Outside the window, my tomato plants have shriveled. The leaves drop from the canopy of trees and cover the lawn with a blanket of reds, oranges and yellows. Maybe it’s the cooler weather or the transition from summer to the sleepy quiet of fall, but lately everything, it seems, reminds me of my mother.
Especially on Sundays.
Growing up, Sundays were family days. On Sunday morning we piled into the Country Squire station wagon and drove to church. We were always late. Never ones to slide quietly into the back pew, my parents marched us to the front of the church, just as Father whateverhisnamewas was about to begin his homily. It was hard not to notice us. While the rest of the congregation was sitting, the six of us stood in the aisle and waited for everyone in the pew to slide down so that we could all sit together. Yes, we were that family.
Mass was always followed by Sunday brunch. Brunch was almost always eggs, but usually also included a stop at the bakery for something extra, like glazed donuts or bagels or a special treat, rich, moist, crumb cake. The best Sunday brunches always included crumb cake.
After brunch, while my father tinkered in the basement, my mother would work on the New York Times crossword puzzle. She would fill in each square, printing the letters of the words in capital letters, always, as she liked to brag, in ink. It would take the better part of the afternoon, but she would almost always finish. She had a strong vocabulary, and because she was such a voracious reader, there were very few things she didn’t know something about. She never checked her work against the past week’s answers. She didn’t have to. She knew she was right.
On Sundays time seemed to stand still. The phone didn’t ring. The house smelled of pasta sauce simmering on the stove while the melodies of Puccini’s operas played on the stereo. Sundays were slow and predictable and they were all about family.
When I moved to California, Sundays became the day we would catch up. Every Sunday afternoon, without fail, the phone would ring. We’d talk about the kids’ baseball games or field trips and I’d hear about their travels. My mother looked forward to those phone calls. She’d never liked that I’d moved so far away. Often, as we talked, I would imagine her sitting on the couch, the New York Times crossword puzzle in her lap. Sometimes I could even hear Puccini in the background.
But there were also times when I didn’t want to talk. There were times when I was distracted or busy or just not in the mood. When it felt like a chore. An obligation. One more thing I had to do. Sometimes our conversations were stilted. Unenthusiastic. Rote. Despite her efforts to engage, there were times I just went through the motions. There were times I wasn’t a very good daughter.
A couple of Sundays ago, I got ready to make dinner. Outside the rain was falling and the house was very quiet. In the silence, I caught myself wishing that the phone would ring. Some things never change.
I tell myself I would do things differently now. When the phone rang, I’d be all in. I’d tell her how I was doing. We’d talk about the things that mattered to both of us; our wishes, hopes and dreams. We’d say the true things. The things I always wanted to say, the things I hadn’t said when I had the chance. This time, I’d be a better daughter.
I miss you mom.