Tomatoes, Part I: Planting

June 28, 2017

A beautiful day. Cool breeze and full sun. I get my mother a Dunkins coffee and a Boston cream donut. She has some pain but doesn’t want to take an oxycodone.

“I don’t like the way it makes me feel,” she says.

At full volume, she watches the news. The Tice family is still looking for their son Austin, a reporter, who disappeared five years ago in Syria. His mother does most of the talking, the father deferring to her.

Mitch McConnell is trying to revise the latest health care plan. My mother sputters whenever he’s on. “He’s trying to railroad something through,” she says. “But he can’t do it, the bastard.”

I perch on her old bed that we’ve dragged into the living room opposite her hospital bed, so that we can sleep with her at night. While she sits in her recliner eating her donut, I catch up on this journal. Also, I remind her and remind her and remind her to mute the commercials.

“Mom,” I say, “if we’re going to make it two weeks together, I can’t listen to commercials at full volume all day.”

She says what she always says, “I don’t even hear them.”

When hospice comes to give her a bath, I walk the usual three miles wondering why I have take such an ugly route when there are so many beautiful places to walk here. There is construction at the intersection of Wells and Beach, on Elm Street just past Moore’s Mill, and at the intersection of Wells and East Ave. Why so much paving three days before this huge holiday in a beach town? You could ask that every year here, it seems.

My mother has decided to dress in jeans and a t-shirt and seems very alert when I get home.

“What about the pain?” I say.

“I want to go to Job Lot and see if they still have tomato plants,” she says. 

It’s so late for tomatoes, I think, but she doesn’t get dressed in actual clothes every day. Her wrist aches, but she ignores it, wincing only if she forgets, reaching for her pocketbook, trying to get up from her chair.

The plants are outside the store. If they weren’t on a table, it would be hard to distinguish them from roadside weeds. Field daisies. Day lilies. Clematis in boxes. Leaning on her carriage, my mother scans the collection until she spots the tomatoes.

“Pick out the best three,” she says, and then she heads into the store. A few months ago during one of our trips, she had picked up some long sleeved t-shirts from a sales rack and had carried them around with her. When she met up with me, she held one up: “Five dollars.”

My mother lost her most of her vision over twenty years ago. Now, she squinted at the shirt’s design — a scene of snowflakes and pointsettias.

“Is this a Christmas shirt?” she asked, and I had nodded, frozen in the shampoo aisle where I loaded my cart with organic hair products. Do we buy a Christmas shirt? A shirt to wear 6 months from now? I wondered. Hopeful.

She shrugged, handed it to me. “I won’t get it then,” she said. “I’m going to look at the spices.”

Lunch is shepherd’s pie for her, but she requests extra peas. She eats it in front of the Young and the Restless. I take my grilled cheese upstairs and bang away at the memoir I’m supposed to be working on, trying to figure out how much is okay to make up if I’m certain it happened something like the way I’ve written it down.

When I hear sauce pans banging downstairs, I know her soaps are over. She’ll be ferrying pots back and forth from the cupboard to the counter via her walker. She wants to make pasta for dinner and to eat the stuffed eggplant my sister Jeannie took out of the freezer yesterday. When she was cleaning the freezer, Jeannie also threw out the parsley my mother had frozen in cubes.

“They throw things away and don’t even ask me,” she says.

I go outside where she and I potted parsley earlier in the spring and clip some sprigs.

Marilyn, who my mother calls the Reikis [sic] lady, calls for an unscheduled treatment. 

“I happen to have some time today,” she says.

My mother is Marilyn’s only Reiki client right now. She sometimes sees two or three at a time, but not now. I know what has happened to those other people.

I go outside, take the phone with me so they are not interrupted. My mother doesn’t like that I do take the phone. My mother who has never let the message machine take a call for her.

In the mulch between her shrubbery, I trim the dead stalks of tulips and daffodils and Easter lilies my mother has planted here from gifts her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren bring her. It has never mattered to her where things grow, only that they do.

From the birdfeeders she insists we keep filled, creatures scatter as I work. I make a dish around the tomatoes so the water can soak in. Although I hadn’t noticed it before, now I see that one plant is an heirloom. I separate it from the others so we’ll know the difference. Inside, if my mother has pain, Marilyn will help her and she’ll sleep.

These plants, scraggly, pot-bound, will be fine. Things just grow here. They always have. They will.


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