It was with more than a little trepidation that I slid into the front seat of my brother’s truck for the ride from my hotel to my mother’s house. I was in Fargo, North Dakota as part of a ten-day adventure to visit family and friends in the Midwest, and my daughter Angela was accompanying me on my journey back to my homeland. One of the goals of this trip was to say hello to my mother, or at least knock on her door in an attempt to find out if she was interested in talking to me. We had not spoken for eight years, and during that time I had published a book about my life and my childhood experiences on the farm on which I was raised. I assumed that she was not happy about the contents of my memoir, and so I expected that she may not answer the door, or perhaps she would slam it in my face. I had braced myself emotionally and mentally for either of those outcomes. What I had not prepared myself for were the events that would actually unfold.
My brother Frank also lives in Fargo, and he graciously offered to assist me in making the connection with my mother, by placing a telephone call to her to confirm that she was home. He asked my mother if he could stop over to take a look at something on her car, and I heard him tell her to make sure she was up and dressed. He said nothing to mom about me being in town.
My brother picked up my daughter and I at our hotel, and we made the short trip to my mother’s house. When we arrived, I exited his truck and stood in the driveway by the vehicle’s open door. My brother walked up to our mother’s front door and knocked on it. I saw it swing open, yet I did not immediately see my mother, as she remained inside. I heard him say to her “You won’t believe what the cat has drug in!” My mother stepped out, looked over at the truck, and then at me. A look of anguish came over her face, and I saw she was, to put it mildly, shocked. She hesitated for a moment, and then she proceeded down the sidewalk.
As the contorted look on her face started to gradually fade away, I focused more clearly on the 86-year-old woman walking towards me. I was struck at how much weight she had lost since I had last seen her, and the degree to which her face had aged. On the other hand, she was maneuvering quite well down the sidewalk towards me, so I was confused that this woman, with her life experiences now literally etched on her face, had maintained her physical health. This was all a bit disconcerting to me, and I was trying to take it all in as she approached the truck.
She stood directly in front of me, looking me squarely in eyes, making no further movement. I took the initiative to make the first move, and I reached over and put my arms around her and hugged her. Then I said something that I do not ever remember saying to her – “I love you, Mom.” She reacted to neither the hug nor my words, and I released my hold.
At that moment, Angela got out of the truck, and my mother went over to her, and gave her a hug. Obviously still flustered, she said “Well, I guess we should go inside.”
We all proceeded to enter her small condominium and Angela and I took our seats on the couch and she sat in her recliner. My brother then surprised me by saying, “You know, I have some errands to do, so I will pick you up in a couple of hours.” I was stunned at his words, and at first I was a little miffed. Then I reminded myself that it was me that wanted this experience, and I settled into our visit, leaving myself open to whatever was about to occur.
My mother was very talkative, and much of the conversation revolved around her life and what she was doing. She brought me up to date on what was happening with the relatives, her friends and the church. She spoke to Angela, and I paid attention as they engaged in conversation. For my part, I listened to my mother, and I answered any questions she posed to me. Our conversation was cordial and light, and we did not talk about the past, nor was any mention made of my book.
My mother stated that she was getting her affairs in order, and I commented that it was always good to have things set up the way you want them to be. I could tell from her comments that she has reached a point in life where she is divesting herself of her personal possessions. She offered me a box of old photographs that she had collected over the years, and I accepted them as graciously as I could, and said I would go through them when I got back to California. She asked Angela to pick out some teacups and saucers from her collection in the dining room china cabinet, as a remembrance of her. Angela chose two that appealed to her, and my mother was delighted when my daughter told her she was going to put them beside the vases she received from her other grandmother.
Then my mother asked me to pick out two sets of cups and saucers for myself. Almost instantly, the little three-year old girl still inside of me started to tell me she did not want anything from this person! So, in an attempt to appease that child-like part of myself, I declined the tea cups and gave my mother the excuse that they were fragile, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get them back home safely on the plane. I watched my mother’s lighthearted expression change when I made that comment. At that moment, a piece of advice that I am accustomed to giving others came into my consciousness, and it immediately altered my thinking and the mood. I heard my mind silently speaking to me as it said “It is better to make the choice to be kind, instead of always needing to be right.” My mother was offering me a gift, and if I was going to walk my talk, I needed to take the higher road of gratitude and acceptance.
I selected two sets of pastel cups and saucers, each decorated with the variety of a flower that you would find in a Midwest garden. As I held them up to look more closely at each one, I noticed how delicate they were. I also chuckled to myself as I wondered how long it had been, since the age of Starbucks and Coffee Bean, that anyone had used a saucer. I thought about the hundreds of cups of coffee they held and the various people who had enjoyed the porcelain decorations. As I examined them, I realized that they had held their beauty, even when most people would no longer consider them useful. A lot like we treat people, I thought!
My brother returned, two hours later, and suggested we all go out to dinner (they call it supper in the Midwest!). My mother was delighted to be asked, so we journeyed off to their favorite barbecue rib place, where I ate way too much food!
We drove back to my mother’s condo to drop her off after dinner, and I got out of the truck to walk her up the pathway, and make sure she got the front door unlocked and opened. As she was about to go in, I wrapped my arms around her and once again said “No matter what happened, I love you Mom.” She was silent, although she hugged me back.
And then, as I was walking down the sidewalk towards my brother’s truck, I heard my Mother’s voice calling out after me. “Marion,” she said, “This was a great day.”
For a split second, I thought about responding, yet my instincts told me to stay silent, for everything that needed to be said has been said. I turned around, smiled and waved goodbye.
I sat in silence in the front seat of the truck as my brother drove us to the hotel, and I pondered what has just transpired. I thought about my mother and her last comment. Before this trip, I was pretty sure my mother was wrong about anything of importance. My thinking was altered during this visit, as I now knew she was right about at least one thing.
Indeed, it was a great day!