The smell from the turkey and stuffing should have immediately sent the three of us into a euphoric state. Any normal family would have picked up their plates and started eating Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, my brother, David, and I stood in the kitchen next to the glorious spread of food that was getting cold while my mother paced figure eights in the living room. We could hear her mumbling something about needing to fix her lazy Susan. As if on cue, my brother and I simultaneously uttered under our breath, “Who is Susan?”
Ever since our father’s death, my mother could talk for 30 minutes about the differences between Home Depot and Lowes and would scrunch up her nose to make a ‘yucky’ face when we suggested she go out on a date with a man. David and I were becoming suspicious she was becoming a lesbian.
Standing in the kitchen, David shot me a look of concern that this ‘lazy Susan” might just be her first take at an unmotivated lesbian lover. Our suspicions were squashed as our mother explained that ‘lazy Susan’ was a pantry area with a spinning shelf that had broken moments earlier while cooking.
We looked at each other with dread. We would have preferred to have an unmotivated lesbian joining us for dinner. Knowing our mother, we would not be eating anytime soon.
She suddenly disappeared into the garage and returned with a bucket of tools.
“What’s the chainsaw for, mom?”
Ignoring us, her eyes narrowed and she said with determination, “I can fix this.”
We watched as she knelt down on the floor and began tugging, pulling and drilling. Determined to fix everything around the house by herself, she huffed and wrestled without asking for help. With steam coming off her back she cursed and shouted, “You sure are lazy, Susan!”
Between drill noises and grunts she would make sure we understood the dangerous choices she was in the process of making. “Hand me my glasses so I don’t get metal in my eye, please!” It was after she said, “Scaa..ary” in a sing-song voice that David and I finally offered to help. Upon her refusal, and tired of listening to her struggle, I cautiously suggested, “Everybody raise your hand who is open to calling for professional help”. With my arm raised high in the air, the noise of the drill penetrating metal was the only response I received.
I had to hand it to my mother. Since becoming a woman living on her own, she had taken full control over all the things in her life she used to leave for a man. When she needed a pine tree cut down in the backyard, she did it herself with a manual saw and hauled it into the living room for the holidays. She would head upstairs in the middle of a dinner party to caulk a tub. If she discovered a clogged sink, her pupils would get very small and with serious conviction she would say, “Let me get my tools.”
She took her role as an independent woman to new heights, including dangerous ones that should not be attempted unsupervised. I had to
relax into the idea of my 60-year old mother on a ladder in the garage, hanging heavy patio furniture to hooks on the ceiling or repairing electrical equipment with no training.
Of course, when this behavior first began, I did my best to stop her. With fear and adrenaline, I would stand between her and her next project with my arms open wide, my feet wide apart with my weight quickly shifting from side to side as if I were a point guard in the last 10 seconds in an NBA finals game. It wasn’t until that point in my life that I realized my mother had the agility and speed of a thirteen-year old boy. As it turned out, she even knew how to fake left then go right.
I didn’t stand a chance. My mother needed to conquer these things on her own. She needed to conquer all the things she hadn’t done in married life. These were her decisions to make and her items to fix, not mine. It was clear I would need to get used to hearing her say, “I think I may have done something to my arms. The doctor wants me to sleep with my arms in slings for the next two months. Maybe it’s from playing tennis once a week?”