ULTERIOR MOTIVES

table-setting-

“Yes, my mother and father united two names that mean something in this community: Goodfellow and Holbrook.  I’ve always been proud of being a Goodfellow, always tried to live up to the name in every way. ”

This respectable-looking stranger was selling himself the way you would a car!  Max wondered what all this was leading up to.  He felt uncomfortable, like a freeloader, knowing he didn’t have means enough to invest in whatever this man was selling.  Seth Goodfellow had called him, mentioned Max’s mother, and invited him to lunch saying, “I have something of importance to discuss with you.”  That they were eating at a rather expensive place where it was possible to speak privately led Max to suppose that whatever this balding, white-haired man proposed was going to be costly.  But this “Goodfellow” was almost sure to be disappointed because Max was not interested in buying or investing in anything right now—not more life insurance, not Amway, not a “business opportunity.”

Seth fixed him with a gaze as innocent as a child’s. “I’m a widower with six children, four living. I’m retired now, but I made a good living as an accountant and invested wisely, so I’m reasonably well off.” So why was he selling whatever he was selling if he was retired and well off?  Max had never been personally involved in the kind of scam Utah was notorious for, but he began to suspect that Seth was a con man.  The key was that the patsy trusted a trustworthy, apparently honest and sometimes influential leader.  All Seth had said added up to an attempt to present himself as above reproach in order to entice Max to invest in something shaky.

He wondered what he should do.  Terminate the whole thing right now?  His main reason for accepting the lunch invitation (besides a chance to eat on someone else’s tab) was the use of his mother’s name so he was reluctant to be impolite. He suddenly wondered if his mother had been enticed to invest her limited means.  He clenched his hands, feeling his heart rate increase.

Finally dessert and more about educational background, a mission to Switzerland, present temple service.  Max looked at his watch.  This guy had better get to the bottom line fast. Max had decided to listen very carefully.  Then as soon as he got back to his office he’d call the Attorney General’s office and report what he remembered.  He wished he had a hidden tape recorder with him.

Seth cleared his throat.  He looked nervous!  He was definitely perspiring above a conservative business suit and tie.  Was this evidence of guilt?  Was it difficult to push something you knew in your heart was wrong? Seth pushed at his glasses, fiddled with his fork, then said, “I guess you’re wondering why I asked to meet with you.  I want you to know that, although this is sudden, it is not a fly-by-night thing.   We, your mother and I, are in the same ward and town house development.”

Mother again! Making sure Max couldn’t cut him off.  Now he was really seething. He looked down so he could hide his feelings, compose his face.

He’d let his anger interfere with listening: ” . . . so we were already very good friends before we started dating a few weeks ago.”

 

Max nearly dropped his glass.  What was this guy saying?  He looked more carefully at the bright blue eyes, the reddened face, the hands now clutching a napkin. His mother had mentioned going out when Max or his wife called her. She had not called it dating!”

“I know this is sudden for you, but it isn’t for us.  We trust and understand each other.”  It could still be a scam, but now it seemed more like . . .

A sense of absolute shock.  He drew in a deep breath and looked squarely into the merry-eyed, ruddy face. Then he was touched.  An old fashioned thing to do, to be sure, but a thoughtful thing.  Yes, thoughtful, as Seth stuttered out, “I want your permission to marry your mother.”

 

DUTY

Japanese tubShe lathered and scrubbed him before he climbed into the hot tub.  As he lay back, letting the tensions of the week steam out, she set out for him a fluffy towel and clean kimono. She hung his western suit in the closet.  She prepared his evening meal silently, but her mind rehearsed what she would have to say:

My dear husband, you speak English, you love baseball and are addicted to golf, but you put on the old ways at home.  You think me as traditional and predictable as a Kabuki role.  You praise me for being dutiful.

I have indeed been a dutiful wife to you, more than you know.  I bore you two sons with whom you were content until I gave birth to Meiko and thereby brought untold joy into your life—and mine.

We two women were dutiful.  She brought you pride when she excelled in school.  Ambitious for her to extend your prestige, you sent her to college in the USA.  I said nothing, though my heart tore.  I said nothing when she wrote and phoned and pleaded to come home.  You insisted and she obeyed.

Then no more pleading.  Instead, she became a Christian in a strange sect.  Then she wanted to marry—not a rich Yankee, but a nearly destitute South American exchange student. Furthermore, she would do it in some Christian temple she said we would not be allowed to enter. She said she was willing to live in poverty if, as you threatened, her allowance ceased.  You demanded that she come home, but she did not.  Embarrassed that she would flout your authority, you told people she was only living with him until she finished her degree. You told me she was dead to you until she left him and came home to marry a man with proper lineage.

Because I said nothing, you could have it both ways: To preserve your pride, you disowned Meiko.  Yet I am sure you know that I have not forsaken her.  You have pointedly never inquired about the use of many minutes on my phone.  You met the sudden increase in household expenses without comment. You never asked from where I got the little blue book I have been reading.

I am a dutiful wife—but now I must say something: So sorry, dear husband, that nothing in the world will keep me from flying out to visit Meiko next month when she delivers our grand-daughter.

 

 

GRACE

Anna Pavlova, costumed as The dying swan (1)

When they had toured France, he had made a special trip to the Paris Opera Museum to see Anna Pavlova’s child-sized satin ballet slipper.  Later, his granddaughter had told him that the thing she wanted most in the world was ballet lessons. Inexplicably moved, even thrilled, he had managed to finance the bi-weekly classes for her, though she lived too far away to attend her recitals. 

Now, on this visit, having offered to pick her up, he came early. He watched from the door as knobby girls bent and stretched in dubious grace.  In the uniform black leotard, pink tights and slippers, and bound hair, it was hard to pick her out, but he thought he did it by her refinement of gesture.

She didn’t see him, her face rapt at trying to manage both a tautly pointed foot and a Sistine hand while wobbling slightly on one leg.  Fingers touching wood, she steadied then brought up the barre hand to the other for a moment of what looked to him a perfect attitude.  Her face startled as she caught him in the mirror and she loosened into gangles again, then mouthed, “Just a minute.”

The teacher waved the girls into line and together they performed the classic bow, a deep reverence to an invisible audience that generations of ballerinas had done in exactly the same way.  Their motions were multiplied in the mirrors, the lights distancing until they looked like gas flames or even candles in the blur of sudden tears.  Away down there at the end, perhaps the tiny, precise form of Pavlova.

 

MY GRANDMA’S HOGAN

Last summer, my grandma got the notion to go back to her hogan and herd sheep.  My mother didn’t like her out there alone, so she told my brother and me to go too.  I knew I’d like it because we used to live on the reservation when I was small.  I helped my cousins herd sheep, so I knew something about it.  My brother Sam wasn’t sure he wanted to go where he couldn’t play e-games, but  we took the bus out to Gallup and my grandma met us with the pickup and we went way up a dirt road to live in the old ways.

Here you always seem to be behind time, but there it’s like time is something you carve into. We threw rocks at rattlesnakes and bullets over a cliff to see if they’d go off and we hunted for lizards.  Each day we watched the thunderheads build up into big mountains, but it almost never rained.

The main problem living in a hogan is water.  You have to fetch it in big drums with the pickup.  My grandma’s kind of rich, so we could drive into town for water every week. We always got hamburgers, milk shakes and french fries and went to a movie.  She’d give us money to go buy candy while she washed the clothes­.  My brother figured how to get twice as much candy by picking something with lots of pieces. Then he’d tear open another package and pour it in too and reseal it before he bought it. You can’t do that with the kind I like.

Well, we were herding our sheeps close to a main road one day, and we see a sign that tells tourists that these guys will herd sheeps for the camera for ten bucks a car or fifty bucks a bus.  We watch as the herd spreads out coming down a hill.      Those guys are making a lot of money doing that over and over. So Sam and I, we decide we can do the same thing for less.  The next day we put a cardboard sign up the road saying we’ll herd our sheeps for eight bucks a car or forty bucks a bus.  We make a lot of money that Saturday.sheep herdingpng

Sunday morning, this red pickup drives up and two big guys get out.  They rip down our sign and start coming after us.  Sam and me, we run for the hogan, but we don’t know what we’ll do when we get there.  We run in yelling, and my grandma, he calmly grabs the rifle and steps out. These guys come panting up and my grandma cocks the rifle.  My little, skinny grandma in her purple and black velvet doesn’t even point the rifle at them, just looks at them, and they go away.

My grandma, all he said was that the sheeps would get skinny over near the main road, so we better take them another direction now.  We agreed because the money was good, but it was boring just herding them over the same hill.

When we came back home, my mother said we must be happy to have indoor plumbing and plenty of water.  She said we were probably tired of mutton and frybread and beans.  But I don’t know.  If my grandma wants to go to her hogan next summer, my brother and me, we’ll go.

 

FLOWERS

burial

 

It gave me a sense of satisfaction that though Aunt Ida had never had many worldly possessions, she did have two funerals.  We missed the Nevada one, but about 50 people gathered in the Salt Lake City 47th Ward Chapel.  Bishop Ben conducted, and all the other speakers and performers were relatives too.  It was a pleasant service, her death at 90 being something rather a matter for congratulation than for mourning.

There was no escort, so we drove separately through very snowy streets to the smooth white cemetery fields, flat markers buried.  Flower stands and trampled places of recent burials were the only stains on the white batting.  A man placed at a fork told us where to go, and we parked and walked, slipping on ice, to the grave site covered with green vinyl grass pads, with four chairs facing the hole.  About half of those who’d been at the service straggled to stand with us surrounded by at least six wreathes, glorious bouquets of flowers in white papier mache vases and perhaps five easeled sprays.  Despite the cold, you could smell flowers in summery wafts.

A long funeral cortege went by on the next road over.  Marveling over Lu Rae, big with her tenth child, greeting Jenny and her parents (now there’s a miracle), and noting that all Ida’s sisters appeared to be wearing well, we waited.  No one sat on the chairs.

A man in a black suit picked his way over to us and asked, “Where did these flowers come from?”  They had no name on them.  Lu Rae answered, “There were only two small wreaths at the funeral.”  “Then where did they come from?”  No one knew.  “They’re freezing already, anyway,” Mardean observed.  “They must have been set up here by mistake,” the man worried.  I could see him wondering if he could somehow take them away, but there we all were ready for the dedication of the grave which Uncle Lester, as next oldest, was on the program to do.

We waited some more while our noses turned red and our toes got numb.  I started doing a sedate jog in place and my wife found that standing on the plastic turf offered a little insulation from the cold.  Finally Lu Rae smiled, “I wanted them to drive with us, but you know Dad. I think we’ve got the other funeral’s flowers and they’ve got my parents.”  Bishop Ben dedicated the grave.  As we left, the man in black was loading all those flowers into a van.

 

APPLIANCES

They make bread machines now that not only knead the dough; they raise and bake it. But we knew Mom would never go for that much technology. She still preferred to do anything she could the old-fashioned way, despite her ever‑more‑crippled hands with their marble-sized joints.

Bread making was Mom’s “thing.” Every week she baked enough bread for a family of eight. However, since the family was down to two, she gave her bread, her wonderful, whole wheat and honey, crusty, fragrant, warm loaves to people she thought would like or need them. To get one of her loaves was to get more than food, though. You got a hug, a perceptive listening to, a feeling that you were important, somehow, choice, special, loved.

So the six of us kids got together and bought her an electric bread kneader. All you have to do is add the ingredients and in a few minutes you toss it into the pans and bake it.

I was the one who got to bring her the machine to teach her how to use it since the others lived too far away. I was excited because I knew of the increasing cost in real pain making that bread must be demanding. Also, the machine was pretty expensive, and it was always fun to get them something they couldn’t afford.

Mom picked at the package, looked helpless, and Dad took it over, opening it carefully with his old pocket knife and flattening the cardboard for recycling. He supervised the withdrawal from the packing, made a place for the machine on the counter and plugged it in.

Then he helped Mom grind the flour in last year’s gift, an electric mill. He measured out the ingredients. He poured the honey, skillfully turning the lip of the bottle so it didn’t drip. He warmed the water to just the right temperature for the yeast and placed the bowl with the yeast‑sugar mixture into another bowl of warm water to keep the temperature constant.

I didn’t remember all this fuss about making bread. Mom had done it all alone for years before Dad retired.  She measured the oil and salt and added a little grated orange peel, her secret ingredient. I turned on the machine.

Sure enough, just as advertised, the dough began to develop glutens and to clean the sides of the bowl. We turned the machine off and took pinches to test. It seemed perfect to me.

But Mother had Dad pour the dough out on a board. They punched and turned it. “Mother,” I protested, “you don’t have to do anything to it! The machine does all the work.”

“I know, dear, but I want to just finish it off by hand.” Dad greased the pans, separated and molded the dough into loaves, and plumped it into the pans.

As Mother covered them with a towel for rising, she said,  “Thank you, Dear.  I’ll write a note telling everybody thanks.”  I saw them pushing the mixer back into the corner with the electric can opener, slow cooker, sandwich maker, small-sized deep fat fryer, electric wok, vegetable chopper/slicer, and popcorn popper we had given them over the years.  I thought maybe, since Mother had her own labor-saving devices for bread, next year I’d suggest to the others that we give them something for the patio.

 

WISHING

I’d give every one of my family something they want.

“What would you wish for if you could have one wish just for yourself, not for the world?”  Jason asked his father.

“You mean, I’m not supposed to ask for world peace or for everybody to have enough to eat?”  Jesse hesitated while he changed lanes.  “I don’t know exactly what you mean.  You go first.”

Jason had his answer ready.  “I would become a concert cellist and make a lot of money.  I’d give every one of my family something they want.”

“What do you think we want?”

“Well, I’d give Eric a Porshe.  And Anne would have all the clothes she wants.  And Mom.  I’d give her the newest and best I-phone.  And I’d give you a grand piano.”

“I’m really impressed, Jason.  You know exactly what each one of us would like.  But you didn’t say what you would want.”

“Oh, Yeah.  Well, a horse.  Yeah, I’d get me a horse and ride it anytime I wanted.”

“Sounds like you want to give us all something that is completely out of our reach right now.”

“Yeah, Dad.  I wish I could give everybody something.  That’d be neat!  I wish I could.”

Resisting the impulse to lecture Jason on how nothing unearned is much appreciated and about the satisfactions of obtaining one’s own goals for oneself, Jesse thought for a moment, waiting for the traffic light to turn green.  “You’re cheating, you know. You’re wishing to be a great cellist, but I think the horse is the real wish.”

Jason laughed.  “I guess so.  Kenny Slater has a horse.  But maybe if I was practicing all the time on the cello I wouldn’t have time for a horse.”

“That’s the trouble with wishes.  Sometimes when we get them, they cut out other wishes.” Pleased that Jason had thought of the objection himself, Jesse asked, “Let’s just say we could have every one of those wishes.  Now, how long would it be before we just wanted something more?”

“I guess playing the cello would make me happy for a longer time.  But now it’s your turn.”

“My wish would be to be a better father and husband. I know I can’t provide all the things everybody wants, but I think I’d rather be better at listening and more able to show how much I love you all than maybe a better businessman so you could all have more things.”

“I guess so, Dad.”  Nearing the studio, he started picking up his stack of music and reached for the cello.

Jesse flicked on the blinker and pressed the hand brake.  He parked the van in the empty handicap slot, then rolled to the door where the hydrolic lifter set his chair down.  He wheeled up the ramp behind his son.