Monday, November 28, 2016
Our son's absence couldn't be avoided. He's got a new job, and taking off for a couple days simply wasn't a possibility. Still, he and his wife were missed. There was a bit of a hole in our holiday.
Otherwise, it was all just about perfect. My wife, who ritually takes on the turkey singlehandedly, did it up wonderfully once again. Starting, well, Monday or so, she sweats about the menu, then works like a coal-miner all by her lonesome for 48 hours straight to come up with a meal that defines the holiday.
This year her first-grade son mentioned to his mother that he hoped Mema (their name) would have cranberries. Wish morphed immediately into mandate. Two varieties, including something called, "Pink Stuff," were on the table on Thursday, even though "pink stuff" is at least 98% marshmallow and therefor not her cup of tea. If the Thanksgiving table is a book store, Pink Stuff is a silly romance novel. But, voila! there it was.
My mother died three years ago already. She was 95, and her leave-taking, honestly, was just about as sweet as anyone could wish or imagine. Some kind of snarling cancer was discovered on Friday, and Monday morning she walked away quietly, as if she didn't want to bother her loved ones. That wasn't like her. For most of her years she loved bothering people, her loved ones especially.
Particularly me maybe, about politics especially. Once upon a time, she set her life's compass by way of the words of Dr. Joel Nederhood or Rev. H. J. Kuiper, or whoever edited the denominational magazine. She grew up in an era when the sturdy walls of her Christian Reformed culture was all she needed for guidance. What the preachers thought, she simply determined to think herself.
By the end of her life, those walls had largely disappeared; her newfound dominies were a glossy array of TV preachers, her truth-tellers talk show radio hosts like Michael Savage. As she aged, the world she saw from her window in the Home got much smaller, and what got left behind became less understandable and therefore more to be feared. She was convinced that the Lord would come sometime before next Tuesday, if not sooner, given the rampaging evil right there on doorstep of Pine Haven Home.
That her son didn't share her politics or her fears was of great concern, because Mom was born and reared in a world were there were only two paths to the celestial, only one of them the straight-and-narrow. The other led to Las Vegas or the Democratic party. Mostly, she let Michael Savage draw up definitions of who was and who wasn't on the right one.
Every visit home, she'd bait me for a political inquisition, set me up with some "when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife?" question. "So, honey, you still like Obama?" That one, she used more than once because she knew it would open the door.
She liked to fight, my mother did. Loved it.
But I missed her too this Thanksgiving. She wasn't here and I wasn't there.
Today is her birthday, which meant that for years and years a trip back to Wisconsin covered two bases, two holidays in one fell swoop. All I really had to remember was Mother's Day, which always falls on a Sunday and therefore "shouldn't be Mother's Day at all because it's really the Lord's Day." That having been said, she expected you'd remember and told you if you didn't.
This weekend I found myself missing the long trip home for the holiday, something we did most of our married lives. I found myself missing the lakeshore, missing the woodlands all around, missing family who stayed in the place that for some remarkable reason I still find myself calling "home."
And Mom and I made our peace, in case you're wondering. Not long before she died, I told her in no uncertain terms that she didn't have to worry about her son's salvation, that she could go to her eternal rest unsettled, all that Obama stuff notwithstanding.
The last time I visited, I was alone. I took her to Culver's, where we drove through and picked up a couple of butter burgers on a gorgeous Indian summer afternoon. Then we stopped at a south side park. I got out the wheelchair and pushed her up close enough to the lake to pick up just a little sand in that burger as we munched away.
People quite naturally address old people in wheelchairs. They condescend sweetly, just like they might do to little kids. They're not afraid, and Mom loved attention as much as she loved to preach, loved to attribute all that lakeshore beauty to the Lord, or so she'd say to whatever strangers said hello as they walked by.
It took her a while to finish that burger, but when she did we went back to the Home, and for the first time in my life--and the last--we sang together, just the two of us, "Blessed Assurance," Dad's old favorite. A month later or so she was gone.
Some instinct in me is pigeon-like, I guess. Truth is, on Thursday I had a terrific, a blessed Thanksgiving. I'm not complaining. But this morning, her birthday, I just can't help feeling that somehow we missed something this holiday, something back home.
For better or for worse, I think it was Mom. She'd smile at that, I'm sure.
Good night, she could drive me nuts, but this morning I'm thankful for her.