Eulogy for Anne L. Barrows
Most of you who knew my mother would agree that she had an enthusiasm for life, a vitality, or as she would say a joie de vie. My mother saw the glass half full, my father not only saw it half empty but also had convincing reasons why it was better to see it that way.
When I was in college, my friend David visited my family up in Maine at our family cottage. This is one of his favorite stories to tell about my parents and I wish he could be here to tell you himself since he overdoes my Dad’s Boston accent in the way of a true storyteller. We had a sailboat at that time and were all going over to the mainland for lobsters.
Trouble was it was drizzling. Not when we started out. The air died when we were out. Then the rain started. My mom in her foul weather gear [yes she used those words] was up at the bow, her nose high in the air like a pointer, waxing rhapsodic about the experience of sailing, or Maine, or whatever. Saying how invigorating it was. As David says, “I look over at your father, and here he is huddled over the tiller with water streaming down his glasses and says “Barb’s mother seems to think this is sailing. It’s not. Finally her dad says “Well I guess I’d better start the motor” and Barb says “We have a motor!!”
And that was my mother. She would say “I saw the first crocus peeking through the snow." "I heard robins for the first time this spring." "I love the feel of rain on my face”. She had what Robert Browning would say “a heart too soon made glad.”
This is from a book that sat on their sideboard for decades until I permanently borrowed it. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.
“There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But – and this is the point- who gets excited about a mere penny? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity so that finding a penny will literally make your day then since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.”
My mother found the pennies and shared them with us – gold finches in the Hawthorne tree, Pyrex pans gotten for a steal at a garage sale, anise cubes in warm milk. She shared her joy in finding beauty and richness in the smallest details. By engaging and rejoicing in life she taught me how to see the world and feel it, smell it and hear it.
And this coupled with her childlike wonder with the world caused my sister and me no end of embarrassment when we were kids. Childlike wonder is not hip or cool. It can take years into adulthood when the weight of responsibilities takes its toll before you appreciate that seeing a squirrel miscalculate the distance from the tree to the bird feeder and fall to the ground can lighten your day.
This wonder is not without a sense of humor. I remember when she told me she was keeping their cat Mickey inside because he had killed a baby crow and she was concerned for Mickey’s safety because the adult crow community would be after him.
This was her legacy to me. A gift for seeing the world the way artists and writers do. It’s helpful when your bank balance is low, when there are too many errands, and you have to do taxes and other tedious paperwork.
So mom, the other day I stepped out back to let the dogs out and the air smelled so clean and fresh. The snow was deep enough that the dogs bounded through it like deer. The black branches of the trees were half covered in white. And behind them the cornflower blue sky. These colors white, black, blue. And I heard the cardinals before I saw them. Then a small globe of brilliant red. And I thought of you and how you would have seen this, savored it and shared it with us. I wish you could have been here but I will be sharing these and so many more with you because you showed me how.