Lunch With Mom
I took my mother to lunch the other day. I take her to lunch every Monday and Friday. We go to Bob Evans, not because I like the food but because she does, and because they all know that she is ninety and doesn’t really have the ability to understand much. When we get to Bob Evans she often gets a hug from Mary the Buser. They know us. After four years of most Mondays and Fridays, you learn a lot about a restaurant. I tip well. The staff, which is mostly working class women, is appreciative of the tips, but they seem more impressed by the fact that I conduct this ritual.
I’d just as soon not. Conversations with my mother are difficult. She says, “It’s something!” which I believe, based on last year when we could sort of have conversations, refers to the bustle of the restaurant. We’ve had to wait for a seat, which isn’t normal. The dining room is loud with conversation.
“They’re busy, aren’t they,” I say.
“Before it was regular,” she says, “and it was fine. But they changed it all. But they still like it!” She laughs.
While we wait for our meal she will carefully unwrap her silverware and then array it on the napkin. Cindy or Meredith or Mel or Chris brings her a pot of tea and a cup. I put the teabag in the teapot and give her a packet of sugar, because sometimes she salts her tea if I forget. She rearranges the mug, the spoon, her silverware, puts her napkin in her lap. Then she moves the knife and the fork to the other side, moves the teapot (one of those little metal restaurant pots) over by the knife.
“Is yours a combination of those, too?” she asks me and gestures towards my iced tea.
I don’t know what this is about so I just nod agreeably. If I ask her something like, “My what?” Or, “Combination of what?” she will gamely attempt to respond but neither she nor I will have a clue what she is talking about.
Recently we went to Applebee’s because she had a doctor’s appointment nearby. I bought her a beer, which she liked very much.
“Did you like your beer?” I asked.
“It’s not b-, it’s good, but not beer.”
“It’s beer,” I said.
“Is it?” she asked, clearly astonished. “I thought it was chicken!”
Nouns fail her. She mixes up colors and forgets the word for snow.
The wait staff thinks I am a great daughter because I bring her to Bob Evans. But there are issues I don’t face, like, all her clothes are wearing out. But she only wears blue, and she only likes polyester blouses of a certain type that were available in the 80’s. Rigorously tailored for office wear (she was a secretary.) I’ve looked in used clothing shops, but I suspect I would have to haunt them and I don’t like resale shops. If I buy her something, since she doesn’t recognize it, she thinks that it belongs to someone else and has been hung in her closet by mistake. So her cuffs are frayed and her clothes have stains. At the Assisted Living, the staff dotes on her, thank God. She stopped wearing anything but one pair of pants and one shirt, so now the attendants listen for her to take her shower somewhere between four am and six am and sneak in and steal her clothes to wash them.
This isn’t in their job description.
I thank them. I come when they call me and say she has a cold or needs to see a doctor and I thank them. They are not allowed to accept tips or gifts, except baked goods at Christmas, so I bring cookies.
I spend about three hours a week with my mother. She is ninety and in good health except for the dementia. She is always pathetically glad to see me and I should go see her more, but I dread sitting there, while she makes sprightly conversation that neither of us understands. The staff at the Assisted Living tells me that they hope when they are old that their children will be as good to them as I am to my mom, which only tells me how many people sit there and no one ever comes to see them.
More and more my mother talks about her mother died, and then her father came all the way up, and was up there, you know, but he's gone too. And her older brother and sister were right there and bam, down they went and she can't seem to explain or find out what happened. She returns to these stories again and again. Her mother has been dead for 77 years, her father for 50 or more. Her older brother died 32 years ago and her older sister died, I believe, six years ago. I used to explain this to her, but now I just ask, "Does it make you sad?"
She is ninety years old, she knows she will die before too long and she knows that she doesn't know what is going on. I think that's what these stories are about, these obsessive versions of how her siblings came to this place where she lives and died and she can't find anything out. What is there to say to that? I hug her and give her a kiss and take her to Bob Evans and then, because I can't wait to escape, I drop her off at the door and watch while she goes in. I wait though, until she gets to the door, and she turns around and waves. I wave back.