Five o’ clock. With my son Jay watching TV in the family room, I automatically glanced at the phone. My husband, Carl, had always called around this time to tell me he was on his way home. For 45 years I’d listened for his pickup in the driveway. Even now, two years after his death, part of me was still waiting for him to walk through the back door.
I knew Jay, my son with Down syndrome, missed him too, even though Jay’s articulation disorder kept him from expressing it in the same way I did. Jay’s brother, Aaron, lived out-of-state with his own family, and Jay and I were both a little lost without Carl around to watch over us.
I stepped out onto the deck and looked into the backyard, remembering all the times Carl and I had walked it together, checking on the roses and lilacs. Jay didn’t like going outside much, so in the evenings it was just Carl and me sitting on the deck while the moonflowers popped open and filled the air with fragrance. I gazed out at the bench Carl had placed closest to the wooded area beyond the yard. I’d seen a fox there once, not long after Carl died. My first fox. In all our time together in the yard, Carl and I had never seen one there. She was just sitting quietly, tall and regal, looking straight at me, unafraid. It felt almost as if she’d been sent to me in my grief.
But it was a one time visit. I still thought about her, all these months later, especially when I was missing Carl. It felt like she was watching over me, I thought as I went back inside to start dinner. I could use more of that feeling, Lord.
The five o’clock hour came and went over the next few days. Then one evening, I glanced out the window and saw something move by the deck. My fox had returned! At least, it looked like my fox. This time she had a young one with her. She’s a mama, I thought, something we have in common.
This time, she made regular visits, with another surprise in store. Three lively kits came up to explore the deck while their mother watched them from below. The boldest came right up to the glass door, as curious about me as I was about him. I eventually discovered four kits in all. The shyest one preferred to stick close to his mother, the way Jay liked to stay close to me. When he did creep up on the deck, he hid himself in the moonflowers so I could barely see his little face among the blooms.
I looked forward to the foxes’ appearances the way I used to look forward to Carl’s evening phone call. Their favorite time to play was midnight. They chased each other, chased fireflies, chased beetles. They leapt from the chair to the patio table back to the deck. In the late hours, the mama fox joined them up on the deck. She lay down in front of the door while her little ones played. It was comforting to think of her sleeping there all night, watching over me the way she watched over her kits.
“I wonder if God sent her to me so I wouldn’t feel alone,” I told Aaron over the phone one day.
“I think you’re right, Mom,” he said. “This is a God thing.”
Definitely a God thing, I thought that night as I watched them on the deck. I was about to go to bed when another fox appeared. One I had never seen. A male. Papa Fox!
He sat up straight and proud, and Mama Fox leaned into him, resting her head against his neck. It was like something out of a Disney movie, but this was real life. The pair nestled together, silhouetted in the moonlight.
The foxes didn’t stay long after that night. But the joy they’d brought me remained and I knew God’s guardians would never be far away.
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