Sometimes while I’m driving the two older boys from our home north of Buffalo to their hockey games in the Southtowns, tootling along the I-90, my mind will wander from the task at hand to some of the work I find myself doing. Certain tasks grind away in my consciousness, nearly to the point of making the whole works come to a stop.
At that point, to clear the gears, so to speak, I’ll jam on the brakes, bringing the truck to a complete stop so that I can look them in the eyes without putting any of us in danger.
“Listen to me, boys,” I’ll say. No, that’s not what I say. What is it? Oh yes, “Listen to me, my sons,” I’ll say. “For the love of all things good and right, please forgive me and your mother for whatever we might be doing wrong to you, whatever we might be doing to hurt you or bring you harm. I swear to you, on all that’s holy, on all that’s pure, that we’re just doing the best we can.”
When I know I have their full attention (which I scientifically ascertain by the quotient of fear in their eyes), I continue, “Promise me you won’t leave me and your mother alone when we’re old. Please promise me you won’t do that.”
The older one is the one who usually speaks, “Okay, Dad.”
When I hear him renew his promise, I put the truck back in gear, and we continue our journey into the mundane, usually before any traffic enforcement officer can be summoned.
The lady with the picture: remember her? The picture has moved from the living room into her bedroom. She had her 91st birthday recently. Her body gave her the gift of stopping the bleeding from the gut into her stool, so she’s feeling pretty zippy. “I got some bad news,” she said at one point. “It seems I’m always getting bad news lately.”
“What’s that?” I said.
“I found out that my son is dead.”
She hasn’t seen or heard from her son in decades. This is her only child.
She continued, “I knew he was out of state somewhere, but they never told me where he was exactly. I don’t know when he died or where he died when he died. I don’t know what year he died. I don’t know what he died of, and they never even told me when I had a new grandchild.”
“How did you find out he was dead?”
“Some girl put it in the computer.”
One tries to learn instead of judging. And when one judges, one avoids judging the person; dear God, let me not judge. The story didn’t stop. So I listened.
“When I was a little girl, we lived on a farm. One day, she saw a small garden snake in the kitchen. She hates snakes, so before my father had even come in from the field, she had the house packed and we moved to another house that day.”
The center of the story of this old lady has departed from her and moved to her mother.
Hers may be atypical, but the margins are being pushed inward.