As a writer, I've become an observer of people. I watch and record how they look, how they react, what motivates them. And while I won't write about them per se, I store all these tidbits away for the future, to flesh out characters in a future story.
My mother has become an interesting study for me. As she ages, I see so many changes taking place. Some are sweet and endearing. Some are worrisome and disconcerting. But always, always, she opens my eyes and I see the world through a prism very different than my own eyes permit.
She's seventy-five years-old now, a widow for nine lonely years. My brothers call her daily. My sister and I take her out and handle her chores. She and I have a weekly "date". She lives and runs (solo) a rickety little farm--well really, it's a glorified petting-zoo--complete with ducks, chickens, a mega-gaggle of geese, five steers, two miniature donkeys, some rabbits, forty-six pygmy goats, two dogs, four cats and one peacock, horse and pony. She resumed this vocation five years ago after my father died. It's unbelievable.
So once a week I pry her off the farm and back out into the world of humans. It's a tough job because she is growing more resistant to leaving her "safe place". Her world is imploding--growing more and more narrow--as she gets older. So I try to widen it for a few hours each week. Here are some of our recent adventures:
1. One of her "enlightened friends told her Chinese restaurants cook cats. Yep, cats. Naturally, she would have nothing to do with any Chinese restaurant--AT ALL. After years of cajoling, and multiple promises that cats were NOT on the menu or secretly hidden in the freezers, she agreed to try it. And she loved it! Now our favorite weekly lunch spot is . . . what else? A Chinese buffet.
2. I've been an opponent of Mom's farm. I don't want her to surrender all her animals, just pare down her herd. Couldn't any self-respecting farmer be happy with six goats? One gaggle of geese? Two lazy, over-indulged steers? She's been run over, stepped on, slammed around and bitten by her babies. But she is loyal to each one, and I have no doubt she'd go without to make sure her babies are fed. We call her steers the "Vanderbilt" cows because she feeds them so very well. If want good beef, buy one of my mom's steers. I assure you they barely move a muscle, and when turned into steaks someday, they should cut like "buttah."
3. My opposition in number two reached a new level of understanding yesterday. Mom NEEDS her pets. I saw that so clearly yesterday. Her little dog ran away, or rather he was lured away by a jealous older dog. In any case, we spent the day searching for this little escapee, driving through local neighborhoods, traipsing through people's back yards, calling the homes where he and his partner-in-crime had previously turned up. Mom was a wreck. It became so apparent that this little dog was her TV companion, her middle-of-the-night confidant when the wind smacked a branch against the side of the house, and her protector with his finely-tuned ears and sharp little bark. She was inconsolable when I dropped her off after our unproductive search. A few hours later, she called, her voice cheery and hopeful. I knew her pal had come home. Yep, she needs her pets. I understand that now.
4. One bit of research I've enjoyed most is the "interaction of old men on the prowl". My Mom is a looker at seventy-five, and old men try to pick her up. The tactics are no different when they're eighty than when they were twenty. Find something general to comment on, and move on to something more personal. When I'm with my mom, I'm the "something general" they begin with. Here's our doctor's office dialogue. No kidding. . .
(To me) "So, where are you from?"
"Carroll County. Where are you from?"
"Oh, you had quite a drive to get here."
My mom sits down after registering at the front desk.
"Are you two sisters?" he asked me, with a completely straight face. (We get this a lot. Mom goes nuts over it and I slip into the bathroom to recheck my make-up). On this occasion, Mom pulled her shy-face which is a chin-dip followed by a soft, "Ohhhhh . . .".
We all chuckled and then settled down to wait for our names to be called. I set Mom up with some Motab music on an iPod to relax her and I pulled a book I was reviewing out of my purse, and began reading. (It's clearly a western with a wagon printed on the cover.)
He asks, (completely out of the blue), "You got any (I'll be more delicate than he) dirty books in that purse of yours?"
This is a real wake-up moment for me. My mom busts up . . . I mean, BUSTS up with a cackle-laugh/embarrassed snort that generally sends her right into a coughing spasm. I swallow my gum and choke a little, curbing the urge to smack him. (He is at least eighty, after all.)
"Uh . . . nope . . . nope . . . I uh, don't. But I do have a lively little romance tucked in here if you'd like to read that."
He raises his hands and starts to chuckle. "I was just joshing you, was all."
(I laugh nervously--titter really, because what do you say after that? Offer him a Mento?)
Within a few minutes, our little masher was called into the doctor's office and our tête-à-tête was over. As soon as he was gone, Mom smiled radiantly at me, her ego again restored. "He was a card, wasn't he?" A minute later, she was fast asleep.
Yep, you can learn a lot about people from a day out with your mom. What did I learn? That we're all really about fourteen in our hearts--brave, but needing something or someone to steady us when frightened. And that we all need a few "atta-boys" and ego-pumping from time to time. Even when we're seventy-five.