Mom plunged into depression when Dad died. I had tested my wings and left the nest years earlier, and now, for the first time in her life, Mom was alone. I lived nearby andchecked on her often, but it didn’t take a trained eye to see she wasn’t faring well. She shunned friends and neighbors, lost weight because she wasn’t eating properly, and the “toddy” she once enjoyed before bedtime was now poured in mid afternoon. One day I caught her drinking at noon. I couldn’t allow this to continue.
“I can’t eat all that!”We spent the next day together. I woke her at dawn; fixed my breakfast specialty of steak, eggs, and hash browns; and then set the platter before her with a fresh cup of coffee and a small glass of orange juice.
“You can and you will. Besides, I like women with meat on their bones. Now eat!”
She glared at me as she picked up her fork.
During the remainder of the morning we exchanged chit-chat about this, that, and the other as I cleaned up the breakfast dishes. At noon, she reached for the Southern Comfort. I shook my head, returned the bottle to the liquor cabinet, and said, “Bail out of the bathrobe and slip into your blue skirt and blouse. We’re having lunch at the Village Inn.”When I was a kid Mom’s glares had struck terror in my heart. No more. This was serious. She’d become little more than skin and bones, so I badgered her until she ate it all.
“Who made you boss?”
I cocked a thumb toward her bedroom. “Move!”
At the buffet I loaded her plate, and again I insisted she eat it all. We spent most of the afternoon at the Roxie Theater enjoying a double feature and then, for an hour or so, we wandered the wildlife trails of Bayside Park. Dinner was at Red Lobster and she cleaned her plate without my badgering. Maybe the hiking had worked up her appetite
It was early evening when we returned to Mom’s. I kicked off my shoes, grabbed the newspaper, and dropped into her recliner.
She fluffed up her five-foot-two frame and planted her hands on her hips. “You plan to babysit me all night?”
“If it’s necessary,” I said, “but for now I want you to scoot down the hall, take a bath, fix your hair, and put on your jeans, boots, and cowgirl hat.”
“You want me to do what?”
“You and Dad enjoyed dancing and tonight’s my turn. So enough with the questions; I want my gal to look like a million.”
When she was dressed we headed for the door. It was Thursday night. Big Jim Floyd and the Mud Flaps were playing at the VFW hall.
The smooth voice of Eddie Arnold met us at the door, and without bothering to look for a table, I pulled Mom into my arms and we slow danced around the floor for a couple ofdances. Then, just as I was starting to worry, Ernie tapped me on the shoulder and said, “May I cut in?” I couldn’t say no. After all, I’d arranged the whole encounter.
Six months later, which included an unbroken string of Thursday night dances, Mom and Ernie were married where they met. And with a Country-and-Western flair, the Mud Flaps played “Here comes the bride.”
The next nineteen years were fun-filled for Mom and I was delighted she’d found a good measure of happiness. Then, just weeks shy of their twentieth wedding anniversary, Ernie passed away. Mom was devastated and headed downhill again. I remembered her depression two decades earlier and vowed not to let it happen again.
Convincing Mom to sell the ranch and move in with me took some doing, but she finally agreed. If anything, though, her depression deepened. With my working all day, she was alone with too much time to feel sorry for herself. And this time there wasn’t an Ernie waiting in the wings. The question, then, was how to keep her spirits up until she released the past and reached for the future? A fellow I worked with said a pet might help.
As a kid I’d always had a dog and Mom loved them too. After work that day I stopped at the pet store in the strip mall where I frequently had lunch. Hmm. They only had one dog, and it was a very-ugly, year-old poodle. Was love truly blind? I prayed it was and bought the dog. “We call him Pee Dee,” the man said as I left the store with the hairball tucked under my arm.
I couldn’t tell Mom I’d bought a dog to bring her out of depression, so I practiced a fib as I drove home. But, Mom saw through my act before I could open my mouth. “I don’t want a dog. Get him out of here.”
I set Pee Dee on the floor, determined to make my argument, but before I could begin Pee Dee jumped onto Mom’s lap, licked her face, and then curled up like he’d been doing this all his life.
Mom scratched him behind his ears. Was she softening?
I reversed strategy. “Sorry, Mom, it was a dumb idea. I’ll get some rope and tie him to a tree for the night.” I turned and started for the door. “I’ll take him back in the morning.”
“No, you’ll get him a food and water dish. I don’t want him tied to a tree all night.”
Within days Mom had Pee Dee washed and groomed and wearing a designer collar. He was almost handsome.
Mom began joining me for breakfast and having supper ready when I came home from work. One evening after supper she pointed to my stack of mail. “When I saw your VFW bulletin I took a look at it. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” I said.
“I see they still have dances on Thursday nights.”
“It’s Thursday and I can still wiggle into my cowgirl outfit.”
“If that’s an offer, Mom, it’ll cost you.”
“How about first dance.”
“Throw in a second one and you have a deal.”
Bob Burdick is the author of The Margaret Ellen, Tread Not on Me, and Stories Along The Way, a short-story collection that won the Royal Palm Book Award. Bob can be reached at: email@example.com