Mother Had a Strong Arm
I watched her transform by the sink over years and years. Black hair turning silver. Skin wrinkling. Fingers bending from arthritis. “These dishes take forever,” she would say. Night after night, with an almost religious devotion, she stood at the sink in front of the window and cleaned the dishes, scrubbing and drying until they gleamed. It would take at least half an hour, often longer. She never allowed me or my siblings to help. Only later did I realize she used this time after dinner for solitude, to escape the countless little interactions and activities that marked her days as a mother of five, but mostly to escape him, his booming voice and proclivity to yap and lecture. “Actually, hun,” he would say. “Guess I have to explain it again,” he’d say.
She often hummed songs as she washed the plates, glasses, and silverware, and occasionally she looked out the window as the sun set to watch her favorite blue jays and squirrels eat the seeds she had left for them around the oak tree. Scented candles burned on the windowsill, golden light flickering on her dress. Father would sit with us in the adjacent living room and talk about Bible verses and politics as we feigned interest. Jonah did this, Reagan did that, and so on and so on. My eyes would inevitably wander to her, and I watched her grow old.
I cooked for her one evening after he died from “a bad heart,” as the doctor put it. We laughed and laughed over two bottles of red wine, just she and I, and after dessert I finally gave voice to my memories of her aging over the years by the sink. I offered to help clean up, but she had something else in mind. Making several trips, we carried all of the plates and glasses from the kitchen outside. Under a glowing orange moon, we took turns hurling them against the oak tree, shards flying in every direction, bursts of laughter in the night.