I taught a class this morning in Winnetka at the Off-Campus Writers Workshop (OCWW). I like the name of this group because even though it is “off-campus” it means that somewhere there is a university. It might be as close as I’ll get to being an adjunct (which, in some situations, is not saying so much). Anyway—it went well.
We talked about where flash comes from and one of the things I mentioned was to-do lists. I create lists for just about everything. I’ve been keeping a list of things that remind me of Mom. My mother died about a year ago. I wasn’t exactly devastated when I got the phone call. She’d been in a state of fragile health for going on two months. My grief was mixed—relief and a sense of closure. Lately, though, I’ve been getting these sudden nudgings, memories provoked by the weirdest things.
Here is a partial list:
Mom would routinely squirt too much out and then make me come over, hold open my hands, and then rub the excess lotion on them.
--old bath water
This must be a holdover from the Great Depression. Mom would draw a full tub of hot bathwater in order to soak. After climbing out she’d hate to waste all those good suds so she’d call me to get in. I was always hesitant because the water was soapy grey and only lukewarm, but I did it anyway.
She wore one to sleep. She might also put one on when taking a nap to protect a perm. When she was depressed and never left her bed, she’d wear it all the time.
--answering the phone
I hear her in myself when I answer the phone and I wonder—has it always been this way? Mom would always answer, instead of hello, “yellow!”
I cannot tell you how many times she referred to President Obama’s daughters as colored girls, never once thinking how bad it sounded. She’d buy an expensive brand of bridge mix at the department store and call the chocolate-covered Brazil nuts “nigger toes.”
--a strange kind of generosity
She would always be quick to give and then drive me crazy by immediately taking it back. She could only go so far and then fear took over. Again this might be a product of growing up stone cold poor.
She and my father were frequent guests at the Pine Club in Dayton, Ohio. One time she ordered a filet mignon, ate it, and then, because she could afford to, ordered another one and also ate it.
--falling asleep in cars
Without fail, as soon as Dad started the car, my mother fell asleep. One time she had the nerve to complain that they never took road trips. Dad’s comeback was—How would you know?
Despite all this, my mother baked the best chocolate cake ever.