I reach for the bananas in the grocery store and feel an unexpected pang of sadness. Out of the blue, I miss my mother.
Over years of her decline, I chauffeured her on errands and sighed deeply when she admitted she’d meant to make a list, but…
I knew what would be on the list—muffins, butter pecan ice cream and bananas—but I wanted her to write it all down.
Addled by dementia, not only did she forget to make shopping lists, she often couldn’t remember how to use her cell phone or turn on the TV. I knew it wasn’t her fault. Even so, there were times when my patience wore thin. If only she could jot down a few grocery items on a piece of scrap paper or the back of an envelope, I could take it as a sign that she still had some faculties.
Twenty months after her death, here I am frozen in momentary grief in front of the banana stand. We didn’t agree on bananas. I preferred them firm and still tinged with green, she agreed with Chiquita Banana’s recommendation from a jingle she occasionally sang to my brothers and me at the breakfast table.
When they’re flecked with brown and have a golden hue, bananas taste the best and are the best for you…
Sometimes I forget my mother is gone. When I’m travelling or even at some interesting local attraction, this thought almost always pops into my head: I should send Mom a postcard. Then I remember.
The grocery store gets me again. The card display is practically glowing in shades of pink for Mother’s Day and for a split second I think I have to get a card for my mom. It’s just my second Mother’s Day without her. I’m not used to it yet. I quickly push my cart past the card aisle, which is conveniently located near the Chardonnay.
At the checkout counter, I place my new chip card in the reader and overhear a sweet old voice ask the bag boy if the store has a pay phone. He probably doesn’t even know what that is.
“I’ve locked my keys in the car,” the woman says.
I look at her and recognize her as Faith, the woman who lives with her daughter up the street from us. She is always cheerful and smiling, and has her hair and makeup done. I’ve observed her in her yard on walks with our dog, Bella, and have wondered if she has some cognitive impairment because I’ve seen her picking up pine needles one at a time in the street and washing her car with Windex. She’s also a bit stooped and fragile looking, so I’m a little surprised to find she is out on her own.
“Faith?” I say. “I’m your neighbor, Mary. I can help you. Let me finish checking out and we’ll call your daughter.”
The checker and bag boy have big smiles on their faces.
“Wow! That really worked out,” the checker says.
“Funny, in a city this vast,” I say. In Kansas City I frequently ran into people I knew, but here in Los Angeles, it almost never happens.
“But it’s a small world,” says the bag boy.
I’m impressed that Faith knows her daughter’s number and I type the digits into my iPhone and hand it to her. The daughter doesn’t answer, which doesn’t surprise me since I often don’t answer calls coming from unfamiliar numbers.
“How ‘bout I take you home and your daughter can bring you back later to pick up your car?”
“Oh, this is just wonderful!” Faith beams. “Thank you so much!”
I am protective and worry she’ll fall climbing into my SUV. I have to remind her to put on her seatbelt. This is familiar territory.
As we make the short drive to our neighborhood, Faith tells me her daughter is going to be really upset with her.
“Sometimes she thinks I’m losing it.”
I try to reassure her.
“Oh, these things happen to everyone.”
She tells me she’ll soon turn 86. My mom would’ve been 86 this coming August. Faith has recently had a shoulder replacement.
“Are you doing your PT exercises?” I ask Faith, the same way I pestered my mom after her own shoulder replacement surgery.
Faith seems frail. She struggles up the front steps to her house and totters down the walk to the front door. I’m worried that she’ll trip over the green garden hose snaking it’s way along the concrete path. Her daughter opens the door warily and I introduce myself. I want to tell her she's lucky she still has her mom, but I keep my mouth shut.
Faith thanks me about a hundred times.
“This is just what neighbors do,” I say, “I’m so happy I was there at the right time.”
She hugs me goodbye and, for a moment, I feel like someone’s daughter again.