Family and Relationships
I’m at my father’s bedside, his hand resting in mine. His skin feels thin, but his nails grow thick and long, creeping a half inch beyond the rounded flesh. They’re the only part of him that seems healthy. How can the nails keep growing like this when his heart pumps barely enough blood to keep him alive?
We’ve been married nearly forty years, but we are still learning from my parents what love looks like: How it moves. All the shapes it takes. Though my parents can no longer care for themselves, they care for each other.
But what daughter wouldn’t be unnerved by such foreshadowings of the time when her mother won’t be able to take care of herself; when she will have to be cooked for, spoon-fed, helped out of bed, cleaned in the most private of ways? You want your mother to be there to take care of you, to wipe away a smudge with her spit, to make you dinner, to catch you before you fall.
And thou shalt treat the food that touches thy lips with reverence, in recognition of the labors and traditions of thine ancestors, and in communion and fellowship with those to whom thou art tied with bonds of blood and love. Thou shalt serve first the pasta; then the meat, fish, or fowl; then the salad; and thou shalt sprinkle no grated cheese on the fish. Thou shalt give thanks before the meal and kiss the hand that feeds thee. Thou shalt not neglect to share the fruits of the earth with thy neighbor. Thou shalt not neglect to feed the old and the sick. And, except in condition of necessity, thou shalt not eat in haste, in distraction, or alone.
My trailer shudders in the relentless prairie wind. Despite insulating tape on the pipes that run beneath it and the space heater I’ve put down the well pit, the water has been frozen solid for five days. Drafts force their way past the sheets of plastic I stretched over the windows back in October. When the furnace runs, the trailer is warm enough, but as soon as it shuts off, cold creeps out from the walls to take over the center of my rooms. Somehow I endure, crawling out from under my pile of quilts to start my truck every few hours so that the oil doesn’t freeze, or to carry buckets of water up the hill from the hydrant by the shed.