March 29, 2009
I opened the dishtowel drawer for about the sixth time, hoping the towels had somehow magically appeared.
The brand new towels still weren't there, of course.
"What did Mom DO with them?" I wondered aloud.
I knew they had to be around somewhere because I had given them to her for Christmas only a few months ago. Not that the towels were so terribly important. It's just that when you're expecting guests, you'd kind of like everything to look nice.
Okay, so maybe I wasn't going to find them. Then again, the guests wouldn't arrive until tomorrow. Plenty of time to worry about dishtowels later.
On second thought, maybe I ought to forget about the towels all together. My father's niece and her husband didn't seem like the kind of people who would leave in a huff because their host hadn't put out new dishtowels.
Perhaps I'd better see if I could lay my hands on Mom's best tablecloth. A tablecloth had always been one of the things my mother insisted upon when we had company.
I went to the drawer where Mom kept her tablecloths, and sure enough, there it was.
But when I pulled out the hand-embroidered tablecloth, the one that it had taken her months to complete, I gasped in dismay. Right in the middle was a big stain. Now how in the world did Mom's best tablecloth end up with a stain?
Oh yes, that's right. We'd all been here for Christmas, and one of the kids had accidentally knocked over a glass of soda pop. The sight of her grandchild sobbing with remorse had been more important than the tablecloth, and Mom had said she was sure the pop would come out when she washed it.
All right, so it looked like I'd have to forget the tablecloth, too. Maybe I'd be better off attending to the big things right now, anyway, like vacuuming.
Satisfied that I was finally going to make some progress, I got out the vacuum cleaner.
Except. . .why did it sound so funny? And why wasn't it picking up those bits of paper on the living room carpeting?
I pulled out the attachments hose and flipped the switch again. Ah-ha. That's why. No suction. The hose was plugged.
Well, of COURSE the hose was plugged. I couldn't find the new dishtowels. Mom's best tablecloth had a big stain. Why wouldn't the vacuum cleaner hose be plugged?
And right then and there, I started to cry. Now what was I going to do? Would a wire hanger work? Thirty minutes later, however, the vacuum cleaner was still plugged.
Where was Dad? I knew he'd gone outside and was probably puttering around in his garden, seeing as it was the middle of April, but why wasn't he in here when I needed him? After being a farmer for 50 years, he could fix absolutely anything.
Just at that moment, my father came into the house.
"What's wrong?" he asked, noticing that I had been crying.
Although it had been years since I called him "Daddy," it just sort of slipped out, and along with it came more tears.
"Oh, Daddy – I can't find the new dishtowels. The tablecloth has a big stain. The vacuum cleaner is plugged. And-"
I stopped and swallowed hard.
"I miss my mother."
There. I'd said it.
And in that instant, the whole world seemed to stop while Dad drew a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"I know you do," he said. "So do I."
You see, only three weeks earlier, my mother had been diagnosed with advanced gallbladder cancer. Mom died Saturday night, and this was Monday. My father's niece and her husband were driving 275 miles to attend the funeral, and they would be staying at the house.
As Dad gazed at me, I noticed how much he seemed to have aged in the last few weeks. And his face was covered with silvery stubble. It was a rare morning when my father didn't shave, but then, the past couple of days had been far from ordinary.
"And you know what?" Dad continued. "You always WILL miss your mother. In fact, it won't ever go away completely. Not even when you're as old as me."
Dad was 70. I was 26. I never knew Dad's mother. She had died before I was born.
Mom had been stricken with polio in 1942 when she was 26 and paralyzed in both legs. At the time, the doctors had told her she would never have more children. I was born 16 years later.
After the funeral was over and my father's relatives had gone home, I found the dishtowels. Mom had put them in her dresser drawer. And with several washings, the stain finally came out of the tablecloth. Dad had been able to fix the vacuum cleaner too.
But nothing could fix the fact that my mother was gone.
Mom died in 1985, and all these years later, I realize that Dad was right – I AM always going to miss her.
But I've also figured out what else he was trying to tell me on that April day so long ago – that missing my mother keeps her alive in my heart.
About The Author
LeAnn R. Ralph is the editor of the Wisconsin Regional Writer (the quarterly publication of the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Assoc.) and is the author of the book, Christmas in Dairyland (True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm). She is working on her next book, Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam. See what readers are saying about Christmas in Dairyland – http://ruralroute2.com