My youngest brother, Grant, is very attached to our mother and he extends great kindnesses, far more than I do. Our relationship with her is individual and distinctly different, resulting in our different views on her as a mother. Irregardless, the one thing he and I agree on is our mother's lack of a social filter, that quality that prohibits you from saying outrageous (even if they are true) observations.
Some of her forthrightness is attributable to having an English-speaking family and a society of friends who were rough in nature and language. There was certainly little elegance or eloquence in manner or speech, and when you mix that someone who elicits only the bare bones of a foreign language, you're up against some pretty stark and startling conversation.
Everyone who knows her has been on the receiving end of one of her truths. We've learned to laugh it off, but when we introduce someone new to her, (say a new boyfriend or girlfriend) we always start with a warning, "Brace yourself, don't be hurt, don't be angry. She's going to say whatever is on her heart, whether you want to hear it or not. She doesn't mean to be hurtful..."
Mother is 81 years old, lives independently in a senior housing community. She's irascible and strong-willed. When she needs something done she will just casually toss out, "I need to have the air conditioner put in and go to the bank." Long silence. "It would be nice to have the air conditioner put in; I suppose I could ask one of the old men here to do it for me but they're not so good anymore. Can't count on them; they don't move too hot. I'll just sit in this hot apartment until one of them can come." Long silence while she waits for the guilt to seep in.
And my dear brother, with his friend, Paula, volunteered to drive the 150 miles to put in her air conditioner and take her to the bank. There are a number of two story brick buildings in her complex and after driving around a bit, my brother was able to find a parking space close to her building; the plan was they'd help her get her outside with her walker, go and get the car, and come back around to get her, take her uptown to do her chores, go back home.
Grant dropped Paula off at my mother's building while he parked the car. As he was walking up the sidewalk, an elderly lady approached him. "Are you the one going uptown?"
"Yes," he said hesitantly. He did not know this woman.
"You're here to see your mother?" He nodded. "She said you'd take me uptown. I need to go to the grocery store."
Grant, irked at being a chauffeur, but not wanting to embarrass Mother by refusing her friend a promised ride, helped the old woman into the front seat of his car, explained he'd be right back. The old woman shuffled in and sat comfortably while he went to escort Mother to the sidewalk and bring the car around. He rolled the windows down so she wouldn't suffocate in the car as she waited.
The old lady was still in the front seat, politely waiting. Paula and Grant helped my mother into the back seat. She is round as a strawberry barrel and weighs about as much. She is stiff with arthritis, but is determined to go. She grunts heavily as she sits, all smiles and gushing with delight at the thought of a car ride. Paula took the seat beside her. My mother, oblivious to the fourth person in the car, said "I want to go to the bank. Do you know how to get there?" Grant assured her that he did and the four of them set off.
It's a short ride made interminable by my mother who focused her entire attention on Paula, filling the silence with chatter about the "old people" known only by her who lived in her complex. As Grant later told the story, Mother continued roughshod over any interjections the old woman offered, not unusual as my mother will be heard, waving away any interruptions to her stories. Mother thought she was conversing with Paula the entire time. As they neared the shopping mall, the old woman said, "I want to go to the grocery store." Grant pulled into the Shaw's parking lot.
Mother in the backseat said, "Why are you here? I told you I wanted to go to the bank!" She was thoroughly miffed at his memory lapse. "The bank is not here!"
"I know, Mom," Grant says patiently. "Your friend wants to go to the grocery store. I thought I'd drop her off here, we'd go to the bank, and swing back and get her."
And that was the first moment Mother saw the old woman. She stared in amazement at the back of the woman's head until the old woman turned around. A staring contest ensured, broken by my mother. "Who the hell are you?" Mother fiercely inquired.
"I live in the same complex as you; I need to go to the grocery store."
Grant, alarmed, "You don't know this woman? She said she was a friend of yours."
"No, I don't know this old woman! She's just some crazy old bat getting in your car. She's an old fool!" (Pronounced Old Foo by my mother, the worst insult imaginable.) "What are you doing letting that Old Foo in your car? Why do you want to take her to the grocery store when I need to get to the bank!"
Quick glances were exchanged between Grant and Paula as their panic deepened. Now what? "We still have plenty of time to get to the bank." Looking at the now so-named Old Foo, "Look, we can't just leave you here. I'll take Mother to the bank and we'll come back and take you home, okay?"
It all worked out, of course. Mother was able to get to the bank on time, the old woman who wandered haplessly into their lives was delivered to her front doorstep. As Grant related the story to me in agonizing detail, I laughed and laughed. I laughed until I cried. It could only happen to him.
Several weeks later, I was uptown, coming out the RiteAid, of one of our little city's drugstores, a scruffy man, smelling of old cigarettes and sweat looked me up and down. He was leaning against the building, leg bent at the knee, foot pressed against the wall. I pretended not to see him. "Hey!" he yelled at me. I stopped, weighed the fight or flight response in me. "You going uptown? I need a ride."
I thought of Grant, smirked on the inside of myself. "No. Sorry. Going in the complete opposite direction."