Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mama's Boy

It's been a whirlwind 48 hours. Just a little over 24 hours ago, my step father and I put some finishing touches on my grandmother's new "house", that is the garage that we renovated into a small apartment for her.
She and my mother pulled into the drive to settle her in permanently after my mother has been away taking care of her for the last 2 months in Texas.
It was an exciting day, to finally come to the end of this long process of renovating and have them officially home.
They were accompanied by my brother and my uncle in his pickup and trailer hauling a small portion of my grandmother's belongings. It was a fun evening and morning, with the family milling around and talking and catching up. Then it came time for my brother and uncle to go back home to Texas.
I watched as a son sat with his mother and told her goodbye with tears in his eyes. I realized it was the first time in his 60 years that his mother would be more than a couple miles down the road. And they talked, and they cried together.

I saw a little boy saying goodbye to his mother, and even at 60 years old,  with her, he was still her baby boy. I looked at my own baby boys, growing so big, so fast.

My heart ached for him. And for her. And I saw the evidence of the deep, deep bond between a mama and her boy. And I hugged my boys a little tighter and prayed that my uncle will come back to see us soon. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Best Chocolate Cake and It's Secret Ingredient

Last week, I went to my grandmother’s house to prepare to move her to Oklahoma to live with us. My heart ached to see the once strong and independent woman, in all her frailty and need for constant care.
I took a day and went through her house, to look for trinkets or memories I might want to keep. I found a memory in every closet and every drawer, on every shelf and every photo album. It was difficult to see how much life had passed both for me and for my grandparents.

Then I came to her cake cover. There it sat in her ugly, 70’s, china hutch plain and unattractive, but so very meaningful to me. I don’t eat cake… anymore. I don’t have any need to fill my already overcrowded home with useless things like a cake cover. But I couldn't help but sit and stare at it as the memories of the last 35 years came flooding back, especially the ones that included that cake cover and my chocolate cakes.

I never could contain my excitement on the 7 hour drive to Bovina, Texas tosee my grandparents. Mom and Daddypa were the most stable and loving things in mine and my brother’s life. And I cried every time I left.

At just two years old, my parents had divorced. My brother was 8 years old and our world was a mess. My mother had always stayed home with me, and now she was gone. My dad took my brother and me to Mom and Daddypa’s house and there we stayed for almost 2 months while my parents relocated and settled down to separate lives.

During that time I was loved and cared for and given security in a world where all my security had been lost. 

Once my mother and dad had a life in a whole new state, 700 miles from Mom and Daddypa, we went to join them. I was scared all the time. There was not one daycare or babysitter that I liked. My mother tried church daycares and one babysitter after another. But every time she left me, I could feel the pain well up inside me, as if I had swallowed a dagger that was trying to make its way out through my throat dragging my heart with it.

Those years were hard and painful for all of us.  My mother worked hard to provide a nice home for us, and I know she missed her days with my brother and me.

My parents did their best in a bad situation. However, I was a volatile and unstable little girl in desperate need of security.

Mom and Daddypa were just that for me. We spent every summer with them, and all our holidays too. I have more memories of Mom and Daddypa as a young child, than I do of my parents.

Mom told her friends that her and I got along so well because she did whatever I wanted. It was true. She was there with me every second of every day. She held me in her lap and read Pinocchio and Hansel and Gretel to me. She would carry me around and I would play with the little gold flower bud necklace around her neck that Daddypa had given her.

In the afternoons Daddypa would come home from the farm and take a nap. Sometimes he would play “Go Fish” with me or hold me in his lap while we watched old TV shows like “I Love Lucy” or his favorite westerns with John Wayne. In the fall, it was his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys.

After he went back to the farm, Mom and I might mow the grass or go grocery shopping, where she would always buy me ice cream sandwiches.
After dinner, Daddypa would settle in for the evening and Mom and I would walk down to the school running track, sometimes with her friends and sometimes with just the two of us.
I loved to play in the “sandbox” while she walked around, 4 times. Sometimes I would walk with her and we would talk.  Sometimes other kids were there playing in the sandbox too and we built tunnels and castles in the sand.
On the evenings when it would rain, Daddypa and I would sit on the front porch and watch the  heavy, summer raindrops fall on the smooth concrete driveway. It washed away the smell of manure and cows and brought the smell of rain and dirt. The sun would shine down through the rain and make the entire earth look as if it was glowing orange. He’d sit beside me, his legs crossed and his arm around me, telling me how good the rain was for his crops, or how lightening formed. I still think of him when I smell rain and dirt mixed.

Some days, most days, Daddypa would take me out in his old, brown, Dodge pickup truck that smelled like West Texas dirt. He’d drive down the road not going more than 5mph with the windows down. That’s what I miss most about him, the way he loved to just take life slow and enjoy it. We’d stop at the local gas station and Gaylen, the owner, would tell me I was so spoiled I was rotten, like a rotten egg.  I didn’t know how right he was. Then Daddypa would buy me a coke and candy bar, usually a snickers and Dr. Pepper because that’s what my brother always got. 

But of all the memories of the place that was more of a home to me than anywhere else has ever been, my chocolate cakes are the greatest memory of all.

Every time I would get ready to go, I would talk to Mom on the phone and she’d tell me, “I've got your chocolate cake made.”

When I was younger it was all homemade and the most wonderful deliciousness to ever enter my mouth. The best part was her homemade frosting. She made the best chocolate fudge frosting. As I got older she started making her cakes from a boxed cake mix, but her frosting was still homemade, so it was okay and I couldn't tell the difference.

Every time I went to her house, she made me a chocolate cake. She didn't make it for my brother, she made it just for me. I don’t remember a time, even up into college, that she didn't make me a cake. I always had a cake, until she couldn't cook anymore.

I would walk into the house, and there sitting on the dining room table would be that chocolate cake waiting for me, under her cake cover.

Today, it’s not the cake that means so much to me. It’s the love that each cake represented. I was a mess. I was insecure and afraid, but one thing I could always depend on was that Mom would make me the most wonderful chocolate cake. Just like her and Daddypa’s love. It was always there. They always took care of me and loved me.  They always kept me safe. I never  felt afraid with them. I never felt insecure with them. They were my rock and my safe place.

Daddypa has been gone 15 years this December and today, I prepare a new home for Mom.  She will come live with my mother and me and we will care for her until we say goodbye to her as well. I don’t make or eat cake anymore, but I am keeping the cake cover to remind me how much love I have had in my life, much more than I deserve. I will let it serve as a reminder that all they really did to give me what I needed was love me more than anything else. When caring for her gets to be more difficult, I will have the cake cover to remind me why I care for her in her greatest time of need, because she cared so greatly for me in my greatest time of need.