I opened my cupboard today and had my storage bowls falling out at me. I couldn’t find the jelly for my husband’s toast this morning. I was going to make garlic bread and my garlic press was missing. My cork screw was in with my serving utensils and my paper towels were MIA.
I stood in the middle of my kitchen, my eyes closed as I silently counted to ten, and my hands clenched. When I opened my eyes, my husband was standing in front of me with a gentle smile on his face. “Babe, do you remember when the kids were little and the three little words that made us cringe the most was, ‘Mommy I help’ or ‘Daddy I help’?” I just stood and looked at him.
“We always let them help. We smiled and showed them the right way. And as soon as they tired of ‘helping’ we cleaned up the mess and did the job we originally started out doing.”
I nodded. “I remember.”
“Mom is 90.” He put his arm around my shoulder and looked me in the eye. He kissed my forehead and went back downstairs.
I thought about what he said. My mother is a vibrant 90 year old woman. She can run circles around most 70 year olds. She looks like she’s 70, but acts like she’s 60. However, her mental processes are getting a little slow. She loves to help me cook and we work well together. She gets a little confused sometimes when she’s putting things away, or when she puts something on the stove and forgets it’s there, or doesn’t turn it on.
Now don’t get me wrong, she’s sharp as a tack and has the memory of an elephant. At least when it comes to the past.
Last week she started to talk about her old boyfriend. “You know. The one I was engaged to when Daddy came home from the war and he decided I was marrying him instead?”
“No, Mama. I don’t know him.”
“But you must. He went to school with me.”
I kissed her cheek and went back to the dishes. “Mama. I wasn’t born yet.”
“That’s right.” She slapped her forehead. “Stupid me.”
“Not stupid, Mama. You just get a little confused sometimes.” She hugged me and told me she didn’t know what she would do without me. I have five brothers and sisters, yet she couldn’t do without me.
We often sit at the breakfast table and she’ll start telling my husband and I about something that happened with her and Dad. We’ve now heard the stories hundreds of times, and they are always the same, but it makes her so happy when she talks about the old days. “You know, Daddy and I would be married 70 years this October.”
“Yep. I remember.”
She smiled and called me a smart ass.
I think my favorite is when she talks to someone who is close to her age and she refers to me as, “You remember Aunt Sherry. Don’t you?”
“Mom. The man is old enough to be my uncle. I’m not his aunt.”
“You know what I mean.” She gets angry and huffs away from me.
Sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I get worried. And sometimes I get sad. This is the beautiful woman who raised me, nurtured me, and taught me morals. I helped her cook and clean and she cleaned up and did it right when I tired. I did the same with my children grandchildren.
Now the roles are reversed. I am now being the one cringing when she says, “Sis, I’ll help.” But I accept the help and if anything goes awry, I fix it when she gets tired. I smile while we are working together because I so enjoy her company and friendship and I can momentarily dismiss the thought that this means more work for me.
Sometimes at night, she’ll be laying in her bed, and we’ll hear the song, ‘I’ll be seeing you.’ drifting through the walls. I’ll knock and go in and she is staring at the picture of my dad and she’ll have tears in her eyes. “I’m having a hard time picturing us together sometimes.” I’ll hug her and we’ll cry together.
I sat down the other day. I was going through some old pictures she had in a box under her bed. I found some of she and Dad when they were young and then when they were older. I made a collage, framed it and put it on her bureau. When her face lit up, I saw the beautiful woman my dad must have seen when he came home from WWII and announced to her family that she was going to marry him next month.
It took him six weeks.
I will cherish the moments when we talk of the past. They go past way too quickly. I love you Mama and Daddy.