I don’t really have to try not to think about my mother. It’s been years since her death, and even longer since I left the house she lived in. Of course there was the time in-between. Some of it was horrid, and some of it was just a continuation of behaviors and words and hate that I had grown up with.
My childhood home was less than a half mile from the local grocery store. My mother didn’t drive. Back that up-she did drive, once. Illegally without a license.
Then one sunny Sunday afternoon, driving without that license and with me in the car, returning home from a typical summer weekend at our family lake cabin, she hit a motorcyclist with our big boat of a Plymouth. The corner where she hit him was odd. It turned to the right in a gentle curve, or veered into an odd left-straight road. We had the stop. He was coming toward us from around the right curve. I think she stopped, then just simply didn’t see him. I still remember the thud. The only other thing I remember is having to go pee, really bad and my mom taking me to the bathroom at the gas station opposite the accident scene.
There was years of legalities, because of course, she had been drinking before she got into the car to drive home. Why was she driving? I don’t know, except that sometimes, on these weekends away, she would drive the car and my dad would drive our truck to use it in and around the property. He was, in fact, on the scene of the accident within just a few moments after it happened having been following us home. I know the motorcyclist was young, his leg was crushed. My mother never drove again.
When she found herself divorced finally, and I was out of the house as well, she would walk to get groceries. She was never without her bourbon either, but I chose not to think about how she got that. This was during the time when you had to go to the liquor store to buy booze. The closest one was probably nearer to a mile away from home so maybe she walked there as well.
At some point she found a neighbor who would drive her on these errands. If I let myself think about what her life was like I would try to imagine myself as that neighbor, being asked to make regular liquor store runs with my mother in her quest to restock her supply. I never took the time to think about how many times she walked there, or what she was thinking as she walked, or what she thought as she drank bourbon and water, only occasionally eating anything of nutritional value. I made the decision long before that to stop thinking about what was, and definitely about what might have been. To survive and move on I just didn’t think, or remember, or frankly care.
Why this story?
Today, for a moment, I found myself thinking. We’ve all had a moment like this-something jogs a memory either good or bad. My moment was in the grocery check out line.
I went to the grocery store early-like before 8 AM early. My second stop was to pick up a few things at a preferred market. I took my few items, marched to the ’15 items or less’ line and unloaded. From my right, a loud female voice asked the cashier, “What’s that great cinnamon smell?”
The store had a display of those strongly over-scented cinnamon pine cones so popular around this time of year. The voice continued to speak, but I had stopped listening. I made the mistake of glancing back to see a woman, maybe my age now, perhaps even younger but worn and haggard, in red plaid flannel pajamas with cheeks and nose to match, a jacket, some sort of slipper shoes, and dark glasses. Her only item on the belt at 8:30 AM : a bottle of flavored vodka.
Even though I’d never been on one single liquor store run with my mother, I knew this was how she had lived.
I picked up my bag and walked out of the store, sad but not sad really. I did wonder if this woman was going home to a family, or if she was alone. I wondered what she thought about as she carried that bottle to her car. I wondered how soon it would be before her first drink. I wondered if other people had thought much about things like that when they saw my mother.
Then I stopped wondering and stopped thinking and drove home.