Sunday, May 08, 2011

Celebrating Moms Everywhere ...

A few days ago Lisa Benson delivered the new Resort Map, which will be distributed to Wellfleet visitors in 2011. Former Selectman Dale Donovan, riding shotgun, suggested a name for our merganser: Beatrice. Dale’s evocation of my mother was not meant to make me sad but, guess what? It did. A wave of nostalgia washed over me. My mom, nicknamed "Bea," passed away four years ago. What would she have thought of a decoy christened “Beatrice”? She would have probably reminded me that our bird is definitely male, and who gives a male a girl’s name? Proud of her volubility, she might have pointed out wooden birds don’t talk. Or, maybe the decoy angle would have attracted her razor mind: A decoy for what? Who are we trying to ensnare?

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I decided to share an excerpt from my manuscript, so you can get acquainted with someone who still remains a real presence here at Chez Sven. No need to name the merganser after her, Dale. She is already here in spirit.

I hope you are all spending time with your mom today, or at least calling her on the phone. Celebrate your mother while she’s alive. Don’t wait ...

I suggest scrambled egg for breakfast. My elderly mother accepts a forkful, but I can tell her appetite is about a 2 today.

“Tastes like egg,” Bea says. “Scrambled egg.” Her face wears an expression of distinct displeasure, as if I had proposed a bowl of fresh plaster.

“Perhaps you’d prefer lobster?” I say to get her attention.

The powder-blue eyes swing around with vague interest. She’s chewing laboriously egg that does not need to be chewed. If I turned my back, I bet she would spit out the mouthful and hide it under the sheet.

“I got lobster tail last week. You had a hard time with it. Remember?”

Bea gives a slight shrug, which could be interpreted as either a yes or a no.

“We can try again, if you like.”

She nods, but not enthusiastically. I can tell that this bedridden life is getting to her. My mother was never athletic, but she enjoyed weekly walks to Dyer Pond with a birdwatcher friend. I can only imagine how horrible it must be to spend day after day in bed. No exercise, no fresh air. How dismal!

I bring a piece of cheddar. Bea opens her mouth.

“You hold it,” I direct and place the cheddar in her blue-veined hand.

After one bite, she releases the cheese, which crumbles onto the sheet.

Next on the menu is a yogurt. Bea turns her head away after three mouthfuls. I look down at her sunken cheeks and tap the yogurt cup three times with the spoon.

“Ice cream?” she suggests, suddenly helpful.

“Ice cream it is,” I call, off to the kitchen for her favorite treat.

Bea doesn’t even finish the bowl.

We hear footsteps on the stairs. The bed & breakfast guests from New York, who spent an hour on the bench outside her window last night, overwhelmed by the Outer Cape night sky, descend with suitcases. I leave my mother there, staring at the wall. She dozes off for the rest of the morning.

Later I raise the window and drop into a chair next to her bed. The musky smell of low tide rides up from Duck Creek on the afternoon breeze. Bea is still lethargic, a totally new phenomenon. I reach over and push a few wisps of gray hair out of her face, the way she used to do when I was the child.

“Let me hold your hand a minute,” she says and wraps frail fingers around mine.

We sit there together quietly, holding hands.

“I’m tired,” I say, glad to have an excuse to rest.

“Me, too.” There’s a pause while Bea thinks over what I have just said. “Why are you tired?”

“I’ve been preparing rooms for our next guests. All afternoon.”

Since she seems to take in this information, I motion towards the window and add, “At least it was a nice day. Feel that breeze?”

“Yes,” Bea says.

There’s another pause.

“What are you here for?” she asks.

“To keep you company.”

“But where do you come from?”

“You want to know who I am?”

Bea nods.

“Your daughter. I live here, with you, in this house.”

She thinks a minute then says, “Glad to straighten that out.” A light seems to go on because she adds, with solemnity, “In Wellfleet.”

My mother loves Wellfleet. She would always exclaim about how lovely the town was every time we drove past the Congregational Church. I remind her of that reaction, then say, “It’s a pretty little town, remember?”

She doesn’t.

“Main Street has restaurants and shops. There are galleries galore. You must remember Lema’s and Charlie, the singing butcher from Glasgow with the Scottish brogue? You used to tell me how pleased Charlie was to be able to send his brother a tweed suit at Christmas?”

“Charlie …” Bea repeats.

“Charlie lives in Provincetown because there’s no nightlife in Wellfleet, at least that’s what you told me. He said to say hello the other day.”

“Charlie’s an old friend,” Bea almost whispers.

“You moved here with Daddy from Washington when you both retired. You’ve been here 36 years. Isn’t that amazing?”

“Yes.” Then she repeats, almost to herself, “It’s called Wellfleet.”

“A nice place to live.”


Bea has closed her eyes. That’s her way of saying enough. I give my mother’s hand a little squeeze and leave her snug in the hospital bed to await the end of her long, long life …