Posted Monday, March 12th, 2007
Who Is Going To Do This For You?
My mother could have been the Secretary of Defense and the Commander of the Armed Services at the same time. She was never in the military and never held a job, but she was always in charge of everything.
When I brought her, not to live with me but to live nearby in a retirement community, we agreed that I would organize our social outings. We would go to all the good restaurants in the county, in three counties in fact, and she would pay for the meals.
We were sitting in an elegant restaurant one evening when she asked, "Do you think it's significant that neither you nor your brother has ever married or had children?"
For a long moment my breath didn't come. Moved by the weight of the question and the compassion it both wanted to hide and wanted to show, I demurred, "You know Bernie," — she insisted when we were babies that we call her by her name and *never* 'Mom.' She said it would date her — "We are both free spirits."
Eric and I grew up in the disarray of one developing foreign country after another and were sent to boarding schools in Switzerland at ten. We traveled through China and Afghanistan and Iran and the Soviet Union with our parents on their perpetual travels. My father worked in economic development and my mother always accompanied him, even when she didn't want to. She was his handmaiden, his solace, and his secretary. She arranged and managed every detail of all of our lives.
When I applied for college in the States, Grinnell thought they were getting a French school girl. I do speak French, or did, and I arrived, with my Norwegian name, speaking perfect American English, and staking out the territory that would become mine, both in academics and at the bridge table. For my brother it was the same. He came in at the top of his class and left college to become a high-powered broker in a small city. After a long career in government, I now work in a rural region as a horticulturalist and a potter. I remodeled my house when I turned sixty and built myself a studio the size of a two-car garage, and I did it during the growing season when I work flat out. My pots have won awards and are in private collections. Eric and I never talk about the past, or the present for that matter. When he comes to visit our mother, he arrives late, stays only one night and leaves early. Watching him scurry away reminds me of all the things we have avoided sharing, memories that barely coincide, left behind in Burma and Pakistan, and the longing to see these places again, in case there is something there still, velvet, dreamlike.
Bernie took a piece of bread from the basket and dipped it in the olive oil on the table. She took a sip of wine and asked, "Who is going to do this for you?"
When my father died and I brought her here from Mexico, I thought it would trigger something, a conversation, something more than a question laced with regret and, I thought at the time, reproach.
Now that she's dying, I can see that parents, like lovers, can't give what they don't have. Order is the only thing that can be made from chaos when meaning can't yet be discerned. I have made her comfortable and I'm waiting. Eric is out of the country on vacation. When he gets back, we must talk about this… about who is going to do this for us.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by Bonnie ZoBell on Sunday, March 18th, 2007 at 3:49 PM
Beautiful story, Margot
Posted by Donia Carey on Monday, April 2nd, 2007 at 11:20 AM
Lovely story. You've touched on so many of life's important issues, including families, things unsaid, and death ("...who is going to do this fo us?")