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Digging holes is a thankless task I'd put off since the Easter lilies' dying blooms hung like tainted trumpets, their rusty pollen staining a white tablecloth, a small detail about lilies I'd forgotten from years past when I worked at a florist. The fat man whose name hung above the shop in gold is long dead, good riddance to his fat wandering hands, back when sexual harassment was rampant. I asked both sons to dig the holes first and you might think, as a fly on the wall, a casual observer, or a reader who doesn't get past the author's name before sitting back, smug in your dismissive chair, that I'd asked something Herculean or outlandish or illegal, like I want to grow a pot garden.


My mother had a pot garden, although not what you might be thinking, those of you following my every word, as it happened during the 1960s when my dear mother had frequent episodes of forgetting to turn off food cooking for dinner. Most likely this was due to my siblings and me playing volleyball from the living room to the dining room over a black iron railing with a beach ball or Hot Potato in the rec room using a real potato and her kitchen timer, raucous until the second my father came in the door.


My father would stop at some bar for a few Scotches after exasperating days teaching University math. Before his entrance, demanding dinner and quiet children, if we smelled burning broccoli, burning Minute Rice, burning meat intended for dinner, we'd alert my mother, who with or without aplomb would toss the offending pots out the back door. We thought this normal until just last week.


Last week we celebrated my mother's 93rd birthday, arranged by my sainted sister in Virginia and attended by a scant few, four of the eight people were my sons, the delightful girlfriend and myself. The sinister sister from Rochester brought one son, a bizarre assortment of food and used decorations, a cheap tablet that barely worked to allow my distant brothers and her other adult children and their dogs (who were supposedly working, the people not the dogs) to Skype.


Skype, both sisters, plus a change in my medication added up to too much stuff and nonsense, downright wackery, too much light, a bouncing ball large screen TV playing vaguely Irish tunes. I love bagpipes with the best of them but my mother is so hard-of-hearing you need to shout while facing her at a distance of three feet, so I asked someone to mute the TV, in deference to sanity.


I had devised two party games which brought the original siblings and next generation temporarily closer via email in mixed memories of the past, both true and false, forgotten by some, which were basically A-Z adjectives or phrases describing my mother, then trivia questions. Older son wrote a program to collate then print out all responses which I physically cut and pasted onto a large poster that made me feel like I was making a very long ransom note, four back breaking hours later I actually felt like killing someone, which of course is against my better nature, The Ten Commandments, and the general spirit one needs to feel while attending a birthday party.


The birthday party was Saturday for three endless hours. We were and are ruthless amongst ourselves, always competing for something perceived as missing then and now. I stopped competing because it was a waste of current time and emotional energy plus in the span of several years, three Ruths were part and parcel of my life, for better and worse, my dead mother-in-law, a dead German Lutheran Sister, and a dead grandmother of a girl I tutored then later helped as both grandparents who raised her developed and died from Alzheimer's.


Death seemed to be something both of my sisters were thinking about. One brought an armload of funeral clothes for me, not the first time, and none in my size. The other talked with my poor mother at the end of the party about fear of dying and what she and her husband want to do for my mother's funeral. I kid you not. We left unceremoniously, and once at home, I collapsed on the couch, falling asleep to Midsomer Murders, only to awaken feeling awful, achy, angry and additional alliterative adjectives.


This is why today I must dig holes, mindful only of wind, day long bird discussions, dirt, rocks for the rock garden, and the awakening of hundreds of ant colonies. Perhaps while planting the lilies I'll gild them as well, one for each brother and sister, the only decision necessary is where to begin, how deep to dig and should I feed them.

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