Birthday Soup

After my mother moved to Atlanta as a widow, she got in the habit of expecting my sister Anne, the only local child, to make homemade mushroom soup on her birthday and bring it over to serve it to her in her condo, which is to say that soon the soup became a birthday mandate.

One year Anne knew she would be especially busy on Mother’s birthday, so several days beforehand she told Mother she wouldn’t be able to make, deliver and serve the mushroom soup on the birthday itself. Upon being told about the conflict between Anne’s life and the soup imperative, Mother, who has never outgrown loving to have a fuss made for her on her birthday, was beside herself. So she called me. At work.

“Oh! Sarah? Anne says she can’t make the mushroom soup for my birthday! Can you call her for me and get her to change her mind? I have to have the mushroom soup on my birthday! It means so much to me!”

“But, Mother, didn’t Anne say she’d make it for you this weekend?” (Yes, I already knew about this soup crisis because Anne had called the night before to express her frustration with Mother’s demands when she found out the soup wasn’t going to be produced on schedule.)

“Oh! It’s just not the same if it isn’t on my birthday. My birthday will be ruined!”

“Mother, I’m sure Anne would make it if she could.”

“What could possibly be more important! Anne can cancel something else so she can make the soup on my birthday!”

But Anne didn’t, and after that Mother became angry at the mention of homemade mushroom soup and didn’t want it on her birthday anymore.  

On the other hand, the year Anne, her eldest, was turning 50, I suggested that we have a family party that summer when we all got together at the beach. I asked Mother to do something she’d wanted other people to do on special occasions and that she had happily done years ago for her drunken friend Norb’s birthday: create a montage of old photographs. She absolutely loves seeing this sort of production, but would not agree to take on the task of putting this together for Anne or even just selecting photos for it so I could put it together.

I pointed out that all she needed to do was go through her photo albums, an activity I would think she’d enjoy. She loves nostalgia, and her cleaning lady/personal shopper/groomer Sherry could get the albums down from the shelf for her. But she just wouldn’t do it. Finally she said, “Couldn’t you just draw some pictures?” Well, of course, isn’t having a full-time worker and mother of two school-age children draw a set of pictures much more reasonable than having someone who does not work or have responsibility for anyone else pull two dozen photographs out of her albums? Yes, she has arthritis, but not in her hands.

She did rouse herself to attend a party Anne’s husband arranged at a restaurant. She brought along her unnecessary home-health aide even though Anne asked her not to and insisted on bringing her walker that she doesn’t need and that gets in other people’s way. But the aide and the walker are her bold signifiers of helplessness. And other people’s wishes, when my mother acknowledges them at all, are treated as landmines she must naturally run from.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.

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