I sit at the computer desk with its gauzy view out of the windows through the white sheers that hang there. The world looks softer and maybe the sheers will hide all the tasks that need doing. I can block them out and just think, and try to write.
Not that I can really forget them, because Mother keeps a list and she never forgets. She forgets, at 85 that I did buy sugar and filled the large canister at the back of the counter. In fact, when I got home from the writing workshop last night, she looked at me with that piercing look and said,
“I thought you were going to buy sugar?”
“I did.” I said, “Remember, you stood right there when I filled the large canister?”
“Oh.” That look of puzzled defiance she gets when she’s sure of something and I’m sure of just the opposite, “Well,” she said, “I used the sugar in the small Sugar canister. I had to ration how much I put in the apples I cooked to put up in the freezer.”
The apples arrived on the front porch yesterday morning in a plastic grocery bag. From one of the neighbors across the street? Probably. We take them some of our excess and they share their’s with us.
The cooked apples were still in the pan. Sitting on top of the stove. I taste them and say, “They’re perfect. The ones you made last time were too sweet for me.”
That gets Mother out of her padded chair in the dining room, in front of the TV, and she heads for the kitchen. Her footed cane is where she left in the kitchen. She probably had something in both hands when she left the kitchen for the dining room.
I meet her halfway with the cane and she comes to taste the apples, too. We agree they are delicious and I tell her that it’s nice living with someone who cooks these tasty things.
So, now she’s happy. I’m back home and appreciating her hard labor. And it is hard labor for her. It’s hard for her to stand with her scoliosis and she tires easily.
But does she forget the things she wants done? Of course not. And that list just doesn’t ever seem to get any smaller.
Wash the windows. Prune the grape vines. Soak the vegetable garden. Weed the vegetable garden. Water the newly planted apple tree. And why is that round spot in the back yard looking dead when everything else looks green? Did you find some chives seeds? Did you water that new flower that you planted?
And on, and on, and on.
She loved working in the gardens. So did Daddy. He did all the big tasks and even collected up the weeds she picked out of the gardens. They took pride in their yard and loved growing fruits and vegetables and flowers. With her curved back she really can’t do that anymore. Oh, she tries and then is in pain and we head off to the chiropractor.
I never thought I’d be Farmer Dean. Dirt on my hands? No way. But, I came back because they were both sick and when Daddy was dying, I told him I’d be here for Mother. He always said he would live forever and bury all of us so it was hard on him to let go when Mother was still here. But, I think he took comfort knowing I would be here. I could see him relax at the end when I said I’d stay.
Of course, at that point I had no idea I’d take his place in doing the outside work, but Mother and her lists! The only way to keep her somewhat mollified is to work on the items on the list. And which is more important? All the inside tasks or the outside tasks? It’s the stress of juggling of all the things that have to fit into each day’s schedule that threatens to take me to the brink of losing it.
There’s a lot to do outside. Grapefruit, peaches, nectarines, apricots, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, grapes. All I can say, is, thank you, God, that the apricot tree is huge and getting old and the crop is far less than it was in the last thirty years that Mother and Daddy picked and froze and canned and gave away and ate until they thought they might pop.
A small crop from any of the trees or grapevines or the vegetable garden is just fine with me, because I get to do all the heavy lifting; which actually isn’t nearly as hard as listening to Mother worry about what she will do with all the fruit and how disappointed she is that the crop is so small and why did we only get a few squash on the vine, and on, and on, and on.
This year she wanted herbs, so of to the nursery we went and I had to find time to get all the plants and seeds in the gardens. Now, each evening before dinner, we’re picking lettuce, arugula, chives, dill, cilantro and nasturtiums for the table.
And the flowers. The California Poppies, the Evening Primrose and the Bougainvillea, I love those. The huge camellia outside my bedroom window covered with perfect pink blooms. And the geraniums and the Gerbera daisies and the chocolate mint that I just found at the nursery and planted. Yum!
I guess the joke’s on me, because after three plus years of working in the gardens, watering, convincing Mother she really could afford and should get, a sprinkler system, I find myself enjoying the digging and the work and the fruits of the labor.
So, yes, the joke is on me, God. I thought I was just here to ease Mother’s last years and I’m the one whose roots are getting stretched and planted in new soil. Thank you that I’m here, God, and that you can give me ears to listen to the lists and not go mad. I feel you smiling, God.