As we indulged at our favorite Mexican food restaurant recently, I took a bite of my much anticipated taco. "Oh, it’s so salty! Flash, did you salt my taco when I went to the restroom?"
“Seriously? In the past 23 years, I have never salted your food at a restaurant. Why would I do that now?”
“Because life has become mundane, and you want to watch me puff up like a blowfish?”
“As entertaining as that sounds, no, I did not salt your taco.”
“They must have spilled the salt in the kitchen,” I reasoned as I shoved a tortilla chip covered with salsa into my mouth. “Oh my gosh! Do they have this red sauce shipped in from the Dead Sea?” I grasped at my throat like I’d just run a marathon in the Sahara.
“It tastes the same as always. Maybe it’s you.”
“It’s so salty! Everything is so salty!” As I heard my mother’s mantra coming out of my mouth, I suddenly understood her plight. The older we get, every entrée, every slice of bread, every salad dressing known to mankind tastes like a salt lick. We are the salt of the earth incarnate; a slug slightly touched my toe yesterday and dissolved on impact.
With each passing year, my similarities to Mom increase.
Being a sugar addict, I relish the delicacies that refined sugar brings. Never, in my world, has there been the possibility of too much sugar. Last week, I bit into a healthy snack bar. Not a normal candy bar, but one of those bars with ingredients like nuts, oats, and tree bark in it to make it sound healthy. The maple syrup mixed in was the reason I ate them. I took one bite and gave the rest of the box to Flash.
“You don’t want these? I thought you loved these,” he said.
“They changed the recipe.”
“Since last week?”
“Yes, I can tell. They are much sweeter now.”
“Umm, that box has been in the pantry for three weeks.”
“Whatever. Somebody has been sneaking in here and injecting large amounts of liquid sugar into them. Who would do that? They’re too sweet for me now.”
Flash ran to the phone, quickly pushing the on button.
“What are you doing?”
“Calling 911. You’ve never said anything was too sweet for you; you sound like your mother. Either you’re having some kind of attack or this is Armageddon. Tell me your name and address. What is my name? Touch your finger to your nose. Stick out your tongue. Recite the preamble to the Constitution.”
It’s good to know I can count on Flash during a medical emergency. I assured him I was fine and went to eat a pickle, which was, of course, too salty. As I walked from the kitchen to my bedroom, I heard the waves of my water retention splashing against my thighs. By morning, I’d be wearing a toga to avoid any “binding” around the waist.
In addition to my newly discovered taste-bud issues, my conversations now begin with a list of what's ailing me on any given day. There are no awkward silent moments since I’m never at a loss for something to talk about, even with perfect strangers in the grocery store.
“You had to tell the cashier at Kroger about your finger you slammed in a door last week?” Flash has worked through many embarrassing moments through the years, due to my “talking to anyone, anywhere, at any time.”
“People care about these things. They are friendly; I am friendly. I was just making conversation,” I told my anti-social husband.
“You showed her your black-and-blue finger and asked if she thought you’d lose the nail.”
“I’m conducting an unbiased poll. So far, 50 percent of the people think I will soon mourn the loss of my fingernail. They are very emotionally supportive.” And you are not, I thought to myself.
Mom doesn’t share ailments with the general population, but she gives me weekly reports on her toenail fungus and the latest remedies tried. I keep her updated on my energy level, how much water I’m drinking, my bad knee, and the status of my black fingernail. It’s our mutual admiration society for the things we must endure. We talk about supplements that help, we talk about how our sleep was the night before, we talk about regularity. We talk about a lot.
And I’m keeping my mind sharp by finishing Mom’s sentences when she’s vocabulary challenged. "It's like a game show,” I explained to her. “I have to fill in the blanks for the words you can't think of."
When you make fun of your 89-year-old mother, it always comes around. This morning, it took me four tries to get Flash’s name right when I was trying to ask him if he took out the trash.
“You’re memory is so bad,” the smart-aleck woman who bore me often says. “Mine is better than yours.” Then she forgets what she was going to say next. And I forget why I called her in the first place. We’re pretty evenly matched. But I’m better with people’s names. She can tell me what we had for lunch on Thanksgiving three years ago (it’s not always turkey and dressing), but I can tell her the name of a couple we went to church with in the early 70’s.
“Oh, you know, the woman at church who had short blond hair.” Mom has described 25 percent of the congregation.
“I need more information than that, Mom. You can use gestures or phone a friend.”
“She was a teacher for a long time. She’s married to…oh, the guy who is an EMT.”
“Does your friend wear glasses?”
“Does she still have her own teeth?”
“Does she have a walker?”
I’m playing a variation of the board game Guess Who; it’s the Senior Citizen Edition, with real people.
“Is she bigger than a bread box? Can I buy a vowel? Is it Melissa Berry?”
“No, older than Melissa,” she says.
“Sandra Williams! Her husband is Ed. They had three daughters, and they live in Fort Worth now.” I feel the exhilaration of winning the round, minus the cash reward or a trip to the Bahamas.
“Yes, Sandra Williams! Thank you! Ah, I’ve been trying to think of her name for two weeks.” Mom slumps back in her chair with a satisfied look on her face.
Sometimes we play the game with words of common objects, like “broom,” “squeegee,” or “ladle.” We are both proud owners of a multitude of thingies, thingamabobs, whatchamacallits, and doomaflotchies.
But when it comes to recalling details of Cowboy’s early years, Mom takes the Olympic gold. My adrenaline and anxiety during the dark years, and the grace of God, determined what I would remember later. After living in survival mode for over a decade, shoving a lot of traumatic memories to the pit of my subconscious, I lost many details of life with a younger Cowboy.
So, Cowboy’s grandma jogs my memory. She reminds me of what he was not able to do in the past, but is doing now. It gives me perspective. On days when I feel down about Cowboy’s struggles with autism, she will say things like, “Remember how Cowboy used to never sit down, flapped his hands all the time, couldn’t sit through a TV show?”
Instantly, I remember my previous exhausted condition. I knew that when I died, I would be buried vertically to commemorate my ever-standing position for the first 12 years of Cowboy’s life. I still tend to eat meals standing up, out of habit. We put thousands of miles on multiple cars as we drove him around to help him relax. And getting him to sleep at night required an indoor hammock and earphones piping modulated music into his brain. Only then could Flash and I relax, and even then, not entirely.
“He has come so far,” Mom often says. Her words bring gratitude and hope.
Last week, I glanced over at a still, listening Cowboy as Mom read Green Eggs and Ham to him for the billionth time. The peacefulness of our home flooded my ears.
“Remember how Cowboy used to lead us around to tell us what he wanted?”
Now he uses sign language or types on his iPad.
“Remember how you had pictures of food on your refrigerator to help him tell us what he wanted to eat?”
Now he fixes his own meals using the microwave.
“Remember how he could never entertain himself or do a task by himself?”
While I’ve been writing this, dear reader, Cowboy has been watching the Summer Olympics in a different room. A few minutes ago, I heard him go out to the garage several times, busy with something. When I went to see what he’d been doing, what a joyous surprise it was to see he had put everyone’s laundry away, including what was in the dryer, without my ever asking him to do so.
Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Mom and I have our similarities in the form of taste buds, ailments, flabby arms, looks, and moments of forgetfulness. But I have a long way to go in purposely recalling the past to appreciate the present. For Mom, it seems to come naturally. For me, it is a discipline I must practice, and I long to flatter her in my imitation of her never-ending hopefulness.