Tamar starts to bark. I hear the squeak of the screen door and my mother’s voice, “Yoo hoo.” She’s here.
I have set out three chairs in the small room off the kitchen that I call the library. I’ve planned it in advance. We’ll sit there. “It’s a good room for appointments,” I said to Fred. “If I start a fire and we sit in the living room it’ll be hard to have a short visit.” My excuse will be that it’s warmer in the library, which is true.
I have lots of cookies left over from this week’s workshops. I have filled the kettle. I will make a pot of organic Earl Grey tea. I have thought through all of this.
I open the door. My mother is small, one step lower down than me and leaning forward with bags in her hands. Her grey head is bare. She has a silk scarf of bright colors – greens, reds, blues – loosely around her neck and shoulders. She steps in, the dog is barking and I am saying welcoming things and she comes in, into the kitchen, unloads her bags onto the counter – there are the salted nuts I wrote about, the chocolate, a tin of coffee. “All from ShopRite!” she says. We haven’t really looked at each other yet. She unwraps a beige squash. “I know you don’t like them,” she says, “but I thought maybe you could use it,” and I say something about how it’s great while part of me thinks I’ll cook it, I know they’re good for me, I should eat more of these things and part of me can’t believe she’s bringing me another butternut squash left from her garden when she knows I don’t like them.
She goes back to the front door to take off her boots and takes them off without having to sit down. I’m impressed. I ask if her feet get sore without any shoes – that mine do – but she says she’ll just be sitting and she’ll be okay.
And she sits and I’m at the stove and Fred comes and we sit and I pour tea and my mother talks like a stone skipping across a lake. I think she must be nervous. Fred asks her how she’s been and she says pretty much the same – that she doesn’t like change too much – and she describes her day, when she gets up, how she warms up her car, how her cat steals her chair, how she goes to bed at 8:30, what she does on Sunday.
I don’t say much. I feel tired. I have no energy for this. My mother says she’s supporting Hillary because Hillary’s a woman and Fred goes on the attack, talking about Hillary’s support of the war, firing a dozen facts at my mother. I shrink a little, but just let them figure it out. My mother says something about how Hillary has a lot of experience, or should be given a chance, and I can tell by the expression on her face that she is copying what her friends are saying. And I picture my mother in her small community of delusional ashram devotees, cut off from so much of the world.
I move to the floor and start to brush out Tamar’s thick black fur. Tamar lies on her side and appears to fall asleep. She is often not in the mood for detangling and lets me know by baring her teeth, so I am grateful for her current cooperation.
My mother says something about how Obama is too young – something that people who haven’t heard him speak say. I tell her about the speech we listened to from Selma – how it was so inspiring it almost sounded like a prophet. This is something I am interested in saying. “Well, maybe,” my mother says, as if the things that have been working fine back home don’t stand up when she brings them to Woodstock.
She asks about the workshops. I say they’re doing great. I never feel like saying more. I have never enjoyed talking about my life with her as if all that occurs in another language and I don’t know how to translate. And she asks about my violin and again I answer briefly. There are a few periods of silence that I don’t rush to fill.
She says she talks to my father every Saturday these days and that he is unhappy and that he hopes someone (meaning one of us girls) will come visit him. “He says, ‘I never meant to be so cut off from my family,’ but he never cared much about us when he was here,” my mother says with a little laugh and a glance at me and I instantly am sure that she is trying this line on me because it always gets a laugh from my sisters, but it’s an old line and I don’t rise to the bait.
I ask if my sister Esther and her husband are still planning to go to Budapest in the Spring. My mother doesn’t look at me. I’ve been getting the feeling lately that I am not allowed in on information about my sisters, but she nods, says Esther has been too busy to pin it all down (I have visions of Esther running about her corporate offices, doing “real” work), but they’re planning to go. “They’re due for a visit,” my mother says. “It’s been two or three years.” I didn’t know there was a quota.
She says she might go with them, and later adds the detail that Esther, hearing my mother was interested in seeing my father probably for the last time, had suggested that they go together. “We both could imagine him, standing on the balcony, with his bags all packed, ready to come back with me if I went alone,” my mother says with a half-hearted laugh.
I don’t want anything to do with my father right now, but I don’t want anything to do with my mothers and sisters despising him either.
“I wanted to bring you some logs,” my mother says, “but they’re stuck under a tarp under all the snow, and the snow’s frozen solid.”
My mother leaves soon enough, and for the rest of the evening I feel I should have done more. I am beset with these feelings. And I don’t know how to reconcile the little old lady with her bags of ShopRite groceries who I will miss when she is no longer able to make these trips with the often vicious woman I’ve been writing about – the mother of my childhood.
When she hugged me at the door yesterday it was a longer hug than usual, and I felt like she was really trying. I just don’t know what she is really trying. I just feel, I guess, her yearning for something, and part of me feels I could assuage it all, make it so she was absolutely content, and I don’t. I don’t step forward to fill the gap.
I wrote her a card that night, saying how nice it was to see her, but then I didn’t have a stamp and it’s still sitting here, written but not sent.