Monday morning, Dallas
“Nana! Here I am!” Allison announced as she danced into the kitchen, her heart-shaped face aglow with joy at the sight of her grandmother.
Gloria set her freshly baked coffeecake on the cooling rack and folded the four-year old in her arms. “Good morning, sweet girl! You even smell clean this morning. Mama made your hair so pretty,” she gently poked her tummy, “and what is this on your T-shirt?”
“Pooh, Nana. You know Pooh! The mailman brought this to me, from YOU!” She stuck out her chest and traced the chubby bear figure with her pink-tipped fingers. “My Pooh huggy-bear is in the car and Daddy says he’ll get it pretty soon,” she said, dragging out the ‘soon’ in an imitation of the way David told her to wait.
“Daddy and Papa are playing with the ‘puter,” she complained.
After settling Allison in a chair and tying a ruffled apron over the Pooh shirt, Gloria moved around the table to where Laura stood securing Ariel in the sparkling clean high chair. Laura stepped into her mother’s open arms, tried to remain calm, and gave up, crying quietly on her shoulder.
“Laurie…” Gloria smoothed her only daughter’s spun-gold hair and wept, too. “I know what you are going through, I really do. When your brother was sick I felt helpless and guilty, and all alone, as if nobody understood the seriousness of the situation. Let me tell you again how sorry I am for crabbing at you yesterday afternoon. I know you are worried sick about Austin and I don’t blame you for reading a book to keep your mind off it temporarily. It’s exactly what I’d do. Or worse, feed my face.”
“But you’re right, Mama, we shouldn’t have been ignoring the girls and sitting around reading and watching TV.”
“Mama.” Hearing her use the childhood form of address she knew, as only a mother knows, how lost and afraid Laura felt. She said it last night, too, Gloria remembered, mindful how long and darkly lonely the night seems when one’s child is in danger.
“We all need to take care of the girls, honey, not only you. We want them to feel safe and secure. And as for the condition of the kitchen, who cares about a mess right now? What does it matter in the long run? I do want to thank David for cleaning it up, though. Remind me, will you?” Indicating a glass on the table, “By the way, I poured a glass of grape juice for you. I know how much you love purple grape juice.”
“You are never going to let me forget that one, are you, Mom?” She grabbed a tissue and nudged tears from under her eyes. “I still don’t know why they use grape juice when the Bible talks about the bread and the wine, but I’ll admit licking out the communion cup might have been a bit tacky.” Laura managed a teary chuckle. “Even at eight I should have known better.”
It hadn’t seemed funny at the time, Gloria remembered, but it probably should have. The Lord took no offense, surely, and if she’d had her head on straight she would have told the deacons wives in the row behind her to mind their own business. A little girl who loved Jesus with all her heart was something to be proud of, not apologize for.
She turned her attention to Allison, wide-eyed at her mother’s tears. “I see two beautiful young ladies who have come to have breakfast with us. I hope you like pancakes, baby,” she told the serious child. “Do you want me to make bunnies or bears this morning?”
“Bears! Bears!” She crowed. “Like Pooh!”
The batter hissed as Gloria poured it on the griddle, carefully making shapes she hoped might convince Allison, recalling how Austin always wanted his pancakes to look like snakes or lizards, one time specifying a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Boys, she suspected, gloried in reptilian critters partly to make their grandmothers nervous, so she liked to tell him that the bubbles rising to the surface were eyes and she needed him to stand close to her because “all those eyes are sca-ree!” She swallowed hard, blinking against tears begging for release.
“We aren’t saving this coffeecake for the men, I hope,” Laura said, picking crumbs from the streusel topping and licking them off her fingers.
“No, dear. I made it especially for you. Is apple streusel still your favorite?”
“It sure is.” She helped herself to a generous portion. “I could smell the cinnamon from our room. Yum!” Adding another piece to her plate, “I’ve tried baking it but mine doesn’t turn out as good as yours. Why is that, do you suppose? Did you deliberately leave out a secret ingredient?” She sat down and dug in.
“You wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t keep some secrets, would you?”
“Sure I would. But if you don’t want me to tell anyone else, I won’t. I think you do owe it to your very onliest daughter the truth about your coffee cake recipe, though.”
“I’m sure it’s fine the way I gave it to you. I don’t leave out ingredients when I share one of my specialties. I wouldn’t do that. We’ll go over it after while and try to figure out what you might be doing incorrectly.”
Gloria took pride in her baking and was glad to see her daughter showing an interest. She also thought talking about coffeecake was a good way to be together without discussing the worry uppermost in both of their minds.
“I’m so glad you aren’t mad at me anymore, Mother. I need you on my side.” Gloria reached over and patted her hand.
“Oh, I know David’s on my side,” Laura went on, “but I think a woman needs her mother no matter how old she is.”
“Funny you should say that,” Gloria mused. “Only this morning I was thinking about my own mother and how much I miss her. Next Wednesday it will be a year since your Grandma died, and yes, I still need her.” Odd, she had been thinking about her mother as she drove to the salon Friday morning, too.
“Grandma was a hoot. I miss her so much.” Laura said, licking sugar off her fingers. “She always acted as if I were her favorite person on earth. I loved it when she ‘interfered’—that’s what you accused her of—when you scolded me. I used to plan to run away from home and I always knew I’d go to Grandma’s house.” Laura smiled, remembering.
“Oh, I know. She told me you and she were such buddies because you were united against your common enemy—me!” She hadn’t found it so funny at the time, but now that she had her own grandchildren, she completely understood.
“But you’re right, dear. As much as our husbands love us, I believe we women need to be able to talk things out with another woman. I do wish Grandma were here right now, though I’m grateful she’s spared the worry.” She refilled her coffee mug, sat down between the girls and went on:
“Thank you for telling me you need me. Hearing you say it means more than I can possibly tell you. Mother-daughter relationships can sometimes be strained. In fact I remember someone saying mothers and daughters are often locked in a love-hate relationship, and it seems a shame, doesn’t it?” She reached out and held Laura’s hand. “You’re a rich blessing to me and I thank God we can be together right now.”
They held hands and looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment, then grinned, as both had to grab tissues.
“We’ve never been great with these touching scenes, Mom. We should be on TV. We need to fade to commercial right now.”
Standing up from the table, Gloria murmured agreement.
“I don’t think men fully understand the bond between women. While your dad appreciates my friend Suellen—actually she’s a good friend to both of us—she and I, who both have good marriages, often express how there are some things only a woman can understand about another woman. I wish your dad had a friend who could be the same type of blessing in his life Suellen is to mine.”
“How long have you and she been friends?”
“As long as I can remember. Shortly after we moved here, I guess. You were only a baby. We’ve been through a lot together.”
Allison patted her Pooh shirt with a sticky hand. “Pooh needs more. He says he’s hungry for MOUSES!” She laughed at her own joke, and Gloria kissed the top of her head as she walked to the stove to accommodate the child.
“Did Daddy tell you I tried to talk to you last night?” Laura asked, watching her mother intently.
“Yes, he told me you wanted to tell me that you might have an idea about what happened to Austin. You might find it hard to believe, but I was too tired to talk anymore. Please forgive me?”
“Of course.” Laura, apparently not finished, went on. “Your door was locked. I couldn’t believe it. First I thought you were still mad at me, but then Daddy said he locked it, so I said, okay, Daddy’s the one who’s mad, but when we were in the den together, he was sweet as anything, didn’t seem upset with me at all.”
Gloria busied herself putting on a fresh pot of coffee, making sure she kept her back toward Laura as she felt the heat rise in her neck. The curse of being fair-skinned, she thought.
“Are you blushing? Mother? Oh NO! Please don’t tell me you locked the door because…oh, this is ridiculous!” Laura covered her face with both hands.
“Would you like another piece of coffee cake, dear? I baked it just for the two of us. I don’t think the men care for it. Where are they keeping themselves, anyway?”
“No, I don’t want more coffeecake! For pete’s sake, Mother! The idea of you and Daddy having sex at a time like this!”
“Laura! The children!”
“They don’t understand what we are talking about, thank goodness. Never mind the girls. I’m the one who’s shocked. Honestly! How could you?” She stood up as if to leave.
“Shocked? Excuse me? Sit down, young lady and grow up! You and I never had a ‘birds and bees’ talk, as mothers and daughters are supposed to do, but you need to hear what I have to say right now.”
“I do not want to hear about you and Daddy having sex, not in the middle of the day with all of us in the house…”
“You may be quite sure you won’t hear any such thing. I don’t even want you thinking about us that way. I really wish this subject had never come up,” Gloria admitted. “But if you find the idea ridiculous and shocking, well, that bothers me. Why are you so shocked, Laura? How do you think you came into this family? We didn’t find you under a cabbage leaf, you know.”
She took another sip of coffee and stood back up suddenly, hands on her hips.
“Shocked? You’re shocked? Who was it, I’d like to know, two weeks after your wedding, who ran around this house making cute little remarks to each other, as if we wouldn’t know what you were giggling about, as if you’d invented the whole idea.” She waved her hand in the air, sputtering. “Then you’d fly up the stairs together and 20 minutes later you’d be back downstairs, giggling again—absolutely shameless.” Gloria couldn’t help smiling. “We tried to remember ever having that much energy.”
“Mother! Really! Sit down. I’m not really shocked that you…you know, do it, not that I even want to think about that, but I am surprised that you would do it now, when your grandson is missing and we don’t know where he is.”
“Oh.” Gloria felt terribly uncomfortable—she didn’t think it was refined to talk about such personal matters—but she wanted Laura to understand.
“First of all, it wasn’t in the middle of the day; it was 9:00 in the evening, but I’m sorry if it embarrassed you. As for your implication that it’s inappropriate to make love in a time of crisis, well, I think you’ll find, as you grow older and have been married a long time, there’s something remarkably comforting about…um,
“Okay, fine. I really don’t want to think about my parents having sex.”
“Then don’t think about your parents having sex.” “Ah,” she paused. “I believe I understand part of the problem. You say ‘having sex,’ as if that’s all there is to it. I think that cheapens an important element of marriage.” Gloria hesitated, listening to sounds coming from the computer room.
“Listen, honey, we can’t talk about this anymore this morning; it sounds as if our husbands are coming in for breakfast, and if you think you’re uncomfortable now, you don’t want to be here if your Dad hears what we’re discussing. I do want to say this: I hope you and David will still be making love when you are old and gray, because by then you will know it’s infinitely more precious than ‘having sex.’ It is about comforting one another, and communication. It’s about loving and caring for each other far beyond our own needs.”
“Is it still fun?” Laura asked, mischief sparkling from her smiling eyes.
“Better than fun. It’s sweet.” she answered, laughing at her daughter’s suddenly perplexed expression.