Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Burnt Biscuits

Dad, Mom, Sister Judy and "Granny"
     Got an inspirational e-mail today... a story about a considerate husband whose wife burned the biscuits but he ate them anyway, pretending they were just fine. The couple’s young daughter notices this. She relates: Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy good night and I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, "Your Momma put in a hard day at work today and she's real tired. And besides - a little burnt biscuit never hurt anyone! You know, life is full of imperfect things... and imperfect people. I'm not the best at hardly anything, and I forget things just like everyone else. What I've learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults - and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences - is one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship”  
Mom three years ago in front of our old house

     Guess you can't argue with that!  But it made me think of my own childhood.  I have no biscuit story to tell you.  Truth is, my parents argued a lot. I remember at six years of age being awakened by the sound of shattering glass and loud voices. I cracked open the bedroom door and had a clear view of the kitchen where Mother was throwing the family dishes at Dad, one at a time. Each of her angry outbursts was punctuated by the sound of a cup or a saucer crashing into the wall behind my father, who ducked and dodged each one like he knew Kung Fu.  When mother ran out of the ceramic grenades, she ran from the room, crying, and locked herself in the bathroom.  My father told her that if she didn’t unlock the door he was going to break it down. He pounded convincingly on it a few times and then I heard a click.  He opened the door and went in.  Hiding in the dark, I listened, waiting for round two.  But all I could hear were their urgent voices, more muted now.  I closed my door and crawled back into bed, heart pounding. 
Dad and Mom in the early 1950's
     I lay in the dark envisioning our family disentegrating, wondering with which relative I would be sent to live. None of them were acceptable, not even the kindest, my aunt Iris, the hairdresser (called a “beauty operator"in those days). I sobbed until sleep overtook me.
     I awoke the next morning with a sense of deep dread and entered the kitchen cautiously, awaiting the awful announcement.  But it was as if nothing had happened!  No sign of the pottery shards on the linoleum floor...no angry looks on my parents' faces!  My sister,who is four years older than I, showed no signs of having witnessed the fracas. Maybe she was a veteran of such combat and knew it was like a summer evening storm, the thunder and lightning sure to be followed by a cloudless quiet. We ate our oatmeal and toast while Mom busied about, getting us ready for school. Dad hugged her, said something that her laugh, kissed her on the cheek and left for work.
     I knew what I had seen had really happened.  But I figured that if everybody else wanted to erase the ugliness and start over, I, too, would pretend.  So, nothing was ever said about it.
      Looking back, my mother and father were passionate about everything. They could go at it like territorial bantams one day and coo like turtledoves the next. They made up with the same enthusiasm with which they fought. They were as tender as they were vitriolic.
     They had been together 64 years when Dad died.  Mother still keeps, beside her bed in the nursing home, a framed photograph of the two of them dancing on their 50th wedding anniversary. Each time I visit her she she will ask me, often multiple times, to reassure her that she will be buried next to Dad when she dies. She loves it when I tell her stories about their young life together, and I tell them to her over and over, knowing that, because of the Alzheimers',  she will remember but for the moment.  

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