The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Surviving Mother's Day

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991

Issue: May, 1991

"Don't fuss so, Martha, come sit down and watch TV. You've been rushing around all day with cooking and cleaning," Ed called from the living room.

Martha, up to her elbows in suds in the sink, called back from the kitchen, "Ed, you know as well as I do that all the kids are coming home this weekend for Mother's Day. There'll be eight of them here, nine if you count Mary's new fiancée. This is the first time in three years that we've had the chance to all be together. The kids are all really looking forward to it and I mean for everything to be ready when they get here."

"But you're wearing yourself out. Wait till the kids get here and let them do the work." Ed suggested. By now he had wandered into the kitchen and was getting food out of the refrigerator.

"Ed, you put that back. That potato salad is for tomorrow's lunch. I'm not going to ask the kids to walk through the door and start working! They are all having to make a long trip and they'll be tired and they will have to take care of the babies. We don't get to see the babies enough that they probably won't even know us by sight and will have to get used to us again." Martha was now wiping the stove off and looking at the burners doubtfully because she couldn't get the last few burnt specks off of them.

"Oh, come on, Martha, don't fuss with that. The kids' stoves at home probably look worse than that. They're not coming to see the house, they're coming to see us." Ed was now munching down the potato salad. He had ignored Martha's order to leave it alone. There was enough for an army anyway. Martha had cooked for a full size family for so long that she didn't know how to cook any other way.

"Well, I do think I could go right off to sleep. I think I'll call it a night. I can get up early and do the rest tomorrow before they get here." Martha yawned, and reluctantly hung up her dishcloth.

Sunday morning arrived and Martha sent Ed off to church so she could finish the last minute preparations before the children got there. The extra leaf was put in the table and covered with a cloth and some fresh lilacs that were blooming. She looked around with satisfaction. Everything was perfect.

Martha had just sat down when the front door burst open and the first of the children and her family arrived. It took three trips to the car and back to drag in all the baby stuff - a wind-up swing, a fold-up playpen, diaper bag, bottles, toys. They had just got the outer layers of clothing peeled off the baby and it was sitting in Martha's lap, looking bewildered at the strange surroundings, when the second wave of family arrived.

This branch of the family had a two year old and a three year old, both boys, who looked the spitting image of their mother. It never ceased to amaze Martha just how much they looked like Jennifer. It was just like being able to pick Jennifer up and hold her at that age again. Both little boys ran in and threw themselves on their grandmother and nearly knocked her down with their rambunctious affection.

Mary and her young man were the last to arrive. Martha couldn't help but wonder what he thought of this noisy outgoing crowd. When this family got together, they all talked at once. It was nothing to keep up with three different conversations at once. The two boys were opening the doors under the television set and pulling out books. The baby had started crying. "Where is Ed?" Martha was wondering. It was fifteen minutes after twelve. "The Methodist minister always lets them out at 12:00 on the dot. It's only a five minute drive from here. I bet that baby's hungry. Everyone must be hungry. I'll start setting the food out. Ed should be here any minute."

At twelve thirty, Ed still wasn't back, the food had been put on the table and the two boys were circling the table like buzzards. Everyone was waiting for Ed to get there to start eating.

At a quarter to one, Ed drove in the driveway. He had stopped to talk to someone and lost track of the time. The rolls were a little dry from being kept warm for a half hour, but everything else was delicious. A steady stream of people went from the table (after putting all the food on the table, there wasn't room to sit at it to eat, so everyone was filling their plates buffet style and finding comfortable seats where they could eat). A little table had been set up for the boys, and Martha ate with them. Even though there was an abundance of good food, the two boys were too excited to eat much of anything. They wanted to play, and besides, they had been sneaking cookies ever since they got there and it had knocked the edge off their hunger. Martha refereed minor conflicts between them and mopped up spills that were guaranteed when you put food and drink in front of a two and a three year old.

By this time, the rest of the family began drifting back into the kitchen with dirty plates and Ed came in and took both of the boys outside to look at his tractor. Martha started scraping plates. The girls offered to do the dishes, but it was Martha's kitchen. She had already started to run a tub of sudsy water and the girls stood around to talk to her for a while, but then drifted back into the living room as Martha got to the pots and pans.

With the dishes done, Martha headed for the baby. She hadn't really got a good chance to play with him before this. The rest of the family had gone outside to enjoy looking at the flowers blooming in the yard. Sadly, she found the baby sleeping like a little angel on her bed. The pillows were piled around him so that he wouldn't roll off. Martha listened to the silence in the house and knew she could wake the baby and no one would know, but if she did that, the baby would probably be cranky the rest of the day. She could have joined the rest of the family outside, but she didn't feel like it was right to leave the baby in the house alone. She sat down on the side of the bed, stroked his hair back and wondered if his head felt a little too hot. The baby woke up fretting because he was in a strange place and Martha changed his diaper, put on his sweater and carried him outside.

By now, everyone was ready to come back inside and Martha just made a round trip. Ed took the baby from her arms and started making funny sounds and faces at him, trying to get him to laugh.

The girls decided to look through things in the attic that they had left behind years ago. Martha made the trip up the stairs with them and watched as the girls pulled things from boxes exclaiming delight when they found old cheerleading outfits and such. As the girls emptied a box and opened the next, Martha quietly repacked the one they left behind. They would have done it before they went back down stairs, but it was just easier this way. The girls were having so much fun that she would do this so they wouldn't have to do it.

When Martha and the girls got back downstairs, the men were back in the kitchen eating again and they joined them. There was so much food at lunch, no one had been hungry for the delicious deserts then. Now everyone was cutting into pies and cakes and Ed was trying to fix a pot of coffee. Martha took the coffee pot away from him and did it herself. Since Ed and Martha were alone in the house most of the time, she had put dishes they didn't use everyday away in the cupboard. She was now opening the cupboard to get out enough cups for everyone.

All too soon the afternoon was over. The girls packed up leftover food to take home with them. The little boys were by now out of sorts and fussy (they couldn't be persuaded to take a nap by any means - they were too afraid they would miss something). The boys clung first to Ed and then to Martha. One family by one, the children and grandchildren departed, leaving Ed and Martha alone once more. It was just beginning to get dark. Martha turned on the lamp beside of "her" chair and Ed turned on the television. Ed was silent for a few minutes and then he said, "I don't suppose you're going to fix supper..." Martha gave him a look that went beyond words. Ed said, "I think I'll go fix myself a cheese sandwich."

Martha didn't move from her chair, but listened to the sounds coming from the kitchen as Ed drug leftovers from the refrigerator. Ed came back and sat down in the living room with his plate of food. He liked to eat in front of the television. He gave a sudden laugh and said, "Those boys are the cutest things. You should have seen them on the tractor. I wish the kids could come more often. I sure do miss them."

Martha still didn't say a word. She was happy and thought the day went well, but she was just too tired. She loved the children and wished she could see more of them too - just not all at once. It was nice to have a special day in honor of mothers, but after all, she was in her 70's and she didn't think she could survive this honor if it came more than once a year!