Switching Roles Again


With two computers humming in my office, it’s fairly easy to get lost in my own little world of words and paragraphs, and ignore the domestic rumble from the kitchen. Dave is equally oblivious. He has one of those World War II remakes on, called something like “The Wall of the Atlantic,” so he’s occupied.

But there’s another sound coming from the kitchen. It’s the unmistakable clatter of canned goods on wooden shelves, occasionally yielding to a cabinet door closing or the refrigerator alarm pleading that someone will close a door.
After about an hour, the doors to my study (never have found the right name for this room in which I commit columnizing – office? studio? library?) part and Mary comes in with a scowl on her face.

“Please, Mom, don’t do this again. When the expiration date on sour cream is 2003 and there’s green mold on it, throw it away and buy fresh. ”
Well, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but you get my point. I tend to ignore food that didn’t turn out to be what I wanted, or bought too much of because I couldn’t remember what I already had in the fridge.

It was just another foray in the lives of mothers and grown daughters who are in a new phase of their relationships with each other. This is Mary, our brilliant, patient firstborn, who is here supposedly to recover from arthroscopic shoulder surgery, now embattled with the result of my relaxed housekeeping. The sticky cabinet surfaces she found when she helped clear the table this evening started as a quick wipe-off but escalated to full-fledged warfare, as one spill yielded to another and another from cabinet to cabinet and beyond the refrigerator.
Now I’m tired and achy and would like to go to bed, but how can I offer to help and finish this column? She is as tired as I am, I’m sure.
Mary lives and works as an opera accompanist and voice coach in Germany, in Düsseldorf, to be exact. Years and years ago, she became my mother and I became the child. “Stand up straight, Mom” and “You’re not planning to wear that in public, are you?” and “Just try this; it’s yogurt and I know you’ll like it” are just a few of her maternal utterances. Maybe it’s better that we live on separate continents. I probably wouldn’t think it was so cute.

A couple of months ago she tripped and fell in the street, catching herself mainly with her right shoulder. Appreciating the fact that she wasn’t run over, she collected the stuff that fell out of her backpack and thanked God she had, apparently, not broken anything.
It’s no joke about pianists insuring their hands. Sometimes the German health program provides almost too many blessings. But when the pain in her shoulder and her now-limited range of motion impeded her playing, she took herself to her primary physician, who sent her to an orthopedist. X-rays and clinical evaluation indicated there was good reason for her to be having pain. I don’t remember all the symptoms, but I would call it a torn rotator cuff with a bunch of debris in and around the joint itself. She was scheduled for arthroscopic surgery.

Plus she was not to return to work for a least six weeks.
Now Mary is not one to waste such an opportunity of empty time. She rested for about a week, had the stitches and drainage tube removed, started physical therapy, and booked a flight home for three weeks.

It’s been a delight. We’re going to meet daughter Jean and grandsons Samuel and Uriah in Edisto, S.C. and spend a few days reuniting and walking on the beach, or so we plan. I don’t last very long on my feet nowadays, so for me it’s all about taking a few books and the Scrabble board, and hoping there’s a DVD player in the house we’ve rented.
Not to mention that both the girls are better cooks than I am, and I can legitimately surrender the kitchen to them. And I still don’t believe Mary has met her two nephews. I want so much to see them together.

Ah, sometimes the good old days are better when they come back for just a little while in the present. Will keep you posted.
SallieS@Juno.com [Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]