Without her own mother, as she was growing up, mum was like a slave to her father and his mistress, so she didn’t really think about emotional needs. Sophie wiped her nose as she reflected on her relationship with her recently deceased mum. She recalled how she’d paused for three months from her weekly phone calls to her mum, to see if a phone call would come her way; but not a single call came. It was a stressful time in Sophie’s life when she had no work and just a few casual jobs after fifteen years of traumatic stress had made her almost a recluse.
During her phone call to find out what had been organised for her mother’s birthday, Sophie had explained to her mum that just because she lived far away and didn’t have children to babysit or pick up, she still needed attention, and to be remembered without being the one to initiate the connection all the time. Sophie smiled as she recalled how her mum had then started to phone weekly and consistently for a long time. When she didn’t; Sophie would phone her mum to maintain the weekly contact.
Sophie flushed the toilet, and as she washed her hands she concluded that it was a special part of her relationship with her mum, because by finally explaining her needs, her mum must have realised that Sophie’s experience had to have been similar to her life without her own mother. ‘It’s a precious memory, really,’ Sophie whispered to the angel she felt nearby.
She re-joined Bea and Anna for the final course of their Mother’s Day celebration. As cheese and wine were finished, Anna announced, ‘I still have to finish putting together all the pieces on the hall floor for the hat rack, and it’s getting late.’
Bea and Sophie cleared the table while Anna returned to the spacious hallway where everything was spread on the flattened cardboard box.
‘Just leave the dishes and I’ll do them in the morning,’ Bea said quietly to Sophie.
‘I know you like to do the dishes then,’ Sophie replied, ‘but with this fishy smell and so that Anna’s baking dish can be taken home, it would be better if I wash them all now.’
‘Yes, that’s probably a good idea,’ Bea agreed.
Sophie quietly reflected on the harmonious way each woman got on with her task, and Bea clearly trusted that each knew what she was doing. She found the dish drainer and washing up bowl in much the same position as the ones in Bea’s Maastricht kitchen for the previous thirty-one years that she’d visited.
Earlier, Bea had come to the electric induction cooktop in her new apartment, where Sophie had been cooking. Sophie had given Bea another lesson on how to press the faint markings to adjust the heat. Bea had said, ‘I still don’t know what I’m doing with this stove. My old gas stove was so easy, but here it’s just a black glass with a certain sequence of touching a few impossible-to-see markings.’
‘So, you haven’t cooked for a month?’ Sophie enquired.
‘I’ve only succeeded a couple of times,’ Bea admitted.
Leaving the dishes to dry as was Bea’s custom, Sophie joined her cousin in finding the right bolts and screws to attach various hooks.
‘Where do we put these large hooks?’ Anna asked her mother who had been quietly watching, as she consulted the wordless pictorial instructions.
‘It looks like they go in the same bracket as the smaller ones we put on before dinner,’ Sophie volunteered, picking up the large hooks.
‘Oh ney, Moeder je geteld verkerdt!’ Anna jousted with her mother.
Bea just smiled encouragingly.
‘Now we have to take all those nuts and bolts off, to remove the hooks and brackets, Moeder!’ Anna continued laughing.
The cousins set to work, one on each side of the structure which was taller than themselves, and conversation drifted to discussion of patients eating domino pieces at Anna’s workplace in an aged care hospital, including, ‘Moeder je moot niet deze klein stoppers in je mondt.’ This referred to two rubber stoppers which didn’t appear to have a place once Sophie had tried various different spots.
‘I remember my father eating the pine nuts off the Christmas tree when his dementia became quite bad,’ Anna reminisced.
Her mother’s face was pensive as she silently began to gather the plastic bags from the multiple coat rack pieces. Anna had taken hours to complete putting together the do-it-yourself complex metal structure with some help from Sophie.
As they lifted it into the cavity, Anna frowned, saying, ‘I don’t know if it will fit.’
‘Yes, it’ll be perfect.’ Sophie moved it forward.
‘Hooray! Perfect.’ the three women cheered. Bea kissed the beaming younger women. She tried to take a photo with Sophie’s phone, but it wouldn’t cooperate with the 94-year-old anti-mobile operator, so Sophie took the photo of Bea proudly pointing to the creation.
‘Wow, your Mum is clearly very proud of you, Anna, to be suddenly kissing you in the middle of a visit.’ Sophie’s voice was low enough to escape Bea’s hearing aids.
More hugs and kisses were bestowed from Bea on her daughter and niece as they were leaving.
They loaded up with left-over fish juice in a lunch box in the freshly washed baking dish. Sophie had struggled to stuff more things into the car, and suddenly noticed that the fish juice had leaked onto her top and trousers.
‘Oh no! Now how can I stop Anna’s coat from getting any of this on it?’ Sophie continued to fuss and worry as Bea was bent over double laughing.
‘Look at my mother! She just can’t stop laughing.’ Anna was smiling sympathetically. ‘You and your fish!’
‘It’s okay to laugh when you laugh with me,’ Sophie grinned. ‘I’ve learned a long time ago that it’s a gift to make everyone laugh in a nice way.’
‘It’s so light,’ Anna said as they drove among farmers still driving tractors in the evening at 9.30 pm.
‘Well it’s only a month until summer solstice.’ Sophie would dearly have liked to have stopped a dozen times to take photos and video in the soft evening light.
‘I think my mother is really quite happy in the apartment now,’ Anna announced.
‘Yes, she looked positively radiant and was so excited about all the people she met, even though she was locked out of her apartment again this morning.’ Sophie laughed, ‘After all she’s a very social person, and back south of Maastricht there was no village life anymore, with no shops to even buy milk.’
‘It’s such a relief, because the decision to move has taken years!’ Anna concluded.
Thoughts of life without her own mother to care for when Sophie returned to Australia took her attention away from the conversation and radiant scenery. Moving her mum from the family home had been traumatic in so many ways; she couldn’t bear to continue thinking of it. Instead she focused on the afternoon of making the hat rack together with Anna and Bea.
An image of how her own mum had taught Sophie and her sisters to sew when they were teenagers grew stronger as she refocused on the present scenery. Maybe she would now have time to start repairing and remodelling her own clothes without her own mother needing to have this done because of fluid retention caused by heart failure swelling her tummy. Sophie had spent Saturday afternoons with her mother and had decided to remodel her mum’s favourite blouses so that the front fitted nicely, but at the back she’d inserted an upside-down V-shaped piece of material. She’d driven her mum to the fabric shop where her mother had often shopped in previous decades, and was able to engage her attention sufficiently to select the best matched fabric for each blouse. The following Saturday she’d measured, tacked and tried fitting a blouse on her mother, before taking it home to sew on her machine in the evening. During the afternoon, her mum had suddenly said, ‘You should have more than the others’.
Sophie looked her mum in the eye. ‘Mum! What do you mean?’
Her mum looked away from Sophie. ‘It doesn’t matter.’