The phone never rings more than two times before she grabs it, a little out of breath, as if there's a rush, but there's not. Or she just came in the door with arms full of groceries, but she didn't. And she always answers, 'Beverly?' with that question mark in her voice.
I say, 'Hi Mom, how are you?'. Without fail she says, 'your mom is doing great, I'm doing just great.' The conversation dips and turns, a sort of tango to take us to how she's really doing. What she's busy with, who she's seen lately, where she's gone. That takes all of minutes these days.
As soon as she can, she turns the conversation back to me and my family. 'Well now, how are all those kids down in Texas doing?' How are those up north?" I answer with names and details, a gentle refresher for her, assuring her they're all fine. Doing well. We're all doing well.
We used to stay in touch by writing real letters, on lined paper, with blue ink. Photographs and newspaper clippings were shoved into envelopes. No recipes. My mother has never been the recipe-exchange type. A few years ago, after a drawer-cleaning stint, she gave me back all those letters I'd written her, all the photos and news clippings still intact. Someday, eventually, I'll take them with me on that trip to the beach we said we'd go on, but never did; I'll reread them while I lie in the sun, my face shaded by a big, floppy hat, and wish she was with me. I already know, years ahead of time, how it will feel to be there without her, remembering. Right now they sit on the closet shelf, sheets and sheets of a journal I didn't know I was keeping.
Back in those days when we talked on the phone but lived miles apart, 'long distance' was not something to be taken lightly so we crammed as much in as we could. We talked about everything. Nothing was taboo, and we only hung up because the bill was running up, ten cents a minute. We'd stop the flow of easy conversation. Stop the deep, long talks about politics and discrimination and women's lib, and books and marriage and divorce and such, but never a word about recipes. Oddly enough, those cooking conversations are, and always have been, with my father. My mother and I would hit on a subject and talk it to the ground. That was then.
This is now. A now that snuck up on me, one day at a time until it turned into years and we're in a place where there's not so much to talk about. Is it because her world is getting smaller, the walls closing in around her? Surely mine will someday too soon do the same. The last time we talked, after I hung up, I thought about how I need to do better. I need to go back with her to a place and time when life was full. Remember with her all her favorite stories. Let her tell me again, for her, but also for me so I tuck them away safe. Now that phone minutes are virtually unlimited our conversations aren't. I need to work on that. Put out the effort to find things we can again talk and talk and talk about.
Earlier this week I sat in the chair of my living room, chattering away with my two grown daughters. Words flowed, twisting and turning and looping around again. We remembered together, laughing and yelling over each other, squealing and gasping for breath. We could have talked all night if one mama wasn't sleep deprived from having a baby, and the other one knew better than to stay up too late because a houseful of little people would be waiting for her when the sun was barely up. Good sense won out, but everything in us wanted to stay there together.
That evening with my girls, for a moment their voices were muffled in my mind. Words went pale and danced behind the filter of my heart. Like when bright sun comes through the glass window and you can see particles of dust floating in the air all around you, I was mesmerized by the sheer sound of their voices filling the room. My room. Just being here together in the fullness of it all. Someday my girls will maybe remember back to this night, and so many others, when we couldn't talk fast enough, about enough, long enough. When we were all sad that it was too late to stay longer and being responsible ended our evening too soon. They'll remember when my world was big and wide and full of new people and interesting events, and books, and news and such. When we didn't talk about doctor visits and prescriptions and aches and pains and such.
Why is it days slip by so easily, going unnoticed, turning into years? What can I do to make it hold still? For right now I can really, really, really listen to how it sounds when my mother calls me "Darlin'" and somewhere in our talking says "It's just so good to hear from you." I'm trying to grasp, at the core of my being, that someday I'll look back and remember these days - with my own mother, and as a mother of my two grown daughters, and wish I could have just one of them back. Wish I could ask my mother about her new friend down the way, and hear her reply. Listen to my girls talk about being sleep-deprived, and feedings, and toddlers, and teenagers, and everything else in-between. I'll look back to these fleeting days of easy conversation that floated in the air all around me.