Thursday Jul 10 2008
It was my last day of my week-long vacation and I was back in Berkeley visiting my 22-year-old daughter and her boyfriend. I was meeting my husband there, as we had gone in two different directions for the last part. It was the boyfriend’s 24th birthday and she had made plans for the two of them to go out to a romantic dinner. Since we had extended our stay by one day, I insisted they keep their original plans. No need to politely drag Mommy along. I told her I would start cooking the pasta salad she wanted to bring on their picnic the next day.
By 7:30 it must have been 99 degrees in her cute little upstairs apartment. The Bay Area population expects—no, counts on—the morning fog and the evening sea breeze to keep their fresh air perfect in the summer. With our diminishing ozone, I fear this sweltering day was only a taste of things to come. And since they only rely on natural air conditioning, there was not so much as a fan in sight. My head was dripping. I made a mental note to pick them up a big oscillating one.
I waved them good-bye and climbed into a cold shower with my underwear on.
Their kitchen is sort of a one-person operation, and their refrigerator makes a loud, groaning noise so they keep the door to the tiny hot box closed. I crossed the threshold and was greeted by a counter and sink full of dirty dishes and barely any ventilation. I poured cold tap water over one of their dishtowels, wrapped it around my neck, snapped open a bottle of beer and went to work. I had the option of putting on music but it was sort of pleasant to do my chores in silence. I thought of Elizabeth Gilbert scrubbing the monastery floor for months. In fact, looking out the little kitchen window I could see the limp flags of the Berkeley Buddhist monastery peeking over the lush trees. Where was that San Francisco breeze?
I scoured for quite a while. The relief of rinsing everything with refreshingly cold water was so satisfying I was happy for the large mess. The eggs on the cast iron pan were a little troublesome - then I remembered that this pan came from my mom's house. She recently was taken from us with a massive stroke in bed. She had that pan for at least 50 years. It helped her treat me to the best zucchini, mushroom, potato frittata you’d ever want to taste. In her later years, whenever I would use her special cast iron ware to fry her favorite egg sandwich, she would remind me how I should clean it with very little soap. “There's a perfect film that builds in a cast iron pan, Marilyn. Don't ruin what took so long to create.” So there I was cleaning the eggs my littlest one had made for her man that morning ... and I swear I felt Mom watching me clean it. I promised/reminded her out loud that I would NOT put too much liquid soap directly into that precious tool of hers. And then I assured—again, aloud—to teach her granddaughter how to do it. (I already had, but I didn't think Mom believed me.)
The offensive sun was finally down and I saw my reflection in the part of the window that wouldn't open. I looked like an old, Italian scullery maid—no make up, flat hair clipped up, hot, glistening skin and a dishrag around my neck. I stared at my 60-year-old self for a long minute.
I liked what I saw.
I saw a mom who misses her own mother and adores her daughter. I saw a generous woman who loves her friends and family in a great big way. I saw the person who sees art in the shadows and who can make people laugh at the most politically incorrect thing.
I had gone out to dinner the night before with a bunch of my high school friends. That evening I made sure I looked cute. I wore great clothes, had clean hair full of product, great makeup, fabulous jewelry. Then someone took our photograph on her phone. When it got passed around, all I could see was a fat woman with fat arms and fat everything. I did not like what I saw.
So, there at the sink with the reflection of a loving mom and sorrowful daughter staring back at me I decided I AM NOT MY PHOTOGRAPH.