For about the last 45 years, my husband Matt’s family has gone down to the shore every Mother’s Day weekend.
Take a loud, Polish/Irish family, throw in some beer and other assorted alcoholic beverages, house them in cramped quarters, and well, you can imagine the mayhem that can ensue. And, boy, we have some tales to tell.
One of the longest running irritants that have continually plagued our family is rain. I'm not talking about a steady rain or even a downpour. I'm talking about torrential, sideways, ricocheting off the boardwalk (making an umbrella useless) bring your ark building supplies type of rain.
But it doesn't stop there; hurricane force winds most often accompany the flood.
Of course, that never stopped a Kells from going out to the beach, braving the storm to frolic in the angry waves. And it never stopped me from going up and down the boardwalk, stopping at every single store that was open.
The thing is, you get plenty wet when you decide that you're part mermaid, and unfortunately, the condos that we stay in don't have washer/dryers.
My mother in law, Gretchen, is a very resourceful woman and she solved that dilemma. She would take the kids clothes, and put them in a warm oven to dry. Before she put in their wet clothes, however, she put in their robes. Then they'd get out of their showers and wrap themselves in toasty robes and drink hot chocolate and eat chicken soup. These are memories my kids will always treasure.
However, one year, my daughter, Elyse, came home soaking wet, and decided to emulate her grandmother. After all, she'd seen Gretchen dry wet clothes countless times – how hard could it be?
Being a novice to the whole idea of using an oven as a make shift dryer, she didn't understand the subtleties, and as such, she made a few mistakes. First, she thought that it would take less time if the heat was turned up to a toasty 350 degrees. But her second, and most fateful, decision was to place her items directly on the heating element.
It's amazing how quickly soaking wet clothes can turn into a ball of fire.
But the most amazing year we ever had at the shore followed the unexpected loss of my father-in-law, the children's beloved grandfather, Normie.
Nothing before or since has ever come close to what happened on May 11th at the Tahiti Inn, Ocean City, N.J. To this day, we call it "Miracle on 12th Street".
We arrived at The Tahiti on Thursday afternoon. The apartments surround a courtyard, with sliding glass doors & windows facing the common area that we'd use to get in and out of our units. Everything was fine, and nothing unusual had happened. Well, except for the acute feeling of loss at the first Mother's Day at the shore without Normie.
Of course, none feeling the emptiness more than his wife of 56 years, Gretchen.
Friday morning, Matt went next door to his mom’s to have coffee and as he walked up to the sliding door, he noticed something unusual. There, clear as day, almost embedded in the glass of Gretchen's sliding glass door, was a profile of Normie.
At first, we thought it was an anomaly from the early morning fog; however, the profile stayed the entire day. Surely this had to be some freak of nature.
But it looked just like him. You could see his nose, where the folds of his skin were, his eyes and his chin. It was like a negative of a photograph. As the day went on, the strange imprint stayed; it couldn't even be wiped away.
Of course, there were doubters in our family. Something as amazing as this surely had to have a logical explanation. For example, some thought that maybe Matt or his brother, Billy, had pressed their faces against the glass. The problem with that theory was that Billy wasn't as tall as Normie, and Matt was taller. The face was positioned exactly where it would have been on my father-in law's six-foot frame.
Another problem the doubters had was even if one had tried to press their face against the glass, your features would be compressed as you leaned into the door. This looked as if a portrait had been taken of Normie; a photograph that was taken by an unseen hand. And again, it stayed where it was for hours.
Later that day, Gretchen went to church, shaken and grateful that God had let her beloved come visit that day. As soon as she walked into the church, the organist began to play "I Am With You."
She knew that Normie was, in fact, still with her.
I’ve always believed that our loved ones are never gone; they're around us, keeping watch over us. Normie had given subtle hints that he was still around for months. But, Mother's Day weekend on 12th Street in Ocean City, he let his cherished wife know that he is, indeed, still with her.
Happy Mother's Day to all you mommies out there. And if you have a mother or a wife that has crossed to the other side, wish her a Happy Mother's Day this Sunday. Trust me, she'll hear you.
(The left hand side of the photo is a snapshot of the imprint on the glass door; to the right is an actual photo of Clifford "Normie" Kells')