Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Mailbox Number 11

    Perhaps it is the fate of children to be always looked upon as children by their parents, even when they are long grown. I have graduated college, written nine books, purchased two homes, poured concrete, installed light fixtures, changed car tires, driven from the West Coast to the East Coast. I can do things. I function as an independent adult in the living world. 
     And yet...
     Have you ever turned the dishwasher on without putting dishwashing detergent in it? I haven't. Though I suppose it is possible. In fact, it must happen to someone, sometime. But in decades of doing the dishes, it's never happened to me, to my knowledge. Nor have I ever worried about doing so. In the days when you had to pour harsh granules of detergent into a little cup, I poured. In recent decades I grabbed whatever tablet or pod—long a complicated packet of liquids of various hues—and dropped it into its little compartment and slid the small plastic door home. 
      It's really not that hard. I can't imagine it being a concern. Until last week, visiting my parents in Colorado. The dishwasher hummed in the background.
     "Did you put the dishwasher on?" my mother asked after breakfast.
     "Yes," I said.
     "Did you put soap in it?" she asked.
     I gazed at her, steadily. Ever see those Time/Life photos of a boron laser cutting through steel plate? I thought of that photo at that moment, imagining my expression as something like that. Though in reality I might merely have looked cross. She asked the question again.
     "Ma, I'm 60 years old," I said.
     "I think of you as half your age," she said, sweetly.
     "That would make me 30," I said, flatly. Still an adult. I don't know why I enter into these exchanges. The child in me, I suppose. I never come out the winner. The next day, after more pressing than should have been necessary, I was finally entrusted with the mailbox key and allowed to go get the mail. Which I did, managing to walk to the mailbox, briskly, insert the key, on my first try, turn it in the proper direction, remove the mail, carry the small stack back to her condo without dropping a single letter. I placed it on the kitchen counter, right where the mail goes. 
     I do not believe that, even with the previous foreshadowing, 100 novelists could come up wth the perfect, inevitable question that was tossed at me at the moment. Pause now, and try to imagine it. Do you have a contender in mind? Compare it to the glory of what my mother crafted:
     "Any trouble finding it?"
     My parents have live in the same townhouse for 33 years. Walk out the front door, turn right, take 75 steps, and there are the mailboxes. They're like the Rockies, right there. It's hard to miss them.
     I considered my reply, carefully, and settled on my default, candor.
     "The mailbox?" I said, more in sorrow than anger. "No."
     The conversation did not end there.
     "I mean Number 11," she replied.
     I marveled, the way one would at a volcano or the Northern Lights.
     "Right there between 10 and 12," I said, surrendering to the moment, almost happy.


  1. Perfect response! Ha ha. “Right there between 10 and 12.” Made me laugh. Ya know, many mothers say stuff like that to their grown kids. I think it may be because they just want to interact with them but really don’t have much to talk about. And, of course, you’re right— they will always think of us as kids no matter our age. My Mom was exactly like yours until she fell into dementia. Then she talked less and less. Now that she’s gone, my daughter has taken over for her. Because I’ve reached a ripe age — at least in her eyes — she comes over and tells me, “No, Ma, it’s easier to do it this way” or she’ll rearrange something and say, “Ma, this looks better here.” Somehow we’ve reversed roles. Thing is, I’m healthy as a horse, spry as a chicken, and am definitely capable! Family dynamics can sure be funny sometimes!

  2. Beautiful. You've done many things but you haven't become your parents parent yet. I remember when I was discussing with my father he needed to get another doctor because the one he had was no longer very good. He looked at me and said "Alright, you go find me one". That was the moment the torch was passed. That was the moment I started calling the shots. You're not there and maybe you'll never have to get there. But for now don't forget to put soap in the dishwasher. Sweet.

  3. Time to switch roles. Neil, do you catch yourself doing similar things with your sons?
    I find that I often catch myself before I “parent” my 35 year old son who is far more intelligent than me.
    By the way, did you remember to close and lock the mailbox?

  4. Those wretched cluster mailboxes!
    The Post Office wants to replace all home delivery with those things at the end of every block in every city.
    At least that was the plan several years ago, I think the screaming from the entire country killed that off!

  5. As I moved to another state 6 years ago I returned to visit by 31 yr old son when he had his first child. We were invited to my son's mother in law for a buffet dinner. I filled a plate with food and my son said "Mom I never saw you eat that much food" I said "Oh honey this is for you." He said "Mom I am 31 and can make my own plate." He will always be my little boy.

  6. Some writer, may have been Isaac Asimov, recounted how his mother once told him, "Darling, put your sweater on, I'm freezing." She could not be made to understand why this was funny.

  7. The first sentence brings to mind a quip attributed to the late Prince Phillip. Following a flowery introduction extolling his many accomplishments he reportedly began his remarks by lamenting the fact that his dear parents had not been present to hear that, going on to say that his father would have enjoyed it and his mother would have believed it.


  8. I read the Chicago Sun Times EVERY SINGLE DAY until 2016. I read the paper for NS and the high school sports section. Their politics and especially their editorial board I came to despise and dropped the paper completely.

    I still read this blog but only when the title is not political. I'm unapologetically MAGA but I do miss the Sun Times. It's a shame the divisiveness in this country has ruined just about everything.

    I feel we're in the 1850s and the lines are being drawn. Not saying there's going to be another civil war but there are now 2 Americas. Makes me sad.

    1. Not yet two Americas, more like the Untied Snakes, slithering out from under their rocks. Orangy Boy was the snake charmer that enticed them into the open. If you're not saying there's gonna be a Version 2.0, then what are you saying? The 1850s are already history. The summer of 1861 is almost here. Where will the next Fort Sumter be?

    2. When you see photos of so many MAGA flags and hats in close proximity to confederate battle flags at various events; when you see that there's a requirement for MAGA folks to deny the very simple, abundantly clear fact that we had a fair election and that your guy lost, by over 7 million votes; when you see that in service of that traitorous denial, an insurrection to overthrow the election was inspired by and applauded by your guy -- uh, which side of the 1850s lines do you think you're on? I'd be sad about that, too.

  9. Having just spent a long weekend with my parents, I can relate to this. "Aren't you going to wear a sweater, David? It's chilly this morning." "No Ma, it may be 40 degrees outside but it's 77 in here. I'm already roasting." "Oh, it isn't 77. The heat isn't even on."...


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