My earliest memory of watchful love goes back to my adolescence sixty years ago.

A dark December evening, I returned home from babysitting the Zablocki children five doors down on Wagner Street. I opened the front door to find my mother and granny sitting on the living room sofa. They looked up with a threaded needle and tiny doll clothes in their hands.

Granny smiled. “Well, hello Irish.”

And that’s how she spelled my name on the birthday cards she mailed from her home in Phelps, Kentucky to my family’s mailbox in Warren, Michigan.

Both Granny and Mom had arrived at the house after I left at 6 p.m. This meant Mom brought our new baby sister home from the hospital.

Mom stood, her belly and the bounce in her step considerably deflated. Old enough to know a bit about the birds and the bees, spontaneous sympathy and respect for my mother smarted my eyes.

In the quietude of night, my mother took my hand and led me to my parents’ bedroom where our new baby slept in the crib. Mom hovered over my shoulder as the soft glow of the hall light shone upon her fifth newborn.

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“Sonia Ann,”

A decade later, I stood by my firstborn’s crib with engorged breasts and watched her breathe and sleep. I may have forgotten the moment beside Sonia’s crib, yet my body and spirit remembered. Love and instinct knew to hover over my baby in prayer and thanksgiving.

This week, twenty-two years after watching my third-born accept her college diploma, I stopped by Erna’s house in Washington Township. A fine day, I spied my friend digging holes in her vegetable garden for her homegrown tomato seedlings.

I waved and hollered, “I’ve come for my book!”

Erna promptly retrieved 7 Women from inside her house, then uprooted three huge succulents to embellish a terra-cotta pot in my backyard. A visitor never leaves Erna’s place without something yummy to eat or rooted to grow.

We turned toward my car when a strange figure appeared on the sidewalk leading to the backyard. Was Erna’s husband Wally playing a prank?

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh,” Wally said, “do you like turtle soup?”

“That’s the largest turtle I’ve ever seen!” I said.

Wally pointed to the lake behind the houses on the other side of their street. “She’s making her way home. This happens almost every year with the snappers.”

The creature fascinated me, its neck stretched in pride to display a two-foot long prehistoric reptile. “They lay their eggs in my gardens,” Erna said. “Let me show you.”

I followed her to a tiered garden where canna lilies laid uprooted. “The turtle buried her eggs here. One year I counted nine.”

At last, the snapper moved. The claws on her toes scraped the cement on her way down the driveway.

Dear Reader, Erna called today. “I found the turtle at my front door! Can you believe it?”

Yes I can. That ancient mother knows Erna watches over what she grows and loves.

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