Mom's photos

Mom & Sis were late for breakfast this morning, so for a while I sat alone at Mrs Rigby's Diner, telling the waitress to expect two more people, and listening to the asswipe in an adjacent booth.

My conversations with my mom are a little weird sometimes, but this middle-aged man was sitting opposite a much older, gray-haired woman he called 'Mother', and they had no conversation at all. Instead, he was scrolling on his phone, reading headlines and the first paragraphs of the bullshit daily news — right-wing propaganda.

His headlines included a heartbreaking to me but heroic to him story about some Texas sheriff who's imposing zero tolerance for immigration in his county.

Next, a man in flooded Florida who'd posted a sign on his shop, "You loot, I shoot." I don't strongly object to that sentiment after an unnatural disaster, but the asswipe reading too loud in the restaurant almost jismed on the table, and said, "That should be the rule everywhere, always. Take what's mine and of course I get to kill you…"

The biggest bullshit of his morning scroll was that Vice President Kamala Harris had said black and other minorities should get priority over whites, as the government sends assistance down South. I don't even need to do a Google to know that's a lie.

Mom wasn't there yet so vulgar language was allowed, and I said, "Bullshit, my man, pure bullshit." He couldn't pinpoint who'd said it, though, probably because of the extra-big fan behind my table, rotating and blowing air and maybe my voice all over the restaurant, so he looked all around, wondering. A mighty stupid man he was, but he had the brains to read the BS headlines more quietly after that. 

Through their entire meal, his mother said simply nothing at all, except 'thank you' when the waitress poured more coffee for them. The asswipe, being an asswipe, didn't even say that.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Mom & my sister Katrina were about twenty minutes late, and Anna, wife of my late brother Ralph, was with them. As they sat and we all said hello, my mom opened a big sack she'd brought, pulled out stacks of photos rubber-banded together, took the rubber bands off, and started showing me photos.

Probably, I should've known. Mom's birthday is approaching, and there's going to be a big party at her church. I've sighed and said I'll be there; it'll be my biggest social event of 2022 and I'm already dreading it.

Well, Katrina had told me that she's been going through boxes of old photos, to assemble a montage or slide show or something for the party, and Mom's been looking over Katrina's shoulder and going through the photos with her, so probably, I should've known.

Mom had brought about a thousand photos to breakfast, and it became a photo festival. Nobody could talk. Mom often interrupted, pushing a photo under my nose and saying, "Do you recognize these people?" or "Do you know who this is?"

Guess I was supposed to recognize everyone in these 50, 60, and 70-yar-old photos, and a few older than that, but I'm farsighted, and hadn't brought my reading glasses. My answer was almost always "Nope." Except for the portrait shots, most of the faces in the photos were too small and blurry for me to know who they were, but that didn't stop Mom's photo show.

She told me who everyone in each photo was, if she knew, but often she didn't, and she'd say, "I don't know either," or "I think that's your Uncle Phil with your cousin Edna, but it might be your father with your niece. It's hard to tell."

The weirdest was a photo of two women looking into a harbor, but the photo was taken from behind them. It was a black-haired woman and a graying-haired women, but you couldn't see their faces, and either of them might've been a man with longer-than-usual hair. 

"That's me and my mother," Mom said.

How can you tell? I almost said, but instead I went with, "Where was it taken?"

"Oh, I have no idea," she said. 

The sentimental value of that particular snapshot eluded me, so I asked, "Why would you keep a photo of the back of two women's heads, taken at an undisclosed location, when you've already shown me dozens of pictures of your mother and yourself at all stages of your lives?"

And Mom merely smiled her hugest Mom smile, as if my question was nonsensical.

♦ ♦ ♦

Several times, Anna or Katrina started telling a story, and Mom interrupted with another photograph and "Do you know who this is?"

Half the time when that happened, I said, "Mom, we were talking." The other half of the time, Katrina said it.

Mom's hard of hearing, but she was wearing her hearing aid, and all of us were speaking loud enough for her to hear, so after the half-dozenth interruption I said, "Come on, Mom. You're not eating breakfast alone. Some manners, please."

And again, she answered with the Mom smile, and soon interrupted with another photo.

♦ ♦ ♦

"[Something something] black," Mom said, interrupting again.

I hadn't heard, so stupidly I said, "What?" and tapped my ear. 

Immediately I regretted it, because I'd heard the word 'black' and remembered a conversation with Mom in that very restaurant a few months ago.

That morning, she'd gone on at great length about attending a (white, of course) friend's funeral where the eulogy had been delivered by a black man. She'd said how surprised she'd been to hear a black man talking about her friend, and how she hadn't know that the deceased had any black friends, and how "he was perfectly polite," and how surprised she'd been at his blackness and politeness.

I'm not sure how prejudiced Mom is, but it's probably plenty, just considering her age and that she's a Republican. That conversation had been awkward, and I knew this one would be more awkward, because the family at the next table — mom, dad, and three kids — was black, and the couple in the next booth was black.

"[Something] black," Mom said again, so immediately I asked my sister how things were going at her job.

Katrina started to answer, but Mom shouted over her, "[Something something] black!" and she pointed at me. "Your mask," she yelled, and wow, what a relief. The COVID mask, around my neck instead of my face because we were eating, was indeed black, which Mom thought was noteworthy, shoutworthy, in the restaurant.

"Yeah, Mom, my mask is black," I said, and again asked Katrina about her work. Mom, of course, brought out another photograph.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

My sister knows my mother's coffee trick, so when it was only Mom saying yes to more refills, Katrina said she'd be waiting outside, paid at the register, and walked out the door.

Usually I'd walk out with her, as doing so definitely makes Mom move faster, but Mom was struggling to get up from her seat, so I gave her my hand, helped her up, and waited while she gathered her sack of photos. And also, last time Anna had come to breakfast, she'd softly scolded me for leaving the table and leaving Mom behind. So I stayed.

And as Anna and Mom and I were standing by the booth, the waitress came by with coffee, saying "Thanks" to us instead of offering refills, because of course and obviously we were leaving.

But Mom said, "Excuse me, could I have some more?" and held her coffee cup out —  while we were standing, basically while we were leaving.

I looked at Anna and said, "See?" and to Mom I said, "See ya," and headed to the door. Anna and Mom stayed at the table, and I stood outside, talking with Katrina for a few minutes.

When Katrina grew impatient and looked through the window, into the restaurant, Mom and Anna were seated at the table again, sipping coffee, and Mom was showing Anna some photos.

Well, Katrina was Mom's ride home, so she was waylaid. I'd come by bus, though, so I said goodbye and walked to the bus stop, while Katrina walked inside to try rousing Mom.

♦ ♦ ♦

I've been back from breakfast for half an hour or so, typing what happened, and just now I got out of my recliner to go down the hall and drop a poop. Sitting on the toilet, still thinking it all through, I heard myself say out loud, "Well, that was another breakfast with Mom," in the same tone of voice you'd say "We made it" when the plane lands after a rough, bumpy flight.

These breakfasts were my idea, you know. Before moving back to Seattle, I'd asked if the family had any regular get-togethers, and the answer was no, everyone's lives are too hectic, and weddings and funerals are the only time everyone gets together.

I wanted the family in my life again, but I hate weddings and funerals, so I invented these Saturday breakfasts at Mrs Rigby's Diner. 

Almost every Saturday it's frustrating, and usually it's Mom that's frustrating. It's kinda nice seeing her, but also it's a chore, and I've never yet wished I could've lingered longer at breakfast with Mom. Maybe after she's dead I'll think that's a rotten thing to have said, but it's the truth.

It's what I'd expected, though. I picked a restaurant that's easy to get to from my house, but a longish trip for anyone else, and that was on purpose. I'd expected the attendance would be low, and it has been. I'd wanted to see a few of the family at a time, on a somewhat regular basis — but on my terms, low stress and with a built-in time limit, and that's what's happening every week.

I'd known it would be frustrating, but I hadn't known how much it would mean to Mom. She sends text messages most days, and often tells me she's looking forward to "Saturday breakfast with Doug." She's said several times that these breakfasts are a high point (sometimes she says the high point) of her week.

It's only an hour and a half of my time, and it means a lot to her. Mom always makes me mildly crazy, but she loves the time with me, and she loves making me crazy. And it's great seeing my sister, and anyone else who shows up. 


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  1. Epic.

    Your mother is a sad woman, I think.

    1. Yeah, I think so too, but that's no excuse.

  2. Damn, these last few paragraphs are sweet. :-)


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