Lower Case Mom
Christmas is especially difficult for my daughter this year. She's still adjusting to not having what she wants her father and me together again as husband and wife.
Soon after Jack remarried, she exclaimed vehemently, "... and I didn't want a stepmother! Not at my age!"
When her Christmas letter arrived, it was a different story: "It was a year of change for us, too. My Dad remarried to a delightful woman named Susie. Dad and Susie dated while they were in Junior High (!) and ran into each other after all this time. It's great to see them so happy together."
Then came the paragraph about me: "Meanwhile, my mother [note use of lower case, whereas 'Dad' is upper case] is working out a life of her own, on her own terms. She is still working and very involved in a variety of interests and events and in the lives of her friends. She and I continue to 'hammer out' a new relationship in a new context."
Well put, indeed, but I feel I'm cast in a rather bad light. Dad (upper case) has done the "right" thing, settling down with a suitable woman named Susie, although my daughter hates the idea of a stepmother! Meanwhile, her mother (lower case) is living a life on her own, the implication being selfishly, which is certainly not easy for daughter to deal with since it includes involvement with men and women of all colors, sexual preferences, professions, non-professions and social classes. It's quite obvious lower-case mom has no intention of settling down to doing what's acceptable and safe; therefore a hammer is needed.
I'm coming to believe, finally, that this is an okay way to be one's own person, beholden to no one; and yet, a man of my own, a man in my bed all night, would be nice: a man with whom to spend these impossible holidays, a man to ease my loneliness. And then again ...
The evening of December 22 loomed and I couldn't face cooking, so I took myself to the new Mission Hills Cafe for dinner.
When I arrived soon after 7, I didn't immediately notice the couple I dubbed Margaret and Jamie. Seated at a banquette inside the restaurant, I soon became fascinated with Margaret, whose hat and manner were quite fetching. I strained to see the man who accompanied such an elegantly chapeau'd woman, but couldn't.
According to the waiter, Margaret's meal had begun at 5. She was seated at her sidewalk table on Washington Street when a homeless man came along. The waiter called him "a street person." Margaret gave the less fortunate man $2, and after chatting awhile, she invited him to join her for dinner.
Their table bore empty wine glasses. Her face flushed, her reddish hair damp, Margaret talked animatedly to the young man, who had a rather feral look because his facial hair grew well up onto the sides of his face.
I intended going to a film after dinner, but the entertainment outside the restaurant window was too fascinating. I lingered long over my meal, hoping for a lovely denouement.
At one point in the evening, Margaret arose, entered the restaurant and asked politely if she might use the phone, which was on a counter very near my table. I was surprised at her eccentric attire: In addition to the mesmerizing hat of black straw with net and sequins, this woman of elegant bearing wore a short, plaid, wool jacket over a long flannel shirt. This topped a pair of baggy, well-worn gray sweat pants, white socks and blue canvas shoes. Lady bountiful looked like a "street person" too!
During the time Margaret phoned and used the ladies room, Jamie became restless and insecure. He rose, turned and began to pet a dog tethered to an outdoor table. The dog's owners, seated just inside the window, watched apprehensively.
Long after their meal was finished, Margaret and Jamie lingered over coffee and cigarettes. Since Jamie's back was towards me, I rather envied the woman seated at the opposite banquette, who had a view of his face. I longed to cross the room so I could see Jamie's reaction to Margaret's flirtatious conversation.
Margaret was having the time of her life, regaling Jamie with stories, reacting to his responses, pleased with her ability to amuse. Frequently she threw her head back and laughed uproariously.
As their animated evening drew to a close, Margaret and Jamie exchanged slips of paper on which each had written something. Then, Casablanca-like and with an enormous sense of drama, Margaret placed two cigarettes in her mouth, lit them, and handed one to her young companion.
They arose, and as she passed their table she took the remaining bread from the basket. Isn't that nice, I thought, she's going to make sure Jamie has food for tomorrow. Instead, as she and Jamie passed the dog, she fed it the morsel of bread, beaming at its astonished owners as she took Jamie's arm.
Margaret and her new friend walked west on Washington. I went home remarkably comforted.
Published May 2005