The Before of Butterfly


Mom tired me out today.  She knew just what she wanted to do.  First, we had to write the blog post from London.  Then, even though everything in the apartment is a complete mess – books spread on the floor, butterfly backgrounds by all the windows – she said, “Honey, let’s go somewhere.”

Once I was in the car (and had a little espresso in me), her directions were clear as a bell – “Let’s visit the antique mall first, then go to Vinnie’s.”  And it dawned on me – this is the day.  Her last day.  This is the day she really needs me.  By tomorrow, there is nothing I can do for her anymore.

After the antique mall, where the garden display with the indoor fountain was resplendent in Easter pastel silk flowers and white painted wicker furniture, we walked next door to St. Vinnie’s Thrift Store, and walked right out again 10 minutes later without spotting a single treasure. (Hey, sometimes the magic works…keep reading…)

At 2:41 I heard the next bell:  Olbrich Gardens.  “But Mom, its so grey and we are heading to this other place and tomorrow the weather will be nicer…”  “Olbrich Gardens, honey.”  “Ok,” I say out loud.  “I’ll turn the car around.”

Of course, she was right.  There were things at Olbrich Garden we needed to see and hear, from our bench in the shadow of the two story Rose Tower, which looks across a wide lawn encircled by pergolas, over the traffic and the large city park beyond, to the domestic beauty of Lake Monona, the last of the lakes Mom was able to call her own.  Robins and grackles swarmed the trees, and the air was almost frantic with the trill of red-wing black birds.  Brick paths puddled with reflecting pools, criss-crossing the repeating pattern of the deep red pavement with the clear, floating image of branches and trellises above.  I stuck mainly to the dryer, gravel walks, circumambulating twiggy rose beds and the formal herb garden with its English boxwood hedges. In Olbrich’s lobby, the prettiest gift shop Mom ever saw in Madison was full of the prettiest scarves and cards and Everything Butterfly you can imagine.   I told the young woman there how, of course, my Mother loved this place.  I could tell she hears that all the time.

Did you know that when she was little, Barbara Ann Downtain’s favorite special meal to have on her birthday, was Creamed Hamburger?  So we stopped at Mr. Miller’s Grocery – whose owner (“I’m Carl,” he always says, “Mr. Miller was my father!”) gave Mom such a treat by delivering her weekly order of frozen broccoli and Twinings Irish Breakfast himself – and bought tulips and heavy cream, and roasted salted pecans for dessert.

At home finally, I sat for a while and listened as the birds and the traffic slowed down for the night – listened to how good they sounded, filling the present with the most it can actually contain, if you are just spending a few quite moments in a cozy old slipcovered arm chair by the window at home.  And I heard one more bell – not ringing but chiming, very, very deep.

“Celebrate me.”  she said.  “Celebrate, honey.  Celebrate.”


3 thoughts on “The Before of Butterfly

  1. i absolutely love this!! I keep rereading it and it gets better every time. I only wish my Dad would “speak” to me like that. Thank you for these beautiful words and images.

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