YES, SHE IS MY MOTHER
The letter arrived in the mail. Mother remembered to put in her hearing aids, opened up our electric garage door and trudged down the big driveway to the mailbox.
The usual junk. Ads for new windows from Window Wizards, Clipper Coupons, and pleas for donations from the likes of the Southern Poverty Law Review, Robert Redford asking you to check off how much you wanted to give the Sierra Club. How about $10,000?
Mother placed her walker “just so” on the mottled driveway, which needed to be repaved. Tiny weeds grew out of the cracks.
“How do? Mrs. Reed,” called Mailman Dante across the street.
“Hanging in there,” she called. She waved which almost toppled her over. Her balance was still good. Long ago, she was a gymnast in the Olympics.
Who knew the hidden secrets we all possess?
After reading the mail, she passed out in the street.
Mailman Dante had been asked to do many things not on his official job description. He comforted a woman who could not stand her new baby telling her his own wife had suffered from that and she needed to see a good doctor.
Another woman asked him what to do about raccoons living in her attic.
“I’m so afraid they’ll crash through into my living room.”
He told Mrs. Willoughby to call Wildlife Pro and they’d be out within a day or two.
“Mrs. Reed, Mrs. Reed,” he said softly. Her mouth was open, her white hair a mess, and she could indeed have been dead. He took the liberty of reading the letter clutched in her hand.
On Marine Corps stationery with a golden eagle and wings was a note stating her son, Colonel Kyle Johnson Reed, had been killed in Afghanistan, but more they could not say in a letter.
She would personally be visited by two Marine Corps officers.
Dante, the first African-American mailman on their street, brought Mrs. Reed, or Janice as he knew was her first name, safely back into the house – she had revived as he half-carried, half – well, dragged – her into her enormous home.
And then into her bedroom on the first floor.
Not that it mattered, but houses on Glenmore Road in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, were great tippers at Christmas time.
“Dante, I can’t thank you enough,” said Mrs. Reed. “One favor please. See that green and white shawl across the room…”
“Not a problem, ma’am,” he said, covering her over.
“You are a good man,” she said, closing her eyes.
Slow tears squeezed between her eyes.
“Dear Lord,” she prayed. “Say it isn’t true. Say it isn’t true. And help me get through this latest travail.”
She was not young. She would be celebrating her ninety-first birthday this very month, February. And that damned son of hers was – what? – sixty five.
She prided herself on living alone. Her burglar alarm made her feel safe. But should anyone come in, she wouldn’t hear them, as she did not sleep in her hearing aids. They itched.
Putting on her reading glasses, she read that the two Marines would come by between 2 and 6 pm.
The hell you will. You will never find me. Never.
She allowed herself to lie there for five more minutes, hearing the ticking of the clock in her bedroom. As always, when she looked in the mirror, she was appalled.
She hobbled into one of three walk-in closets, reached up up up and pulled down a box. There it was. A lovely wig. First, she put on the “stocking cap” and then carefully fitted her curly red wig on top.
Mrs. Reed selected a packet of cut apples and soft cashews and put them into her back pack.
Why, I’ll look like a teenager coming home from school.
She laughed and proceeded with her plan.
She did have a plan, but didn’t realize it.
Selecting some peppermint Tic-Tacs before she left home, she steered her walker down the street to the widower’s house. Like her, he didn’t own a car. Elderly people were not allowed, by their families, to own cars.
How would she make it up his hilly driveway.
By grit. The same grit my Colonel Kyle Johnson Reed used in that goddamned Afghanistan.
She rapped on the side door.
“Hold on,” said a voice. “I’m not in the New York City Marathon, you know.”
She stood waiting in her gorgeous red curly wig.
“Why, hello, Mr… “
“Just call me, Russell,” he said. “Come in, come in.”
Before she did, she stooped down and picked a yellow chrysanthemum still blooming in February. She sniffed it.
“A very pungent smell,” she said. “Like an over-ripe banana.”
They both laughed and in she went.
And didn’t leave for two whole weeks.