I am home and try to help. My mother attends a bridge class every Tuesday night. I offer to cook dinner that evening. Back in San Francisco, I might aim for the exotic and mainly vegetarian. My parents do not eat that way. Perhaps like the rest of their generation, cooking first in the 1950s and 60s, they prefer meat, starch, and veg, with the emphasis on meat.
I shop at the grocery store where my mother goes every day. She fears scarcity. An empty bottle of orange juice in our refrigerator clangs the dereliction of her maternal duties. For my dinner menu, I select chicken and bell pepper skewers with peanut satay sauce, red potatoes roasted with sage leaves, and spicy wok-fried asparagus–basically chicken and potatoes but different. The asparagus hails from Canada, likely the last spring shall grow.
My mother is quite grateful for me to relieve her cooking duties for an evening. My father eats as little as usual, but finds everything delightfully different.
The following day, we depart on (italics) The Great Outing. Father often mentioned an art show for the British painter Turner. Trouble is, the museum sits on the ocean in the far-flung north shore of Boston in the little town of Salem. My mother fretted over driving directions and parking. For them, the museum seemed as remote as Minnesota or Montana.
I have figured out how to go to Minnesota and Montana. I offer to chauffeur the two venerable parents. Dad prints out extensive driving directions, not aware that a phone can direct. Mother guides me carefully to the highway, then I turn on the smartphone to have the lady tell lead me the rest of the way. We arrive on time. The parents are astonished.
We walk through several galleries. My deaf father wanders eagerly ahead. We lunch in the museum café. Both parents evaluate that I eat enough. Can’t let their driver go hungry! Afterwards, we stroll the narrow brick streets of sunny Salem past seventh-century residences and Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables. Mother laments the lack of yards.
I retrieve the car from the roof of the parking garage and drive my Mom and Dad back home. Father sleeps in the back seat like I once did when my Mother ferried me home from school.
That evening I may have figured out: What I am home to do.
As my working years slogged by in California, I grew increasingly insistent to figure out my parents. I not had been home in over two years, partially due to limited vacation days and partially because their home was quite lonely. Christmas holiday with them meant expensive, crushed flights; unending darkness and snow; and a dreary but rushed need to create a moment. I choose instead to travel far away with my brother. We flew one Christmas to Mexico City and Rio the next. I had abandoned the old ones.
I waited for brighter days to return home. I wanted leisure to suit my schedule and not the constraints of work. I quit my job in large part to spend 30 days with my parents in their house. June was free from holiday obligations. We would just catch up. If need be, we would stare at each other to learn who we had become twenty years after I left their nest.
I brought home in my car a greater agenda. I would change them. We would finally have real conversations. We would go on long walks. We would become great friends. That hope-and-change agenda quickly ground on the rocky shoals of my parents’ 80 years of living. They are not changing, at least not quickly, and not become a son wishes it.
I am home simply to be myself. I want to shed decades of self-criticism and parental concern. I want to live freely as if my parents are not here, and then invite them to take part in as much as they desire. I go for runs. I cook dinner. I travel to New York City. I build an art project in their basement. Through observation, they can see what I have become.