November 27, 2012

The H Word

Just got into my first holiday 'debate' with my mother. She said something like 'women fought for women's lib and what did it get them? Sexual harassment. Low paying jobs. Women should all just go back into the home.'

My mother is a liberal, a die hard Democrat, so her declaration that women should all just 'return to the home' was jaw dropping news for me. I suddenly imagined her with a flip hairdo, a poodle skirt, and a set of pearls.

"Mom, most women today aren't fulfilled by being a full time homemaker. They want to do something besides attending to their homes. Work full time, go to school, or maybe even take a part time job."

"Well, why? I just don't understand. In the 1950s women all got their hair done twice a week, entertained for their husband's boss, and got a heck of an allowance for managing the house. My mother was well taken care of. Sounds like a good life to me."

"So women in the 1950's were happier? I find that hard to believe." I had watched enough shows to see that every woman of that era carried a martini glass and a bottle of pills while looking out the window to see when 'daddy' returned home.

"Yes. They loved it."

"As women, we have more opportunities than ever. We don't have to stay in the home now, if we don't want to."

"But still, you go to work and the men maul you and act sexually aggressive towards you. Then men get promoted to better jobs just because they are men. What kind of world is that?"

Trying to explain to her that there are now sexual harassment laws, that more women are employed then men, and that women can be anything they want now proved futile.

"So what you are saying is that women are confused by what they want and aren't fulfilled by anything. If they were they would be happy caring for their homes."

I love my mother, I really do, but I was feeling a vein in my head pop. "I'm just saying everyone needs to do what they want to do to find happiness. If that is being a homemaker, they should do that. If its working at Taco Bell, they should do that. If its owning their own company they should do that."

"Don't you consider yourself a homemaker?"

"I write from home, then I turn on my robot vacuum and throw a pot pie in the oven for my husband before he gets home. I'd hardly qualify myself as a homemaker."

She just looked at me like she had won.

I had to ask myself why I cared? I have great respect for homemakers. They do things I could never do. But hearing my mother call me one was unnerving.

Then the epiphany came. She defines herself as a homemaker, and though I love my mother Ive never wanted to be anything like her. I didn't like being cast in the same play.

While I was absorbing this revelation, she continued.

"All I know is that I never wanted to be rich, or famous. I just wanted a home to take care of."

I thought about all the homes we had lived in when I was a kid. All of the eviction notices posted on our doors. She had never really gotten her dream and I felt really sad. I had taken for granted the things she had always wanted: A husband who loved me and a home to take care of. Sure, it wasn't what defined me, but it was mine.

"I'm sorry." I almost said, but I didn't. I walked away to my computer to try and make sense of it all. I didn't like her thinking. I still felt it was dangerous to say all women should do anything. But I  wasn't wearing her lenses.

In her 1950's world - the time of her childhood, before men hurt her and jobs disappointed her and my father died -women were free and cheerful and didnt have to worry. That's what men were for.

She wasn't saying she really wanted that world again. She was just telling me she wanted to feel safe again.

Maybe for Christmas I will buy her a vaccuum, or a broom. And she can clean up the pain of her past as she attends to the orderliness of her present.




November 24, 2012

The Man in the Brown Tweed Suit



From our window we watched him, the man in the brown tweed suit, as he made his way cautiously down the street. His hair was long and grey, whipping about his face with each new gust of wind. His back was stooped, made more evident as he pulled his coat tight against his body. He clung to a wheeled basket which he dragged behind him, overfilled with unknown items tied up in Glad Bags, and stopped at each crack in the sidewalk to hoist it over. He stepped into the fast food restaurant where we were eating and tottered towards the counter. We Wish You a Merry Christmas blared over the intercom.
“Just a ten-cent coffee,” the man said, fishing around in his trouser pocket for some change. “I’ve already eaten too much today.” He patted his belly and smiled at the lady who passed him a small, Styrofoam cup. He made his way towards a booth in the corner, dragging his belongings behind him, nodding at me and my daughter as he passed. He drank slowly, cuffing both hands around his coffee to draw out its warmth. His coat looked thin and I wondered if he had any clothing beneath it.
“That looks like grandpa.” My daughter whispered to me.
 I nibbled on the end of a french fry, wondering how she remembered her grandfather. He had passed away four years ago when she was barely out of diapers. “Yes, honey, he does.” I agreed, watching as the man closed his eyes and seemed to settle into an uncomfortable sleep.
"Is he homeless?" She asked.
 I shrugged, unsure. He was wearing sneakers with his suit, small holes where his toes peeked out. But he seemed clean.  "I doubt it," I said. My daughter was still at the age where she believed that life was fair. That if you worked hard and did what you were supposed to you were guaranteed a happily ever after. Time would take this away from her. I could not. “He looks too kept."
"But he could be, right? He could be without a home."
Memories of my dad flooded me. My father, ashamed by the pantry full of nothing but canned beans in his kitchen. My father, who had lost so much weight because he wouldn’t accept food stamps, that he didn’t have one pair of pants that fit him. My father, who would only go out to lunch with me on the day he received his social security check so he wouldn’t have to ask his daughter to pay.
I took the last bit of my burger and wadded up the wrapper. I should go to this man, I thought. Find out his story. Wake him up and ask, “Excuse me, sir, do you have a home?” Then maybe he would rouse, looking up at me with clouded blue eyes. "I used to," he’d say, "a long time ago." And then his eyes would be somewhere else. Lost in a place with people he loved and home cooked meals and grandchildren crawling on his knee. Or maybe, if the world really was the magical place my daughter believed it was, he would rise, square his jaw, furrow his brow, and say "Here! Here! I am no beggar. I have land, and cattle, and a castle! How dare you mistake me for a vagabond." And he would wheel his cart away.
But I didn’t move. As much as I wanted to prove to my daughter that men who looked like grandfathers all had a warm, safe place to sleep every night, I was afraid. Because if I was wrong I would have to dig through my purse until I found five dollars and clumsily shove it at him so that he could get something in his stomach besides a senior citizen coffee. Or he might look at me in that way my father did. Shamed, accusing eyes that told me I had no business in his affairs.
“I’m sure he’s fine.” I said, driving my daughter home in our brand new Suburban. The back seat was filled with packages we would put under our tree.
“Are you sure, mommy?” She looked at me with wide eyes and upturned nose. In a few days she would be covered in wrappings and ribbons and the man would be forgotten. "Are you really sure?"
“Yes, baby," I said, pulling into our driveway. "I’m sure.”



(by April Aasheim, originally published in Welcome to Wherever,  2012)

November 21, 2012

A Not So Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

When I was a kid I used to look at the old Saturday Evening Post magazines my grandmother kept in her house. I’d spend hours staring at the Norman Rockwell paintings on the covers, wishing my life resembled those pictures.  For a girl like me - one whose family was always in transition – they were glimpses of a normal life. A Perfect life.

The Thanksgiving editions were especially appealing. I’d make up stories about the family that sat around that perfect turkey. The dad was cheerful, employed at an advertising agency. The mother stayed home and baked cookies. The kids got along. Grandpa told stories about the good old days and grandma always had treats in her pocket for her favorite grand kids. In my eleven-year-old heart I believed that when I grew up, I could recreate the scene and have my own perfect holiday.

What follows is the week leading up to this year's attempt:

              Thursday (One Week Before Thanksgiving)

I’m heading to the grocery store with my husband, clenching a sales ad and a handful of coupons. I am on a mission:  if we buy four hundred dollars’ worth of stuff , we ‘win’ a free turkey.  But as the realization that Thanksgiving is less than one week away hits me, I start to hyperventilate.
“I can’t do this,” I tell my husband as he pulls into the grocery store parking lot. It’s hot in the car. Almost balmy.  I roll down the window and suck in big pockets of air.
“Every year you go through this thing of yours…trying to create the perfect holiday. I say relax. Things are only as difficult as you make them.” He almost hits a pedestrian and a cat as he parks. The cat meows and the pedestrian flips him off. He doesn't notice. “Just calm down.”
Calm down? Easy for him to say. He has exactly three jobs during the holidays: Carve the turkey, pick out a tree, and watch TV.
“You’re just anti-holiday.  If it were up to you, the only holidays we’d still be celebrating would be July 4th and Superbowl Sunday.”
“You forgot New Year’s Eve.”
Somehow I'd chosen a husband who hadn't factored into my Normal Rockwell scene. For the time being, I would just have to make do.
              In the parking lot, I spot a woman with a long pony tail, a Santa’s hat, and a bell.
I fumble through my pockets, removing a bobby pin, a button, and a dime. I look helplessly at my husband to see if he has any spare change.

             "You're wanting to give our money away already?" He nods towards my dime. "Just give her that."
 “The poor lady is sitting out here, shivering, and you want me to toss her a dime?” I glance around, hoping there's another entrance. There's not.
“Sorry.” My husband smiles at the woman before I can make my getaway. “We will have to catch you twice next time.” She woman smiles back. I forget how charming my husband can be to females who don't wash his socks.
Inside the store, we pile groceries into our cart, filing every available nook and cranny. Still, it's not enough to win my turkey. My husband wants to check out, whether or not we get free poultry. In a panic, I throw in twelve cans of Spam and a case of split pea soup. 
I grab a turkey, the biggest one, and perch it atop the mountain in our cart. “We’ve made our quota!” I gloat. We pay and head for the exit.

My husband elbows me as we leave. The charmed bell ringer has left her post. In her place stands a little person wearing an eye patch, dressed like one of Santa's elves. He swings his bell in my direction and I shrug helplessly as he appraises my haul. I offer him a can of Spam. He takes it, but his eye shows no signs of twinkling.
“We can never come back here,” I say, racing for the car.
“Sure we can. We just have to wait till January.”
              Friday

I call my family, trying to figure out who is coming for Thanksgiving. Getting a group of people  together for anything is a challenge, especially my family, who like to ‘play it by ear.’ To complicate matters, half of them have changed religions this year (and dietary restrictions) and the other half has converted to veganism. Suddenly, I wish I hadn’t won such a large turkey.
By the end of the day I have the final count. It looks like we are down to: Videogame Boy, Holidays-Are-A-Waste-Of-Money-Girl, and Dude-Who-Just-Wants-To-Watch-Football.
Oh, and my mother.
              Saturday

It’s housecleaning day and I’m surveying my home, inspecting it through the eyes of someone who has never seen it before. I notice things – crooked pictures, hand prints, a beige carpet that used to be white.  How can we live in all this filth? I get out the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and go to town, scrubbing walls until the sponges fall apart. My husband walks by on his hourly pilgrimage to the refrigerator. He sees tears in my eyes and stops to check in. I tell him about the dead Magic Erasers and then send him to the store to get more. He comes back with a six pack and a bag of Cheetos, but no Magic Eraser. I tell him that he doesn’t care about me or family or traditions, because if he did he would have remembered cleaning supplies.
“You’re trying too hard,” he says, but returns to the store.

I stare at the wall, looking at a spot that’s been there for so long I thought it was wallpaper. Maybe he’s right. I almost put away my bucket and gloves but the image of my mother, rearranging my cupboards, pops into my head. If I have to endure one more year  of her telling me that I'll get an infection down there if I don’t properly scrub the bath tub, I’m going to jump into the oven with the turkey.My husband returns, hands me over the box of cleaning pads, and I scrub the walls until the paint chips off.
              Sunday

I’m thinking I should decorate. The house, while clean now, is sparse in the holiday cheer department. I wonder if it would be okay to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving even arrives. The stores do it, so I guess I can too.  
            I start small: a wreath and some holiday hand towels. Hmmm? I add a Santa cookie jar. But these few items aren't enough. It looks like someone sneezed Christmas instead of welcomed it. I bring out the big bins. Soon, I have a living room that rivals Santa's Workshop. I might go blind from all the blinking lights.
“Too much?” I ask my husband.
He pats my head and heads for his man cave.
              Monday

I wake up at four AM, sure I've forgotten something necessary for our big day. I wander around the house for five hours trying to remember what it is. Finally, I decide to go to the store, hoping it will trigger the memory.
The one-eyed bell ringer is there. He catches me in my car. I put my foot to the gas as he wags his bell at me.
“Shit.” I dont have any spare change, or Spam, today.
"Get what you needed?" My husband asks upon my quick return.

"Whateverwas I needed, can wait another day."
             Tuesday

I look in the mirror. I’m pale and my hair is stringy.  I know that someone will be taking pictures and tagging me on Facebook. And now with Instagram…
I rush out and get a spray tan. It’s cold and costs as much as a turkey.  I try to secure an appointment for a haircut. They are booked up through next week. I decide to cut my own bangs - just a little trim. Then a little more. Next, I cut the sides of my hair, adding layers. This isn’t so hard. I consider becoming a cosmetologist.  

By the time my husband gets home, I’ve got a mound of hair in the sink and I’m dual-wielding scissors. “You’re going to be bald if you don’t stop!” He takes the scissors and bans me from the mirror for three hours. When I finally check my reflection again, I see that I look like an Oompa Loompa with a Daryl Hall haircut.  

I take a shower and go shopping for a hat.

              Wednesday
I sleep in. There’s still one more day until Thanksgiving and I'm already exhausted. I’m starting to miss being a kid, when the only stressful thing about the holidays was making sure Santa didn’t catch me on a naughty day.
There was still so much to do: Cooking all that food, displaying it on a perfect table, and making sure that no one kills any body else for the next 48 hours feels insurmountable. Not to mention I need to look up "Holiday Spam and Split Pea Soup Recipes" on Pinterest.
All I want is one perfect day. I don't even have the strength to get there.
I tell my husband who is getting ready for work. He sits on the bed next to me.
“There’s no such thing as perfect. And for the record, those Saturday Evening Post images aren't real.”
“You’re family had perfect,” I argue. I have been to his parent's during the holidays. If Rockwell were still alive, he’d be painting my husband’s family.
“Again, there is no such thing as perfect.” He kisses my forehead and leaves.  But if his family wasn't perfect, whose was? 
I ponder this as I dress, looking out my bedroom window. It’s raining. I stumble down the stairs to my coffee pot, grab a cup, and make my way to the computer to search for Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Images. I locate the famous 'family around the table scene' and stare at it.  
The people in the picture are happy, healthy, and clean. Their hair is combed, their teeth are white, and no one is wearing a Meat is Murder t-shirt.
I look closer. Suddenly, I notice that one person is looking away from the others. And Grandma is doing all the heavy work.
Maybe they werent perfect, after all. Maybe they all just put on their finery, posed, then went back to arguing politics and bad football calls. Somewhere between passing the salt and the dinner rolls, life is bound to happen.

I stare more, transfixed. I re-imagine the scene: Grandpa is worried about his pension. Uncle Pete announces he's leaving Aunt Berta because she whistles in her sleep. And sweet Mary Jane wants to quit school to become a professional mime.

Maybe what Rockwell painted was one perfect second, caught between a myriad of imperfect seconds. Rockwell painted an ideal world, not the real one. He was a dreamer. Like me.
I looked around my now chaotic house. Just yesterday, it was in perfect shape, but today its back to normal. The hand prints on my stainless steel appliances have returned. The dishes are all dirty. And that mysterious spot has reappeared. 

              I sigh and sip my coffee.
I take down some of the decorations, leave the dishes in the sink, and smile at my husband. But I don't let him see it.
            I may not have the perfect house, or family, or life. But I have something better. I have my house, my family, and my life.

          And that really is enough, and possibly more than I can handle on a normal day.

         ***


        April Aasheim is a wife and mother living in Portland, OR. She is the author of the best selling witchy series: The Daughters of Dark Root. Find her on Facebook or at aprilaasheimwriter.com.

November 16, 2012

A Thanksgiving Adventure

     I was determined to host Thanksgiving Dinner that year, though my mother - she of the longest memory - firmly opposed the idea. You send twelve kindergartners to the hospital with a batch of botched brownies and you are branded an unsafe cook for life. But this time would be different. I had been reading books, watching the Food Network, and accumulating twelve pounds of potatoes that needed to be cooked by Thursday, at the latest.

"This Thanksgiving will go down in history!" I informed my husband as I planned the seating arrangements. We had four stools and a high chair, and five grown-up sized diners.

“I don’t mind eating in the living room.” My husband offered.

“Oh, no you don’t. If I have to watch my mother eat yams, so do you.” I checked the decor. The last time we had actually decorated the place was around the time of Lent, three years ago. "We need new place mats," I said, eyeing the plastic Easter Bunny mats that still graced our table.

"We just got those!" My husband gripped his wallet. "Here’s a marker. Color in some feathers and a waddle and no one will ever know.” His eyes darted towards the oven, pausing. "You do realize you’ve never cooked a turkey before?”

"How difficult can it be? It's just a big chicken, right?"

“And you’ve never cooked a chicken either.” He walked away. I caught him on the Internet that night when he thought I was asleep. Researching. There are apparently nine restaurants in our neighborhood that are open on Thanksgiving Day. Two deliver. One even sells something resembling a turkey, plus or minus a few key parts.

Filthy traitor.

That a boy, husband. Way to sap my holiday enthusiasm.

Still, as crazy as it sounded, he could be right. I had never cooked a chicken, a hen, or any other member of the fowl family. The closest I had come was reheating a bucket of chicken from the KFC, and even that turned out disastrous. They should put warning labels on those paper buckets: highly flammable.

Reluctantly, I sought out the wisdom of my mother.

"I had hoped you would have changed your mind and let me handle dinner, April.” My mother had always ‘done’ dinner and had a hard time letting go. “How were you thinking of preparing the bird?"

"I’m brining it."

"Brining?" My mother’s voice wavered. She had the same tone the year in Junior High when my softball coach asked if he could take me camping. "Do you even know what brining is?"

Honestly, I hadn’t a clue. I had read about it in a magazine while I was in the Supercuts. Unfortunately, I had only read the part that said Want to start a new Thanksgiving tradition? Try brining your turkey this year, before the stylist called me to the chair.

"It’s our new Thanksgiving tradition," I explained.

There was a long pause over the phone, followed by my mother uttering a Catholic prayer. My mother isn’t Catholic.

"Please, honey. Find a recipe. There are a million of them out there."

As always, she was right. I googled Turkey recipes and almost instantly, found the perfect one. I called my mother and gave her the news.

"Guess what? I’ve got a recipe!"

"I'm so glad.” My mother sighed into the phone. “What spices does it call for? Rosemary? Sage? Thyme?"

I blinked as I tried to recall where I had heard those words before. Weren't they the gifts from the three wise men? That seemed almost heretical. I shook my head, glancing at my six-gallon bottle of Season All purchased from a recent Costco expedition. “Don’t worry mom. I’ve got it all under control.”

My mother hedged. "Would you like me to at least make the stuffing? I can have it ready in the morning before you stuff the bird."

"Stuffing the bird is not on the recipe.” I checked my meticulously written note card hanging on the refrigerator door: Defrost turkey for two hours...bake for four.

Any variation and I risked disaster.

“Okay,” she said, but I could tell she wasn’t done yet.  “Can I at least bring the pies?”

“Sure mom. I couldn’t find any pie recipes that didn’t require hours of dough rolling and ingredient mixing. Pie duty is all yours.”

Thanksgiving Day I woke up at the crack of ten to begin my long reign as culinary queen. Of course, a good cook is a happy cook so I spent the first few hours of my morning watching reruns of Real Housewives of Atlanta. They were airing a holiday episode and I wanted to get properly ‘in the spirit’.  At noon my mother called to ask how dinner was progressing.

"Fine”, I told her absently. Someone was pulling out someone else’s hair extensions on TV. Shit was getting real. “I’ve got it all under control.”

“You sure. I can come by. I don’t mind.”

Sigh!

My mother is from a different generation. In her day you got up at four in the morning, baked, chopped, basted, broiled, and basically worked your patooty off for a meal that was consumed in under seven minutes. I however, am a modern woman with gadgets and gizmos my poor misguided mother had never seen. Such as a DVR. So I finished Real Housewives and watched three episodes of The Big Bang Theory. All was going according to plan.

At 2 PM I removed the turkey from the freezer and let it sit on the counter to thaw and poured myself a glass of wine.

"Mom, turkey's still frozen." My son reported. It was 4:30 and I had put him on Turkey watch duty. I went into the kitchen and knocked on it. Solid as a rock.

"Put it in the microwave for an hour," I said. Lucky for us I had made the executive decision last year to buy an industrial sized microwave. My foresight was paying off and I intended to brag to my husband about it the second he emerged from his man cave.  

Sixty minutes later I heard the microwave ding and I plodded into the kitchen. It was time to bake that bird. But the microwave had done more than defrost the turkey. It had aged it. The skin was yellowed and cracked, bunched up and broken. It looked about half the size coming out of the microwave as it did going in.

"This thing okay to eat?" My husband asked sticking a fork in it. “I think it’s burned on the outside and still frozen on the inside.”

"That's how all turkeys look before you bake them. If you helped out more around the house, you'd know that little piece of trivia, wouldn't you?"

“All I know is that is not the way the turkeys my mom cooked looked.”

He was lucky I didn’t beat him with a drumstick.

I handed him a turkey bag, a large plastic sack that guaranteed our turkey would come out moist and delicious. He opened it and I dumped in the bird.

Thwak!

That is the sound a turkey makes when it falls through a turkey bag and onto the floor. Additionally, fliffttthhhh is the sound it makes when it slides across that same floor, knocking over unsuspecting family members along the way.

"Catch it!" I cried. My dogs had entered the room and were circling like bandits around a wagon train. The only thing that kept them at bay was their inability to reconcile the smell of turkey with the shriveled thing slithering across the floor. My husband hurdled the chairs and seized the bird just as three canine jaws snapped shut behind it.

“I knew I should have played sports in high school,” he said, handing me over the turkey and rubbing his shoulders.

Before anything else could go wrong I shoved the turkey in the oven - sans bag - and turned the dial to 450 degrees. The temperature was a little higher than what the recipe called for, but my parents would be here soon and we didn’t have time to wait. I suppose I should have preheated the oven, but I had already strayed dangerously away from the recipe. I was close to going rogue.

“I did all the hard work,” I said to my husband and son as I opened a can of Cranberry sauce. “You gentlemen can take it from here.”

With that, I went to pick up my vehicularly-impaired parents. The roads were dark and still. The fog swallowed up the flickering Christmas lights from the lights on neighboring houses. The only sound came from my father, who yelled at me to slow down as we approached dizzying speeds of seven-miles-per hour.

When we finally arrived, it hit me: I was a bad, bad daughter.

Holidays had always been important to my family, especially my mother. No matter how many recessions, lost jobs, or tragic family events that occurred, she had always made sure that holidays were special. She had cooked, baked, sliced, diced, and cried in order for us to celebrate together, something I never fully appreciated until now. I had taken this day from from her- demanded it actually – and thought I could replicate what she did with a few modern conveniences and some prepackaged stuffing.

As my parents climbed the stairs to my front door I wanted to warn them, apologize for what would come: Franken-turkey, canned yams, and lumpy gravy from a jar. But they seemed so happy there, holding their pies, buzzing about Black Friday sales and what Santa might bring their grand kids. So I said nothing. I wouldn’t take this moment from them. It would be like the Grinch announcing to Cindy-Loo Who that he was stealing Christmas. Better to just let the Who’s sleep for now. They would find out soon enough.

We walked through the front door and I was greeted by something I hadn’t expected: the sights and sounds of the holidays. My husband had lit pine-scented candles and decorated the tree and my son was dancing to Christmas music from an old Bing Crosby CD. Store bought cookies sat on a silver tray on the coffee table and my dad reached for one, and then another. My dogs greeted my parents with loving licks, almost knocking the pies out of mother’s hands. The house wasn’t filled with the traditional Thanksgiving sights and sounds and smells, but it didn’t matter. It was the holidays and there was a certain magic that couldn’t be undone by a shriveled turkey and a lazy cook.

I still remember that Thanksgiving fondly, even though the food was so bad we spent most of the evening joking about it, threatening to send it to our enemies during times of war to weaken their morale. We made up for it by playing games, making wishes, and sharing jibes the way that only families do. That fourth Thursday in November the world was filled with potential and unlimited possibilities. And innocence.

 *

It was the last Thanksgiving I had with my dad; He passed the following spring. Poor guy. His last Thanksgiving and I nearly poisoned him. I’d eat that horrible, wretched turkey every evening for the rest of my life to have that night back. I’m sure my mother would too.

I’ve given my mother back her cooking torch. It makes her happy and keeps her busy. As for me, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: everyone has a talent and a passion and we should all focus on what we love to do.  I stay out of the kitchen now, unless I’m asked to help (rarely) and do what I do best: live life, observe the world, attempt to find some meaning in it, and record it.  

 

November 11, 2012

John Says Goodbye (Excerpt: The Universe is a Very Big Place)





       John stood in front of his pickup truck, all his earthly belongings tied up in the truck bed under an old tarp. Before him stood his family and friends––the majority of the community––all of whom had come to say goodbye and to wish him luck in his new life.


"I can’t believe you’re going," said his mother, grabbing hold of him, her press-on nails digging into his back. Tears ran down her cheeks, etching rivers through her pancake makeup. Standing there before him John realized what a tiny woman she was and he was surprised he had never noticed. She always seemed so big, strong and capable, but as he hugged her goodbye he realized she wasn’t Superwoman after all.

"It’s not forever, Mom," he said, standing back to look at her. He could see the roots of her hair, grey with the beginnings of grow-out. She spent two Fridays a month at the Samson Beauty Parlor to maintain her natural color, but time was winning the war on her head and it would have horrified her to know.

"I got you a present," his mom whispered in his ear. She presented him with a package wrapped in pink and purple paper, probably left over from his niece’s birthday party last week. His mom, a proud Scotch-Irish woman, wasted nothing. No wrapping paper, bow, or even tape was discarded. Each was placed in an old shoe box ready to serve again at a moment’s notice. His family had been recycling long before it was fashionable.

"Open it now," his auntie called out from somewhere in the crowd, and his brothers elbowed each other good-naturedly. They were obviously privy to the contents of the package. John smiled and nodded, turning his head away from the sun.

"Ah, thanks, Mom. I can never have too many pairs of underwear." John waved the stack of white Fruit-of-the-Looms in the air, bringing laughter from younger members of the crowd and nods of approval from the elders. His mother squeezed his arm.

"That’s so in case you get in a car wreck you will always have clean underpants. Read them," she instructed, hiding her mouth behind her hand so that John wouldn’t notice her bottom lip tremble. John flipped the pair on top. On the back were the words John Smith delicately embroidered in cursive scrawl. "Me-ma did those for you last week," said his mother, nodding to his grandmother in the front row. "Even though she has the arthritis."

John walked towards his grandmother and gave her a long hug goodbye. She broke free and saluted him, assuming he was off to war because that was the only reason anyone ever left Samson. Generations of Samson men had died for the Red, White, and Blue and his grandmother lovingly sacrificed every one of them because that was the cost of freedom. John saluted her back and then he went to each family member and friend, shaking the hands of the men and hugging the women.

"Remember," said his grandfather. "Buy American, vote Democrat, and don’t wear colored bandanas or people will think you’re in a gang."

John nodded and grasped his grandfather’s hand firmly, feeling the heavy veins in the man’s thin arm. "I won’t forget."

John made it through the crowd, doing his best not to cry. Midwest men did not cry. When he had finished his goodbyes he made his way to his truck and watched as his mother turned away. She had said she couldn’t watch him leave. He waved once more and then drove, refusing to look back in case he changed his mind. It wasn’t until three hours later at a rest stop that he saw the card on the passenger seat.

 
Dear John,

You are a good boy. Losing you is like losing my arm. But if you really love something (or someone) set them free. And so I am. Follow your heart. I hope you find your adventure.

Mom.

November 8, 2012

My Mom's Coming to Visit

My mom's coming to stay with me for an entire month over the holidays. She is set to arrive, twelve suitcases in hand, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and stay until the Friday after Christmas.This will be the longest she has stayed with me and I'm a bit nervous. Hoping my brother will take her for a few days now and again, maybe like a library check out system. If not, it's going to be an interesting month for me.

As a writer I'm a solitary person during the day. I get up, slog to the computer, peck out a few thousand words, eat cereal by the handful straight from the box (I have a special talent I can pick out the pink hearts from the Lucky Charms without even looking), brush my teeth, and repeat the process again at lunch. Having my mother here - she who processes every thought she has out loud - is going to be a challenge.

"April, do you know where I put my coffee?" "April, do you ever watch Bones?" "April, you should really dress more like the girl on Numbers. She has your personality and shape."

I'm going to have to find a different spot to write. To read. To exercise. To think. My house is not that big and there may be little reprieve for me. She settles in, roosts, swallowing up the entire room with her presence. Worst of all, she hogs the video games.

Still, I wouldn't change it for the world. I miss my mom. Some way, somehow, she has become one of my best friends. It will be worth the constant updates on Murder She Wrote reruns, the declarations about how much better we were in the 1950s, and the TV blasting at sonic boom levels just to have her here.

Mothers are interesting. You love them. Resent them. Move away from them. Come back to them. Seek comfort and wisdom from them, then tell them to stay the hell out of your life.

And my mother, with her tarot cards, neon red hair, penchant for losing things, and a heart of gold, is the most interesting mother of them all. I'm a lucky woman.