18 January, 2002

Yes, Mother, I Know

"Yes, Mother, I know."

It was my usual response when she'd try to tell me something obvious. "You've got to be careful with boys. Girls your age don't need to be sick or pregnant".
"Yes, Mother, I know."

Those were the days when I knew it all, had all the answers, and surely didn't need someone 40 years my elder telling me the facts of life. And why did she think I did? I was, after all, 17 years old. If I didn't know by then what the monthly cycle was, she probably would have known about its absence. Did she think I wouldn't tell her if it hadn't happened?
We were in the laundry room. She was moving clothes from the washer, where she'd wrung them out by hand so she could re-use the rinse water for the next wash load, to the drier. I was hanging around trying to look busy by looking for matches in the box of single socks.
"You know, Carla, you're going to start having periods pretty soon."
"You’re becoming a young lady."
"Well, you're old enough now to have periods. That's all."
"Mom, I starting having periods three years ago."
"Oh. I didn't know. I guess I missed that"
Yes, Mother, I know.
It wasn't that she missed it. It was that as I was reaching puberty, so much else was going on. With siblings: Tisha's marriage was rocky. Ricky's wife died, his kids moved in with us and then out to his house again. Then he got re-married. Emily had a baby. Kenny got married and they had a new baby. Paul got married. Wayne went off to the Air Force. Marcia went off to college. Cindy was engaged to be married and moved out. Glenn was dating.
With all that going on, how could she have noticed me, the youngest.
The youngest and the last. Beneath her radar scope. The one who at three years old got left at the lake after swimming. The one whose baptism was forgotten about. The one who wore all the hand-me-down shoes and dresses. The one who had heard all the rules repeated to all the others so many times they didn't need to be repeated again.
Yes, Mother, I know.
So much time has slipped through the fingers of life since. So much has changed. I stopped knowing everything somewhere along the line. I'd call Mother and ask for her custard pudding or some other recipe.
"I don't know what's so special about it. It just comes out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook."
"But your edition is different than the ones they print now. Mine has the recipe using cornstarch and yours with flour is so much better."
So she'd write it out on the back of an index card in tiny but perfect handwriting. Then she'd write a note on one end of the other side. She'd put a stamp in the corner and my address on the bottom and mail it to me. It's signed in the corner "Love, Mother."
So many recipes she sent me. Or dictated to me over the phone. She'd wait less than patiently while I wrote down her every word. "Isn't this going to cost you a lot of money? Can you afford to call me for a recipe? Why don't you just save your money and buy a good cookbook?"
But it wasn't just her recipes I called for. Or even her suggestions on how to do this or that. It was the piece of ground she gave to me when I called. Her calm voice and her motherly wisdom could steady the ground under me when everything else was slipping away. I could depend on her to look at any situation for it's literal reality. That's what she understood best.
Her voice was calm still last April. I'd gone to Florida to help her get ready for the trip back to Cape Cod for the summer. She was on oxygen most of the time. With only one lung left and it full of the cancer that took the other, her energy was low. But her wisdom remained. That wisdom was the ground that steadied me amidst the realization that I might never see her again. She patiently gave me instructions as I washed down the walls with bleach water to prevent summer mold. As I put Borax around the sills to keep the bugs out. As I emptied the cupboards and closets the contractors would need to get into to replace the plumbing and the floors after we left. As I planned meals that would use up all their left over food. As I tightly packed their bags so that everything Dad wanted to take would fit along side the clothes. As I closed up the home she would never see again.
So many instructions. How would I remember them all when she was no longer there to call? Who would I call then? Who would steady the ground beneath my quaking feet?
It was a terrible transition. Both of us changing jobs--career focus even. Changing homes. Moving to another state. The boys were changing schools for the first time in their memory. I had surgery in the midst of it all.
And then there was Mother.
The week between leaving our old home and moving into our new one, we spent with Mother. The boys spent time riding their bikes on the flat Cape Cod terrain, or walking the salt flats at low tide. I spent mine with her. Feeding her little bits of tapioca pudding and creamy yogurt. Sitting at the end of the couch with her feet on my lap. Rubbing her feet. Holding her hand. Giving her frequent hugs. She was getting weaker. But she still gave me instructions on how to cook for my father. I couldn't bring myself to say, "Yes Mother, I know." I wanted to hear those directions. Write them in indelible pen in my memory. The ground under me was slipping away. Her voice was my calm. Her wisdom steadied me.
The night before we left, as I tucked her into her bed, she hugged me firmly.
"I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too."
"Yes, Mother, I know."
As I scrape the leftover dinner from its dish, her voice rings in my ears. "That will be good in soup."
"Yes, Mother, I know"
As I rinse dishes to put them into the dish washer she whispers, "You could wash them by hand and not waste the electricity."
"Yes, Mother, I know."
As I toss into the recycling bin an empty margarine tub with its lid, her wisdom echoes, "You could use that for keeping leftovers."
"Yes, Mother, I know."
As I rub my arthritic knuckles her advice is still there. "You need to keep those hands moving or they'll get stiff."
"Yes, Mother, I know."
As I stir the bubbling milk, sugar, and flour and ready the beaten egg, her steady voice remains. "Stir some of the hot liquid to the egg first and warm it up. Then add the mixture back into the hot liquid. It won't make lumpy pudding that way."
"Yes, Mother, I know."
I know because you've taught me well. I know because you showed me how to save every penny and how to skimp to get by. I know because you dared to teach me-- a girl--that I could do anything I put my mind to doing, and do it well. I know because you never took my knowing for granted. I am who I am because in me at least some your wisdom lives on. It steadies the ground under me while everything else is slipping away.
Yes, Mother, I know you loved me.

In honor of my Mother,
Evelyn Myrle Camp Stucklen
d. August 31, 2001