Dad was waiting for us on the back step when we pulled into the driveway, like his own father always did.
We open the doors of the Acadia, swollen with fast-food sacks and flip-flops — all of it a grand accumulation that comes with six hours in the car.
The girls skip toward their “Bop,” four arms tangling around his waist. Dad plops a kiss on my cheek, and I drag a suitcase across the threshold. The screen door bangs against the door frame behind me, And Mom is standing at her post by the kitchen sink, with a phone to her ear, congratulating a nephew who got a new job.
The kitchen sink —
It’s always been half full of warm sudsy water; she’s never had a dishwasher. And the whole kitchen smells like Palmolive.
This isn’t the home where I grew up, but it’s home now, this little cabin on a serene lake in Minnesota, where blue gill are bold enough to bite bare hooks.
I put an arm around Mom’s shoulder, and give her a squeeze. I can already taste her homemade potato salad, and hope secretly that she made it again.
She pulls the lid off the Tupperware for lunch, and behold: Potato salad.
Fork raised, she tells us that someone suggested she use Miracle Whip instead of regular Mayo in the potato-salad dressing, but I interrupt her mid-sentence, my taste-buds already protesting. “Don’t change a thing. Yours is the best potato salad ever, Mom.”
We pile ham-salad onto whole wheat — Granny T’s recipe. Our sun-tea glasses sweat on that one oval pine. The girls eat outside, in swim suits. And after lunch, Mom and I stand hip-to-hip at the sink, washing and drying and catching up. And we’ve done this so many times, that it’s all running together, memories fluid and sliding on top of one another.
I look at our hands in the sink, how they’re alike. And I think it then: how blessed we are to have this one simple moment by an open kitchen window. I think of Mom’s fight with cancer, and Dad’s heart bypass surgery. I think of all those fluid memories that have slid around and over the years since radiation and ICU. And how scared we all were.
This is a gift, this day that begins here in a place with no dishwasher, where children stuff buttery blooms into tiny vases, and where Mom plays Gaither on the keyboard. And at night, we’ll get drowsy by the glow of the TV, watching the Olympics together. My youngest daughter will bridge across my lap, wanting me to scratch her back. I remember how I did the same thing with Dad the year Nadia Comăneci won the gold. We watched it on a Zenith console back then.
So much has changed, but I listen now at the comforting sameness of this life. The phone rings. It’s a wrong number, but before five minutes is up, Mom has gathered up all bits of information about the caller. Her name is Maria, and Mom sings to her. I hear them laughing. And this has been the soundtrack of my life — phones ringing, exaggerated vibrato, the sound of glasses and silverware clinking in the sink.
We’ll sleep here again tonight, where loons cry out in the pitch, and yes, things have changed. That’s not all bad, I tell you. But I’ll thank the Good Lord for the sameness of life, too —
like soap suds in a sink,
a woman who calls herself Mama D,
the smell of bacon frying in the morning,
and the same potato salad on my plate.