I let a squirt of Purell cover my palms, punch in the passcode to open the locked ward door, and let myself in. An aide is loudly calling bingo numbers, competing with the din of the Boston Philharmonic on the television. My mother is not among the residents in the lounge. I find her in her room, in her bed, as usual. When I wake her up, she is so excited to see me and more excited that I’ve brought a jelly donut.
I answer her questions about who I married, what I do for a living, where I live, and how many children I have. I check all her drawers and her walker basket for stolen contraband – dishes, napkins, utensils, other people’s greeting cards. I get her out of bed and we walk to the dining room where I sneak the stolen items into the sink. We sit at a table and eat our donuts.
I am entering a writing contest, I tell her.
“Oh, are you?”
“What should I write about?”
“Whatever you want to write about. What do you like to write about?”
“I like to write humorous pieces, like Erma Bombeck.”
“I don’t think I know her.”
I brush the crumbs from her chest. “This is a contest sponsored by a group devoted to Ernest Hemingway.”
“I don’t think I know him.”
“You do. When I read him in high school we talked about his books.”
“I knew him in high school? I don’t remember.”
We sit quietly.
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m trying to be a writer.”
“Have I read your work?”
“You must be good.”
“You have to say that, you’re my mother.”
Pain and confusion cross her face. “I must have been a terrible mother.” Her chin trembles. “Why didn’t my mother tell me I had children? I would have taken care of you if I’d known about you.”
“Mom, shhh, it’s OK. You were a wonderful mother. I’m here to take care of you because you were a wonderful mother.”
Mom’s shaking her head, muttering, “I don’t understand this. Why didn’t my mother tell me? How did this happen?”
I need to redirect. “Look at your fingernails. What a pretty color!” We spend a few moments admiring each other’s manicures, leaving the issue of motherhood in the immediate forgotten past.
I get up and go into the kitchen to throw away our garbage and get a wet paper towel to wash my mother’s hands. When I sit down, she is so excited to see me. “When did you get here?”
“Just now. I couldn’t wait to see you.”
“What have you been up to?”
I tell her about work, about my family, and I mention again that I’m entering a writing contest.
“What should I write about?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“What would you read about?”
“Life. This life.”
I pat her soft cool hands, squeezing the bony fingers gently.
“That’s just what I’ll do.”
Bittersweet are your words!!! Your love for your mom runs so deep! Huggs to both of you! Good luck with your contest!!!! Never stop writing😘
I read this in today’s Sunday Shorts. It brought tears to my eyes that are still stinging. It was so sweet. What was moving to me was how kind and patient you were with your mom and how upset she was that she thought she’d neglected you and you assured her she hadn’t, that she was a good mom.