Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Like This Woman: Also, Antics of My Mother

My mom was on the way to her book club, when she noticed that instead of reading “In the Garden of Beasts,” which is a story about a family in pre-war Berlin, she actually read “Beast in the Garden,” which is a true story about a pack of cougars that invade a small town in Colorado.

When playing “Guesstures” last night, instead of guessing “kneel” my mom guessed “genuflect.” When it’s her turn, one should keep in mind that she uses the same motion for “embrace,” “cold,” “warm,” and “zombie,” which is to hug her arms around her body.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

White Bread

Mom remembers the day Thomas was asked to draw her portrait. He was in the first grade at Emmanuel Presbyterian, and the teacher told the children to sketch a picture of their mother for Mother’s Day.

“I looked mulatto in that picture,” Mom says.

We’re eating dinner at the dining room table. Mom has made rice, collard greens, and lemon chicken. The collard greens have too much bacon in them, and every time someone asks what we were having for dinner she yells, “CALL-ard greens!” with a southern accent.

“All the other pictures of all the other moms were just white bread, white bread, white bread,” Mom says, pointing at invisible women with her spatula, “but I was brown.” She laughs. “I thought it was great.”

Thomas is poking at the parmesean rice on his plate. Dad is at the head of the table, “What kind of rice is this?” he asks.

“It has cheese in it,” I say.

“Well I don’t like it.”

Thomas swallows. “I just remember thinking that nobody’s white. Like nobody’s totally white like paper. That’s all.”

“Well I thought it was so great,” Mom says, still laughing. “I looked different.”

“What kind of cheese did you say?” Thomas asks.

“Parmesean,” I respond.

“I don’t like it,” he says. “Sorry, Mom. I just don’t.”

“It’s okay, Thomas. Neither do I,” Dad says. “I don’t like the rice either.”

Mom shrugs.

She goes on to tell us about the day Thomas came home with the drawing. How he was sitting in the back seat of the car when she drove up to Nellie’s house, and Nellie’s daughter Robin, who was then in her twenties, came running out to say hello. “Show Robin the picture,” Mom had said. “Thomas drew a picture of me in school,” Mom explained out the window.

Thomas stuck the paper through to Robin, and she looked at it and tried to stifle a laugh.

"You’re black, Sigrid! Did you know? You’re black in this picture!”

Dad stops putting food in his mouth and looks up. “What, you thought Nellie was your mom or something?”

Thomas rolls his eyes.

“Well that’s what Robin said,” Mom interjects. “She was laughing because it looked like me, but also like Nellie.” She pauses. “I wish I still had that picture.”

Thomas puts his fork down and shakes his head. “I know, I know, I feel bad about that every time I think about it.”

“Feel bad about what?” Dad asks.

“I tore up that picture, and I feel horrible about it.”

“Oh you were little, Thomas,” Mom says. “It’s okay. You didn’t know.”

“No, I was a bad person.” Thomas is still shaking his head.

“You tore up the picture?” Dad asks. His fork is poised in the air, inches in front of his face. “You really tore it up? Why would you do something like that?”

“Because he was little and mad and didn’t know,” I say. “Stop asking stupid questions.”

(Painting "White Bread" by Wayne Thiebaud.)

Friday, July 1, 2011


We are through working for the day when I go to the backyard to watch my mom finish her drink. Before I sit down I take the cigarette from her hand and take a long drag, then place it back between her fingers. In front of her is a tall glass of ice and limes and the remains of a Vodka tonic. I sit down on the seat next to her and lean against the back cushion, my face bent dramatically towards the sky.

"Oh, I can't go on," I say. "It's too much."

"I know what you mean," Mom says, taking a drag of her cigarette. She looks down at the stub between her fingers. "I've gone out," she laughs, reaching forward to take the pack of matches from the table. "I guess I smoke too slow."

Mom lights the end, sucks in, and holds out the cigarette for me. I take it again, surprised that I'm not enjoying the taste as much as I used to.

"You know I came out here with the binoculars to look for that bird nest," she says.

I don't know what she's talking about. I give her a look.

"There are a family of birds," she explains, "at least I think. We can hear them chirping pleasently right by our window every morning." She smiles to herself, staring off into the distance, most likely listening to the sound of birds.

"I think I found the nest actually, over by the neighbor's house. It looks like a swallow nest or something."

"What does a swallow nest look like?"

"Oh, you know, kind of like made out of mud or something. Instead of sticks. It's really quite impressive. Do you want to see?"

She stubs out her cigarette, and I follow her over to the side of the house. She's taking slow steps along the rocks, the binoculars held up to her face, staring up at the neighbors' house. "There," she says, "I think it's right there. Here," she hands me the binoculars, which are large and heavy and used to belong to her father. "You take a look."

I peer through the lens, adjust the focus, and slowly inspect the eves of the house. "You know it would look really weird if they came home and saw us doing this."

Mom laughs. "Do you see it?"

"I don't know. I see something. But it doesn't really look like a nest."

"Right, it looks like it's made out of clay or something," she says excitedly.

"Mom, there's nothing up there but a pipe from the bathroom."

"A pipe?" Mom takes the binoculars from my hand. "Let me see that." She stares up at the house again, her neck craned.

"Ha!" she laughs and looks at me. "So it is a pipe. And I thought they were just clever little birds who make nests out of clay."