When I was 11, my mother took a job as a secretary at JP Negley Company. She had been a stay-at-home mother since I was born, but now, figured that she could leave me and my sister with a babysitter from 3 – 5 in the afternoon.
It lasted for six months. I wasn’t happy. The babysitter was a little strange, and I felt a little lonely and displaced in the afternoons. She left Playboy magazines on the coffee table, which is not a good thing to do with an adolescent boy in the house. The house seemed dark and creepy. So did the babysitter. I felt like I was somewhere I didn’t want to be.
One day at the kitchen table, I asked my mother if she would quit her job.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I like you there in the afternoons.”
“Well, when I’m home, you immediately run outside and play and don’t spend any time with me. Why is this any different from the way it is now?”
I thought for a minute, then said: “Well, I have your warm body here.”
That melted my mother’s resolve. The next day, she gave her notice at work and went back to being a full-time mother.
In 2014, my mother turns 84. In 1989, her husband of 37 years died of lung disease. In 2000, she took on a boyfriend, but he died of stomach cancer in 2007.
So today, I called to make sure that she had something to do on New Year’s Eve.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “It’s not safe.”
“Are you sure?”
I was hoping to go to her house and celebrate the new year with her and my girlfriend Claire. But then I booked a lucrative show in Corona del Mar that I couldn’t turn down. It made me sad.
But the Saturday before, on the 28th, there’s a party Claire and I were invited to at a poetry friend’s house. It’s a party for writers who are going to read from their own works. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have been caught dead with my Mom among such a hip group. I was carving out my own identity. My parents were so provincial. They didn’t understand words like oeuvre and genre and denouement. They had never read the greatest writer of our time, Don Delillo, and what’s more, didn’t care to.
But it’s different now.
“Mom, do you want to go to a writers’ party on Saturday night?”
“You could read something.”
“Like maybe that poem ‘Pie’ that you wrote in that poetry class you took a couple years ago in community college?”
“Whatever you think.”
“Yes, I think ‘Pie.’ Everybody loves that one.”
We made plans to pick her up and drive her there.
These days, my mother quilts for hours and hours, alone in her fabulous quilting room. She has her new computerized sewing machine, closets full of fabric, and a plethora of tools, books, and patterns. Her friend Ronnie has moved to Cucamonga and she doesn’t talk to her friend Mary anymore because of a disagreement. So she sews and watches TCM.
Sometimes I ask her if she’s lonely, and she shakes me off and says no. But I want to make sure, just like I wanted to make sure she was with somebody last Valentine’s Day, and on her birthday, and just like I visit her as much as I can, not just to help her with honey-do’s, but also, just to sit at her kitchen table in the late afternoon with a cup of mint tea and be with her. I want to make sure she has a warm body around.