Leftovers: ‘What are you waiting for?’

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You’ve seen it here before, but leaving Maine almost anytime other than the dead of winter is a waste of much-anticipated weather.

On the flip side, visiting Florida during the same off-window results in climate envy and the need to question one’s sanity.

Natalie LaddBut we all have choices to make when it comes to family visits, responsibility, and our rarely aligning life calendars. Father’s Day weekend was one of those times.

My youngest brother was one of the last in our pack to get COVID-19. Feeling better after a rough go of it, he planned to be at our dad’s for the patriarchal Hallmark holiday. Two of my bro’s three children were venturing down there and my youngest signed up for the weekend too. Aside from shvitzing in the forecasted 89 percent humidity, it had all the makings of a lovely family weekend. 

Like too many other families, it has been a while since we united to celebrate anything other than impending death, death itself, or honoring the memory of a death. Typically a fun bunch of people, those deep downer events took precedence due to COVID restrictions and calendar conflicts. In fact, this was our first stab at having guilt-free fun since my niece Lauren’s wedding, which was held only two months after my mother, The Betty, passed away. 

Pre-engagement, Lauren and her now-husband Andrew, went to Florida to visit her grandmother in the hospital and to tell her they were thinking about getting married. The Betty, who literally had just learned she had Stage 4 small-cell lung cancer, took a long hard look at her oldest grandchild. She then took a longer harder sip of her contraband vodka gimlet (smuggled in with care by yours truly), and pointedly asked Lauren and Andrew, “What are you waiting for?”  

With direct marching orders and a fervent prayer that The Betty would be in attendance, Lauren and Andrew’s wedding was an intimate, swanky affair. My dad did the best he could with an empty chair beside him at the ceremony, and later without his dancing partner of over 50 years. 

But, this past weekend it was my dad who reminded us of The Betty’s million-dollar question to Lauren and Andrew. My dad was retelling that in-the-moment, humorous side of my mom’s reaction to Lauren’s news, but a bigger and bolder message jumped out at me. As if answering my present-day “what, when, where” questions (without paying much mind to the “how” part), I now hear her voice when I think about my someday-bucket list. 

And don’t we all have one? 

I’ve learned most “Big B” Bucket lists are semi-wild fantasies with no identifiable plans to make things happen. The other sort of bucket list is a “Small b,” which is an action/reaction type of process. For example, I’m going to take out a second mortgage (the action) and go to as many Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band shows as I can during 2023 (the reaction). (Note: Just asking for a friend.)

However, The Betty’s death just six weeks after her initial cancer diagnosis gave new meaning to her pointed question. My sweet sister followed at 67 years old. Once again: What are you waiting for?

As much as I wish I were home in Maine, it is easier to be philosophical about choices, actions, reactions, and such, while sitting quietly on my dad’s lanai, away from work and everyday life. Still, after spending quality time with him, my brother, and some of our kids, I don’t have answers to my mother’s question.

I do know things can’t be status quo until I croak simply because there’s a time-sucking hole on the bottom of the bucket. I’m just not sure of the path to the “how” of obtaining bucket list items, big or small, which seems to be about taking risks, finances, and fear of the unknown. But I’m wide open to suggestions as long as they don’t involve multi-level marketing.

If you’re wondering, Lauren and Andrew are doing great. She and her cousin made family dinner one night; my bro and I did it the next. My dad is spending lots of time with his new lady friend and for the most part, is in good health. And my “friend” only needs to see Springsteen once this tour.

It also dawned on me that bucket lists need to be reviewed often. Sure, I still want to take Number One to Italy (a long-time “Big B” item), but I’m now wishing for many more of the kind of weekend I just had. 

We just need to have them in the sweet, long days of summer in Maine.

Natalie Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].