What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 38
Life with Mother 

[p.120]One thing you could always count on at my mother’s house was a darn good Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cole slaw, pies—nobody did these things better than Mom. In fact, people came from miles around just to feast at our table, including my grandmother’s sisters, who always fought over the biggest drumstick and ended up having rumbles in our kitchen, using hat pins as weapons. Mom’s food was that good.

That’s why last Thanksgiving came as such a nasty shock.

For the first time in a couple of years we were all together, prepared to (a) give thanks and (b) engage in a serious feeding-type frenzy.

A couple of bites into the meal, however, and we knew we were in big trouble. The turkey was dry, the dressing was soggy, and the rolls came from Albertson’s.

It was the rolls that got to me, frankly. Mom didn’t even warm them up and try to pass them off as her own, which is what I would have done. Instead she dumped them straight from the plastic bag into a basket right there in front of the whole world, then sat down to eat as though nothing earth-shattering had just happened. So we munched along in stunned silence until my brother who lives in Nevada finally said, “Geez, Mom, this meal really sucks.”

“Well,” she replied airily, “you do know that I don’t cook anymore.” That’s when my brothers and I knew that our mother had put away her apron and embarked (once again) on a new lifetime.

Unlike most children, who assume that their mothers were never anything than what they are now, we knew perfectly well that Mom had been another person altogether before she decided to study for the Donna Reedhood and have us. We had this information firsthand from the people who watched her grow up.

Mom is from Wyoming, a very cow-intensive region of the country, so we often spent our summers in her hometown, hanging around Grandpa’s gas station and watching bovines in action. In fact, we became the ultimate authorities on cow behavior and plan to write a book soon called Cattle in the Mist.

Anyway, what we learned basically is that cows are the dumbest [p.121]things in the universe. If you honk at one standing in the middle of the road, for example, it won’t occur to her that you want her to shake her haunches and move. No. She just thinks you’re flirting, and the next thing you know your car is going out on a date with her.

But I digress.

The really interesting things we learned during those summers were about our Mom. People would stroll into the garage and say to my grandpa, “These Patti Lou’s kids?”

Grandpa would nod yes. “Too bad she married that fellow from—spit—Utah.”

(Here’s something else we learned: people from Wyoming hate people from Utah because they think we’re wimps to which I can only say at least the men down here don’t wear shoes with pointy toes.)

Then these individuals would turn to us and say, “I remember the day your mother did—”

Our mother did all sorts of amazing and wonderful things—pump gas while shampooing her hair, challenge the school bully to a fight because he wouldn’t stop picking on a weaker classmate, race through town in my grandpa’s Cadillac, kicking up gravel and dirt. But best of all she was once rodeo queen.

There aren’t many people who can say that about their mothers when you stop to think about it.

We liked to imagine how she must have looked wearing a tiara on the brim of a smart stetson, riding horseback around the ring while alternately doing stunts and saluting the cheering crowd. So different from the pretty mother who kept us clean and made us eat mush in the morning and worried that we might do something dangerous.

Who made us feel that we were the center of the universe.

Obviously we’re still important to her, but we’re gone now, and she decided it was time for another incarnation so she stopped cooking and started studying. She’s a full-time student, something she’s always wanted to be, majoring in humanities. These days, when I talk to her on the phone, she drops names like Plato all over the place.

So at every Thanksgiving time from now on, I know that while I won’t be able to give thanks for her homemade rolls, I am deeply grateful for her example. She’s taught me that life is not one but a series of personal odysseys.

God bless her always.