Yesterday was my mom’s last day with us. Before anyone else was awake, she went for one more sunrise bike ride, a refreshing way to start the day before sitting on a plane for 8 hours. While she was out, Jordan came to the kitchen, eyes still touched by sleep as he rubbed them with his hands and said, “Mom, we’ve got bad news…Grandma left and forgot her luggage.” He was relieved to find out we still had a couple of hours left to enjoy with Grandma. Maddi couldn’t hide her disappointment and told me, “My heart has stopped beeping.”
We drove my mom to the one-room airport on a golf cart, where she’d fly with twelve other people to the capital and then board a jet to Atlanta. On the way I told my kids, “Grandma’s got a plane to catch.” In classic Amelia-Bedelia style Maddi asked, “She has to catch up to it?”
I marvel at the English language from the perspective of a four year old. And then I think of how both my mother and I love to spell. This is probably why we love to play Scrabble; it’s a way to conquer our native language. We certainly don’t do well with clichés, my siblings and I claim to have inherited our mother’s talent for mixing up well-known sayings and giving these phrases an entirely new meaning like when my mom told me she knew the town like the back of her left hand. I didn’t have the heart to correct her—her way with words a quality that makes her endearing, that and the fact her description made perfect sense to me as I am left handed.
The ending tally to our Scrabble war totaled sixteen games. Ending result? Tied.
The games did get a bit addictive with one of us setting up the board during breakfast or taking it out again after reading my kids a final bedtime story. There were hostile (maybe aggressive is a kinder way to put it) moments like when my mother would claim she really doesn’t like this game and me snapping when she’d make two letter words simply to fish for new letters and not help the cause of expanding the board. She heard more than once from me, “I’m never playing this game with you again.” And then the next day the combat would start all over.
One of us would challenge if mafia is spelled with one “f” or two or if fa and la are really words. If they are words why don’t we also allow the use of doe, re, mi, sol, ti? We had to admit we have some of our own made-up rules. And I think we secretively like it that way.
I had suggested we try one round allowing the use of proper nouns such as names and places. Or to even make it more interesting, try one game that permits abbreviations. How else can one make a three letter word using the letter “q”? But, these ideas were a bit too liberal, too close to the wild side for my mom so we played the same way–all sixteen games–the same as we always have. Why change a good thing?
My favorite interrogation, when my mom confronted, “That’s not how you spell whore!”
“Wore!” I said, forcefully using it in a sentence, “Wore as in ‘She wore the dress to the party.’”
Was I really talking about the word whore with my mother?
With the recognition of what we were talking about, we laughed like slap-silly girls who’ve had too many margaritas on the beach in Cancun. Sixteen non-alcoholic games of Scrabble pretty much have the same effect.
Minutes before my mom boarded her plane she slipped a rectangular piece of paper into my bag. I read it upside down, a gift certificate for a massage at the local spa. My eyes were moist with new tears. She’s always taking care of me. This is what she had bought on her early morning bike ride; the one where she was out to get some fresh ocean air.
We hugged her and asked if she could stay. We do the same thing when she visits us at home in Minnesota—beg for a little more time. She said she could put Maddi or Jordan in her suitcase and Maddi volunteered to take her up on the idea. Maddi whispered in Grandma’s ear, “I have you in my heart. I love you one-hundred and sixty-one.”
Later I learned how my daughter invented this phrase that quantifies the absolute most to her. This past December at Uncle John and Aunt Kathy’s annual winter sledding party, one of the games always played during mealtime is “guess-how-many-pieces-of-candy-are-in-the-jar.” The winner takes home the candy. Maddi had guessed one-hundred and sixty-one and was only one number off. Uncle Mark had questioned my deduction method for helping my daughter as he was the runner up. But, ironically she had made the guess on her own. As the winner she took home one-hundred and sixty-two pieces of taffy. Now everything that has value to her is measured against this number.
My mom was the last one to board. The turban prop airplane’s propeller was spinning, creating wind through our hair and a low buzzing swooshing sound telling us our goodbye-minutes were up. We saw a slender lady move over to make space for my mom who was now by the window waving to us with the hands that had made countless meals over the past couple of weeks, helped us with laundry, teased us with Scrabble and rubbed on lots of sunscreen. We waved feverishly back, making sure we weren’t the first ones to stop.
Games, homemade meals, hugs, love, mom—what words are more comforting? Even before she disappeared into the billowy white clouds we were missing her.