Jack never lost his sense of humor. As he lay dying in our spacious bedroom, the room we had shared for 11 years, he would joke to me about any number of things. He’d kid me about not keeping the tables dusted. Or he’d muse about me feeding too much water to the potted tomato vines on the deck. And he would assign me to-do lists.
He pointed out that in January, the moths would arrive for three weeks at our front door and then disappear just as quickly. He said that I needed to be patient with them as they continued their life cycle. He knew I didn’t like it when they accidentally flew into the house and fluttered all around.
He reminded me that tiny birds would be building another nest as they did every spring at the apex of our front roof. They would leave a mess right underneath their nest and that I could clean it up with some good old soap and water. I remember how much he liked to listen to their song in the last few weeks of his life when his hearing became especially acute.
Jack told me to look in the garden tool bin to find the leaf blower so that I could keep the driveway clear of leaves. He said I would need to fill the gas can as the blower ran on gas. I was never good at filling gas cans.
He wanted to be sure I knew about how to care for the hydrangeas. Our hydrangea bushes were beautiful and full, filled with incredible flowers in white, pink and purple. They were Jack’s doing. He had the green thumb in the family. He told me where to find the blue coloring for the soil and which plant food to use.
He added to my checklist the need for getting a new license tag for the X5, getting the Z3 cleaned, and making sure I got the oil changed in the Infiniti. And he reminded me to keep the cars clean and smelling nice in the interior. He always kept his cars very clean.
Fawns will come around in the late spring and early summer, he proclaimed, although I already knew that. He wanted to be sure I put the potted hydrangeas in the fenced backyard since the ones on the deck risk having their flowers devoured by the deer.
Leave the crooked pine tree in the backyard. I like that tree, he said. I know you want to remove it, but leave it alone. It is struggling, but it is okay where it is.
September can get rather hot, he said. Jack wanted me to understand how the automatic sprinkler system works so that the plants would receive the optimal amount of water. The system is a little antiquated, but still works except for a few sprinkler heads that need changing. How do I do that?
In October, he said, the Great Horned Owls will come back. They will perch in the big oak tree just behind our fence and hoot enough to make Birdie bark like crazy. Our dog hates the owls. And the enormous birds simply hoot away, oblivious to the anxiety of the dog.
Wild turkeys are plentiful, but especially so in November, oddly enough. Jack reminded me that the turkeys will leave a mess on the driveway almost daily and that it would require the high-powered sprayer to keep it clean. Look for it in the tool bin.
The Christmas tree is in its usual box in the garage, he said. Get someone to help you put it up. The colors on each limb have to match up with the ones on the central trunk of the tree. You have to check for burned out bulbs on the string of lights, too, or they won’t turn on. Then you can hang all your ornaments on it as you like to do every year. Remember that the tree has to go up the day after Thanksgiving.
Leaves are piled up on the driveway. Sometimes the neighbor comes over and blows them away for me. The holly tree died in this year’s drought. The pine tree had to be taken down, dying from the top as it did. The bushes are way overgrown in the back yard. Neither the hydrangeas nor the roses got pruned properly last winter.
The moths still arrive each January, as do the owls in October. And the tiny birds have laid eggs in their nest under the eaves.
The Christmas tree has not been decorated in two years since the holiday was celebrated with family in another state.
Before he died that summer, Jack shared with me what he called the rhythms of the house. I will never be able to finish the to-do list he gave me.