Tuesday, January 4, 2011

morning coffee

Being up alone like this, almost an hour before anyone else will get out of bed (and up for a while now), makes me think of my mother.

I'm walking around in a bathrobe and slippers, I've just made coffee. It's still dark outside. The furnace has just kicked in with its morning temperature setting and I'm feeling that strange, sleepy hangover feeling you get when you're up before you're really ready. Take an inventory of my aches and pains, pour a cup, try to wake up. I sound like a Maxwell House commercial. (Maybe you remember those. Here's a vintage 70's clip featuring "Cora," aka Margaret Hamilton aka "The Wicked Witch of the West.") If I had a radio with WCCO's morning show crackling away in the kitchen, I will have perfectly recreated a thousand school-day mornings in my mother's company.

I was not a morning person, a fact my mother recognized early on. She didn't make me talk much, nor did she prattle on randomly the way some women do around their children. I seem to recall learning to drink coffee in the morning at a younger-than-average age, no doubt thanks to my mother and her Midwestern reliance on strong brews. I notice in my son those morning habits which might be common to most young children: up more or less on time, taking that familiar position on the couch and curling up in a ball to wait until someone turns on the TV, and offers breakfast. It's not yet firmly established whether or not he's a morning person. His father certainly is, up whistling and making a racket at unreasonable hours, ready to poke and prod and hassle you out of bed to his own delight. Insufferable! But I guess someone has to be ready in the morning.

Mom's internal clock was a farm clock for many years. I don't know how long she lived on the farm -- it couldn't have been very long, given Grandma's tendency to change husbands -- but I know she remembered it fondly. I imagine she has always like animals better than people, she's similar to my husband that way, or he's similar to her. I remember her talking about cows, in particular. How quiet and shy they were, but intelligent she always thought, and friendly. I can imagine her up before dawn, milking cows.

As the oldest girl in a family of 12, however, she was more likely to be up before dawn getting breakfast ready. I wonder how long she's been drinking coffee? She's lived most of her years in a pattern that was set down for her, which is perhaps why she now seems so determined to live differently, though she obviously doesn't quite know how.

Yesterday I went to urgent care for a nuisance infection; and while there was asked to respond to a list of medical questions by indicating which of my family members, if any, had been diagnosed with these conditions. "My mother" was my response for at least a fourth of the items on that long list. No cancer, thank God, but a whole host of other ailments, physical and psychological, all shades of chronic. She's a mess. I've long suspected that Mom's history of pain and complications is a direct result of profound unhappiness. She was good at getting up early, raising kids, paying bills, fixing the plumbing, painting a house, growing a rose garden, whipping up delicious meals. She just never felt like she had what she wanted, and I'm afraid the malady is hereditary.

She is still a coffee drinker, still tough and funny and slightly bitter. She's making that transition into old age, sliding across that line that all women cross eventually if they live long enough: you look at their faces, and wonder what they could possibly have looked like when they were young, it's so hard to tell. But I know -- she looked like me, almost identically. I have a lovely portrait taken of her when she was 38, that Grandma paid for I think -- still lovely and dark, wearing a chain beaded with two large pearls. Those two pearls were found in an oyster, pulled from a tank in the Grandstand at the State Fair. Every year we went to the Pearldiver's booth, to add to Mom's collection.  I have a ring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see her picture some day. Your kid looks like you too, your mom's DNA marching through everything in its path.

pax, DJS