Tired hands shook vigorously as arthritically deformed fingers struggled to break a gelatin-coated capsule over a glass of water, releasing a white powder into the clear elixir.
This had become routine for my 70-year-old mother, whom my children call Bubbie. We had just finished an early dinner in one of those typical suburban chain family restaurants. Bubbie was looking good for her age, I thought. Her short, wavy red hair with blond highlights capped off her small, slightly padded body. She maintained her long, squared-off acrylic nails in a frosted shade of mauve. She always said that colorful, attractive nails would distract people from noticing her diseased, misshapen fingers, a trick she had learned from her aging mother. That was the thing about Bubbie— she usually looked better than she felt.
On any given day, at any given moment, Bubbie could be flexible or stubborn. In fact, the older she got, the more she resembled her mother, both physically and temperamentally. Watching the transformation unfold was indeed an eye-opening experience.
At the table, next to Bubbie, sat my two children. My son, Josh, 17, was tall, slim, and too smart for his own good. The dark peach fuzz on his chin and above his upper lip underscored his soulful brown eyes. Lazy but thoughtful, Josh was the affectionate one.
Next to Josh sat his 14-year-old sister, Shayna, a “don’t touch me” princess, beautiful with her long, straight, luminous hair. Today it happened to be buttercup blond. Shayna used her babysitting money to spoil herself and was, as per usual, dressed from head to toe in overpriced name-brand attire from the mall. Despite my best efforts to the contrary, Josh and Shayna both possessed an air of teenage entitlement. I could only hope they’d outgrow it. Soon.
On my side of the table was my uber-supportive husband, Mike, a big guy, tough, steadfast, in his late 40s. We’d been married 23 years. Mike was everything I wasn’t. He was the yang to my yin. An IT guy, he was the left side of the brain to my right. If one of us had a problem, the other had the solution. He was the provider, the rock, and not an anniversary went by that I didn’t get flowers and a poem. Yeah, I was a lucky girl.
Then there was me. The everywoman. I liked to describe myself as approachable: real good at making eye contact, friendly, sincere, and pleasant-looking enough that total strangers felt comfortable engaging me in conversation—in the supermarket, in an airport, just about anywhere.
I had learned over the years how to make the most of what I’d been given. Ever mindful of my clock ticking dangerously close to 50, I watched what I ate, kept “the girls” hoisted, the waist cinched, and took my wardrobe cues from my daughter, dressing in a tastefully modified adult version of what she and her friends thought was currently hot. It was definitely working for me, because everyone said I’d never looked better. And I had the softfocused Facebook pictures to prove it.
All things considered, life was pretty damn good.
Bubbie contorted her shoulders as she discarded the empty capsule onto a used napkin on the table. A chunky gold charm bracelet dangled from her wrist. It had lots of baubles. They caught the light.
Realizing I hadn’t said the traditional Hebrew blessing over the wine, I lifted my glass, which still had a drop of Riesling left in it, and abbreviated the recitation. “Oops, almost forgot,” I apologized. “Boray p’ree hagafen, Creator of the fruit of the vine.”
My family responded with the obligatory what-she-said, “Amen.”
Mike picked up the empty capsule and examined it curiously. “What’s this for?” he asked.
Bubbie replied, “Pain.”
A young, timid waitress approached the table with a credit card and placed the slip down for a signature. Bubbie gently touched the waitress’s arm. “Hon, could you please bring me a box?”
We glanced at Bubbie’s plate. Only about a fork-full of veggie lasagna remained.
Shayna rolled her eyes. Josh chuckled.
Like a mother tiger, I snarled my disapproval at my cubs as I reached for and signed the check. “Don’t start,” I admonished.