Catherine fidgeted with the hem of her skirt as she sat in her parents’ sunroom on the cedar bench. She had brought the boys by to help with the yard work, after John had pulled one of his classic guilt trips the night before boarding a plane back to Ottawa. Shaun, being the oldest, was out pushing the mower while Kyle followed along with the weed whacker. She could see them struggling with the equipment from the large screened windows. The boys had been reluctant to spend their Saturday doing chores out at their grandparents’, probably because they rarely did any at home. Catherine wasn’t even sure Kyle had used a weed whacker before, but her husband had assured her that he had…once or twice.
Her mother was out front tending to her roses and visiting with the birds, no doubt. Catherine had thought about going out with her, but the boys needed to be supervised. Also, dealing with her mother when she was completely engrossed in her “system” of gardening was never enjoyable. Her father had passed out on the couch fifteen minutes ago…his snoring was loud enough is was close to shaking the walls of the house.
There was a strange smell coming from somewhere. It had been permeating throughout the sun room for a while. Catherine had wandered the main level of the house earlier wondering if it was the drain in the kitchen, or perhaps the garbage needed to be taken out…but neither seemed in need of attention. The living room simply smelled of cat…she was sure her mother had fallen behind with dusting and vacuuming. She had considered getting out the Hoover and giving it a quick once-over, but knew that if she even tried, it wouldn’t be “right.” She was better leaving well enough alone.
Still, something definitely smelled foul. She checked the planters in the sunroom…nope, just the smell of dirt and vegetation. The screens were dusty, but not smelly. Everything else was in its place, and there was nothing on the floor…the furniture and knick knacks in this room were always kept sparse, neat and uncluttered.
That’s when she noticed the bench, with its boxed-in frame and latch…it had been her toy box when she was a little girl. The bench had been moved there after she had refused to take it over to her place. She hadn’t wanted to seem rude, but an old cedar toy chest would have seemed out of place with her décor. Her home was a far cry from “shabby chic.”
She knew full well she had found the source of the stench the moment she bent over to lift the lid. The waft of rotten food that arose was nauseating. Inside were at least six full bags of potatoes, countless full nets of cooking onions and big brown grocery bags filled to the brim with apples. Most of the food was old and in various stages of decay, save for a few bags that had likely been purchased more recently.
“Are the boys hungry? You can take them out some apples if that’s what you’re looking for.” Catherine hadn’t heard her mother come in. She struggled to find her bearings amid the smell and the sudden realization that something was very, very wrong. “Mom…um…,” Catherine failed to find the words she wanted to say. Her mom kept nattering on…“Do we need more apples? I’ll send dad to the store and…” Catherine whipped around on her heels, squirreling her face up in frustration and disbelief. “Dad will do what? Mom, dad can’t drive, remember? You are WELL aware of that right mom?! You have five bags of apples in here! FIVE! Four of which are rotten. You have onions in here turning to syrup. Half your potatoes are sprouting and the rest are completely inedible! Is this what you used in that salad last weekend? Do you even look in here? Do you even know what’s going on?” Catherine realized her voice was loud and angry. Then it hit her. She was being really…mean. All the anger melted and she started to cry. John was right, she was a horrible daughter.
She looked up at her mom, who just stood hunched and immobilized in the doorway from the sudden verbal attack. Catherine walked over to her and hugged her. “Mom, I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.” She bent down to cradle her mom’s chin and lifted it gently so their eyes could meet. “This isn’t like you Mom.” Finally, with a deep, shaky breath, she finally found the words she was missing earlier. “Mom, I’m scared.”
Coming to terms with the reality of family situations is never easy. Many adult children have a difficult time accepting their parents’ aging processes, especially if they are unsure what to do. We are interested in hearing your experiences. We’d also like to know your opinion. There are likely many here reading that can relate.