T is for tarnish. On ten year old wedding gifts unearthed at the last trip to grandmother’s house and silver dessert forks pulled out for special occasions. For a teaspoon of vanilla, the extra secret ingredient in the cobbler that no one else knows about. For teacups used for coffee instead, because tea is for breakfast and coffee is for staying awake on the drive home, the rich mocha smell wafting through the kitchen and dining room tempting you to just one (more) cup. The twelve days of Christmas vignette still in place on the antique doily on the sideboard, waiting to be taken down on Martin Luther King day, a miniature tree decorated in bells and candy canes and metallic ribbon beside it. Two sisters and two brothers and two spouses and two boyfriends, two nieces and two nephews and two dogs underfoot. For family tradition where every person has their own birthday cake flavor and twenty-six candles to be blown out after happy birthday is sung – with only two trick candles that keep relighting themselves over and over. For tiny trumpets played red faced in the rocking chair after dinner, laughing over memories of doing that since high school band was a regular occurrence. For magnetic trains handed down from great-grandfather, bits of wood and metal that hold far more memories than their small size would have you believe.
T is for the thirteen year old girl she’ll always be, and for the moving truck in the driveway filled with boxes and furniture taking her away from us. Tables, television, recliner, American doll girl trousseau, lava lamps and a scruffy teddy bear, clothes and books packed away in alphabetical order for the long trip to a new apartment. Time, finally, for her to step out of her parents’ house into new-sprung adult responsibilities. They are moving in together, to a small apartment filled with radiators and purple walls and new IKEA countertops. At this point in the night, they are tired and frustrated and ready for the packing to be OVER already, though that means that means it is getting closer to the travel deadline they must meet. Their movements are growing more frantic, searches for tape and sharpies and just one more box! A last haircut in at the kitchen table, tresses shorn to a sleek bob by a friend who has the necessary skill, tamed for a new job with new responsibilities. She will be overseeing theatre tickets, and she needs to look the part of an independent woman.
T is for twinkle lights on the porch year round, lit as twilight slips into darkness. For the wind blowing the tree branches as the rain moves in, fallen leaves twisting and turning in the breeze along the ground, the temperature unexpectedly rising with the humidity. Thick clouds are gathering, the leading edge of the storm visible in the reflected light from over the city, the thermal sink creating a roiling front that promises rain before morning. The sweet smell of tobacco smoke lingers from uncle’s cigarette, a constant temptation to me even after all these years of abstaining. The doors are propped open to allow them to carry boxes through the basement and out the front door, to minimize how far they have to walk over and over from her room to the waiting truck, and every cool breeze that blows through is a reminder that they too will soon be walking out those doors.
T is for a tub full of toys, bathtime before bed being enforced against the boys’ will, the smell of lavender and thyme from grandmother’s potpourri warmed by the moist air. The boys have been tackling the dog after dinner, the three of them a pile of tangled legs and tails and happiness and golden hair, but they have to be cleaned up before they will be allowed into clean sheets, sweet dreams carrying them off into the deep night. They pile into their aunt’s bed one last time, fleece pjs snuggled in under the thick comforter as they watch us try to help.
T is for tears of joy and sadness mixed together, for tight hugs against a long anticipated absence. For the tenderness of my heart, already bruised by loss this year, in denial over the necessity of a second set of goodbyes. Until tonight, I could tell myself that it was only temporary, but this move is total – nothing will be left behind for “next trip home.” We all try not to think about how long it will be before we are together again, give hugs and kisses as if it were any other night. Telephone calls and video chats are going to be the total of our interaction until who knows when. As I leave, there is a catch in my throat, and I swallow it down before I break out in tears in the car. Together, I tell myself – we will all be together again soon.