Tuesday, May 27, 2014

bug books

This is a story about a boy, books, bugs and, if you believe, a spirit. 

The scene is a small, sunny house in TX. It is a bit of a mess. Contents of boxes and drawers are in piles all over the living room. Books are stacked high on the living room floor.

The people:
A man, in his eighties
His two daughters: one in her forties, who lives across the street with her husband and two high school-aged children, and one in her fifties, flown in from the coast.
His wife, in her seventies, dying of cancer in one of the bedrooms
A hospice nurse, in her thirties. Not the dippy one we had at first, but the second one: pleasant, professional, quiet, deep, a single Mom.
A boy, nine, her son, whom we never meet.

The wife/mother does not want company. She has let us know we should leave her alone to her job of dying as quickly as she can. She's a stubborn woman and one can imagine her talking to her bodily organs and telling them to get on with it. We go in the room from time to time to make sure she has everything she needs and give her morphine. We try to comfort and she will hold our hands, but is anxious to have us leave. She does not want to see the cards from family members who are far away. She will not even take a a call from her sister.

She was a teacher.  She lived and breathed teaching as a passionate as any preacher. Her subject was ecology. She loved the earth and its creatures like no one I have ever known. She was not the "cute panda" type, she was the type that wanted to know the scientific name for every flower and bird, what its habitat was and who/what it ate. As much as she was curious about the world, she assumed every one else was, too. She taught classes for children when she could, at summer day camps and through 4-H. She wrote articles for Ranger Rick magazine. I'm not sure how many she ever submitted, but she loved writing about the smaller creatures for the smaller humans.

Bugs were her favorite thing. Ever. 

She was convinced that insects were to be our salvation. The more we learned about bugs, the better off we humans would be. I've been putting pins into bug bodies since before I went to school. My father made beautiful wooden cases for all the collections. And he made her book shelves. Lots and lots of books shelves. She had a vast library of books on bugs (and plants, and fossils, and birds, but mostly bugs)

So, we're sorting. The house will be sold and Dad will move in with my sister's family to become resident-grandfather instead of visitor-grandfather and will busy himself with after-school pickups and grocery runs for five instead of two. My sister has a stack of books she wants to keep. I have plans to live on a boat, so I take none of them. Dad prefers spy novels.

The morning arrives when we make the final call to hospice. Our nurse comes to care for only us, now. We are in the kitchen waiting for my sister to come after dropping her kids at school. She does not yet know the wait is over.  After my sister is told, then they will come collect Mom in that black station wagon. We talk, have some tea. The nurse begins to pour the leftover liquid morphine on a (clean) bed pad on the kitchen counter as we chat. My father sees this and gets a box of bugs in small tubes of formaldehyde from my mother's office. Just as with morphine, this toxic substance shouldn't be poured down the sink. He dumps the bugs tubes on the pad. Then we have to explain to the nurse that Mom was a serious bug collector.

"Oh, really? I wish I could have talked with her about that. My son is nine and all he is interested in is bugs. We go to the library and he gets out stacks of books on insects and reads them over and over."

My father and I turn to look past her to the living room where we have three huge stacks of books on bugs for elementary-aged children: hard to get books, out of print books, expensive photograph books. You're kidding me.

When my sister arrives and has had her goodbye time, I grab her and pull her off to the living room and tell her why we must give this woman a stack of kid bug books. "You're kidding me!", she says, grabbing some empty bags from the kitchen. We carry two full bags out to the nurse's trunk, over her polite protests. But you don't understand, we say, this is exactly how our mother would want to leave us. She's not in that body bag, she's in her books.

I sometimes think about the boy, whose name we never knew or have chosen to forget, who will be the greatest entomologist of his day, learning all he can about bugs, from a teacher who will never stop teaching.

a butterfly quilt I designed and made sometime in the last decade