Middle Aged Treehouse

I'm only mature in years.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The writing on the wall, and other places

It must have been obvious to my parents by the time I was in second grade that I was destined to become a graphic designer. I emphatically asked my mother to please NOT write my name on my paper lunch sacks any longer.

I privately cringed whenever I viewed my mom's slanted scrawl. Proud of my own newfound meticulous penmanship, I hated the way Mom would hastily scratch out my name with a cheap 19 cent Bic blue ballpoint and then go over each letter several times in a feeble attempt to create a heavier line (juicy, evocative Sharpies were not household items in those days). Sure, I was an overly precocious child, but I remember thinking that a Rhesus monkey had a better hand that my mother. What had happened? My grandmother and great aunts had beautiful handwriting; swirling, fanciful curliques and swooping, parallel, ordered letters graced their postcards and the family bibles. Mom's sub-par handwriting wasn't a problem as far as she was concerned, but her smart-ass little seven-year-old was, so she shrugged and continued to torment me with her tiny, bent letters, beating me to the chance to personalize my thermos, Girl Scout sit-upon, and dance shoe bag.

Over the years, Mom would finally admit that when it came to good looking penmanship, she was sorely lacking, so she would ask my neat-nic dad or me to put the finishing touch on notes or inscriptions of importance to the family.

It's been at least forty years since I informed my mother of my wish to personalize items in my own hand. Today was Easter Sunday, and as tradition dictated, my family gathered around my mom's huge formal dinner table for the annual holiday feast. But this year was very different; this would be the first family holiday dinner since Mom's cancer diagnosis just after Christmas.

What Mom lacks in handwriting talent she more than makes up for with her amazing culinary gifts. Even wracked with fatique and nausea from chemotherapy, she managed to put together an only slightly abbreviated version of one of her usual holiday food extravaganzas: Honey ham with pecan praline mustard sauce; chilled asparagus with sea salt, sesame and hollandaise; curried deviled eggs; scalloped potatoes; buttered, grilled sourdough; and various stuffings, vegetables, salads and desserts. We had all begged Mom not to trouble herself, but she was insistant. Looking more gaunt and worn than I have ever seen her, she feebly managed to get through dinner, nibbling not more than two bites of food. Chemotherapy has robbed her of so much more than her hair, her pink cheeks and energy. She can no longer stand the smell or taste of anything edible, the cruelest blow imaginable to a woman who takes such joy in creating extraordinary meals for the people she loves. As I helped her stir the sauces, my heart broke to see her season and taste one of her trademark dishes and then discreetly spit it out into the kitchen sink.

To lift everyone's spirits after dinner we decided to watch old Easter videos of the kids, both now teenagers and too old to do anything involving Easter eggs. Mom slumped in her chair while we laughed and wiped our eyes watching year after year of Kate and Jack in their pastel colored sissy suits taunting each other in competitive egg hunting.

As I packed up our things to return home, I saw the envelope to Jack's birthday card (he turned thirteen yesterday), left behind on the counter. I studied my mother's shaky writing, still done in cheap ballpoint: Jack's name, in wobbly cursive, surounded by two poorly placed, childish hearts. I stared at the envelope for a moment before putting the treasure in my purse to be enjoyed later.

Mom's writing has never looked so beautiful.


Blogger TCU grad student said...

This entry might be the best you've written. It's sentimental and sweet. It speaks volumes of your relationship with your mom and the central role family takes in your life. I can tell your mom is fighting very hard.

8:34 AM  

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