Another Saturday spent on the road and away from home. 5 AM and I am out the door, hair still wet. Coffee in hand. This is the typical start to the last 9 years of Saturdays, up early and heading back to the hometown to see my Mom; and get some things done for her. It is a two hour drive, and a long quiet two hour drive that lets me think and enjoy the country-side. I write poetry in my head and tell myself stories out loud as I drive winding back-roads through the heart of nowhere.
Ever since my Dad died. Some weeks I go up twice if there is an emergency or a doctor’s appointment. Or just because my mom has called sounding sick or tired or lonely. Her Eastern European voice sounding faint and far-away when she calls. Heavy sighs mixed with the tone of finality. “This is it – I think I will be with your father tonight…”
I shouldn’t fall for it. I shouldn’t play along. Yet I do. She is my mother; the first human I ever knew. She deserves at least a small part of my time.
I arrive in town at 7 AM just as the grocery store opens. I have the list of needs already in hand . By this point already memorized. The salmon, cider, banana, pepper, watermelon, blueberry, regular requests, mixed in with my knowledge of how fast she goes through other items like coffee, tea, milk, and tissues. As I shop I look for bargains and new ideas. And form a plan for something I can make for lunch; and something that will end up frozen for a future meal or two.
Ground beef is on sale and thoughts of meatballs pop into my head. Oh with spinach and ricotta. A package of ground beef and one of ground pork and the other ingredients hop into my cart. I pay, then head off to my Mom’s house.
She is awake and as usual grumbling about not being able to sleep. I see an empty can of iced tea on the counter, and ask about it. She admits to drinking a little before bed-time last night “because tea settles you digestion – my stomach was upset and…”
My Mom launches into a long mystical health journey created over 85 years of living – how certain foods have certain effects. I half-listen while putting away the groceries and getting some breakfast going.
We eat breakfast and I hear about her health. About her oxygen levels. Her current respiratory infections and the medications they are trying this time to fight them. This is her life – since her early thirties her lungs slowly rotting and failing. Her breathing labored and full of chocking phlegm. The oxygen machine chugs softly in the corner, pumping an enriched oxygen flow to her every breath. Without that machine her oxygen levels are at 40% of normal; when the power stops my mom turns blue with labored breath.
After breakfast I cleanup what the cleaning lady hasn’t done. Clear away dishes and recycling. Look to see what mystery items are in my Mom’s fridge and remove the items that are now long past best-before times. And fast-food items that have been left behind by visitors – like a soup so salty even looking at it makes my own blood pressure rise. I ask my Mom how her blood pressure medication is working. “Oh you know they measured yesterday and it was very high…”
I quickly make the meatballs and use a 24-cup mini muffin tin to bake them. My Mom watches and gives me advice on how to prepare the meatballs. I have been cooking since I was a child, yet still I need her advice “because you are doing it wrong…you should always…”
I have done this so long that I can appear to do as she advises and still do it my way. It is the art of distraction as I move her into conversations about her childhood. “Did your Mom – Grandma – teach you all that…”
And my Mom is off to stories of how “Your Grandma was a cook and she could…”
The meatballs in the oven, I head back out to the local pharmacy to pick up a few items my Mom would like to have. On the way I stop at the mailbox to see what mail has arrived; and then to go to her bank to take care of her bills and other financial needs. The timer on my smart phone keeps me aware of the meatballs and I am back in time to pull them from the oven.
It is spring now – and her garden needs some attention. I do a quick weed and mulch on the front flower-bed. Trim the hedges into a more hedge-like shape, and then cut the lawn.
It is now 10:30 am. Back inside I make some rice, and a mushroom pepper sauce. All done by 11am, and as I place the sauce on a slow simmer, my Mom says “Did you check the mail?” Which reminds me that I had indeed and she has letters from friends and favorite charities begging her for money. And a card from my brother out west. But I have left it in the car, “Yes Mom I’ll get them for you – let’s eat first.”
I serve her lunch and we have lunch together discussing local politics and the recent deaths of people she had known most of her life. She complains how her world is smaller every day. “Soon they will all be dead – and no-one will remain to remember me…”
I clear the dishes and start the sink – then give her the mail. She takes great delight in the messages from outside her home. She takes pride in her importance to “her charities.”
Then with trembling had she opens the card to find a Mother’s Day card from her son out west. She whispers, “Oh my boy, my sweet sweet son remembers me when no-one else thinks of me at all…”
I wash the dishes and place the left-overs in two single serving containers in the freezer, so my Mom can quickly have a meal when the support workers aren’t around to help her.
By noon I am heading out the door for the two hour trip back to my own home, to take my daughter to swimming lessons. My Mom sees me to the door and asks some last minute questions and hugs me good-bye, “When are you back?”
Next Saturday, I reply.
“Oh” she says sadly. Then holds up the card, “Did you see what your brother sent me? He was always such a good boy…”
I head out, closing the door as she hugs the card.