Tonight, as is my wont, I was up late. Sometimes, Mom comes downstairs and sits at the kitchen table, surrounded on all sides by the chicken figurines and images that she loves so much, and plays endless games of solitaire. She can’t sleep. For whatever reason, a woman who gets up with the chickens, quite literally in her case, is awake at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night. I potter about, meditating on the possibility of a more elaborate snack than a spoonful of peanut butter and an apple, just letting her do her thing.
The slide and slap of her well-used cards, dealt out in the same repeated gesture for years is suddenly broken. “Are you going to make the coffee?” She asks, in that wistful way she has, as if she is hoping the answer is ‘yes.’
I look at the microwave’s digital display. “It’s 11 o’clock at night. Are you sure you want to drink coffee? You know how it impacts you.” I say, and watch her shoulders slump with disappointment.
“Okay.” She draws out the syllables, an entire conversation in the sound. I hear “Yes, you’re right. I shouldn’t drink coffee this late. But. But. I was just hoping. You know. Hoping.” She goes on dealing her cards, black on red.
I, of course, had had no intention of making coffee even for myself at that hour. But, she’s asked, so I clean the coffee pot and prep it for a fresh half-pot. Because it’s The Mama, and she should have whatever she wants. Even if it makes no sense. Even if it goes against every known pattern for her. I brew the coffee.
While we wait for the coffee maker to finish gurgling to itself, there is some speculation about snacks. I mention popcorn, which of course, we don’t have. She is a sucker for the savory, bread-based snacks–crackers, chips, and all that. I can tell she’s hungry, but she lives in the house with widgets whose obsession with weight and appearance have negatively impacted her ability to enjoy her appetites without guilt. This makes me a little bit mad, though I’m at least a little to blame along with my dad.
So, I ask, “Do you want me to make a batch of biscuits?” Because my biscuits are famous, though they really aren’t all that special when it comes down to bells and whistles.
They’re the same five ingredient baking powder biscuits she used to make. She stopped making them some years ago, because she noted that she’ll eat them all. She thinks they make her fat. I think I don’t care, as long as she’s happy and reasonably healthy. I make them because they add a special touch to any meal, and I’ve always felt there’s a sort of self-sufficiency that goes with being able to do things like make biscuits at a moment’s notice. “Cheese biscuits?” I add, knowing that this will be the final straw that breaks her token resistance.
She can’t withstand the concept of hot, fresh drop biscuits loaded with sharp cheddar cheese. There’s no way. Who’s got that kind of will power, anyway? Predictably, she crumbles, nodding enthusiastically, looking excited at the prospect of eating verboten deliciousness and drinking coffee at midnight while my dad snores away upstairs.
I make the biscuits. Twenty minutes later, I set a basket of piping hot drop biscuits on the table in front of her, and she proceeds to burn her fingers breaking one open to smear it with cold butter. I take mine with no additions. We drink coffee, eat hot biscuits, and talk about nothing in general.
Eventually, the conversation veers around to the garden. I’ve offered to be the muscle aspect of getting her little slice of heaven back in order this summer. It’s grown a bit wild and unkempt in the past six years, but Mom is getting older and she just can’t handle that kind of manual labor anymore. Still, I always remember her being so refreshed from working there. It gave her a sense of peace and purpose, fed her creative well-spring and cleaned her brain of all the worries and negative thoughts.
“I like the idea of getting the garden in shape again.” She says, carefully sliding the butterknife into the biscuit. “When it was just me, it was a little too much. I just couldn’t even think about doing all that work anymore.”
I finish chewing a bit of biscuit. “I know Grandma ruined it for you for a while, but I always remember how good the garden was for you–planning and planting.” I sip coffee and watch her butter a biscuit chunk.
“She just wanted to be a part of things.” She says, biting gingerly into the steaming bread. “But living in the house with her and Dad just about killed me. I know that’s why I have high blood pressure now.” Shaking her head she takes a sip of coffee and addresses the air, “I love you, Mom. You know I do, and I miss you.” Sighing, “But the way she and Corry were at each other’s throats all the time.”
She’s right, of course. I remember those years, though I was more often at work or in class than not. “Jeffie was not a gentle creature, and both of them were dominant personalities.” I pause to take a bite of my biscuit. “Neither am I, of course. But she would have given the shirt off her back to someone she loved.”
“I know.” Mom nods. “I watched her do it. To be so smart–” She doesn’t finish her sentence, which means she was about to say something unkind, probably about someone who’s still alive. “Well, that was just perfect.” She says instead. “Thank you so much for making the biscuits.”
There’ll be no more conversation tonight. She’s feeling full and warm and completely replete, which means she’s ready to sleep now. That was the whole point, after all.