I’m not certain how long I stood in the shade of the pepper tree, it felt like forever. Deep in thought, I’d lost all track of time. I glanced down at my watch, 4:38, but I knew that couldn’t be right. I looked at my watch again more closely and realized it had stopped. Suddenly I felt a chill pass through me, I was shivering again, the same deep bone rattlers that I’d already experienced three times that morning. Maybe I was coming down with something. I moved out of the shadows and back into the bright sunlight. The effect was immediate. I felt the sun’s heat cover me like a warm blanket. It felt glorious. In a few moments my shivering stopped.
I looked back at the tree. The ground beneath was littered with the remnants of the tiny yellowish summer flowers the California Pepper produces. In the fall and winter the tree would be covered with little rose colored berries that would also find there way to the ground. My mom had never cared for the old tree, she found it much too messy. She had hated the way the driveway and front porch seemed to always be covered with droppings from the tree. It was at that very moment, as thoughts of my mom filled my head, that I heard it. The unmistakable sound of singing. A single voice carried on the wind from some place up the road. I stood there frozen with fear. Although faint, I thought I knew that voice…..
Again I was transported to the California Street of my memories. There I was, 9 years old, sitting with Bobby Holmes in the pepper tree, flinging red pepper berries at Mr. Day’s Basset Hound, Cleo. Cleo made no attempt at retreat, he simply stood by the fence, taking the barrage of berries we rained down on him, barking crazily up at us. In my house my mom was just about to do a little dusting.
Tired of assaulting Cleo, Bobby and I were busy looking for a new target, when all at once my mom began her cleaning, and as she cleaned, she sang. She loved to sing. The front door was open and we could easily hear her. It was the first time Bobby had ever heard her singing. He was in awe. We sat there quietly for several minutes listening. It was beautiful. She had an incredible voice. I remember Bobby turned and looked at me and said, “Wow, Is your mom an opera singer?” before I could answer, he continued, “She must be. She sounds so pretty.” I hadn’t thought of that day in years. She had sounded pretty, so very pretty….
I stood in the bright sunshine, eyes closed, listening, lost in the moment. Although I couldn’t quite make out the words, the voice was hers, I was sure of it, but that was impossible! Mom had died nearly twenty years ago in 1991, massive heart attack. How could she possibly be here now? I scrambled for answers. I tried telling myself that her voice was only in my head, a vivid memory replaying itself again and again. That would definitely make more sense, but it just didn’t ring true. The voice was real, I could feel it! I was so confused, I had no idea what was going on, or maybe I did, and just wasn’t ready to admit it.
The singing continued. It seemed to go on forever. I gazed up the road. It looked so inviting, so peaceful. I couldn’t help wondering if my mom was really up there somewhere, or if my mind was just screwing with me. Maybe I was home in bed lost in dreams, or worse, laid up in a hospital ER deep in coma. It was all so confusing. I walked back under the shade of the pepper tree and sat down, resting against its trunk. The rough bark felt good against my back. I continued listening for what felt like hours but was surely only a matter of minutes. I began to feel so at ease. Her song soothing me and somehow making me feel complete. Sitting there I realized that I was no longer questioning the reality of what was happening to me, but was more focused on why it was happening. I was no longer afraid and felt an overpowering urge to follow the road. Without hesitation I got up, took one last look out at Sierra Madre, then began walking up the road…
To be continued Wednesday June 8, 2011