Magnolia HearthOur choral conductor told us that time was an illusion.
He told us to sing to our soul mates, even though he thought we were too young to have met them. But, no matter the time, he said, we can sing to our loves and they will hear us. Whenever we sing “À la Claire Fontaine,” there is a certain chord when I begin to see the person whom I looked for at the magnolia hearth. In the middle of the circle, she appears, and I know she can hear me. I sing, “Il y a longtemps que je t'aime / Jamais je ne t'oublierai.” She hears, “I've been loving you for a long time / I'll never forget you.”
I sing to a place where the road winds on forever to cut apart seas of earth and granite. The summer sheen clears the grass, the autumn leaves hug the ground, the winter clouds shower the granite with white, and spring rains fill the ground with tears, but time never passes. All will stay for eternity to see the magnolia trees grow and wither. I came there at times of snow, times of fresh leaves, times of heaven’s tears, but did not remember having been there before. Yet, a part of me waits there, in the hearth of the magnolia tree.
When we arrived, the autumn leaves there were sogged by the fresh snow, while the winter air dried us all. With reluctance from the cold and eagerness to find her, I stepped from the car that we had let rest on the elbow of the path. We went to meet her, but the snow hid her from our view. We knew that she was near a magnolia tree, somewhere near a magnolia tree.
As we divided to find her, I shifted over the glassy snow, careful not to disturb the ground below as I went. At one of the magnolia trees, I stood to hover over the tree shadow. Using my bare hands in the winter air, I shoved off the snow in my eagerness. Hope swept me to continue and to find her. With my shoe, I shoveled dirt and remains of leaves from their granite floor. Hushed, I slowed to brush off the letters one by one with fear, love, and anticipation.
It wasn’t her.
I continued to shift, to hover, to hope, only to have her continue to hide from me under the frozen, weeping crystals. I tried to get closer to the magnolia trees to come closer to her.
The latest picture I had seen of her was a picture of a similar Washington snow. As I was passing through old monochrome photos with my mother, we came upon a record of a suburban snowstorm. Celebrating, my mother and her brother shaped lopsided snowballs to engage each other in snow war, busy in the childhood laughter of cozy, flaky whiteness as they sought easy targets. Nearby, their father and mother watched their celebration. With fluffed, bright cheeks, my mother’s eyes reflected the brilliance of the snow, but her own mother’s eyes were solemn. Her eyes were iced with clouds of tears because she already knew what would come.
My grandmother resides in such monochrome photographs where she knits with her young niece, where she keeps her young children loved, and where she smiles at me forever and tells me she loves me. She tells me she loves me, but I needed to find her to tell her that I love her.
I continued my search with wintry determination towards another magnolia, and found a shelter of graves under the magnolia’s shadow. Under its cover, living branches saved the fallen from the acid tears of the sky. Shaking, I brushed off leaves, and found not my heart but another’s. By the papery hearth of the magnolia lay a young man, dead. By him lay his family, who died shortly after, and finally an old man who lived to see them all go.
We gathered around the granite stone to see her.
“Don’t be afraid that your name is on the stone,” my father said to me.
Micheline Szabo was dead.
That day of snow and frost when I found Micheline Szabo was Uncle Guillermo’s funeral. He was not related by blood to Micheline Szabo, but he had demanded that we gather around her grave as he lay beside her at his funeral. Each of us would be buried there after hoping for a dream we had never met who had brought her hearth into each of us to unite us around the magnolia tree.
Under the shaded blue tent at the end of the path, we sat on outdoor seats to hear a rabbi in front of a granite star cremation niche where the ashes of hundreds rested to be warmed from snow and tears.
Micheline Szabo will forever be thirty-seven, but her husband, Zoltan Szabo, was in his seventies. As he left the funeral, he muttered how old Soviet leaders come to their comrades’ funerals so that they can die themselves, one by one, month by month, in the winter cold. He said he wouldn’t come and that he would avoid the successive Soviet leaders’ fates. But, he is outside with us to see her once again and to see her forever. Tears continue to fall onto the mixed earth in color and in monochrome. If time is an illusion, then we cried with her, will cry for our loved ones, and will kiss her as we unite around the hearth of her love that has united us for our endless journeys.
“I've been loving you for a long time / I'll never forget you.”
[TABLE OF CONTENTS, LHS CLASS OF 2009 EDITION]
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2002-2007 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.