My life is a whirligig. It is symptomatic of the plague of busy busy busy that has seized so many of us. Nonetheless, my daughter and I decided to write a two-woman story. Hers is hers, but mine is yours. We chose the theme Peach Pie. Here is what emerged from the multiple whirligigs of my childhood, my love for my mom and daughter, and my Now.
My mom died 15 years ago. She wasn't afraid to die. She told me so in her room in a little Finger Lakes, New York, hospital. She'd been drifting in and out - peacefully drowsing when she was out, lucid and tender when she returned.
A few years earlier, we'd come out the other side of decades of conflict - caused in part by circumstances over which neither she nor I had control. It was a joy to be with her in the peaceful room, to give her the small gifts of a shoulder rub, a fresh cup of tea, time for her to tell me the last remaining secrets she'd held a long time.
She woke, looked up at me, smiled and waved her hand around the room. "This?" she said, "all this. It doesn't mean a thing." She knew by then that she was dying from a fast-acting lung cancer. "Pretty good over there?" I said. "I don't really know yet," she said, "but I do know I'm not afraid to die."
I miss my Mom every day - in those moments when I see the poppies along the river and want to send her a clay pot planted with grape hyacinths, or I hear the elegant jazz of Marian McPartland, or when I read from my new novel to a circle of listeners. She was my writing's greatest ally.
I wish she could come visit me in my new home in Bend. She loved food, loved cooking even more. I imagine her visiting in the summer when the near-by Drake Park Farmer's Market has home-grown fruit for sale. We would walk over so she could see the gardens in the neighborhood. She would love the homemade cheeses, wild mushrooms and bundles of herbs. We'd walk to the fruit stands last. Mom would pick carefully through the peaches until she found the ones that were at that delicate point of perfection on the edge of too lush.
We would bring them home. She'd tell me to get out of the kitchen. "I have to concentrate," she'd say - even though she had made sour cream peach pie hundreds of times.
Later, we'd sit in my front yard and eat sour cream peach pie a little warm from the oven. The crust would be flaky as puff pastry, the filling only a little sweet. We'd argue and gossip and remember. Then politics would come up - and this is what I miss most - my mother's face would go hard and mean. She'd set her empty plate on the grass. Laughter would tickle my throat
"Now, LIz," she would say. "What are we going to do about that dreadful woman? She who must not be named." She is, after all, the one who taught me not to dignify the disgraceful by giving them public relations.
"You mean," I'd say, my eyes narrowed shrewdly, "the one with the cute hairdo and the ever-so-a-woman-of-the-people glasses."
"That one," she'd snap, "except you left out her pimp politics."
We would be off and running. It would be dark by the time we exhausted the topic. We would never have said "that dreadful woman's" name. And we would have felt not just fury, but sorrow that so many of our American sisters could not see clearly the manufactured empress' new clothes. We would go into my little house. We might put a CD on the boom box, maybe Marian or Oscar Peterson or Ella Fitzgerald. My mom would sneak out for a smoke. When she came back in, she'd say, "You know - that dreadful woman? She's nothing but a fart in a skillet."
And I, as I had for six decades, would have no idea what that meant - though the wicked grin on my mother's face would say it all.