avatarMichele Cambardella



When a Window is Both a Barrier and a Portal

So much can happen

Photo by R Mo on Unsplash

As I look out the bay window in our kitchen, watching daffodils and crocuses return to life, I find consolation in the memory of lost loved ones who spent countless hours gazing out their favorite windows.


After school let out, I’d stop to see her.

“Hi, Nonni, ” I’d call as I saw her sitting at the window.

She scooched her chair as close to the window as possible, leaned her left elbow onto the sill, and gazed out that window for hours. The scenery never changed.

Each day, she saw eight Italian plum trees planted like ornamental shrubs in the garden, one large pear tree whose fall bounty was plentiful, a driveway paved on the hillside, where Pa could park the truck, and a cherry tree she would cut down on the day after he died.

I always wondered why she wouldn’t go outside the house and look around. Instead, she sat staring out that window.

“ Scoppy is home, ” she reported as her neighbor returned from work. Sometimes she would tell stories about each of the neighbors, many of the tales unflattering. I tuned those out and rarely gave them much credence. Obvious contradictions in the stories made any listener skeptical.

Most times, she said the rosary as she sat at the window. Crystal rosary beads caught the sunlight as she moved between the Hail Mary and Our Father, moving her lips but uttering no sound.

Her breathing had a whistle to it, a wheeze that was easy to hear when she sat by the window.

This was a time before antidepressants and asthma inhalers. She could have benefitted from both of them. Occasionally, tears would roll down her cheeks as she prayed.

She always seemed to be searching for something. I never knew what that was. I do know that she never found it.


When Mom and Dad were planning to move from their home in town to live full-time at the lakehouse, one of the first things Mom did was to create a giant bedroom on the second floor. The bedroom stretched across the entire width of the house. On one side of this room sat a king-size bed, two large dressers, and two nightstands. On the other were two large armoirs centered by the television. Two living room chairs sat at an angle facing the television.

This room may have belonged to both of my parents, but it was Mom’s haven. When the blinds were open, she could see the lake through four windows.

“Every day is different. It never looks the same,” she would say with deep appreciation. “It’s beautiful in any season.”

A door opened to her own private little deck, three stories above ground. At most, it could hold two chairs comfortably.

She spent most of her time in that bedroom suite where her introverted side found solace. She never liked it when people looked at her. From this bedroom, she could see far and wide and watch the world without being seen.

That bedroom and the kitchen were her domain. Rarely did she walk on the dock near the water. I don’t remember ever seeing her in the basement. And, if she were in the garage, it was only to get into the car to go somewhere or to grab something out of the standup freezer.

Even though they lived on a lake, I can count on one hand the times I saw my mother swim. Nature calmed her, but it was always nature from a safe distance. A breeze could blow apart her hair, sprayed hard to remain the same for a week until she had her appointment to have it done again.

Much of her life, beginning in June, she was a sun worshipper who worked on her tan. Those days ended when she started to break out in hives if she was exposed to the sun. Dad built a roof over the dock so that she could sit by the water, but rarely did she access it, never in her later years.

Her bedroom suite made it possible for her to feel a part of the world outside, even though she was inside. Looking out at the lake was enough for her. She was peaceful in this room. And alone. For some time each day, she liked that. She liked that a lot.


When Dad looked out the windows of the enclosed porch, it was clear that he was chomping at the bit to be outside. The windows were a barrier, keeping him from being in the place he loved most, the outdoors.

Regardless of the season, when he stepped outside, he was at home. He was in the place where he fit best. He loved getting his hands dirty. Wherever we were, he planted things: vegetables, flowers, shrubs. There was always something he was tending.

When it rained or snowed, he was unfazed. He put on warm clothes and stayed out as long as he could.

Although a strong breeze was last on Mom’s list of favorite things, it was first on my Dad’s list. He loved wind. I remember seeing him smile when the wind picked up, he’d stop, look up, and seemed transported.

Once, as he was recovering from back surgery, he was unable to go outside and his recliner was set alongside the large sliding glass window facing the lake. He looked a lot like a kid, unable to go out and play. Peering through the glass was no consolation for him.

In his later years, when he was living with us, Mom was hospitalized. He hated being without her. Looking through the bay window made him terribly anxious. He took a chair, placed it on the corner of the deck, and waited for the wind. It was then that he prayed. Never with rosary beads or any prayer book, the prayers came straight out of his heart and offered to the skies above.

Each of them is gone now.

I wonder if they sit at a window on the other side, watching us in our ordinary lives.

Do they take time to look back and see how we are doing?

Are they able to witness our struggles and sit at the window trying to tell us that this, too, shall pass?

Can they see the beautiful great-grandchildren they have not yet met? I hope so.

Are they reunited with those they lost and mourned?

Do they yearn to reach through the window and help us find our way?

I like to think so.

It helps me miss them less, most days.

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The Wind Phone
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