Tuesday, November 20, 2007


My mother and I talk on the phone. She on her end. Me on mine. Somehow I’ve been wanting to check in each week. Sunday evening. There’s something sort of sweet and comforting and familiar about Sunday evening, around dinner time, just before 60 Minutes. I’m almost always at home then and she is too. We don’t talk long because I get restless. I like to hear a little of what she has to say. I like just to hear her voice for a few minutes. She always wants to talk – about her cats, or the people she works for or neighbors or what she’s cooking. If she pauses, I often prompt her, “So how’s the disabled man in Monticello?” And I try – now much more than I used to – to add one or two ingredients of my own to this soup. Not much, but something. And then I’m saying something about – well, I guess I better…

My sister is coming from California with her husband Steve to visit my mother for a few days. My mother lives about 50 miles from where I live here in upstate New York. My sister and her husband are coming and they will sleep at my mother’s house, but me and my mother don’t talk about that. They will come and go and I won't see them.

Once or twice over the past week I have thought maybe I will send a little birthday card or present to this sister because it’s her birthday on Saturday. I could do it. It’s like a party trick I can do well so I am sort of compelled to do it, to please her. It is so easy to buy someone a present.

My mother likes to give presents.

It’s harder not to.

I thought about it as I raked leaves on Sunday. When I do things like that I always think of my mother, or my family. I guess it’s the only other time I’ve watched or done yard work. Both my parents did things outside, though never together and always in very different ways – my father liked the lawnmower. My mother liked kneeling in the dirt, digging with a trowel, transplanting things she’d dug up from the side of the road.

And I thought about this thing with my sisters as I drove home tonight too and the newscaster on the radio said there were airport delays in New York – my sister is flying tonight, and a switch went off and I thought maybe I’d call my mother, see if everyone made it in okay. You know, that kind of thing. The show of concern when you’re not really afraid, you’re just kind of calling because we’re all kith and kin and we stay connected.

No, of course I won’t call. That idea went out the window pretty fast, along with the one about the birthday present. It’s not that I have a huge festering anger towards this woman, my sister. Sometimes I do. I can work myself up into it if I want to. But mostly it’s just that I am on a soaring track – and she probably is too – if I just let myself keep soaring and moving, if I just let things be without feeling I must do something because I can do something – what will happen then?

I have thought in this last week – raking leaves, then driving home tonight – of a similar time back in the late 80s when I’d been abroad for almost 5 years, and they didn’t know where I was and I couldn’t tell them, and when I came back I took all of the repair upon myself without question, was convinced – by whom? by what? – that I was a bad person for having disappeared and that it was up to me to bridge the gaps that had grown between me and my sisters.

I wanted to bridge that gap so much that I joined up with their spiritual movement, swallowed it lock, stock and barrel, guru and all – never considering it important that I’d been steadfastly psychologically tortured all those years abroad, that maybe I needed something desperately when I returned to the States, that maybe my sisters weren’t more important than I was.

Not this time. I thought driving home tonight how they have never approached me to hear the story. They like to say I am bad for disappearing into Europe, then disappearing into Woodstock and writing, but they don’t try to cross over. I did. Or maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. It sure felt like I did.

But I’m going to sit still this time. And let things cave in or flourish, whatever they want to do. i


Anonymous said...

Raking leaves is something we learn to do in family settings. Hadn't thopught about that before. This family member, narrator, carries something for this family, by letting things cave in or flourish. She's letting the raked compost of her life so it's work.

Chris Howard said...

I don't have to tell you how brilliant your writing is, that would be redundant. I felt a little bit strange reading this. I haven't quite written the same thing but the insight is identical, and the writing is in the neighborhood, weird.