I have memories of my mother, fortyish, wandering into a room where we children lolled about watching television, and hesitating on the threshold, saying, “Now—why did I come in here?”
We’d laugh at her, we heartless children, because we thought it was sweetly eccentric that our mother would often forget the task that had caused her to stride purposefully into a room, sometimes even to open a cabinet and gaze inside, as if hoping the answer lay in there.
But of course her behavior wasn’t eccentric at all. Now that I’m a writer, I realize there are a finite number of thoughts I can fit into my head, and sometimes a few really important ones can get squeezed out. Like—oh! I was supposed to make dinner. Or fill out that endless paperwork that comes home from a grade school—field trip forms, tuition invoices, raffle tickets, notes to teachers, et educational cetera. Or the even more relentless paperwork that goes with my job—the teaching of English to teenaged girls.
And then, beyond all that, there is the Work in Progress. It has to find its way through all of the other thoughts, like water in a jar full of rocks. It has to squeeze through the gaps and bring me the occasional inspiration, even while I’m toiling away with my less inspired but still important mental chores: feed the dog, the cat, the fish. Write those thank you notes, wrap that present, iron his shirt, sew his button.
My mother, though she’s the most mature woman I’ve ever known, must take the occasional secret pleasure in watching me fall into all of the traps I was sure, as a bold and sarcastic youth, that I would avoid. In her day, she had to maintain her mental equilibrium while caring for FIVE children, a husband, a cat and a dog. I only have two children, and yet I understand, now, how really extraordinary my mother was. She got a college degree later than most, at age fifty, and she wrote for pleasure, for sheer pleasure, which was the same reason that she would read.
My mom is the one who got me hooked on mysteries. She’s still an addict herself. Back when we were kids, she would reward herself for daily chores with quick little doses of whatever book she had at the time: Georgette Heyer, Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt. She’d read a chapter or two, then jump up and say, “Now, why did I get up?”
So today I found myself wandering into a room, initially with a firm purpose. I still felt the urgency by the time I reached my destination, but I had forgotton the task. “Why did I come in here?” I asked my sons, who, as tradition would have it, were watching tv.
“We don’t KNOW, Mom,” my eldest said dryly.
Ah, just you wait.