Goulash

Jun 13, 2014 Writing 101, Day Ten: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)! Today, be inspired by a favorite childhood meal. For the twist, focus on infusing the post with your unique voice — even if that makes you a little nervous.

I hold her hand.
“Have you been out to mothers?” she asks.
She is looking at me but it is not me she sees. She sees her sister, Martha, one year older, her best friend all her life, but now, in real time, and in her warped mind, her enemy.
“Yes,” I say without even pretending to be my aunt. I’d spent the night at “mother’s” house, my mother’s house, this woman’s house.
“Did you see Jo?” (Another aunt)
I nod. I had, in fact, seen Jo that morning. She’d sat with me outside in the hospital floor waiting room while the nurse gave my mom a sponge bath. “You shouldn’t have to do this alone, honey. You shouldn’t have to carry this all on those little shoulders. Your brother should be here.”
“I don’t WANT him here. He’s a mess. He’s the reason she’s HERE.”
For the past few weeks my brother has been harassing my mom to let him come back and live with her. He’s an incorrigible alcoholic. When he moved out from her house last time, he left 90 vodka bottles in the crawlspace. These weeks have been the only interlude in our lives in which my mom has called me on the phone, desperately and often, “Don’t let him come here! It will kill me!”

Mom drifts into sleep and the snow outside drifts higher and my imagination wanders to the moments in the past she must have been reliving, when my grandmother was alive and my Aunt Martha was younger, and she and my mom were speaking (my mom stopped speaking to my aunt, not the other way around). I hold my mom’s hand and watch her. Well, here I am and there she is and she doesn’t know I am me and that is, sadly, all to the good.

She doesn’t like me. Not at all. Not one bit. Probably never did. The day before I’d had to compel her to sign herself into a nursing home. She’d never done the paperwork to make it possible for me to do that for her, peacefully, easily, tranquilly. I’d brought the paper work while she was seated in the hospital reclining chair, holding court with the young H’mong woman who cleaned house for her twice a month. “Mom,” I said, “I need to talk to you alone.”
“Why? These are my friends.” The H’mong woman held my mom’s hand. Her boyfriend sat on the edge of the bed.
“I think it would be better, mom.” My Aunt Jo waited outside with a getaway car. She knew this would be ugly.
“No. Say what you have to say.”
“Sorry, guys. You really should go.” I was terrified. I was no longer 44. I was 14 and in trouble for something, but I didn’t know what and I didn’t know what my mom would do.
They looked at me and decided to make a quiet exit.
“See you soon, Mrs. Kennedy,” the pretty H’mong girl kissed my mom good bye.
“I wish you could stay longer,” said my mom, laying on the guilt.
“I’ll come back,” said the girl, looking back at me reproachfully.
“Nice work, Mom,” I thought. “You’re still the master.” “Mom,” I said, “the hospital says that you need to move into a different kind of care facility. I found one for you (I’d driven the icy streets of winter Billings, Montana for three days looking for a nursing home that had room for her; the doctor had told me that my mom would need more care than a home-care nurse could give, more than I could give if I chose to move up here to care for her, something I would rather die than undertake). You may not have to stay there for long, but for now, you can’t stay here. The hospital needs your bed for sick people and you’re a lot better now.”
“Judas! I knew it. I knew all along you’d be the one to do this to me,” she screamed. “You are no daughter of mine! You’ve always been like this, deceitful, you never loved me, here, give me the paper. If that’s where you want me, fine. You have all the power. I’ll go.” She scrawled an angry — but legally viable — signature and I got out of there as fast as I could.

I look at her sleeping peacefully, the yellow hospital blanket tucked neatly around her. I make the very conscious decision to remember this moment. To let it — if it has the power — erase other moments. On this calm and silent very wintry day, the storm between us is over, over for good. A part of me knows I will never see her again. Three weeks later when I return to arrange the funeral, I hold this moment against anger and grief.

“Martha Ann!” I hear a loud whisper and look up and see my Aunt Martha at the door to my mom’s room. “Jo sent me to get you. She has supper waiting.” I’m returning to California tomorrow. I need to get back to my regular life, I cannot bear this any more. I know I’ll return soon, but for now, I need to get away. The streets are snowy but not icy. It’s not bad driving. We pull up in my Aunt Jo’s driveway and go in the front door.

“How did it go, honey?”
“She didn’t know me. She thought I was Martha.”
“Sit down beside Uncle Hank. Supper’s ready.”
On the table there is “goulash” — not really goulash, but macaroni, tomatoes and hamburger. There is “White House Salad” — pistachio pudding, Cool Whip, marshmallows, pineapple and walnuts. There is a tossed salad. There is bread, butter and chokecherry jelly.

When I was a little girl — 7 years old — I spent three months living with my Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank while my dad and mom were in Hawaii where my dad was working. Of all the meals my aunt prepared back in those days, “goulash” was my favorite.

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9 thoughts on “Goulash

    • Thank you! It seems like someone else’s life now except for the good part. That seems like (and was!) my life.

      • YOU could write a novel or biography. Include the pain and such. I know there was much going on in that little head of yours and I wish I could wash it all away.

      • All that goes into stories — other people, imagined characters. Rudolf’s story features my mom. I like the way she turned out, too. Very convincing. 🙂

      • I guess for me the important thing is not that my mom was a freak, but that other people in my life loved me and saw me for the person I am. I never felt unloved or unlovable. I wanted better from my mom, but since I grew up with her, she’s what I knew and, anyway, I loved her and I believe she tried her best. I imagine there are times when people have children who end up being people they just don’t like. I don’t know what anyone can do about that.

  1. I’ve always thought that when parents (particularly mothers) have children they don’t like, it’s their own baggage getting the way – maybe something to do with the child’s conception, or jealousy, uncomfortable reminders of their own inadequacies… Dozens of possibilities, none of them to do with poor benighted child at all. Kids are surprise packages – you’ve no idea how they’ll turn out – so to disliking them when they’re little can have nothing to do with them.

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