When I was eight years old, the winter after my mother died, I ate popcorn after school every day.
I sat on the green, corduroy couch in our family room in our colonial-style house in Virginia. My freshly popped popcorn smelled of warm butter. I ate it while watching Tom and Jerry cartoons.
I had just walked the half-mile from my elementary school at the bottom of the hill. I crossed our driveway, passed our magnolia tree and jungle gym, and entered through the back.
The house was quiet. No ting-a-ling-ling from the bell my mother rang when she needed help. No nurses scurrying around to comfort her pain. No yapping Sambo, our little poodle. He was gone. He had become too protective of my mother and once tried to bite her nurse. No neighbors, with their casseroles and homemade soups, ringing the doorbell. After a five-year struggle with a brain tumor, my mother had finally died. Now, my little family was living in that period that can only be called the Quiet after the Storm.
My quiet was practically silent.
In these afternoons, I’m not sure why Sam, my ten-year-old brother, wasn’t with me. And I don’t know where Mrs. Franklin, our older and heavy-set caretaker who strongly disagreed with my father on how to cook roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, was.
I know that my father was at work. He was in the Navy and seemed important because he wore a starched uniform, carried a briefcase, and had polished shoes.
I dropped my school bag on a table in our family room and climbed the few stairs up to the kitchen. In the pantry, I pulled out a bag of popcorn kernels. I poured them into the tub of our popcorn maker and flipped the switch on. I watched. At first there was no action–just a pile of hard corn grains. But as the machine heated up, and the hot air flowed, the kernels started to move. As the steam built up, they started to pop. First one exploded out of the pile. Then another. Then they started to dance. They jumped and swirled and collided into each other. Fluffy, white flowers bloomed before my eyes.
I tossed the warm popcorn with some salt and melted butter. I carried the bowl into our family room, turned on the television, and parked myself on the couch. With the bowl in my lap, I picked up one kernel at a time. I rolled it around in my mouth savoring the flavors. I chewed, and then swallowed. Then I picked up another kernel. My mind was restless. I wanted to be doing something, anything, but watching these cartoons. I put my hand back into the bowl. My mind wandered to another place, my future. I felt important. People were paying attention to me.
I made the bowl of popcorn last, nibbling even the unopened kernels. It was a snack I could stretch to fill the silence.