Squeezing out the Excess

11 Jan

squeezing the ragThe kitchen is spotless except for a few toast crumbs scattered across the granite countertop, and in my haste to clean it up I grab the washcloth in the sink, not realizing it’s sopping wet. A stream of soapy water splashes across the counter, onto the front of my shirt, and all over the floor. Once again my mother has kindly cleaned up the breakfast dishes for me, but because of her arthritic hands, she’s no longer able to squeeze all of the excess water out of the washcloth.

A picture of a younger version of my mother flashes into my mind—she is standing at this very sink in a red apron, her tanned and freckled hands expertly twisting a wet rag into a taut rope as the soapy water trickles down the drain.

“Jess, Darling,” she would say, “How many times do I have to tell you? You must squeeze all of the water out of the washcloth before laying it out—otherwise it won’t dry thoroughly and it will start to smell sour.”

Ah, my mother and her rules. As a kid, I was always breaking one or another of them:

Don’t leave the icebox door open, you’ll let the cold air out! (To this day she refers to the  refrigerator as an “ice box” and aluminum foil as “tin foil”)

No riding double on a bicycle—you’ll get hurt. (This I now agree with, but as a child, it ticked me off to no end.)

Take a sweater with you—you might get chilly. (I am fifty years old and she still says this to me as I go out the front door.)

No taking a sip of liquid with your mouth full of food (even if your tongue is blistering)  because it’s unbecoming. (This one goes along with no elbows on the table and not clicking the fork on one’s teeth while eating.)

Always look both ways before crossing the street, and then look one more time. (I now see that this is a vital one and have instilled in it my own kids.)

I’ve lived with my mother for practically my entire life, and by now, I’m used to her rules. After twenty-five years of marriage and four children, I no longer feel compelled to follow them unless I wish to, but they are so ingrained in my psyche that I still feel guilty standing in front of the “ice box” allowing the cold air to escape.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit to others that I still live with my mother, so I usually phrase it “my mother lives with me.” I’m hoping to be perceived by the general public as a responsible grown-up. And it’s true; my mother does technically live with me, as my husband and I bought my childhood home from her in a very advantageous transaction except for the little clause that included her in the deal.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my mother, but she is indisputably eccentric. I became aware of this fact early in life when I decided it was best not to invite my friends over on one particular Saturday afternoon because my mother was out gardening in the backyard wearing only a leopard print bikini bottom and a silk scarf tied around her breasts to minimize her tan lines. Her ridiculous outfit included a pair of lace up Dr. Scholl orthopedic shoes, white athletic socks and dirt-caked gardening gloves.

“Moooommm,” I whined, cringing at the sight of her. “Why are you so weird? Why can’t you act like other mothers?”

“Because weird is more interesting, that’s why,” she replied, going back to her begonias and fuchsias that could have won first prize ribbons.

Now at age seventy six, my mother had traded begonias for breeding Dalmatian puppies, which has opened up another whole can of crazy in our household. That, along with enough dog hair to stuff a mattress.mom and puppy

Peculiarities aside, my mother is the most non-judgmental person I know, and has the ability to accept everyone, warts and all. In her role as my greatest fan, she has always taken my side (even when I’m wrong) and has continuously encouraged me in my endeavors, musical and otherwise. Her openness has taught me that it’s best to speak your own truth— and that holding on to the excess will do nothing but leave a sour taste in your mouth.

One of the very best things about my mother is that she even loves me when I’m unkind to her. The other day I told her that her barbershop haircut made her look like a man—I even (jokingly) referred to her as “Grandpa.” Don’t worry, I didn’t hurt her feelings—she laughed as hard as I did at my snide remark.

One of my closest girlfriends recently lost her mother. In our tight-knit group of ten junior high school friends, none of us has lost a mother until now. It scared me. It suddenly occurred to me that my mother will not be here forever, and that someday my much-needed source of unconditional love will be gone. What will I do then? Who will tell me I’m perfect?

I think about this as I lean over the sink, twisting the washcloth as my mother taught me so long ago. I wipe up the mess I’ve made and vow to be kinder to my mother. She is older now, and no longer has the strength to squeeze out the excess water, but I do.

Today I will make it one of my rules to tell her how much she means to me. And because her devotion to me includes reading every single word I write, I’ll tell her right now.

Mom and me, circa 1972

Mom and me, circa 1972

Thank you, Mom—for being you. I love you.

The two of us today

The two of us today

24 Responses to “Squeezing out the Excess”

  1. Beth Fairfield January 11, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    Another beautiful post about two wonderful mothers!!

  2. Kristin January 11, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    I love El! And that groovy 70s pic. 🙂

    • Allegro non tanto January 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      She is pretty wacky, Kristin. Your mom should take a few lessons…

  3. Mele Winters January 11, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    I too hear your mums voice many times a day reminding me to “use a plate”, “put away that glass” and to “enjoy the silver and use it even though it is getting beat up”. She also visits us each evening at the dinner table when Tony channels her with his frequent reminders to JJ to ” chew with your mouth closed” , “dont take such big bites”, ” use a napkin” or ” hold the silverware in the correct hands, no not like that, like this..” She has left an indelible mark on each of our lives and I, for one, am glad to have been so marked!

    Love you El mwah!

    P.S. Don’t even get me started on the backyard attire , I’m from Europe and even I was taken aback lol

    • Allegro non tanto January 11, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      We are lucky to know this wacky woman. That backyard outfit was nothing compared to her walking around the house in the nude! Poor Rene went into complete culture shock when we first moved in!

  4. darlenecraviotto January 11, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Your mother sounds like my clone and your relationship with her is identical to the one I have with my daughter. I’m glad you reached the realization of your mom’s mortality and I love your line, “What will I do then? Who will tell me I am perfect?” While I am a big believer in unconditional love for my daughter I’ve learned that sometimes it comes with a price: being called weird or eccentric kinda hurts. And the only daughters that would say something like this are the ones who know that they can never do any wrong in the eyes of their mother. But here is a little secret I will tell you: it still hurts. So embrace your mom for who she is – she sounds wonderful, by the way.

  5. Bonnie Forman Gerstenfeld January 11, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    yup, she is pretty amazing and so positive (as are you:-)

    >________________________________ >From: Allegro non tanto >To: bonfire0126@yahoo.com >Sent: Friday, January 11, 2013 8:42 AM >Subject: [New post] Squeezing out the Excess > >Allegro non tanto posted: “The kitchen is spotless except for a few toast crumbs scattered across the granite countertop, and in my haste to clean it up I grab the washcloth in the sink, not realizing it’s sopping wet. A stream of soapy water splashes across the counter, onto the” >

  6. injaynesworld January 11, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    This is so beautiful, Jessica. It made me cry as I lost my own mother when I was only 23. I so envy you. What I wouldn’t give for just one day with her now. Lovely writing, my friend.

    • Betty Pierskalla January 11, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      I dearly love your mom too.

      • Allegro non tanto January 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

        She’s a peach, that’s for sure! Remember those CM days with the wine?

  7. Michele Abbott January 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    Whaaaaaa lump in my throat and smiling. Well said Jessie. And my mom had a fantastic gardening outfit as well. I only wish I had a photo of her in full gardening gear, complete with bikini, cowboy boots, dishwashing gloves as well, plus a dust mask over her nose. Friends shocked, me mortified, but now how I wish I had it captured. I bet she was just rockin it. Here’s to our Mothers and their ways that seemed so embarrassing then, but seem so unique and hilarious now. Now that we have our own “gardening outfits” 🙂

    • Allegro non tanto January 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

      We should get Lois and El together for a fashion show! You and your mom have experience with that, right? 😉

  8. Nancy Hawks January 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    Wonderful writing, Jessie. So simple, true and heartfelt. Honest. Keep it up, kiddo. I too, love Eleanor. I’ll never forget the day we met. She came to a Leads Club meeting for the 1st time. Afterwards she came up to me and proceeded to explain all the ways we could improve our system! I was bemused. Now, about 20 years later, I know I need my Eleanor Fix periodically. xoxo

    • Allegro non tanto January 12, 2013 at 7:57 am #

      Thanks, Nancy. She is unique and wonderful as a mother and a friend.

  9. Julie Barnes January 11, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Good Evening My Dear Friend, I love this story and I love the picture of you and your mom in 1972! You are a good daughter and a great friend (okay, you are an amazing mom and wife too!)

    Julie Barnes Village Properties Realtors License #01107109 4050 Calle Real Santa Barbara, CA 93110 805/895-9498 juliebarnesrealestate@cox.net


  10. Becky Green Aaronson January 12, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    Love this Jessica! It perfectly captures the complex relationships we have with our mothers. My mom was eccentric at times too; that’s what I miss and remember most about her now. Her ‘mom-isms.’ Embrace them while can. Love the pics, by the way.

    • Allegro non tanto January 12, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      I’m sure my kids will tell me I’m eccentric someday–I’m looking forward to it!

  11. debatterman January 12, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    So many things to admire about this piece — the exceptional opening paragraph, with its ‘kitchen’ wisdom, the honesty, the way it captures the mother-daughter bond in all its complicated expressions of love and duty — but what I would have to say I love most is the way you turn literal excess into a metaphor that speaks to something deeper.

  12. Jen McAdams January 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Jessie – this is beautiful – I got all misty eyed. Your mom is right, you are perfect (and a damn good writer). Love you, Jen

    • Allegro non tanto January 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

      Jen, thank you so much for your kind words! So glad you’ve been part of our lives for so long!

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