Family Matters


Family Matters

The Shopping Trip: Showing Up Is Its Own Reward

March/April 2019


On Sundays, I pick my mother up at her assisted-living facility, just a couple miles from our house, and take her for a drive. We used to go for walks, but she’s unsteady on her feet now, even with her walker, and once the temperature dips below 60 degrees, she gets too cold.

Although she’s in the front seat next to me, conversation is nearly impossible since she’s so hard of hearing. Short, declarative sentences requiring no reply are best: “It’s cold today.” “The sun’s so bright.” “I spoke to my boys and they’re fine.”

“The trees are nearly bare, more bare than last Sunday,” she says. It’s true: just last week the sun had shone through a wealth of yellow maple leaves, turning them luminous, lit from within. “All those leaves on the ground,” she adds.

She’s always been stymied by quantity. It overwhelms her. Too many leaves, too much food, too many shoes, too many choices. This took me years to realize—that it was the sheer quantity and not the particulars of what she was regarding. Too large a portion of mashed potatoes caused the same anguish, verging on disgust, as too big a diamond ring on the finger of a patron whose books she used to check out of the library where she worked.

“It’s Veteran’s Day,” I say, and she says that she knows. The veterans in her facility had worn their army and navy caps down to the dining room, and small American flags on short wooden sticks were decorating the lobby.

“At lunch today,” she begins, and I feel…

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