I spent the week-end in San Angelo visiting my mom and brother and his family. It has become a bit of a tradition over the last few years prompted by my wife's yearly mission travels to Haiti which, in recent years, has taken her away over the 4th of July.
The boys and I began a few years ago, buying fireworks and trundling out west of San Angelo where my mom lives in the country and having our own private fireworks show. The following night we have taken to going out to the local minor league baseball stadium and watching a somewhat larger show. The great thing is, that the crowds are small as the really big show is done out at the lake, a trek and an experience I have chosen to avoid in my older, less patient years.
This year, my wife was in town and so we all made the trip together. I found that my wife was somewhat fond of fireworks and rather enjoyed getting rid of the "leftovers" of years past prior to my oldest son and I lighting the larger "ooh and ahh" mortar type fireworks. This was his first year to light most of them himself. One more in a long line of coming of age experiences.
During the course of the visit my wife took on the "project" of cleaning out my mother's pantry. About 4 ft wide and 6 high and about half as deep it has been the recipient of many baking supplies, jellies and spices that my mother was unable to use due to various ailments, among which can be listed a pack-rat syndrome that she faithfully handed down to me from her own mother. This illness is usually found in garages and closets and desks and the like but has been known to spread to pantry and refrigerator as well. The disease has been the cause of many a family horror story particularly as my grandmother aged and eyesight and sense of smell waned, like the one my mother re-told as we started our journey through the pantry of finding an unidentified object in my grandmother's fridge.
"What was the black thing in the plastic container, she asked?
To which the reply was given, "Oh, its meat."
But upon further inspection the "meat" was found to be carrots of some unknown age and state.
"At least I'm not as bad as that," she said as we fought our way to the first shelf of the pantry.
"we'll see," I said. And indeed we did.
We removed 5 large garbage bags of jars, cans, rice, flours, brown sugars and the like from this food time capsule disguised as a pantry. All with expired dates years out. The oldest find in this archeology site was a can of clams from 1991.
In the midst of this dig, my mother tripped on the edge of one of the bags and fell on her knees. Parchment paper skin and brittle body, bled and swelled and ached. She did not go to the fireworks display with us in town. She had fallen the night before we came and hit her head on a table. Her legs and arms have many marks from this or that, many from limbs that scratch as she mowes (riding lawnmower) the acre property that her one room bedsitter of a house nestles on next to the creek.
"There are many lives stuffed into this one," I remarked to my wife as we drove down the lane toward my mom's house. "Before the divorce, after the divorce, when my dad re-married, when my mom re-married, when they bought this place in the country as a second house and finally when my step-dad died and my mother moved out here for good." A thousand memories and many forgotten or buried. All a life story on their own and all jammed into the one life that is me.
Through all of this mom has been a constant, if at times a bit off the wall and smothering, at least she was consistent in her idiosyncrasies.
But this trip I saw the next chapter. I saw her unsteadiness and her sadness as she threw out the baking materials that she had not used for quite some time. She still loves to cook, mind you, but it hurts now to stand in the kitchen for any length of time. I saw her embarrassment as she threw out things bought with memories of husband and family close by made excess by her life of living alone.
I do not know how many years are left. It may be one or twenty or something in between but a page has turned and the book must be steadied on my arm.