Last month, I went up to the attic in search of Christmas lights to hang around the kitchen window, or my bedroom. Or both. Something festive. Frivolous.

Too late, I remembered I’d tossed them all – a bulb or two had gone out on most strings and the lights so old they weren’t the kind that stayed lit if one was out – to make room for the artificial pre-lit tree I’d purchased at the Boothbay Greenhouse a few years ago. That seemed ridiculously wrong on so many levels, here on Southport, with 5 acres of fir and pine and spruce.

It was almost as ludicrous as the holiday celebration I was determined to have that Christmas four years ago, the feeling it might be my mother’s last, so let’s be festive and deck those halls and bake all the sweets from the Christmas recipe vault: Norwegian twists, gingerbread, coffee cookies, peppermint bark.

Four years later, she’s still around, and still I think each time I visit her – Christmas or not – this may be the last time.

So, the attic. It smelled hot, like summer, the air thick and still, as if the room was holding its breath around all the memories stored there. My old ice skates from the grade school skating pond days: cracked white vinyl, rusty blades. A box of fabric scraps and a stack of Butterick patterns; among her many artistic and musical talents, my mother was a pretty good seamstress, back in the day. A tattered box of books I’d loved as a kid – “Harriet the Spy,” “Amy Loves Goodbyes,” the complete Beatrix Potter collection. The books were a little mildewy and when I opened “The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck,” a puff of dust blasted out.

In the far corner of the attic near the books, the antique cradle where I spent the first few months of my life. In that far corner, where I later snuck cigarettes, a wistful whiff of tobacco lingered.

On my way out, I grabbed two packs of lightbulbs from my mother’s doomsday supply, the ones we had before today’s harsh LED glare, and I grabbed the puzzle I’d bought at the Humane Society Thrift Store the last winter I took care of my mother here, at the island farmhouse of my childhood where she lived for 50 years.

I never got to that puzzle then, both of us shrouded in the fog of dementia. And in a cruel reversal of roles, in my sudden plunge into motherhood, the noises I heard that winter before she moved to the memory care home where she still lives were not the cries of a newborn in a cradle but the creak of the stairs as my mother searched the darkness for who she once was.

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