I got home from a business trip at 1am on Saturday morning to the sound of Patrick crying, but it was a welcome distraction. I had missed my boys, and was ready for my next shift to start, even if the last one resulted in 6 hours of sleep over the span of three days. There are worse things.
Knowing that I was also going to be waking to a 76 degree day, and the chance to take the boys to Lake Geneva made everything okay. My desperate need for rest didn’t pan out, but it didn’t matter. When my 3:45am wake up call rolled straight into morning, I was able to wake with purpose.
Packing was easy. I opened my suitcase from hours before, and dumped it all over the floor. I threw running shoes, sperrys and flip flops in the place of heels and Ann Taylor suits. I added two hats, suit, jeans/hoodies and loaded the stroller in the car, We were off.
Marshall Tucker. Tom Petty. Zac Brown. Beach Boys. Josh Ritter. 43-South. Open windows. Sleeping boys. Probably the best cure for whatever seems to ail me these days. When I made my way into town, I just kept going. I had no where to be, no timeline to follow, and felt the call of home, another one, and yet another one in Wisconsin. I drove up and down the rolling hills, past too many memories to process, only to turn down the street that used to give me butterflies each and every weekend growing up. There it was – my Grandpa’s cottage. I stopped. There were three cars on the driveway, but I stopped. I couldn’t really pinpoint what I was there for or why I had stopped, but I felt the need to take a picture of the one thing that will always resonate with me when I’m anxious and unsure of what’s next.
Carpe Diem. To the naked eye, it’s an ugly sign that hangs on the front of the cottage. To me, it’s a memory of simplicity. A memory of craftsmanship in the most authentic form. I made that sign with my Grandpa. My Grandpa may not know that or even remember at this point in his journey, but he gave me something I will never forget. Time. Concern. Care. And a lesson in perfect imperfection.
In between teaching me how to use a drill, how to install cabinetry, and shelving, what type of head was used for each nail at Home Depot, or how to not turn AC in the car when working in 90 degree temps, we would head to the garage, set up the horse, and drivel in cursive. ‘Carpe Diem.’ In many ways, it’s the elegant version of my so well known ‘oh, fuck it’ said with a smile. It’s freeing. It’s subtle and powerful all at the same time.
While I was there lost in memory, stalking the cottage that is not our family’s cottage anymore, three girls and their babies came down the front stairs (that are probably ready to crumble thanks to Shanahan construction). They asked if I needed help – and something came across me that I can’t explain (maybe lack of sleep). But I burst into an intense cry, thankfully covered by sunglasses. For fear of being arrested, I said as best as I could – ‘I spent my best memories growing up here. I’m not Miranda Lambert, but this was the ‘weekend cottage that built me.’ My Grandpa is starting to forget things, things that made a huge impact on me… and one of those things, was that sign. We made it together. It is ugly, and it means so much to me. Before he dies, I want to write and share his eulogy with him, and this is part of it’
The girls started crying, and two husbands came out. I’m sure I looked like I was missing from the looney bin. To them, I was a stranger, casually losing her shit on their driveway. They didn’t say a word – but opened the garage, grabbed a screw driver, ladder and took it down. They handed an old, dirty, cob-webbed covered ‘Carpe Diem’ sign to me and said – this is not ours. This is yours, just like that story is yours.
I didn’t go for the sign. I went for the solace. When my Grandpa does eventually enter his final carpe diem, I will be at peace, even though I hope it’s not for years, I will be okay. He taught me that when you have no choice, you make do. You make things work. You enjoy what you can, hide the pain and upset, and seize the mother fucking day. I will do that. I will look at this sign, re-purpose it into my home, and make sure that in moments of confusion or overwhelming responsibility, I will remember the hands that build this memory.