I blame the cooking shows.
Five hours into a marathon of watching slicing and dicing madness, Mom confidently announced that she would cook Mother’s Day lunch for Grandma. My brother Mark and I exchanged worried glances. Our regular family meals had the complexity of ensuring that the hot dog made it into the bun, but Mom seemed unconcerned even when some of her new recipes required small appliances and gadgets we couldn’t pronounce and certainly did not own.
The morning of the lunch, as she was confronted with piles of ingredients that would somehow need to be pieced together to solve the lunch puzzle, doubts started to surface. She bought herself an extra hour by skipping church, but in the end used the time carelessly to stab mercilessly at root vegetables while regretting her decision.
When Grandma arrived, Mom was too busy cursing at the blender to answer the door. I took matters into my hands and greeted Grandma with a gin highball. As she slunk onto a chair and reminisced endlessly about her days at the speakeasy, I started to feel hopeful. By the time we sat to eat I had secretly freshened up her drink two additional times, but unknown to me, so did my brother. When she started calling me Dizzy and humming jazz music, I started to get worried.
Mom had, by this time, broken into a bad case of hives. Her pink scoop neckline clashed with the red blotches now taking over her neck and edging upward. As she plated the undercooked soupy casseroles with the overcooked turkey, she worried that Grandma would notice the water spots on the flatware. She worried that there would be stray hair in someone’s food. She worried that a random meteorite would fall from the sky as we sat to eat. She worried.
I decided to send Mom a bit of encouragement. “You did a really great job with everything.” I said and then with a glance, I tossed the compliment baton over to my brother who jumped in seamlessly. He added his praise and Grandma muttered something with an appreciative nod between sips of her drink.
The skin on mom’s chest was changing back to the shade of silly putty when Dad added, “I like what you tried here with the potato salad.”
The word “tried” buzzed around the room like an unwelcome insect. Mom had invested too much energy into this meal to let that word slip by unnoticed. Her spirit, a bright helium balloon at the start of the day, was now a deflated puddle of rubber. Dad started his back paddle.
“What I meant was - ,” he said. I nodded my head, disappointed with his weak opening. Mark stared blankly into his cranberry sauce waiting for the argument to commence. Since the rift had more to do with Mom’s frazzled nerves than what Dad had actually said, we knew he didn’t stand a chance. I winced throughout the blowout while poking my mashed potatoes pretending to be on a miniature archeological dig. Mom unloaded all of her pent up stress until, with slow choking sobs, she finally succumbed to her exhaustion. Dad, still apologizing and whispering praise in her ear, carried her to the sectional and laid her down perpendicular to his mother now passed out on the other side of the couch. Their heads shared the tiny throw pillow with Elvis hand-embroidered onto it; his face frozen in a perpetual grin.
If Mom succeeded in one thing it was getting Mark and I to do the dishes in our first act of mutual cooperation as brother and sister. We cleared the table and stowed away the leftovers as dutifully as Trappist monks.
On her waking, Mom looked from the clean kitchen to Grandma drooling on Elvis and allowed the events of the morning to slowly unfold in her mind. With a deep sigh and meek voice she admitted to enjoying the first nap she could remember since before the two of us were born. Grandma woke up soon after announcing that she had a great time. She could remember nothing after entering our front door.
Mom has already started to plan for Father’s Day. We still plan to have Grandma over, but we will start the day with an unhurried trip to church, then headed home to a delicious catered meal.
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