Uneventful Phone Calls


“Even when all the paperwork-a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns-clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.”
― Kelly Corrigan, The Middle Place

The time has come, the expat said, to talk about our parents.

My parents are in their late 40’s. My mother wears an Oroton necklace with a gold oval shaped O pendant. She carries an overflowing handbag which will most definitely contain a handful of kleenex tissues, a bandaid, several pens, random receipts and a throat lozenge. She is busy; up early, a load of washing on, plants watered, meat removed from the freezer for tonight’s dinner, and toast sitting in the toaster waiting for my father to get out of the shower. When he joins her he is in a suit, face freshly shaved, newspaper in one hand, and a man sized handkerchief folded in his trouser pocket. They will socialise together with friends on the weekends; the footy club on Friday nights, sport on Saturday afternoons, a dinner with friends or a night at home with a bottle of wine and a movie. They are house proud -they will work together, he mows, she weeds and prunes. He never cleans, never irons, and last visited the supermarket in 1971, or maybe it was in the late 80’s when she had her hysterectomy. At night, when everything is done; the dishwasher packed, the benches wiped and the tea towels hung, they sit side by side. She sneakily lifts one leg onto his lap, while he massages her foot without taking his eyes of the television.

It has taken me a little while to realise that my parents are not in their 40’s, but when I think of them, this is how I see them. My parents are now in their 70’s. My mother never wears the Oroton necklace. My Dad now loads the washing machine and does a much better job than Mum of perfectly folding and bringing in the washing, alas, he still doesn’t iron. He’d be lucky to wear a suit once a year, his new uniform involves whites – for bowls. Her handbag is still overflowing but she has trouble carrying it at the moment. She’s booked for hip replacement surgery in a couple of weeks. She had a fall at our beach-house mid year, it turned out the intense pain in her knee was referred pain. As time has gone on it has become clear that she needs to get the hip replaced sooner rather than later. We have had many giggles between us on how Dad will cope with her recovery. What will she eat? Will he have to wipe her bottom? I’ve made jokes about moving the beer fridge closer to her bed to make sure he at least visits her once or twice a day. Behind the jokes is an intense pull to get home, not from my mother – she’s quite the opposite “there’s nothing you can do” and “you’re busy enough as it is, just concentrate on the children” are in her repertoire. They don’t change how I feel. I’ve changed my ticket.

In the meantime G’s family have their own issues. After an email this week which began with me saying “I can’t tell you what to do but if I could…” G decided to head home. He has been preoccupied, he looks different, his fuse with the children is quickly triggered. He needs to get home and see him parents. He emails and texts his brother and sister regularly, we’re all unclear, tentative, and perhaps as hopeful as we are fearful.

I’ve watched on as others have moved to the Middle Place. A life where the love for your parents takes on a different perspective. Are they telling me everything about the trip to the doctors? What does that report mean exactly? Would it be wrong for me to ring the specialist? The forethought which comes with a planned trip home now revolves around the hospital, the doctors visit, stairs required, how far to walk. I’ve seen the humorous side of the rushed trip home, a girlfriend who headed back to the States for a final visit to a dying grandmother reported that Grandma was fine, and there had now been three subsequent visits home “We’re calling her Lazarus” she’s keeps coming back.

“If I have an uneventful conversation with my Mother I’m just so grateful” a new friend told me.

“What do you mean? Uneventful?”

“It means she’s okay, there’s no health issue or something with the house, the car. Something that will have me worrying about getting home to be with her. I just pray for uneventful phone calls now”.

I realised how long I’d been taking these uneventful phone calls for granted. The lazy Skype call that lasts for 2 hours, the conversation where Mum sits in her dressing gown talking about who she saw at the supermarket, which vegetables looked good at Jimmie’s shed, and the stray cat that’s moved in. Mid sentence my father will walk behind her, his bowls clothes coming into the screen shot with a beer in hand “Hello chicken!” he’ll say with a cheeky grin. The call will cut out, we’ll ring back, talk over the top of each other, make a coffee, Dad will get Mum a glass of wine – all the while having the most unremarkable conversation.

It’s those conversations I pray for more of.

I wish you uneventful phone calls.

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