There are two things from last week’s visit with my parents that still embarrass me, but I’ll share both with you. My 81-year-old mother beat me in basketball.
And I cried foul an hour later when she stuck a wad of $20 bills in my shirt pocket. I protested. She insisted. I gave in. Another little game I always lose.
My older brother and his family were away for a few days, participating in some monster soccer tournament up in Bellingham. This was an ideal time to visit the folks. We had the house to ourselves–I didn’t have to share Mom and Dad with a trio of noisy nieces.
These recent visits to Seattle, especially since Dad gave up driving due to poor vision, have become a quiet, gentle ritual. Seemingly tedious to the outsider, few things I accomplish during the year provide as much personal satisfaction.
Even before I step off the plane at SeaTac, I know just about everything that’s about to happen. Pick up the rental car. Stop for some flowers. Show up at the house with fanfare normally reserved for the pope or the opening of a new Planet Hollywood. Mom and Dad are always excited to see me. They’ve been counting the days.
“You look good, David (David, never Dave),” Mom predictably begins. “Would you like anything. How about a piece of apple pie, or something?” The food starts coming. I’ll gain an extra five pounds, at least, this trip. As we sit around the table, my parents want to hear about everything happening in my life. How’s the radio show? How are the animals? How are your eyes? They always want to know about my eyes. No matter what I say, they praise me to the sky–Billy Graham could learn from these two.
Then it’s my turn. “What do you need to do? Where do you need to go?” For the next few days, I’m their primary link to the outside world. Unable to drive, they depend totally on my brother and sister-in-law. But I’m here now at their beck and call. Dad needs a haircut. No problem. Mom has to buy a gift for an upcoming wedding shower. Consider it done. There’s been a screw-up with Dad’s heart medicine in the mail. Don’t worry–I’ll drive him to the pharmacy.
Somewhere during the visit, we find time to make our usual pilgrimage to the Factoria Mall. Mom won’t be happy until I’ve picked out some clothes she can buy for me. I gave up resisting long ago. She tries to buy me half the men’s department. I settle for a belt and a sweatshirt.
Saturday night, I drive them over to nearby Bellevue to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant, the only place in the area that they frequent. Up until a year ago, Dad steadfastly refused to go out to eat. Now he’s the chatty host, pouring tea and laughing at his silly fortune. The gesture isn’t lost on me. His time is limited. He wants everything between us to be only positive now. We both know it wasn’t always that way.
On Sunday morning, we’re together in church, just like the old First Congregational days back in Chicago. The clear highlight of the morning is always the 15 minutes following the service as Mom and Dad wander among the crowd, shaking hands, trading hellos, making sure everyone knows their son, the Radio Talk Show Host. They encounter more people in the brief time than they will during the entire week.
The people in the church all tell me the same thing– “Your mother is so proud of you,” or “Your dad never stops talking about you, David.” I usually nod and smile in response. It’s so wonderful to see my parents surrounded by such warm and wonderful people.
And suddenly it’s all over. Time to pack and head out to catch the plane home. It gets harder to say goodbye with each visit, but lots of great memories to take back to San Luis Obispo with me, simple everyday moments of sharing Chinese food and wandering a shopping mall. Glad to help out Mom and Dad when they needed assistance, a small payback for all the help they’ve given me over the years.
Yes, I did keep that money that Mom stashed in my shirt. Dad also slipped me some cash as I said goodbye. It would be pointless to argue with either one.
Parents are forever. Fortunately so are the memories.
San Luis Obispo County Tribune (August 1996)