The things my mother left us are few, most of them intangible.
I was reminded of this today when we walked the grounds of our favorite campsite about 20 miles from our home. The kids disembarked, briefly commented on the banana peels they noticed the prior occupants had left behind, then followed me as I began walking through the woods toward the lake — hands in my pocket, head bent down, looking for rocks, but not seeing a thing (me and my old eyes).
For the next 3 hours, we only returned to the picnic area to drop off specimens to examine and share with each other later.. but not yet.
The rest of the time, we walked beneath low cypress branches and between towering oaks, watching for cactus and ant piles, calling out the location of new rock fields we’d discovered.
For the next 3 hours, you would see the 21-year-old, transformed back to the days when she was 7, hair wild under a backward baseball cap, breathing in the dirt of empty lots across the street — rambling and wandering free before our neighborhood had been built out.
For the next 3 hours, you would see the 11-year-old, finally catching interest in something beyond her Gameboy, following the lead of her sister and her mother, the experts who had been in these woods before. Be careful with dead cacti. See? They’re pale and flat on the ground, but their thorns are still very much alive..
For the next 3 hours, you would hear “Granma’s heart!”
It’s a story I passed down to my children long before my mother passed away. An old story. She would have been surprised hearing their chants echoing from the depths of the woods.
Ma, what are these rocks? Is this a rock collection?
My mother wasn’t much of a collector.
I remember her collecting magazine clippings, saving them until you walked through the door. A care package of sorts, she’d wait until we’d leave and slide it into the bag of oranges and bananas she’d sneak into the footwell of our car before we drove off.
I remember her collecting plants, nurturing them in pots under the shade of her trees. Mama would take care of her plants after she hung up her clothes mid-morning, 2, 3 clothespins securely snapped onto Dad’s undershirt. Sometimes she’d plant them in her yard, sometimes not. Sometimes they’d grow tall and lush, some wrapping around her Virgin Mary statue, an embrace willed by Mom’s love of her plants.
I remember her collecting antique-copper pencil sharpeners in the shapes of a globe, a typewriter, a printing presses.. collecting coupon stamps to buy a matching dish set from our grocery store.. collecting coupons, collecting recipes, collecting prayer cards.
I remember her collecting copies of handouts from her teachers to pass on to me, encouraging me to teach my children, and for them to Read, read, read!! .. copies of dismissed library books, copies of reading instruction.
I remember her collecting her rock hearts. She kept them lined atop her jewelry box.
The day I walked into her bedroom was the first and the last time I ever saw them, but the memory remains with us still.
“They are all hearts, Mija. I find them when I’m walking, or sometimes when I’m in the yard.” She picked up a rock heart the size of a quarter. “This one, I found when I was on duty by the buses.”
I took it from her, holding it with the same delicacy as she did. What we were holding was gold for her, a treasure of infinite value, a heavenly message beyond the conflict of home. “Mama, what do they mean to you?”
“Mijita, when I see them, I think God is sending me a kiss. He tells me he loves me. Do you think that can happen? Would he do that for me?”
Mama always questioned .. Was I getting to heaven? was a question she asked weeks before she passed. I was glad to hear the doubt of her salvation my brother sowed never quite took root. When it came to her belief in God, she still had the imaginings, the fervor, and the limitless reach of a child.. The love of a child for her Father.
“Mama, if he put it in your heart, then it is so. That’s what you’ve taught me, it’s what I’ve always known because of you.”
I never told Mama the story of how I told my children about God reminding us of his love through rock hearts. I never came back to tell her many of things that originate for her and how I passed them on to my children.
It’s not something I regret, because I know she knows now. She sees.
I’m sure she heard it today through the oak leaves and the cypress branches, through the rustle of fallen leaves. It was a game of hide-and-seek for her today, as it should be for the rest of our lives.