May your holiday be filled with the love of family and friends!
Thanksgiving Day arrived cool and gray. But it was her mother’s arrival that concerned Elise – and the fact that she was thirty minutes past her estimated target time. Surely she wouldn’t pull another no-show. Not on Thanksgiving.
Brian’s brother expected them around noon, with a plan to have dinner about one o’clock. She’d assigned her mother to bring some pop and a pie – things they could live without if she changed her mind at the last minute. It’d taken three phone calls to convince her to come at all.
Elise brushed out her hair, and left it down, with just a headband to keep it back from her face. For her mother’s benefit, she put on some make-up. One less thing for her to be grumpy about. The dinner was casual, but Elise knew her mother would be dressed up, so she put on a denim skirt with boots and an autumn-red sweater.
When a car door slammed outside, Elise hollered to the kids. “Okay, guys, Grammy’s here, so we’ll leave in a few minutes. Come say hello.”
She opened the door, and stepped onto the porch. “Mom, do you need help with anything?” Her mother had refused to stay at the house, choosing to book a hotel room instead, so she wouldn’t need to unload her suitcases.
Why was she walking in slow motion? “Mom?” Elise went down the steps to greet her. And stopped short. What the–? This was not right. Her mother looked as though she’d aged ten years in the last few months. Her hair was flat, and her eyes were dull. The pasty gray color of her skin matched the gloomy sky around her.
She took hold of her mother’s arm. “What in the world is the matter, Mom? Are you sick?”
Her mother pursed her lips. “Of course I’m not sick. It’s a long drive.”
Elise caught a whiff of mint as her mother spoke. She’d obviously put a mint in her mouth as soon as she arrived to help clear her breath. From what? Cigarette smoke? Alcohol? Elise groaned inside. How could she take her mother to her in-laws’ house in this condition? In her entire life, she’d never seen her mother so unkempt and weak. Instead of her usual stylish pumps or boots, she wore a pair of basic loafers, and her normal confident gait had been replaced by an unsteady shuffle.
Elise helped her up the stairs and into the house. “Do you need to freshen up before we go?”
Elise let go of her. “Okay, you do that, and I’ll gather everyone up.”
Oh, shit. Oh, shit. As Brian came down the stairs, Elise grabbed his arm and pulled him aside. “Mom looks like hell, and she’s acting like she can hardly move. This is not going to be good.”
He peered down the hall. “You think she should stay here?”
“I can’t leave her by herself.”
“Look, we gotta go. It’ll be fine. All she has to do is sit around and eat.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and get the kids in the car, and pull into the driveway so she doesn’t have to maneuver through the garage.”
Five minutes later, when her mother still hadn’t emerged from the bathroom, Elise knocked on the door. “Mom, you doing all right?”
“I’ll be right out,” came the raspy response.
She leaned against the wall, and rubbed her temples. This was so much worse than she expected.
An eternity later, the door opened, and her mother stepped out. She’d tried to fluff her hair up a bit, and was standing a little taller. A slight improvement. Elise put on a smile. “Okay, you ready? Where’s your jacket?”
“Oh, let me get that.”
She retrieved the leather jacket from the bathroom, then Elise helped her put it back on. It was like having another child.
“Come on. We’re running late.”
Elise held her mother’s arm while she climbed into the car, then shook her head at Olivia, who watched wide-eyed. She knew her daughter was old enough and sharp enough to see that her grandmother was not herself.
“Oh, wait,” her mother put a hand on the car door. “I need to get the pie.”
Brian opened his door. “I’ll get it.”
“In the back seat,” her mother said.
Elise shut the door then hurried to her mother’s car with Brian. “I don’t think I’d trust anything she made,” she said.
Brian lifted a grocery bag from the floor of the backseat. “Looks like it’s all store-bought.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
Elise twisted her hands in her lap, and stared out the window, trying to keep tears of frustration in check.
“Grammy, do you want to read?”
Elise turned when Olivia spoke, and she watched her mother’s glazed eyes settle on Olivia. She gave a half-hearted smile and patted Olivia’s knee.
“Not right now, sweetie.”
Olivia’s eyes met Elise’s, and Elise shot her what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “We won’t be in the car very long, Livvy.”
“Will they have coffee, or should we stop for some?” her mother asked suddenly.
“If they don’t have any made, we can make a pot when we get there.” And fast, Elise thought.
Elise hadn’t briefed Derek and Meredith on the situation with her mother, and she saw the surprise register on their faces when everyone bustled into the house. They’d met before at weddings and funerals, and other family functions through the years, so even though they didn’t know about the drinking, they knew something was wrong. Both of them turned worried frowns on Elise.
She ignored them, and steered her mother to the living room. “Here, Mom, why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll get some coffee started.” She headed for the kitchen, with Meredith on her tail.
“Hey, would you mind making some coffee for Mom?” Elise whispered.
“Not at all.” Meredith touched her arm. “Elise, is everything okay?”
Elise put up her hand. “No, but I can’t talk about it right now. I’m sorry. I had no idea Mom was in such bad shape.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just tell us how we can help.”
“I think some coffee will help. And just try to act normal.”
But the day was far from normal. Her mother contributed nothing to the conversation through dinner, and barely interacted with anyone, including Olivia. Olivia had tried to engage her grandmother a couple of times, until Elise couldn’t stand to see her rebuffed anymore. Finally, she pulled Olivia aside.
“Liv, leave Grammy alone for a little while. She’s not feeling good today.”
As soon as they’d all gathered around the table, they held hands while Derek said grace. Elise bit her lip until she tasted blood on her tongue. She wanted to shout and scream for God to intervene, to do something about her mother. But like her mother, she sat down to eat as if nothing was wrong.
Elise watched her mother pick at her food, lifting an occasional shaky forkful to her mouth. She’d taken only a small portion of turkey and potatoes and a little fruit salad. Hardly enough to keep anyone alive. How had it gotten so bad? Elise wondered if Mary knew. When was the last time her mother had interacted with anyone? Did Nathan ever check in on her?
Living by herself at the lake house obviously wasn’t working. Elise would have to make some phone calls.
She refilled her mother’s coffee mug, leaving plenty of room at the top for sloshing. “Mom, did you get enough to eat? Can I get you anything else?”
Dull eyes looked up at her. Her mother shook her head, then turned to their hostess. “It was a lovely dinner. Thank you.”
Polite, dutiful and automatic. She said the right words, but Elise knew her mother was simply going through the motions. The rote words were delivered in monotone. Fear swept through her. She was losing her mother. Elise hurried back to the kitchen with the coffee pot, and swiped at the tears that escaped as she braced her arms against the sink, trying to catch her breath. A few moments later, Brian’s strong hands squeezed her shoulders.
“Hey. Take it easy, hon.”
“My mom is gone, Brian,” Elise whispered, hands at her mouth. “She’s completely lost it.”
He pulled her into his arms, warm hands circling over her back. “Shhh. It’ll be okay. Let’s just get through another hour or so, then we can leave.”
For the next two hours, they all pretended everything was perfectly fine. Her mother was the elephant in the living room, and they all danced around her. Derek built a fire in the fireplace, and turned the television on to one of the football games. That’s what they did on Thanksgiving Day.
Elise watched in disbelief as her mother smoothed the crease in her slacks, drank coffee, and stared into space.
“Well, I think it’s about time for a nap,” her mother said when they were settled in the car.
“No! Don’t want a nap,” Andy wailed.
Elise turned. “Not you, silly boy. Grammy wants a nap.” Although naps all around sounded like a fabulous idea.
“Why don’t we drop you at the hotel, then we can swing back by to get you for supper later.”
“No. I’ll need my bags,” her mother said.
“Okay, well, let’s get the kids home, then I can take you over.”
“I’ll drive myself.”
Elise decided not to push the issue in front of everyone else, but when Brian pulled into the garage, she helped her mother out, and scooted the kids on into the house.
Her mother headed straight for her car.
“Mom, wait. I’ll take you.”
“No. I want my own car.”
“Because I don’t want you to have to cart me back and forth, and I want to come and go when I please. I may not feel like having supper later.”
“Mom, you didn’t eat enough at lunch. Of course you’ll need something else later.”
“I have some snacks.”
“That’s not the same,” her voice sharpened, and she clutched her mother’s arm. “Did you bring alcohol? Is that why you want to stay at the hotel by yourself? So you can drink?”
Her mother yanked her arm away. “I told you why.”
It was the most life she’d exhibited all day, and that in itself annoyed Elise. “I don’t think you should be driving, Mom.”
“You’re being ridiculous. It’s cold out here, and I want to go lie down.”
Elise stared helplessly as her mother started the car and backed down the driveway. Then she marched inside the house and picked up the phone.
“What are you doing?” Brian asked.
Brian reached out and closed his hand over hers, phone and all. “Babe, not now. Let’s don’t ruin someone else’s holiday.”
“I want to know how long it’s been since she’s seen Mom. And I want to know if she knows how bad it’s gotten. Wouldn’t you think she’d call me?”
“Not if she’s protecting your mom.”
“Protecting her from what?”
“From embarrassment. From your anger.”
“Well, that’s crazy. If somebody doesn’t do something, Mom’s going to get herself killed. It’s a miracle she even made it here. And now she’s going over to that hotel, and she’s going to have a cigarette and start drinking. And if she passes out with a lighted cigarette, she could burn the whole place down. God, I cannot understand why she’d rather have a drink than a life.”