Climb Every Mountain

Sunday had all the appearances of being a socked-in miserable rainy day; the kind I longed for all the years I lived in the southeast but rarely got. Oh, it might start out looking hopeful, but then the sun would break through and ruin it. I would feel like I had to go for a walk or work in the garden or something, and there would go the day of self-indulgence.

On Sunday I decided early on, before the day began, I was going to stay upstairs in Mama’s space all day. After I cooked us brunch, I would light candles in the fireplace and pretend it was a fire; and dress lightly enough that I could sit under an afghan in the too-warm house and read until time for figure skating. Then I would pop corn, knit, watch TV.  When that was over, I would resume reading and probably nap. I haven’t had this favorite kind of day in the 18 months since I moved here. I was about to find out why.

I made biscuits for brunch. Mama was excited. She couldn’t remember the last time she ate a biscuit. “There was a country store that your daddy and I used to stop at on our way to hike in the Smokies and get sausage biscuits for our lunch.” “Did you like them?” I asked. I can’t quite picture my mother eating sausage biscuits for some reason. “They made a delicious cold lunch,” she said.

While Mama cleaned up the kitchen, I lit the candles and sat on the sofa under the afghan with my book. From there my perfect day went south.

I love to watch ice skating. Always have. In high school, I switched out the poster on my bedroom wall of Julie Andrews spinning in an alpine meadow in favor of Peggy Fleming spinning on Olympic ice. On Saturday Mama had enjoyed watching the competition with me until I had to go out. On Sunday she came in and sat down in the recliner next to the sofa, asking if couples would be skating. No. Within seconds her body slumped and her mouth fell open; she snored three feet from my head through the first group of the men’s event. She woke as the second group was warming up and moved to the swivel chair in front of the television. Between each skater she swiveled to face me, blocking the TV so I couldn’t see the scores, and asking me questions during the commentary: “Did you think he was as good as the last one?” “Did he make any mistakes?” “What was the matter with that jump?” “Are the couples going to skate?” “Do they just skate in one corner of the rink?” “Was his music different?” “He looked embarrassed, was he?” (That last regarding the gold medalist overcome with emotion after his performance.) I tried to answer. She couldn’t hear me. I repeat it louder. Then a follow-up question.

Just as it ended, and I was praying she would eat some lunch then take a nap, the sweet neighbor who often comes to visit on Sunday afternoons called. When Audrey presumably asked how she was, Mama told her she was lazy. This is her response when she hasn’t accomplished whatever she thinks she should be accomplishing, which is never. I’m so glad I didn’t absorb her belief that self-care is the equivalent of laziness. What a burden. Jo Ann tells the story of our mother calling from the kitchen to ask what she was doing. “I’m in the bathroom,” Jo Ann would call back; because if she said she was reading she would be told to come and do some chore. I  remember Mama saying rather snappishly that she didn’t have time to read the newspaper, or a magazine. I never saw her reading a book.

Audrey is coming at 4:00, the time I figured Mama would be napping and I could inhale the solitude. Maybe she will take an early nap if I help her get something to eat. She says she’s not hungry. She moves into activity mode; striving, I guess, to make up for two hours of laziness. She brings the calendar to me. “Is February 1 really a Saturday? I can’t work out how that is.” She wants me to prove it mathematically, i.e. on my fingers. Then she wants me to go with her to the basement freezer to tell her what soup is there; apparently the list on the refrigerator is insufficient. She doesn’t believe me that there is soup in the upstairs freezer. I let it go and take a spinach and a pea up to add to the collection falling out when the freezer door is opened. I also take up the five containers of celery soup that she had me take downstairs Friday after telling me it wasn’t good. She is going to throw them away. Yes! Later I find them crammed into the upstairs freezer. She waters the house plants and makes two phone calls. I give up and go downstairs to my cave, my stomach clenched, feeling like I’ve been skating up a moving glacier in thin air.

Finally I hear the microwave ding. I guess she has warmed some soup. Audrey comes. No nap; no silence. I start dinner and Mama lies down at 5:45, just as Rebecca arrives for supper. While pizza dough rises, I write the first draft of this post. As I finish, I hit some key and the whole thing goes poof. No recovery options.

That was my mountain today. My friend Taline just scaled Mt. Kilamanjaro.

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4 thoughts on “Climb Every Mountain

  1. I do not have a Mother to care for as you do, but I like hearing your accounts of what I might have missed. When my mother was about 86 my oldest brother came home to care for her the last four years of her life. He said the brother and sister living next door to her were not paying enough attention. I was the only sibling still working, so I thanked him profusely for his sacrifice in watching after her…and it truly was a sacrifice for this brother of mine. You would have to know him to know that. Thank you for giving me insights to what he might have faced.

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  2. This would be funny if I hadn’t experienced for myself how maddeningly frustrating it is. . . For the record, as I remember my response to “what are you doing?”, I learned to sigh and say “nothing” if I was reading. Maybe “in the bathroom” came after I got smarter. Or maybe not: it’s been a long road to the place where reading for pleasure isn’t “nothing.”

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  3. Pingback: Climb Every Mountain | Writing Down the Story

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