It is the start of our second decade in Memphis; our children are five and seven. I know you remember this summer at least as clearly as I do.
This is the summer of camp on our block, when each family took a week (or two) with all of the children together. One neighbor had a lemonade stand, walked the children to the store and used the money from the little sales venture to buy food and cook dinner for the parents. One neighbor had swim week, with popsicles and afternoon naps. There were games and t-shirts, a scavenger hunt and photo album.
My camp week was crafts week. We made trim little flags and papier-mâché piñatas, with Martha Stewart as our guide. I had a lesson plan and a schedule. This is how things work, I said (as I have always said): there are schedules and plans to follow.
This is not how things work, you said (as you have always said). Your week was full of exploration, combing the alleys behind our houses, collecting rocks and discarded items, using boxes to make robots, pouring sheetrock mud for misshapen mosaic stones.
The children remember this, still. They remember walking in the alleys looking for bottlecaps, how you let them use tools and make messes.
This year our neighbors become fully our family, with no one else here to compete for holidays and birthday celebrations.
My stepmother died not long after Christmas, from an unexpected complication after an elective surgery. I drove her son, the drunk, to meet the lawyer, who looked mournful when he reported that the Will in her lockbox, the only official one, was written after her divorce decades earlier, before she met my father.
After her funeral, the housekeeper let me into her house to quickly gather what things I could find of my father’s. His Webb School class picture, his baby book, a few Christmas ornaments that you look for every year to hang on our tree.