Empty Spot on the Wall at our Beach House

The Villager, 2018

There was no wall calendar hanging from the towel closet of our beach bungalow at the Jersey Shore. That was the first thing I noticed this spring. My mother always hung the customized one my niece gave her for Christmas in the same spot. It was personalized with family photos and birthdays.

Last year, on Memorial Day weekend, my mother put up the calendar for 2017. Then she died on July 26 at 95 after a brief illness. She’d been swimming in the bay with her great-grandkids the same week she went into the hospital.

This summer, when I returned to the West Village after a trip to the beach, I rummaged through my apartment looking for a 2018 calendar to bring back to the shore. I couldn’t find one and stores were not selling or giving them away at this time of year.

Of course, I could locate the date on my phone but it wasn’t the same. My parents bought the cottage the year I was born. They were pioneers in this tight-knit beach community and Mom had become the unofficial local historian. For my entire life, my mother put this planner up when we opened the house. The empty spot was just another reminder that she was gone.

Mom’s essence will always be in the beach bungalow, but I sorely missed her laughter. I looked at her reading chair and expected her to be sitting there. When the house made noises at night, I thought she was getting up to go to the bathroom. I missed our trips to yard sales and to her favorite restaurant on the Manasquan Inlet, where we ate fresh flounder. I wished we could be sitting side by side on our beach chairs reading novels.

Mom was an avid Scrabble player, always asking me if I was up for a game. Not a big fan, I often turned her down. Now I’d give anything to sit across the counter from her, open up the board and pick out our tiles.

My mother was so attached to our home that when it had to be gutted after Superstorm Sandy, she insisted that the repair crew take out and reinstall the knotty pine paneling my late father put in decades ago. My steely Irish Catholic mother epitomized “Jersey Strong.” When a crew of relatives tossed out furniture, rugs and appliances, my mother donned rubber boots and supervised.

One night, stressed from dealing with insurance people and confusing messages from FEMA, she sighed, “I wish your father was here. He was good at this stuff.” We reassured her she was doing a great job. Thankfully, she had flood insurance and our house was not condemned.

I was attached to the house, too. When my lesbian partner broke up with me after 26 years together, I retreated there to get comforted by my mother. It was my safe space away from the city. My mother totally got that I was devastated. She told me reading helped her get over the loss of her husband of 57 years. And so we read.

This year I was sharing the house with a niece who dumped a pile of fishing magazines on the coffee table. I was neater than her, so I moved most of them into the magazine rack that I’d cleaned out last summer after my mother died. I’d tossed out her old copies of Arthritis Today and the AARP magazine, but I’d saved a few things.

I spied a wall calendar for 2018 from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I’m sure my mother had given them a donation. I hung it in the regular spot and flipped to August.

As Labor Day approached and I looked at the September page, I felt sad. An entire summer season had passed without my mother. That month featured an encouraging quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, whom Mom admired. It felt like a message that I must carry on without her: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Finding this calendar felt like a gift my mother had left behind for us.