My mother, who passed fifteen years ago, remains impatient with whining. She came to me the other night just as I was falling asleep. “You’ve got to knock it off,” she said.
Ten months ago I got the bright idea to blog on the wonder to be found in ordinary moments. I had considered writing about the algae bloom of flesh-eating narcissism consuming the body politic, but that was already being done – everywhere. Plus – with a tip of the hat to Johnny Mercer – what could possibly go wrong accentuating the positive?
Since then my oldest brother Ron has died, my elder brother Steve is in a memory care unit with rapidly progressing dementia, and my younger brother Mick is in the sad position of having me remain as the family elder.
Adding another dimension to this self-indulgent jeremiad, last summer the wheels came flying off what I believed was my most profound adult relationship. The last time I looked, they were still rolling.
And one more thing: I’m headed toward 71. In the morning it actually hurts to get out of bed. How does that happen? Someone should have mentioned this to me somewhere along the way.
But my mother wasn’t having it. “What did you expect?” she said. “Things happen; people die; the world doesn’t revolve around you.”
“Yes’m,” I said, sounding too much like a five-year old. My lower lip may have protruded.
“And here I thought you were all grown up,” she said.
“I’m stuck,” I confessed. Mom just shook her head.
Our parents didn’t give us a lot of direct advice, but they were always there to help us think through our decisions. Mom was particularly good as a sounding board. “You’ve got rocks in your head,” she would say and then return to writing one of her legendary letters on the canary yellow pages of a legal pad. But the room was dark, so I thought it was worth a shot. “Mom,” I said, “you’re a wise old bird. What do you think I should do?”
“Don’t look at me,” mother said. “I’m just here because your father was asking what you had to complain about. And he’s not the only one.”
“Wait, a minute,” I said. “You’re here because I’m getting on everyone’s nerves?”
“You were always clever,” she said.
“But you’re all dead,” I said.
“Still your family,” she said.
“Well, then that settles it,” I said. “I’ll knock off the whining, pick myself up, and get moving. Now is there anything else I can do to make everyone’s stay up there more pleasant?”
There is this one other thing,” she said, pausing.
“Por su puesto,” I said.
“Funny you should use the only Spanish you know,” she said. “We want you to go to Buenos Aires and do the Tango with one hundred women who don’t speak English,”
“What?” I said, making the Wiggins face. It’s an involuntary grimace, as if one has been sprayed with mace while biting deep into a lemon.
“One of them has to have red hair – you know how I love red hair – and be sure to dance her around a fountain, maybe at sunset when everything is golden.”
“This is going to help me?” I said. “Tango in Buenos Aires with a hundred women who don’t speak English? That’s crazy, even for our family.”
“Help you?” she said. “We just think it’ll be fun to watch.”
“Fun? You’ve got to be kidding! I’m already cringing,” I said.
“That’s your choice,” she said. “”Definitely fun for us. You weren’t our most graceful child.”
“You said it was just a growth spurt.”
“There’s already a betting pool,” she added brightly.
“Great,” I said. “I’m a diversion for the dead.”
“Again, not about you,” she said. “And don’t be angry with your Mother. I don’t think I could handle that.” She sniffed at the end, signaling that she really could handle it.
Mother. Once again miles ahead of me. Resistance was always futile. Perhaps I could negotiate the terms of my surrender.
“No English?” I said.
“You talk when you should dance,” she said.
“One hundred? ”
“You’ll fall in love with the first ten,” she said.
“Fair point,” I said. “But Buenos Aires? That’s not next door.”
“You’ll find a way,” she said. “Consider this your dead mother’s request.”
“Another one?” I said. “How many of those you get?”
“As many as you need,” she said and was gone, hopefully to her letter writing.