It's cherry season! We are huge cherry fans here - crazy about the dark red Bings as well as these rosy golden Rainier cherries shown here and when they are available, I served them every night for dinner.
Back in the 1990s, I had a sweet friend named Shannon. She was quite a bit younger than me, but since she and her family lived across the street and her two boys were about the same age as my third and fourth, we all became great friends.
Shannon had her hands full with those boys. Her husband was a great guy but a Bering Sea fisherman, so he was gone for months at a time, all year round. Thankfully, Shannon's parents lived close by and gave her a huge amount of support, and her sister was also married to a crabber so she was in the exact same boat with her three little boys as Shannon with her pair. All wonderful people.
Her boys were indeed pistols. I remember each of the little Vikings escaping the house and wandering around the neighborhood in nothing more than a diaper when they were barely old enough to walk. As young warriors often do, they were always eager to climb the highest tree, throw the heaviest stone, take the biggest jump on their bikes.
I remember the day when we had some other family friends over. All the kids were out playing in the front yard while us two moms enjoyed a quiet moment in the house, when suddenly my friend looked up at me in alarm. "There's a little boy sitting in your family room," she whispered, her eyes as big as saucers.
I leaned over the kitchen counter to see one of Shannon's boys, not any older than two, sitting on the floor in my family room where he was quite used to spending time, looking through a stack of picture books on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. Apparently, he'd let himself in. I left him to his business and ran outside to find Shannon calling for him, frantic with worry, and explained that her missing toddler was safe and sound, busy with some afternoon reading.
She was mortified but I was charmed. I promised to walk him home when he had finished his project.
Normally, I serve fruit for dinner in the same small white bowls, night after night after night. But a few days ago, my fourth-born surprised me by pulling out a different stack of my ample collection of fruit-sized bowls, and that set me off on a week-long spree of exploring other options.
In these days, there were quite a few full-time moms with young kids on our street. Shannon and I hung out with all of them, but she and I were the tightest. Despite the decade-long gap in our ages and experiences, we bonded over art. We recognized in each other a passion for all things visual and I loved the attention to detail that Shannon brought to every bit of her life.
Her home, her garden, her kids' party invitations, the family Christmas cards, her clothes - she gave everything she touched a special sparkle. She inspired me and apparently, I inspired her too. We were kindreds.
One day, for no reason at all, Shannon brought me over a gift. It was a decorating book full of rooms that were, in Shannon's opinion, just my style. And I was tremendously complimented by the cozy vibes. The author, greeting card designer, children's book illustrator, and decor editor behind the photos was Mary Engelbreit, an icon of the day known for her whimsical country aesthetic and most specifically, her iconic red cherries.
Mary Engelbreit was obsessed with red cherries.
I treasure that book, and still have it to this day. It makes me smile just to see it on the shelf.
These moments I spend seeking out special little touches to bring interest and variety into everyday life make me think of my friend, Shannon, and smile. She was a beautiful soul.
I'm sorry to say that Shannon's story does not have a happy ending.
The toll of long, lonely stretches of single parenting led to heavy drinking, which led to divorce, which led to a long, up-and-down journey through recovery while the boys moved away with their dad. Shannon went from her life as an almost-always solo parent to a heartbroken non-custodial mom who needed to get sober before she could spend time with her kids.
This broke my heart too.
It took a long time, but Shannon finally got sober and stayed sober, and began seeing her boys again. On a Sunday evening after one of those first few visits, she was driving home on the expressway where another driver cut her off; Shannon lost control of her car and slammed into a highway construction vehicle parked just off the shoulder. She died instantly.
I miss Shannon. I wish she still lived across the street from me. I wish she was still married and enjoying her by-now empty nest and chatting with me about home decor and ripe red cherries and all the other lovely things under the sun that we would chat about back in the day.
But like all who pass away from this earth, Shannon is never too far away from me. I feel her presence and I treasure the time we had together.
And I think of her absolutely every time I serve cherries for dinner.