“Necessity is the mother of invention.” – Proverb of Unknown Origin
“Lack of storage space is the impetus for emotional breakthroughs.” – Me
The small lower cabinet where I store surplus bottles of water, juice, and sports drinks waiting for their turn in the refrigerator was full. I’d reached the limit for the number of times you can step over a homeless grocery bag of lemon-lime thirst quencher without huffing in irritation. (That number is 27.) I needed more storage space.
I remembered the small half-shelf in the back of the juice waiting room. Shortly after my mom passed away from cancer, I felt the need to get rid of the dinnerware that reminded me of her. I couldn’t bear to look at it. Wisely, I didn’t get rid of it for good. I knew I wouldn’t always feel that way. I packed it all away in a closet. Except for some mugs.
I left the mugs tucked away on that back shelf inside the cabinet in the kitchen in case I needed them when I had family over. I wasn’t going to use them myself. In addition to the painful memories, as much as I love the idea of being a coffee, hot tea, or hot chocolate drinker, on the whole, hot beverages don’t agree with me, so I avoid them. Sadly, that means I have very little use for mugs. I say, sadly, because I love a good mug. Mugs can be funny, beautiful, cozy, or all of the above. A good mug makes a place feel like home.
My mom loved her chocolate coffee. Emphasis on the chocolate. Mixing her own concoction of powdered chocolate coffees and flavored creamers and instant coffee crystals was a true simple joy in her day. It was part of my day too. Although drinking coffee has never been something my system could handle, I loved the aroma and the tradition of it. For the last several years of her life, every Saturday and Sunday afternoon Mom would make her coffee and we’d sit on her bed watching cooking shows on PBS while she put on her makeup and we planned what we were going to do for the day. Occasionally I’d even take a sip.
After she got sick, there was a lot going on. I had a lot on my mind. Balancing my professional job, physically taking care of her since she could no longer walk on her own, keeping track of information from all the doctors, dealing with hospital bills we couldn’t afford, and arguing with nurses on the phone who were chastising me for not being able to force my fiercely independent, 59-year-old, adult mother to go to radiation treatments she no longer wanted to go to. They clearly did not know her when she made up her mind about what she was going to do.
I tried to remember how important the joy of my mom’s coffee ritual was for her and how badly she must want things to just be normal when, on top of everything else, the seemingly endless task of coffee tweaking became annoying and exhausting once I was the one making the trips back and forth to the kitchen.
“It needs more swiss mocha.” I get off the bed and head to the kitchen.
“Now it needs more coffee.” I get off the bed again and head to the kitchen.
“HALF A SPOONFUL OF REGULAR AND HALF A SPOONFUL OF DECAF!”, she shouts at me while I’m en route to the kitchen. “OK, GOT IT”, I shout back.
“Sweetie, can you put this in the microwave for just like 10 seconds? Maybe 13?”, she asks when the mug has cooled after taking only three sips in a half hour.
Tweaking it until it was just right had been her thing. Now she couldn’t walk. Couldn’t use her left hand. Couldn’t move the entire left side of her body. Schlepping to the kitchen for another half-spoonful of decaf should be the least I could do. But I was exhausted and scared and the whole situation of her cancer was overwhelming, so constantly getting up to reheat coffee she wasn’t even really drinking anymore became frustrating. I tried never to show my frustration, but on the days I was tired I know I was thinking in my head, “Can’t you just drink the stupid coffee the way it is?!”.
I take some solace now in realizing she probably felt the same way when I was a toddler and I insisted on her hard-boiling and mashing up an egg for my lunch instead of the prepared jar of toddler spaghetti she was trying to push. I know she thought, “Can’t you just eat the stupid spaghetti today?! I’m tired!” more than once as she was standing over the stove watching the water come to a boil while trying to keep her emotions from doing the same.
She made me an egg because that’s what I wanted and she loved me.
I made ten trips to the kitchen every afternoon to tweak her coffee because that’s what she wanted and I loved her.
Eventually her illness progressed to the point where coffee no longer sounded good to her when I suggested it. At the time that brought mixed emotions. Relief that it was one less daily task to tackle in the care of my dying mother, horrible guilt over the fact that I felt that relief, but mostly sadness that my mom had lost the one daily, cozy, homey ritual that was so important to her.
Now, looking back four years later, I still have mixed emotions.
Sadness that I lost a daily, cozy, homey ritual that I had with my mom – it’s only in hindsight that I realize how important it actually was to me.
But, overwhelmingly now what I feel, what I felt when I pulled those mugs out of the back of the small lower cabinet this weekend is gratitude and happiness.
Gratitude that I was given so many years of afternoons to sit on my mom’s bed while she put on makeup, to exasperatingly explain to her for the umpteenth time that I will not wear mascara because I rub my eyes too much, to watch Julia Child cook a chicken, and to enjoy the scent of chocolate coffee in the room while we laugh and plan our day ahead.
Happiness at seeing those mugs again after a long absence. In fact, those mugs bring me so much happiness, I decided I wanted them to be part of my daily life again.
This weekend on the fourth anniversary of my mom’s passing, I put up a shelf in my kitchen. A shelf which didn’t work for the original purpose for which I bought it and has been sitting around waiting for its new purpose to be found. A shelf that perfectly fits my mom’s four favorite mugs. Mugs that when I look at them every day now make me smile again. I can almost smell the aroma of chocolate coffee in the air.
This season as I was pushing a cart around the Christmas aisle of a store, I suddenly came face to face with this wood carved angel. Rarely have I been so instantly struck by an object in my life. It reminded me of my mom.
The face doesn’t look like my mom’s, but the spirit of the carving reminds me of her.
The colors of her gown and the style of her hair remind me of my mom when I was a little girl.
Her eyes, though blue, (my mom’s were greenish-hazel), are kind eyes, like my mom’s were.
And her hands. Her hands carved with long, thin fingers are open and outstretched, seemingly ready to hold or hug or help in any way you need her to.
There was no question I was going to buy this Christmas angel. I immediately picked it up and put it in my cart. Now she is sitting on my table this season reminding me that my mom is never far away in spirit. If only she had a wood-carved angel mug of chocolate coffee.