at her place, said she was being manipulative, that she was being spoilt. She might have been, I suppose, but still, I couldn’t sleep for worry about her. Another horse friend said I needed to assert my authority. “I would never have been able to treat my parents the way she treats you,” she said. “You need to teach her who’s boss.”

But my heart said something else. Zeke is sensitive, extremely so. I knew it. Whatever was happening was a response to pain, not misbehavior. So I gave away my horse. I couldn’t sell him, although he had cost me a lot. I just couldn’t sell him. It was like taking money to sell a friend.

Zeke got better, though not totally. “What do you need from us?” I asked her one day, meaning “from your father and me.”

“I want to live with you,” she said. “All the time. I don’t want to have to go to Dad’s house.” I had full custody at the time, but she had been staying with him on a three or four school nights a week because her school was in his town, not mine, and she didn’t want to change schools. I would pick her up from school and bring her home with me, and she’d stay with me till he picked her up on the way home from work. I saw her every day that way, but didn’t have to get up an hour earlier to take her to school. It seemed ideal, except that she was struggling.

It’s not that she doesn’t love her dad. She just didn’t click with his wife (and there are good reasons, I would say). So I talked to her father. We worked something out. She has been with me full time for two years, and I drive her to and from school every day. Two days a week he’s supposed to pick her up from school, but he’s busy, and doesn’t always have time. It’s OK. She is far happier now.

In the end, listening to her worked. Giving up my horse was what she needed. Getting up an hour earlier every day to get her to school so she didn’t have to stay with her dad made the difference. Her grades are good. She is popular and happy. She stands up for what matters to her — a day of silence in support of her gay and lesbian friends, choosing to sit at the lunch table with the overweight new  girl, resisting the tremendous peer pressure to smoke cigarettes and the omnipresent we*d, to have s*x, to drink and party hard.

On Mother’s Day she and a friend made me dinner, baked me a cake. We sat down together and ate and talked and laughed. That night, at 1:00 a.m., she came into my room and lay down beside me (as she sometimes does; she’s been a lifelong light sleeper, starting before birth!). “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “I’m lucky to have you as a mother. I can tell you anything, and you listen to me.” We talked for a while, and then she hugged me and went back to bed.

I’m proud of her, proud to bursting. She’s funny and strong and sweet. She’s beautiful and smart too. I think of Molly, and my own horse, whom I gave up and miss terribly at times. I think of Zeke. I wish it could have been different, but I think it was right not to teach her “who’s boss.”

It’s the human conundrum. I did what I must confess, failed to love my horse enough in order to love my daughter the way I think she needed to be loved. One wrong to try to make a bigger right. Is it bigger? People who don’t love horses the way I do would probably say yes, but horse lovers would probably disagree. My horse friends would. Childless themselves, they don’t understand. Their horses are their children. They see me as having given up my child.

Conner. I’m sorry.

Circling

I always seem to miss the important days. It’s something in me, in my mind, that blocks the connection. All this month I thought of her, thought of the day she died, remembered our last conversation, remembered the crow that represents her. I remembered that it’s been 10 years since I’ve seen her, and that I miss her, and that she and my mother hit it off immediately when they met, first in Ireland 17 years ago and later when she and I hired a mini van and drove to the airport to pick up Mum and Dad the day they arrived in this country with two dogs and all their possessions.

I remember the books we shared, the walks, the cups of tea and coffee, the ice cream and whipped cream and hot chocolate. I remember that our dogs tried to kill each other, and then became best friends. I remember the day I called her to ask her a breast feeding question a few days after Zeke was born, and found out she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in the hospital, having a mastectomy. She hadn’t told me because she didn’t want to ruin my joy in Zeke’s birth.

Five years later, she was added to the “survivor” list. If you survive breast cancer for five years, you’re considered a survivor, a statistic that represents life and overcoming. Less than two months later, she was dead. She’d spent five years fighting the disease. She made it past the five year mark, and then she died. I wasn’t with her at the time, but I’d spent days with her, hours holding her hand and rubbing moisturizer into her skin and giving her ice chips and trying to feed her what she could eat. When I hear the theme song from the Titanic, I cry, remembering her daughter (my goddaughter), an accomplished pianist, playing the grand piano in the next room. I remember that her daughter and I went shopping for clothes for her mother’s funeral a few days before my best friend died, because we knew it was coming, and because A wanted it.

Ten years ago on the 21st, Trish passed away from breast cancer at the age of 42. I was going to write about it, but I couldn’t. I watched the daffodils nod on my drive to work — they are her emblem, the brightest thing blooming in the days leading up to her death — and I thought about earth day, a perfect tribute to her love of nature and animals. And I couldn’t write about her.

The next day Loren wrote about loving crows, and I remembered after my mother and I were diagnosed with breast cancer ourselves just a year later, how I went walking in a park right by my mother’s house. I walked the five-mile walk around the park, and a crow followed me, hopping from tree to tree, swooping and diving overhead, and never letting me out of its sight. I heard Trish in its laugh. I saw Trish in its bright, curious head tilt. I took my shoes off and ran on the bare dirt, with the crow flying overhead, and I heard Trish scolding me.

There used to be a whole colony of crows in the birch tree by my condo. They’ve gone. Now and again I hear one or two, scolding me for getting too close, but mostly they’re just gone. I wonder if they’ve been taken by West Nile Virus, if the crow that fell from the tree onto my lawn and died there a couple of years ago was a victim of the disease. A woman from the CDC took it away for testing after I called, but I never heard what the cause was.

Regardless, my mind circles and circles, and for three days I couldn’t stop thinking of her, and I couldn’t bear to write of her. I have a dark shadow in my life, my loss of her, my loss of A, which I must explain in the context of the loss of my mother.

I wish I could say I hear a crow outside. But I must wake my daughter for school, and head for work, and remind myself that Trish and my mother simply ARE.

Defying reason

The grass grows, a faint green wash across the hills. Where the heron stood two weeks ago, the color rises vibrantly out of the decay of dead weeds. I look each day as I drive the exit, my eyes scanning the patch of weedy grass, and always the bird is absent, as I would expect it to be. Loren wrote in a comment, “It almost defies reason.” For me, it does defy reason. I have a physicist father, a neurosurgeon grandfather. I come from a line of scientists. The heron’s presence, always precisely connected to my mother, is a mystery.

Oh, it’s not that herons are never present on unimportant days, or when I’m not thinking of Mum. It’s just that those herons appear where expected, standing in the river, flying over the heronry that’s off the main freeway across the gap. I see them and think nothing of it. It’s when they appear in odd places, at significant times, that I am halted and drawn into the mystery of their presence. One of my favorite nuns here, a woman from the Phillipines who had spent a year or two in Ireland on retreat, told me during my first weeks in RCIA that the Irish nuns she met all had a strong connection to animals. “The heron fits so well,” she said. Her immediate acceptance of the heron as an aspect of the divine drew me in, although it was perhaps in a different way than she might have expected.

Then, today, I was glancing at my stats (not an obsession, just a curiosity, because I like to see what search terms pull people in, and some of them are funny and some curious — like the sudden influx of readings from a listserv on teaching in response to my entry about multiple choice grading: what’s that about?) and there was someone searching for “What does heron signify” and just out of interest, I Googled it. And there was another interesting synchronicity: The heron sometimes is associated with meditation for its habit of standing motionless for long periods. My mother, who meditated almost every day for the last 30 or more years of her life, loved a bird that evokes meditation.

It almost defies reason. No. For me, at this point, it does defy reason. And I’m not worried about it, anyway, whether it’s a coincidence, just me paying attention because I have been awoken to the importance of herons in my life, or whether there is something beyond reason in it. It just is. And that’s enough for me.

Twitches

Sadie twitches. She’s curled up in my lap in a tight little ball, and periodically she kicks me with a hind leg, or flicks her front leg at me, or quivers her head. These little movements, involuntary but regular since her hospitalization for a massive Rimadyl overdose, are not related to the dream twitches so common in sleeping dogs. When Sadie is dreaming, she yipes and “runs” in her sleep. Her body is fully involved, and she’s fully asleep. Sadie’s little twitches are isolated, they occur when she’s awake or asleep, and they are striking because they remind me so much of my own involuntary movements as a result of adverse reactions to two different kinds of medication. One, eight years ago, was a reaction to Inapsine, an anti-nausea medicine given when I was hospitalized for Hepatitis A (and the cause, perhaps, of my heart arrhythmia, which developed after treatment with Inapsine. I discovered the drug was pulled from use because it causes heart problems!) My Inapsine movement disorder occurred in the face, with muscle spasms and tongue twitches (see page two of the linked website above. It claims those symptoms are a sign of overdose, so perhaps I should have sued the hospital!)

The second movement disorder problem, three years ago, was a reaction to anti-depressants (which I will never touch again in my life as they do NOT agree with my personal biochemistry on numerous levels). A rare side effect, extrapyramial symptoms are documented in a small subset of individuals taking anti-depressants, although they are for more common in those taking anti-psychotic medication. There are several different kinds of reactions, of which I had two: akathisia, and later Parkinsonianism. In addition, involuntary twitches of the face and limbs can develop weeks or months after starting treatment (tardive dyskinesia), and can be permanent.

My reactions, thank goodness, were temporary. Sadie’s, on the other hand, appear to be permanent. I think they are caused by the intense doses of metoclopramide and chlorpromazine she was given during her illness. That’s right. My Rimadyl-poisoned dog was given an IV anti-psychotic! Apparently the metoclopramide is an anti-emetic with the potential to cause tardive dyskinesia, and the chlorpromazine, AKA thorazine, also happens to be anti-emetic, but with the potential for tardive dyskinesia, although less so than other anti-psychotics.

So now I have a healthy, non-yellow, and very happy but rather twitchy dog. Luckily she doesn’t seem distressed by her random twitching, and it’s mild enough not to be bothersome. In fact it’s probably only notable by me, because I know her so well, and I know she didn’t kick me in the gut on regular occasions before she got sick! Luckily she’s only about 11 pounds, so her little kicks don’t do any damage. And, after all, she’s alive. I’ll take a little tardive dyskinesia for the joy of having her with me, thank you very much.

Confessions

There is nothing to confess. Nothing of Jack Kerouac grandeur, that is. I was the good girl, hyper responsible, the baby-sitter whom everyone called. I read stories to the children, and gave them piggy-back rides. At Christmas parties at my parents’ friends’ houses, little kids surrounded me, begging for attention, while the other babysitters were ignored. It’s not that I liked them, or wanted a household of kids when I grew up. (Here it is: my confession, trickling out despite myself, I suppose.) I didn’t. I always said I hated kids, didn’t have the patience for them, would have to forgo them or else be rich enough to hire a nanny. I just needed money for my horse. My parents paid for hay, but that was it. Everything else was my responsibility. (It occurs to me that many parents pay for car insurance and no more, and my parents were right in line with other parents except that my “vehicle” was a horse.) I paid for grain, shoes, vet bills, show entries, tack and blankets for my horse, membership in the local pony club and drag hunt (no we did not kill any animals), and any other horse-related needs. During Christmas season, I baby-sat six or even nights a week. The rest of the year I averaged four nights a week. But I hated it, or told myself and everyone else I did. I did it only for the money that would grant me the freedom to gallop across country most Saturdays of the hunting season, that would allow me to enter any shows close enough for me to hack to, or to which I could hitch trailer rides with my friends. I rose at 5:30 in the mornings in the winter three school days a week so I could ride my horse in the dark before school just to keep him fit enough for the Saturday hunt. It’s quite demanding, galloping across country for two or three hours straight, over whatever gets in your way, ditch, wall, coop, brush. Hunts that pursue live animals are actually slower than drag hunts because they’re dependent on the cooperation of the beast being pursued. The story was that the Wicklow Hunt caught on average one fox a season, that most hunts consisted of standing around, waiting for the wily creature to show up. And mostly the fox was too smart for the humans. I don’t know for sure, since I didn’t fox hunt, but my avid foxhunter friends tried to convince me it was harmless, that the chances of actually chasing a fox, let alone catching one, were almost nil. (And it’s true that the two or three foxhunts I observed or half rode in — without intent but because it was part of my job — entailed a lot of standing around and false alarms. I never did see a fox).

Drag hunts, in contrast, are set in advance when a bag of some ripe stinky material (usually aniseed oil and meat, I believe) is dragged along a pre-arranged course. Then the hounds and hunters follow, often at great speed, till the end. Horses and riders must be fit as there is little enough time to catch one’s breath, except on stretches of road between fields, if such passage is necessary. It’s exhilarating. I’ve jumped things I can’t imagine jumping now: five foot forestry gates and gorse bushes as wide as a downed horse. I’ve slugged through bogland so deep my horse has been almost entirely covered (try cleaning tack after a hunt in which you and your horse and everything you’re both wearing has been submerged in bogmuck up to your waist). I’ve heard the music of the hounds, of the horn, and watched a retired hunter scream from the gate because he’s being left behind. For both horse and human there’s nothing more adrenaline-making than the bugle of the horn on a brisk fall day. Every pound I earned went into my horse. Every sleepless night was given over in honor of the time we could spend together. And I learned responsibility, discipline, compassion, even the patience I swore I didn’t have, from the animal I had loved since I first saw one at the age of three.

Nothing to confess? I don’t believe it. It’s there, hiding. I just don’t want to uncover it because it’s so mundane, so boring, because I’m the good girl. And yet that’s a cover too, because nobody is really good all the way through. If I unpeel enough, the confession must come. What dirt hides there, in the crevasses, but the skankiest bogmuck, stuck to me down the years since those days hunting? I shall uncover it in time.

Demanding birds

I got my birds feeders up late this year. Most weekends I was gone to my dad’s three hours away, and during the week I was running Zeke around and reading papers and trying to get my book finished for Esperanca (it arrived yesterday, a book that looks real, novel-sized, with a cover and numbered pages and my name on it!). Finally a couple of weekends ago I was looking out the slider window at the chaotic mounds of half-melted snow and sodden decaying leaves all over my patio, and I saw birds lined up on the fence, looking in at me with dark, accusatory eyes. When they saw me looking, they jumped around and flew back and forth and cheeped loudly. Now, the very first year I moved here and put a feeder up, it took weeks for the birds to find it. I had almost given up before the first tentative bird approached and began to peck, then disappeared eventually to bring back a few friends. Over the years, the numbers increased until last year two dozen or more birds would fight regularly over the grain, and I never had to wait for them to find it again. As soon as the weather turned and I put the feeders up, the birds were waiting.

This year, though, they told me in no uncertain terms that I was negligent. I looked up and down the fence at the condo where I live. No birds on any fence area but right in front of my place. The feeders haven’t been up since March or April or so, and yet here the birds are, waiting, demanding.

So I spent the morning cleaning the patio and taking down my hanging baskets with their  burden of dead flowers, and replacing them with clean, filled bird feeders. As soon as I went back inside, the feeding frenzy began and it wasn’t just a couple of dozen birds, either, but maybe 50 or more. Some are plain, lightish brown, with delicate patterns on their wing feathers. Others have a grayer tone and black heads. Those are the two dominant species. They’re tiny and spunky and they fight and bicker over spilled grain. Now I need a bird identification book. I’m really quite horrified at how ignorant I am. I know what magpies and American robins and crows are, but that’s about it. In the meantime, it’s hard to concentrate on reading in my chair when right in front of the window the birds put on such an entertaining show. Well worth the two to three bags of bird food a week I’ve been feeding them.

After Thanksgiving bits n’ pieces

It’s 61 degrees in Dad’s house. I hate the cold. I’m wearing a coat and gloves to type, drinking tea. The milky morning light is burning off the water as the sun rises. The water is bleached and still now; everything seems to wait.

Later on, we’ll be finishing off a downstairs room in my sister’s house. Every time I come over there’s some project to do. Ruth May’s house is old and with the baby she can’t do much. Dad’s knees are bad and he can’t kneel any more. I’ll put on a mask and try to put the skirting board back in the room where she (we) put down laminate wood floor and painted in the fall. The paint will slip through the mask and I’ll cough and wheeze anyway. The three of us are worthless at home improvement.

The dogs try to help, but they’re not allowed in the basement. They’ll skitter around upstairs, angry at being shut out. Sadie will climb the gate and come down anyway, or push through and come down. She wants to be with me. She’s used to it. Yes, she’s spoiled, and I don’t care.

Outside Dad’s window, the cormorants sun themselves on the nearby pilings. They lift their wings to dry them, and their black feathers shine. Obadiah hasn’t been back since Leah’s birthday on the fourth. I’m glad. Every time the heron is absent on an insignificant day, her appearance on a meaningful day becomes more poignant. Still, I miss her. The year Mum died, she was here any time I came down, as though to convey her approval. Now, I guess, she just expects that I’ll be here quite often. She comes only for birthdays or gatherings, or when illness threatens.

I’ve been working on my young adult novel for my friend’s daughter. It’s to be a Christmas present, though the odds of me finishing it in time are getting slimmer and slimmer. It keeps getting more complicated. It’s got to be a series, like Harry Potter, but with theme of religious pluralism and respect for this spinning planet that we are hellbent on destroying. I started it three years ago, then stopped, then started again. I’ve stopped and started only because my friend’s daughter keeps asking about it, so finally I decided to write it for her, making a commitment to her that becomes binding on me. It’s slow going, though. It requires research, for it weaves in mythology and religion from all over the world. The protagonist, who is my friend’s daughter, of course, loves otters, so I had to find an otter friend for her. I found an Irish otter, Dobhar Chú, who is white with a black cross on his back, and who is dangerous in all the mythology about him. But the otter in my book, the “water hound” in my story, is not dangerous at all, except to those who would destroy that which he is charged to protect.

To write about him, I have to find pictures, read about him, find the core of his being in the stories about him so that I can present him to my friend. He comes alive that way.

Dad is downstairs…. Time to start the day.

Kooky

“Kooky,” they say. “Crazy. Believing in superstitious nonsense.”

It’s alright. I’ve been called worse. I’m used to that attitude, being the daughter of an atheist physicist. And for me, it makes no difference anyway. The heron’s repeated appearance since my mother was dying could be a series of coincidences (extraordinary, I’d say. Why did it show up on her deck railing while she was dying, stay there until she died, reappear over Hedgebrook while we were burying her ashes, prompting the director to say, “Oh look, the heron. We haven’t seen it in weeks”? Why did it stand on the roof of my parents’ house the Thanksgiving after she died, turn to face me and dip its head in my direction, then turn again and fly away? Why did it fly onto the beach just feet away from Zeke and her friend, and chatter at them? Why those appearances and a dozen more to my sisters, my mother’s friend, me?) Or it could be synchronicities. The label doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s just what it is. How I interpret it is up to me.

I know the heron I saw on the deck while she was dying is not the same one that flew over Hedgebrook or that appeared in Ireland or that dipped low over Sadie a few weeks ago when she was on her first walk after her illness. It’s not as if my mother’s consciousness animates those lovely birds, not as if she is reincarnated in a single bird that flies all over the world. It is something else, something I see as a synchronicity that invokes the beauty and mystery of the world. And that a physicist would dismiss as just a coincidence doesn’t bother me, because coincidence or synchronicity, it is simply what IS.

What matters to me, to the four of us girls, is that the heron binds us. When I said I knew the heron’s appearance was a sign that the weekend would go well, the words represented my understanding that all of us, all four of us, watched the heron watch my mother dying. Because of that, and because of the heron that flew over Hedgebrook as her ashes were being buried, we all see that particular bird as a representation of my mother’s spirit. That it appeared once again the first time we were all together since she died, to look directly in at the table where we all were sitting, comforted us, allowed us for the first time to shed the anger and resentments of that difficult time.

Coincidence? Maybe. But who cares. What the heron does to us is real.

When I first started RCIA, almost three years ago, I was sure I would never finish. I went as a concession to my friend. A pamphlet handed out at one of the first meetings described faith in a series of steps. The first step is the fairytale world presented to children, with a literal personal God looking down on tiny humans in fatherly love and choreographing everybody’s lives. At the top of the journey towards understanding is the place where people like Jesus and the Dalai Lama and Gandhi reside(d). People who recognize that Buddhism and Catholicism and Islam and Shinto and whatever are essentially the same thing. Buddhism is an atheistic religion. Catholicism puts faith in a personal God. They seem on the surface to be totally incompatible, but they are not. Atheism isn’t incompatible either, though most atheists don’t or can’t see it.

So when literalists laugh because I invoke the heron as the spirit of my mother, because I recognize that all four of us sisters understand the heron in different ways (Ruth May, right now, has a far more literalist understanding of it than I do), it doesn’t bother me. I’m not by any means close to the top of the scale of understanding. Not close to enlightenment, whatever that means. Not close to anything but my own understanding, which is clouded simply because I’m alive and human and filled with memories that get in the way of equanimity and fearlessness. But I do know I’m not crazy.

___

Warning: Those who abhor superstitious nonsense, read no further!

I didn’t mention, in the last few posts about the heron and my sister’s birthday, that on the night of her party, my mother’s friend pressed an envelope into my hand. “For you,” she said quietly. “Happy belated birthday.” The envelope contained a pendant from China, from where she and her husband had just returned. China is significant to me because I have a personal connection to it through my mother’s grandparents, who lived there for 40 years. Mum always wanted to go there, and she, Dad and their friends made plans  for a trip the spring before she died. The tickets were purchased and the bags packed when the trip was called off because of SARS. A few months later the trip was rearranged for September and Mum began planning again. Only a couple of week before she was due to leave, she fell down in a hotel in Vancouver one night. The cancer had spread to a part of her brain that controlled movement and paralyzed her left side. Mum, Dad and their friends canceled the trip, and it was only this fall that my parents’ friends were finally able to make the trip they’d so looked forward to with Mum and Dad.

When I looked at the pendant, I saw a piece of green stone, jade I suppose, with Kuan Yin wrapped about it in metal. Between Kuan Yin warm against my chest under my dress, and the re-appearance of the heron just a few moments later at the birthday party, I knew everything was going to be just fine.

Love thy brother… and thy sisters

Continued from here:

“For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever….you should not have gloated over your brother on the day of his misfortune….you should not have looted his goods on the day of his calamity…. As you have done it shall be done to you.” Obadiah. 1:10-15

My mother witnessed gruesome fights between her mother and her mother’s siblings when she was growing up. I wrote about them in my creative thesis, a novel, turning my mother’s memories into my fiction. My thesis director told me people just didn’t behave that way. “You’ve been sheltered then,” I said. “They do.”

My mother lived in fear that we would fight after she died, as her mother and aunts had fought after their mother’s death. “I’ll come back and haunt you,” she said. “I don’t want you fighting.”

Of course we fought. My mother’s friend, the one who reminded me she had called the heron Obadiah, said on her way out after the party: “Someone should right a book about you four girls. You’re all so different, and so interesting.” Someone did. Barbara Kingsolver: The Poisonwood Bible. OK, it wasn’t exactly like us, but close enough that Mum saw clear parallels. And one of the things that was most interesting, I suppose, was the very different way we dealt with her dying, so different that it caused a rift that threatened to destroy us.

But last week, from the moment we saw Obadiah on Friday night till the moment we saw her again on Sunday evening, we didn’t fight. We had a good time. And the party was wonderful.

When my mother’s friend reminded me of my mother’s pet name for the heron, I wondered what I would read when I tracked down what it meant. Then I found out. Obadiah is a minor prophet of the Old Testament. His writings are short, 21 verses packed into a single chapter. In it, he threatens the wrath of God on Essau and the Edomites. Why? Because Essau fought with his brother Jacob.

Obadiah. My mother knew what to do to bring us together. I don’t know how it happened. I just know that it did.