“You won’t forget to bring the potato masher, will you?” I said to my mother on the phone after telling her I had to have a mastectomy. Even at 82, and 3000 miles away on the long distance line, she knew what I meant. Soupy mashed potatoes.
The kind she had made for every illness or mishap of my childhood. Served in a soup bowl with a nice round spoon. Only I had been lucky as a child. Rarely sick. Most often the potato medicine soothed disappointment or nourished a cold. This time I was seriously ill.
Arriving on the midnight plane from Virginia, mom looked fresh as a daisy when she walked through the front door of my house in California the day after I came home from the hospital. I could barely keep my eyes open, but the last thing I saw before I fell asleep was mom unzipping her carefully packed suitcase and taking out her 60-year-old potato masher. The one she received as a shower gift. With the worn wooden handle and the years of memories.
She was mashing potatoes in my kitchen the day I told her tearfully that I would have to undergo chemotherapy. She put the masher down and looked me squarely in the eye. “I’ll stay with you, however long it takes,” she told me. “There is nothing more important I have to do in my life than help you get well.” I had always thought I was the stubborn one in my family but in the five months that followed I saw that I came by my trait honestly.
Mom had decided that I would not pre-decease her. She simply would not have it. She took me on daily walks even when I couldn’t get any further than our driveway. She crushed the pills I had to take and put hem in jam. Because even in middle-age, with a grown daughter of my own, I couldn’t swallow pills any better than when I was a child. When my hair started to fall out, she bought me cute hats. She gave me warm ginger ale in a crystal wine glass to calm my tummy and sat up with me on sleepless nights. She served me tea in china cups.
When I was down, she was up. When she was down, I must have been asleep. She never let me see it. And, in the end, I got well. Went back to my writing. And discovered that Mother’s Day did not happen some Sunday in May. But every day you were lucky enough to have a mother around to love you.
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