This isn’t to say I don’t have regrets or I don’t remember them. Some regrets sweep away easily when manicured estates employ gardeners impeccably blow lawns, long stretching driveways and sidewalks to reveal nary a curved or crisp autumn leaf. I’m not sure regret can be swept away like autumn leaves.. Then again, I loved autumn leaves on the sidewalk, particularly walking back from the library, the West Roxbury Library on Centre Street, my fingertips feeling the rough concrete images of a stone wall along the upper part of Billings Field. I loved walking under chestnut tree branches and kicking thick piles of yellows, burnt orange, tinged red of maple leaves, everything: leaves just thick enough to walk into piles, scuffing. Ever scuffed? It was hard on my brown tie Oxford shoes, the ones my mother insisted were so good for my feet, but still I walked and scuffed and kicked and felt full of warmth and protection as I hugged my books and stopped to smell burnt leaves in the air nearby.
The smell is wonderful, not a good word for a writer to use, but it’s Sunday afternoon, and I haven’t remembered scuffing leaves for eons. Easier to remember the leaves, the scuffs, than the regrets. I regret I never sang for my father, and that I didn’t kiss my mom goodbye, the day she died, and I left that morning in a hurry because I had to take 2 trolleys to high school because were moved to the city, Back Bay if you want to know, by the Charles River near the Harvard and MIT crews, where we walked the Pug and the Boxer even when the wind tore through us.
I certainly wish I had done better with my teeth. That’s a universal regret. Somehow I know this. I wish I had been able to continue piano lessons. I wish I had studied computing, and maybe taken auto mechanics in first grade. But I don’t regret Miss Higgins, my first grade teacher, or my Uncle Bill Johnson, who brought us molasses candy in long oblong boxes, a box for each kid, and the sticky time of it after Sunday roast beef dinner. I don’t regret his cartoons of my mother following our kitty whose tail stuck up to the ceiling, and a string from her rear parts moved along the floor, under the shadow of my mother with scissors. He called this cartoon “The Lost Cord.” I don’t regret the bookcases filled with books, and the absolute privilege I took as a human right, to sit in a huge chair and read, and not be interrupted, because that was normal in my house. “I’m reading,” gave each reader a sacred space.
I regret not knowing my parents, or the other adults for that matter, knowing them as people. I tried with my father, but my mother died early. I regret moments of being a bully, and that’s private and a long ago. I regret being so afraid of things, but don’t want to sweep it away like errant leaves which escape a rake. I regret most that my twin and I were such opposites and lived most of the time in the tension of the opposites. (Reader this phrase is right up there with “grist for the mill” which I use too frequently, but I have dropped, “my dendrites are hanging out.”) We were opposites: when young, she sturdy and athletic to my frail, roller skating, but bookish self. She kept her emotions tucked in like a North Easter, a person from Maine, and yup and nup and her not speaking of emotional revelations fell over her like a yellow slicker preventing rain. I was the emotive, get-into-trouble twin, funny, daring, but underneath probably equally unsettled or frightened. I regret in our later years her wall regarding my beliefs, but I don’t regret going beyond this wall and caring for her 2 years in a row, and in her final days, her reaching out to me, lifting arms from a body ravaged by cancer, and wanting to be held. And hold her I did. Nope, I won’t sweep that away.