by Eloise Hawking
By 9:00 I was showered, my hair was washed and combed, and my teeth were brushed and gleaming white. I put on my softest PJ’s. My favorite TV show was on and the last couple of minutes of the episode would finish up just after the commercial break. I felt clean, content, and comfortable. A sigh of relaxation escaped me.
“Ellen! Turn that TV down!” yelled my mother. “I have a splitting headache and that noise is not helping it one bit! Your channel drives me crazy. The commercials are so loud!”
Mom better not watch the weather channel with Grandma then, I thought.
My mom got lots of headaches, usually by bedtime every night and was very sensitive to noise. The worse her headache was, the more she yelled, which didn’t make any sense to me if she was sensitive to noise.
“In fact,” she bellowed, “turn the TV off! I want you in bed a little earlier tonight. We have a big night tomorrow. The Huskies play the Wildcats.” Mom was talking about high school football, her favorite sport. We rarely missed a game.
I flicked off the TV and headed upstairs. My bedroom was on the second floor of our house, as were the bedrooms of my brother and sister. We all met in one of our rooms every night for a Bible story and prayers.
My foot no sooner hit the top step when I heard the voice of my mother resonate from my brother’s room—looks like it was his turn to host the bedtime ceremony tonight. “Cinderella, will you please go make sure the cat has water? Amtrak is sleeping at our house tonight. I forgot to do it and if it doesn’t get done right now, he’ll be pawing my head in the middle of the night.”
I sighed and turned around. It would be nice if she remembered to tell me these things before I get to step fourteen.
“I didn’t see you roll your eyes at me, did I Ellen?” said the muffled voice coming from behind the door of my brother’s room.
How could she see me through the door, anyway? So what if I rolled my eyes? That was beside the point.
As I rounded the doorway into the kitchen and headed to Amtrak’s dish, something didn’t seem right. The water looked funny. I wear glasses, and don’t wear them to bed, but I could still tell something was funky with the cat’s water. When I picked up the bowl, the water was thick and pink. I brought it up to my nose and took a whiff and inhaled----ketchup. No wonder the ketchup bottle felt so light!
My twenty year old feline friend was already winding in and out of my legs like he does every time he wants to be fed. Sam got to his cat kibble too. It looked like he emptied nearly the entire economy sized bottle on top of it! What a mess! I knew in the end I’d catch heat for it as I was the one in charge of kitchen clean up tonight. My only hope was to get rid of the evidence.
I hurriedly dumped the water down the kitchen sink, but it was thick so it didn’t go down right away. It needed some time to drain. So while the water was draining, I dumped the ketchuped kibble into the garbage and decided that I best get rid of the bag.
I walked the full garbage bag out to the cans behind the woodpile out back where my grandparents and I keep our garbage. I looked at the tilted can that grandpa repaired and I couldn’t help but giggle. I thought it would be safer to put our garbage in grandpa’s can just in case my parents looked through our garbage for some a lost item like we sometimes do.
It is a regular occurrence in our house because Mom loses her keys so often. The last hope of finding any lost items is always digging through the garbage. I know because I’ve been assigned that gross task a time or two. However, when I took off the lid to deposit our bag, the wheel fell off.
Oh shoot! Grandpa would be so disappointed if he knew his contraption failed. I did the best I could to prop it up against the neighboring can and said a prayer that grandpa didn’t notice.
When I got back to the house, I added a clean bag to the garbage, got Amtrak some new food. The thick ketchup water finally drained but left a pink ring around our swanstone colored sink. Mom said a tan sink was her biggest regret when they built our house because it showed every stain. In this case, it would show the evidence, so I had to scrub out the sink. As I was sudsing the last of the ketchup residue, I heard my mother’s impatience resonating through the floorboards once again.
“Ellen Louise! What are you doing?” Mom yelled from upstairs. “I asked you to do one simple task and you do nothing but dawdle. Get your little hiney up here right this instant!” So much for her headache and the sound sensitivity.
As I made it into Sam’s bedroom, Dad was finishing up the last part of the David and Golliath story. Darn. That was my favorite one and I missed it. Wouldn’t it be great to kill a giant with just a sling and a stone? I wish I could be brave like that.
Sam was curled in my mother’s lap sucking his blanket. He does this before he goes to sleep. He held open his arms for me to pick him up. I grabbed him and half lifted him and half dragged him onto his bed where I lay down next to him. I wondered how much longer I could physically do that because he was growing so fast. He was already half my weight. I plopped him onto his bed and he flopped on top of me while we said our prayers.
Hope led the prayers tonight. Because she likes to do the same things over and over, she is good at reciting prayers, although she doesn’t always get all the words right. For example, tonight she said the Lord’s prayer. In Hope’s version, it went like this:
We’ve all become so used to Hope’s version that no one laughs anymore. My mother and father are over it, and Sam is too little to know.
Hope is so proud of herself . Only the Lord himself knows how much damage we are doing to Sam by exposing him to prayers in this odd way. I asked my mom about that once and she just flatly said, “That is something his therapist will help him sort out later.”
“Ok troops, move ‘em out!” said Mom. “Time to hit the hay.”
“We’re not allowed to hit. Hitting is not nice,” said Sam sitting bolt upright in his bed.
“That’s right, Sam,” I said. “You should have remembered that before you took a swing at me in the tree house.”
“Sorry, Onion,” said Sam. He looked like he truly meant it this time. We are not allowed to go to bed angry in our house, so I forgave him…… this time.
Sam looked down at his knuckles and decided that he needed a new bandage, a drink, and said that he felt something stuck between his teeth and needed to floss them. My nickname for him is the Little King of Stalling. Mom sighed and followed Sam to the bathroom. The bathroom door clicked shut and from behind it I heard Sam’s muffled voice say, “I want a sling shot.”
Another muffled voice came from behind the bathroom door. This time it was Mom. “Go ahead and start without me, Ellen.”
Mom and I read together every night. She usually has me start by reading a page or two aloud. I have to admit, my mother picks some great books for me to read. She should have been a librarian. I told her that once and she said that she would hate shushing people all day long.
I walked into the bedroom lit with the soft light from my “Light Up the World” globe, a gift from Mother Eloise for my 8th birthday. I pulled my book from my night stand and began reading aloud from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. The story was about the journey of a stuffed animal rabbit. It was a great book but some of the words were a little hard.
When I’d come to a word I didn’t know, Mother Eloise would never just let me skip it. She always made me guess what I thought it meant from the context clues from the rest of the story. She would always say, “Good guess.” Not “yes, you got it right” or “No—wrong—here’s what it means.”
Mother Eloise always expected me to look it up for myself the next day and come tell her what I found out. Mom says that it is not always the end result that is important, like finding the answer, it’s the journey you take to get there when you learn something. My trip wasn’t too far tonight because for the last few nights I knew all of the words on my pages.
Creak. The bathroom door opened. Six padded footsteps then a stop at the door of my bedroom.
Mom stuck her head inside. “If you get going, you can finish that book tonight. It would be nice to be done before the weekend. Read loud so I can hear you.”
Mom busied herself, moving in and out of our bedrooms getting our clothes ready for the next day. She set them out in three neat little piles for easy dressing the next morning. Mom would tidy up our rooms, pick up Sam’s stray toys, and collect the laundry, listening all the while.
“…the hopeful light of spring……I like that…” mused Mother. “Remember that in April, Ellen. Look for the hopeful light of spring.”
I stopped reading and put the cbook down against my chest. “Poor, Edward! I feel so sorry for him, Mom.”
Mom looked over to me and tipped her head. My mother and I were connected in such a way we could often communicate without words. I knew she wasn’t sure what I meant.
I clarified, “He’s there all alone. Years of waiting. How lonely would that be?”
Mom crossed the room and sat on the edge of my bed. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “You are never alone, Ellen. God is always with you.” Her blue eyes looked warm and soft and I no longer saw any evidence of a headache.
I smiled and nodded my head, not wanting to break the hold of her stare.
“That’s the best thing about God,” Mom continued. “You can call on His name anywhere, anytime, and He will come help you.” She reached out her long, bony finger and rubbed it against my cheek.
“Continue,” she suggested.
“…..so what is Edward waiting for, Ellen?” interrupted Mom.
I put the book down again and looked at her before I answered the obvious question. “For someone to come and buy him.”
“Well of course,” she replied. “A chimpanzee could figure out that. What is Edward really waiting for?”
Here we go again. I sighed and picked the book back up. Mom stood and pulled back the corner of my comforter and crawled in bed next to me. This was more comforting than any comforter could ever make me. Mom extended her arm, palm up, as a signal that she wanted me to give her the book. It was an unspoken language between my mother and I. I knew when she was ready to take over, and she knew just the perfect place to pick up the reading.
“Dogwood blossoms,” she repeated. “ Did you ever see dogwood blossoms in the spring, Ellen?”
I shook my head no.
Mom reached over and bonked me in the head with the book. “Well, you should have. We have a dogwood growing very near to our yard. We can see it blossom every spring.”
“Oh,” I said. “Where is it?”
Mother smiled her knowing smile. “I guess that sounds like a weekend mystery for you to solve. Where is the dogwood tree in our yard, and what do the blossoms look like?”
“That’s gonna be hard cuz its not gonna have flowers in the fall,” I said yawning.
“That is going to be hard because its not going to have flowers in the fall,” mother enunciated. She was a stickler about articulation in case I wanted to be an anchor person on the news someday. All I was really concerned about was passing fourth grade.
“I can tell by your language you are getting tired. Let’s call it a night. You can think about what Edward is looking for as you drift off to dreamland,” said Mom as she took my book and placed it on my night stand. “Let’s see where you are headed off to tonight.”
Mom spun the Light Up the World Globe and I extended my pointer finger. The globe whirled around and the countries all blended together like one big continent. After a few seconds I pushed my finger downward to stop the spinning. We both leaned in to see where my finger landed.
“Slovenia?” I asked.
“…once part of Yugoslavia. Gained its independence in 1991. Cool history. You’ll have to look it up some time.”
How my mother knew all this information sometimes bewildered me. I mentally added that to the list of other things to think about like dogwood trees and what stuffed rabbits were waiting for.
“Oh, and another thing,” said Mom. “I noticed your cell phone battery was low. You may want to charge it up over night.”
I glanced at my cell phone across the room on my dresser. Suddenly that seemed very far away to me. I can’t take my phone to school anyway because it is against the school rules. I could just do it in the morning and let it charge all day. “OK—I’ll do it in a minute,” I lied.
I have to admit, I was getting sleepy. I wiggled down under my blankets. Mom pulled up my covers and gave me a kiss on my cheek. “Good night, Cinderella. Have a good sleep.”
Mother picked up the laundry basket and headed toward the door. She glanced at my bulletin board on the way out of my room, paused and said, “I see you found your lunch note today,” gesturing to it. “Did you figure out what it means?”
“I didn’t look up the verse yet. Old Testament, right?” I said.
“New,” mom replied. “But it’s getting late. You can’t search for an answer when you’re too tired. You’ll be too weary to even know you found it. I’m sure you’ll figure it out when you are ready.”
Mom still looked tired, but her headache must have subsided enough for her to be able to read to me.
“You must have a headache from all of that thinking about dogwood trees and rabbits and Slovenians and Hebrews. Time to get some sleep. Adequate sleep is one of the keys to good health.”
She closed the door and reminded me again about tomorrow’s football game, informing me that I could bring a friend along if I wanted to.
Cool. But for now, The Sandman had arrived. My eyes were getting grainy and dogwood trees and the Hebrews and weakly charged cell phones could all wait until tomorrow.
Mother’s last words echoed through my head for just an instant. I wonder if……..the key………………..to all…………………..things ………………..is……………………….adequa…………………………