His casket sits in our living room the night before his burial. He doesn't look like the man I knew, the man who gave me a penny to sing him a song while he shaved in the morning. But his hair is the same, it still has the salt and pepper curls I remember.
He would have enjoyed his funeral. We Irish-Germans know how to throw a party, and we send him out in style. It's the least we can do for a man who had such a big existence.
The weeks crawl by, and soon it will be Easter.
Our family believes in tradition. To us, every holiday is special. Easter time means a corsage for my mother, and since my father isn't here to buy it, the job falls to me. No one tells me I have to do this, but I feel the responsibility just the same. My father didn't have life insurance, and it took all my mother's savings just to fly his body home from Japan. Now we can't afford to heat our house. Instead, we turn on the oven in the kitchen to keep one small room warm. I know our situation is desperate, but I take the money I saved from picking strawberries and mowing lawns last summer. I go to the nicest florist in our town to find an orchid. It is large, the size of a salad plate, and flawless white. As I look at it, I know I've picked the right one. Just the kind my father would select.
I take it home and hide it in the back of the refrigerator behind the milk. I do my chores for a few hours, but I worry. What if my mother discovers her Easter gift before I give it to her? I go back to the kitchen and move the corsage around, trying to conceal it with ketchup and pickles, but the clear plastic florist box is too big. I think of a better hiding spot, a place my mother would never look.
I go to the basement and put the corsage in the old freezer. I run back upstairs and begin cleaning the bathrooms. Hours later, after all my work is done, I feel happy. I'm excited about the next morning, and while my mother is cooking dinner, I slip downstairs. I take the orchid out of the freezer. It's covered with delicate ice crystals and as I look at it, the flower turns from white to black. I panic. I know nothing at all about corsages, but it's obvious that I've ruined this one. I have a few dollars in my wallet, but it's too late to go to the store. I've let my mother down. She won't have anything this Easter.
I sit on the steps and weep as though my heart is broken, as though my father is lost again. It's here that she finds me. She takes the box from my hands and looks inside.
"Thank you, " she says, pinning the corsage to her t-shirt. "I love it."
I lift my head, face wet. Her eyes are glittering and there's a slight twitch at the corner of her mouth. She doesn't say I'm stupid for putting a hothouse flower in the icebox. She doesn't lecture me for wasting the precious money.
"It was beautiful, I can tell," my mother whispers, touching the orchid. "No one could ask for a better gift on Easter."
In that moment, on the dusty basement stairs, I learn my first lesson about love. I learn that it doesn't come with conditions or restrictions. Love looks deep into the heart and lodges there instead of bouncing off the surface. It is overwhelming and generous and forgiving.
My mother smiles at me and I smile back at her, and I know that together we'll be all right.