“I’m not feeling well this morning,” Dad muttered, and Mom cried out, “Oh, Nelson! Again? What are we going to do?” She tossed her needlepoint in sudden tears and shuffled to the kitchen, making herself busy with her morning herbal tea and granola breakfast, leaving Dad on his bedroom couch to contemplate the ever more difficult daily ordeal of shoving off to the shower and dressing. I hoped he would feel better after swallowing his medicine with a glass of water. And I hoped Mom could let go of her terrible fear for his welfare. His noon breakfast over, we left in the Mighty V8 for the grocery store. Grill fixings were in order with my son Brian visiting for his 32nd After finishing with produce and meat, I told Dad I would get the dill pickle hamburger chips, and rushed off down the aisle. I put the pickle jar in my cart, and he asked me as he rolled up if I had seen anything else we needed or that looked good to me as I had walked down that aisle. I looked at him, then down the aisle, unsure of what it contained. Focused on the pickle job, I had not seen anything else on the aisle, and reported as much. “I saw everything,” he asserted. “And I wanted everything I saw.” His unbounded enthusiasm became evident as we reached Luana’s check-out counter with three full shopping carts in tow. Home by 3:30 p.m., Dad announced lunch time, and set to work building his onion sandwich. Knowing the strain of walking and bending to retrieve the makings from the fridge, I tossed on the counter baggies with leftover onion and tomato, the mustard and mayonnaise, the sliced ham and cheese, and the multi-grain bread, then ascended stairs to my home office to finish remotely the afternoon’s work. Descending later for a cold water bottle (refilled now at least 400 times), I looked upon the familiar after-lunch scene: a half onion generously deodorizing the house, spiked with the protruding fork Dad used to hold the onion in place while he safely sliced it; the rubber scraper slathered with warm mayonnaise soiling the counter; slices of Swiss cheese exposed and drying in the package because he had scissored off the zipper his fumbling fingers no longer pulled. I have allowed this scene to annoy me a hundred times, and I am tired of being annoyed, and am choosing instead to incorporate into my afternoon routine the washing of a knife and a rubber scraper and the restocking of ham, cheese, mayo, mustard, potato chips, and the wiping down of the countertop with Lysol bleach. One day I will look at the empty, sterile countertop and miss the mess, all those things that will mean he was here with us then. Who else in this world will prepare every day an onion sandwich for lunch at 5:00 pm? There is no one, I am sure. From my desk, pondering the empty countertop, sudden quick shadows passed over the front lawn, shadows of Canada geese flying over the house with their honks and blares and gray feathers.
Ready for the day, Mom sits in her bedroom rocking chair working on her latest needlepoint, waiting for Dad to get up, then listening to him talk and talk when he does get up. His concerns about the family. His memories of his childhood, his ministry, his career as an international corporate lawyer. His worries about each member of the family. She listens and works the needle and listens. Her needle carries the yarn up through the square and diagonally down into the next square, a hundred thousand times. Mom’s completed needlepoints hang framed on many walls in the house, and include large florals, aboriginal geometric designs, fall leaves, rustic Brazilian skylines, and, my favorite, Noah’s ark and the world’s animals gathering two by two. Mom taught me to needlepoint when our family lived in Brazil—I was nine years old. My first (and only) needlepoint stitched a red cat on a yellow background. Two colors. Nothing like the complicated color patterns of a pair of Mallard ducks on a pond, or a sunset over Salvador, or women carrying pots on their heads. Mom needlepoints as she watches NCIS and PBS and Netflix, and as she waits for Dad to wake up from his night reading to tell her everything he has on his mind. Three needlepoints lay finished on the dining room table, and I drove Mom to a rundown wood-paneled dry cleaners to have the needlepoints stretched straight and blocked, ready for framing. “How do you think that young woman learned the skill of stretching and blocking needlepoint?” I asked Mom. She had no idea, but was glad to have found her. In two weeks, we’ll pick them up and deliver them to be framed. I hope she never stops doing needlepoint.
Enjoy these other needlepoints by my mother.
And three more finished, ready to be stretched, straightened, blocked, and framed.