Three weeks ago, the Hubs and I were riding the subway home from work. An older woman, a tourist, was using her wrist to proper herself up against the train’s handrail. “There must be so many germs that get on your hand,” she said to her companion, a younger woman.
She just ignored her.
“Think about it,” the older woman continued, and at a slightly louder volume so the rest of us could hear, “You grab this pole then touch your nose or eyes. There’s no telling what kind of diseases you can get.”
The younger woman spoke under her breath. “Mom, stop.”
“What?” Her mother looked surprised.
“Just stop. You’re talking loudly. You’re embarrassing me.” The younger woman’s eyes widened as if they alone could silence her mother.
“I’m not embarrassing you,” said the older woman. “I’m just stating a fact.”
“No, you’re being loud and you’re annoying everyone else on this train.” She hunched her shoulders and looked to see if there was a hole in the train floor that might swallow her up.
I cringed with her and looked at the Hubs. “That’s me in two weeks.”
That’s right, the Mothership landed last week for yet another whirlwind tour of the city—anything to wear her out so she’ll go to bed early, right? If I could sum up the visit in one word, it would be “constantly.” As in, she was constantly with me. Honestly, I don’t think we spent this much time together since I was in utero.
We walked the High Line, ate at The Meatball Shop, hit the Feast of San Gennaro festival, and visited the 9/11 Memorial site. Any downtime we had was spent watching a lot of NCIS. (Seriously, what is it with mothers and NCIS? It’s on all the time!)
The only cringing moment* for me came while waiting to meet up with friends on Canal Street—where Soho, Chinatown, and Downtown come together, and where throngs of men vy to sell you knockoff Louis Vuitton handbags or Rolex watches. My mother loudly wondered, “Don’t the police shut them down for selling illegal stuff?”
“Mother?” My inflection carried an exasperated warning—I must have sounded like the younger woman on the subway. “Some thoughts we keep to ourselves,” I said as I steered her away from the irked street vendors.
(* Okay, there was another “oh, lord, mother” moment when she attempted to haggle a $15 tote bag down to five bucks. “I can’t take you anywhere,” I said and shook my head.)
The trip was filled with festivals—barbecue festivals, sidewalk festivals, and even an Italian festival where my friends and I each took a turn at winning a stuffed bull.
Then Mom and I capped off the last day with a stop at the 9/11 Memorial in downtown. If there is anything I can say about this place, it’s this: I wish to God it wasn’t there. It’s been eleven years since that horrible event, and, even though I wasn’t living here, I still think about it every day—there are reminders everywhere in the City. And the Memorial itself is built on hallowed ground, a graveyard—a fact visitors taking smiling family photos seem to be unaware of.
My favorite part of the Mom’s visit was when I gave her a mini-concert in our kitchen. I pulled out the ukulele—it had gone out of tune and slightly dusty since January—and haphazardly plucked my way through my songbook. Always my most ardent fan, she smiled as I crooned “Little Grass Shack” and “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” She even humored me and let me warble all three verses of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” I tried to play songs we could both sing together—she wasn’t familiar with many Beatles tunes—but noticed she’d suddenly gone quiet. If you know or have met my mother, she is anything but timid or bashful. In fact, she’s always “on”—hair and makeup in place and speaking with a voice you might hear on QVC, likely an affect from her career in sales. It’s not like her to clam up. Only when I goofed my way through a version of “Under the Boardwalk” did she quietly join in for what was, for me, the most real moment we’ve had together in years:
“From the park you the happy sounds of the carousel.
You can almost taste the hot dogs and French fries they sell.
Under the boardwalk,
Down by the sea,
On a blanket with my baby is where I’ll be.”