There’s a story, Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch, about the cycle of life of a mother and child. In short, the story begins with the mother cradling the child, and ends with the child cradling the elderly mother,singing,
I’ll love you forever / I’ll like you for always / As long as I’m living / my Mommy you’ll be.
Well it’s not quite that simple, with me and my mom.
Arriving for a visit I’m shocked by the marks of my mother’s increasing old age. She seems so much more frail. She’s sleeping more. And then there’s the emptiness of her fridge, proof that she’s been eating little more but polenta and ice cream bars for weeks.
We head to the supermarket first thing; I fill her cart with vegetables and fruit. For the first few days I cook and clean maniacally. Cream of broccolli soup. Pineapple-pear-ginger juice. Vegetable congee.
My mother is now a citizen in the land of the very old. I am a foreigner here. I feel helpless. I feel scared. I cover it up with officious, parental behaviour.
She waits me out.
Comes the day she casually proposes a day trip, to Point No Point restaurant, just outside of Sooke. I glance at the map. Seems easy enough.
(This might be a good time to reveal that I do not drive).
I sit in the passenger seat, as my mother hunches over the wheel.
Fields and towns and hills flow past us. The drive is longer than I’d thought, but we get there without incident, just as a soft rain – no more than a mist, really- begins to fall. We are seated in a light-filled room full of windows overlooking the Juan de Fuca Straight, waves unfurling against black shiny rocks down below.
My mother has potato-leek-chicken soup with paprika oil, I have a shellfish stew and a local wine. It’s a lovely moment to share with my foodie ma, my companion in all manner of culinary adventure. Who else would drive 11/2 hours for lunch?
Dessert, a luscious chocolate mousse, is her reward.
All is well until we get back onto the narrow, bendy Sooke Road, and it begins to rain in earnest.
The highway turns into a coiling blue satin ribbon. The windshield blurs, clears and then blurs again, as though we have vaseline on our glasses and can’t wipe it away. My ma holds steady at 50 kph, some 20 kph slower than anyone else on the road. A car behind us, trapped in a no-passing zone, honks aggressively. I look over at my driver: no expression; her face is a mask of zen-like calm.
There are granite cliffs on one side of the road, splattered with chartreuse moss. On the other side, glimpses of ocean roiling in wind and rain.
When we stop for coffee in Sooke I see that her hands are shaking.
We (or rather she) keeps driving. The rain gets heavier.
I am a child again. I am a schoolgirl, my mother is driving me home from piano lessons, from girlscouts, from Ukrainian School. My mother had always been silent on those drives (as she is now) and I had always felt guilty – for needing her, for wanting not to need.
My mother is determined to get us home. The normal order of things has reasserted itself. She is the parent, the hero, the one who will protect us, and keep us safe.
She is the one who will get us home.
Back on Highway 17, on the final stretch to Sidney, the sun comes out. I ask my mother how she’s feeling.
It. Was. A Good. Experience. she says. To. See. That. I. Could. Do. It. After. All. I’m. Eighty. Four. Years. Old.