“Why are you picking on your Mother?” my friend picks up her keys and walks out the door.
“Picking on her?” I follow her and lock the office door, “Am I? It’s just that she says things that make me feel five years old,” I unlock my car, “I guess she pushes my buttons.”
I thread through the side streets and on the freeway, merging with the headlights that fill the five lanes headed up the hill.
Picking on her? What about picking on me? Telling me how to do laundry, how to clean, when to clean, when to vacuum, telling me I’m late, arguing the opposite view of any thing I say, telling me to wash the windows, water the garden, clean the bird bath, bring in the hummingbird feeder and refill it. Always giving instructions. Telling me what to do.
Refusing to be helped when I give suggestions for things to do that will make her feel better.
“Am I picking on her, God?” I’m embarrassed my friend thinks so. Does Mother think so? I hit the top of the hill and join in the flow of tail lights and headlights streaming in all directions, but what I see is Mother. Unable to do any household chores or drive or shop. I’m struck by a new thought. Just what is so wrong with her verbalizing all the things she’s done in her eighty-six years of dealing with life?
I see me. That five-year old, the pre-teen, that teenager who was told how to clean and when to go to bed and when to get up and how to live. But I’m not that kid anymore. So why am I acting like one?
And just like that, the kid is gone and in her place is an adult doing the job of making sure her Mother can stay in her home. Through the windshield, off in the western horizon, a small sliver of sundown colors the night sky and as it fades to black, the irritation, the anger, the frustration, the futility of arguing with Mother, the impossibility of changing her, they fade along with it. I’ve been trying to fix her. To make her happy.
Not. My. Job.
The relief is bright and free. I exhale.
As the days continue, it feels fragile, this new sense of happiness and joy. I move about the tasks, testing how I feel. I open the hot oven door and stand back. The first blast from the oven is expended into the kitchen and I heft the roaster pan off the counter, move in front of the oven and lean over to put the 18 lb, stuffed turkey sitting in a bath of chicken broth into the oven.
“Wow,” my knees bent, I half straddle the oven door, “how did Daddy lift this thing every year?”
“Don’t burn yourself,” Mother adds water to the boiling pot on the stove top, then adds the turkey neck, liver and gizzard.
“The roaster pan is cold, Mother,” I take inventory of my internal temperature, “so it’s not too likely I will burn myself,” all is calm. No rising ire.
My lower back creaks in protest, “That could put the back out of whack,” I straighten up and close the oven door.
“I’m sorry it’s so heavy,” Mother adjusts the stove top temperature on the pan that is boiling giblets for her gravy.
I whistle a Christmas carol, collect dirty dishes, pick up a spoon, and head for the sink. Still no rising ire. Just joy and happiness. I feel free.
The phone rings several times and Mother speaks with all her kids on Thanksgiving Day. She’s pleased. She and I work in tandem putting the finishing touches on the turkey, the dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce. The dining room table is covered with food and we’re ready to eat. Just the two of us.
Not lonely but surrounded by the wisps of all the yesteryear Thanksgivings. Wisps of when we kids were small. Wisps of the expanding family. Wisps of those who once celebrated with us but are no more. They are here in this joy, and in this warm feeling of being at home, cocooned against the cold, outside world. And the wisps of old feelings, old burdens, old habits float higher until they pass through the ceiling and are gone. I’m left with joy. I’m home for Thanksgiving. Thank you, God.