I saw Mom and Dad today.
I was mowing the lawn when a Monarch butterfly flew within a foot of my face. Startled, I stopped and watched as it looped and fluttered and landed on a geranium next to a second Monarch. In tandem, the two immediately alighted from the flower dipping and flitting through the crisp sunlight in synchronized choreography. I turned off the mower and watched as they continued their dance, sometimes parting for a minute or two but always coming back together to fly in unison. After several minutes I resumed my mowing, and from there went on to trimming and dead-heading flowers on the downhill side of their seasonal cycle. From time-to-time I would look up to see the Monarchs, still in the thrall of their joyous aerial ballet. Sometimes I would see only one, but it was soon joined by the other, like two lovers who couldn’t bear to be parted.
Like my Dad and Mom—for fifty-one years.
Seared into my mind’s eye is the memory of Mom and Dad walking hand-in-hand down a country dirt road on a brisk Thanksgiving afternoon. All thirty-plus of us who had gathered at our farm to celebrate were walking off our Thanksgiving feast to make room for the pumpkin pie yet to come, regaling each other with the usual banter and good humor that comes when friends and family gather to celebrate and give thanks. Ahead of the pack, and seemingly oblivious to the raucous crowd behind them, were Mom and Dad, holding hands and talking, like two teenagers in the budding aura of their first puppy love. At that time, Mom and Dad had been married forty-four years.
As much as they loved each other, they loved nature. Dad was officially recognized for single-handedly reviving the bluebird population in west central Wisconsin. Mom was forever feeding the birds and putting out food for the other creatures that were regular visitors to our family farm. She also patiently put up with every dog, cat and creature that we kids brought home or which just wandered in and decided to stay. [Ask me some time about the bullsnake in the dining room]. As much as anything in nature, they loved Monarch butterflies. They planted flowers to attract all butterflies but were partial to the Monarchs. They took a trip specifically to witness the migration of millions of Monarchs to the tiny forest in western Mexico that is the Monarchs’ winter home.
My Dad passed away at age 71 from prostate cancer. He was the finest man I’ve ever known. Mom lived another twenty-seven years before leaving us. Her love for Dad never waivered, nor did her love for nature.
This afternoon they danced together in the sunshine in our yard.
The crazy musings of a fool? A melancholy wish of an aging son? A symbolic manifestation of nature? A gift from God? The over-active imagination of a fiction writer? Or just two Monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico who decided to stop and spend an afternoon in our yard and flower gardens? I’ll let you decide, but as for me, I saw Mom and Dad today.