When you have waited years to see your parents, because one thing or another always prevented a reunion, the visit will be cursed in relation to the number of years that have passed since your last meeting.
Three years had passed, so it could have been worse, I suppose.
Because of a more active summer schedule than planned and a gradual decaying of my standards over the years, I didn't get the house all spic-and-span for my parents. It was more like dust-and-blah. I didn't even get around to calling my folks to ask them what they might like to eat and drink while they were here, so my dad called me the day before their flight: "You do remember that Mom and I will be in town tomorrow, right?" I assured him the kids had been counting the days; we couldn't wait!
When Paca and Grandmama (as my children know them) arrived that Monday, our Daniel had a really bad fever that was climbing rapidly higher. That morning he had crawled into bed beside me saying, "Mama, I don't feel well," as he tugged on my hair. When his grandparents walked in whom he hadn't seen since babyhood, he was listless, his eyes flush with fever. We had to monitor him closely, putting him regularly in lukewarm baths throughout the day to bring down the temperature that the medicine wouldn't tame.
On Sunday I had gobbled up a piece of cake from which Daniel had swiped all the frosting, so Tuesday morning I woke up with a grizzly bear in my throat, and then I turned into one. I fussed at my husband when he returned from the store laden with much needed groceries, half of which qualified as "too much fruit" - at least 10 kilos of apples, a thousand blueberries and a ton of grapes I estimated. I complained that, when not eaten in due time, I'm always the one who has to cook up the moldy, bruised, squashy, discolored fruit into something edible. Mom defended my embattled husband, assuring me that she adored fruit and would eat half of it herself - and that very night, too!
Unfortunately, Mama couldn't do that, because I said, "Boo...tag! You're it!", and she began to feel crummy because of contact with a contaminated coworker a couple days earlier. By that afternoon we both deserted Dad, who was starting to get that warm, fuzzy feeling of impending virus warfare in his gut, leaving him with the kids so we could sleep. He played endless rounds of twenty questions with the grandkids, bribing for naps with TV, a sleeping Matthew supporting him from afar in the recliner. That evening as I lay in the chair that Matthew had vacated - feverish, my eyes glazed and that grizzly still gripping my throat - Matthew hinted I should probably be making dinner. The grizzly reared, and Matthew resentfully began to push cube steak around in a pan. I conceded to boil rice in a display of good hostile will.
By Wednesday, Paca, Grandmama and myself were all ill in unison, and the long-awaited reunion had turned into a vulgar virus exchange of Texan and Arizonan germs, for just when we felt we might be getting better, we got sucker-punched by the other state's virus, becoming one, big, germ-mutated family. That day we abandoned the kids to the cruel, mind-sucking, time-warping influence of the TV.
By late afternoon, my dad had gone to bed to pass out in fever-induced delirium. When Mama, finally improved, went to check on him, he asked, "When did you get home from work?!" The next time she went to check on him and take him water, she told me I could say a quick goodnight if I wanted. I walked into the room right after her and said, "Goodnight, Papa." To which salutation I received a snore in response. The virus, the interminable twenty questions or both had done my poor dad in.
That evening Matthew went out to get Analisa her gift from her siblings; her birthday was the very next day. Having already made her cake with Grandmama, I read Little House on the Prairie to my almost 10-year-old, which brought back good memories for my Mom of when Dad had read it to our family in Tennessee. After the kids went to bed, Mama and I had a good, long, emotional conversation - the kind men avoid if they can, usually. Perhaps we felt safe to vent our feelings with Dad zonked out and Matthew running over Phoenix searching for the Frozen DVD.
When Matthew returned he started Ana's birthday banner (that I had completely forgotten), and Mama and I got crayons to help him. The poor man had been so gracious in the face of my orneriness.
Thursday morning we fed our bodies Krispy Kreme donuts in honor of Ana's birthday, thumbing our noses at the proper nutrition necessary to ward off a virus apocalypse, and I made the blue frosting for her sun cake. Then, heaven help us, we somehow roused ourselves to go shopping and out to lunch; Grandmama wanted to buy her girl a stylish hat, and Mama still needed to get her one last birthday book.
The lunch was actually to be in honor of my mother's coming birthday. My beautiful mother announced that if we were to go out for lunch, she was - by Jove! - going to change into something more suitable. My mouth fell open, and I just stared, then looked around at the others for confirmation of my astonishment. My mother had looked gorgeous every moment of every day of their visit in her shiny, spiky heels that drove our Yorkie mad, her elaborate, musical jewelry and her flowing blouses and fitted jackets. What on earth was deemed more suitable than the lovely garments and jewels with which she had already adorned herself, and all while fighting a nasty bug? Already she was far more dressed up than most people would be to meet the president!
But changed she did into an elegant "sun" (sun goddess?) dress. So I got myself up to change my own attire, rounded up the children, and told them all to get out of the pitiful threads they were wearing, for heavens sake, and put on something nice for Grandmama.
After being the crabbiest shopping comrade in the history of mall crusades, I felt a little funny taking my glowing mother to a New York/Jewish diner for her birthday dinner. It's one of the nicest places my husband and I know. Obviously, we should get out more - a lot more. At least they have good cheesecake, and my mama loves cheesecake. As for me, I just had soup and cocoa; I was cold with a renewed onslaught of fever, hugging my Matthew with arms and legs and coughing into the elegant, diaphanous wrap my mama insisted I wear for comfort.
At home Matthew decorated Ana's cake with the bright frosting, those thousand blueberries and some simple whipping cream. We lit the candles on her sun cake and on Grandmama's cheesecake, and we sang to each in turn. Ana looked lovely in her new cowgirl hat that Grandmama had found for her, and my mother - now in her third outfit, one fit for traveling....to meet the Queen of England perhaps - laughed and smiled with the effervescent spirit of a young woman.
Then, feeling the weight of impending separation, Mama and I engaged in the time-honored family tradition of love offerings. I remember my sister Vinca once giving my mother a beautiful antique hat case because my mother said she liked it and asked where she might find one. So Mama gave me the rest of her bottle of perfume, Paris, because it reminded me of Idaho and of my own Grandmama (my mother had worn it at her mother's funeral). She tried to give me a whole stack of gold bangle bracelets which I could not accept. I gave her a Keith Green CD - because it happened to be on in the car, and she remarked how she missed listening to his music - and a fancy beaded wrap that I had worn but once and knew she would appreciate.
My little girls teared up at the airport as they grasped their grandparents' hands. Analisa had cuddled with Grandmama every chance she got, and Ella had followed Paca around like he was a long lost superhero. Berto simply smiled his million-dollar smile, even while knowing in his heart that he had lost his best twenty-questions ally, and Daniel seemed confused, quiet. I, of course, finally broke down, tears squeezing out my puffy, viral eyelids as I hugged my folks twenty times each and pronounced my love for them.
My mother's tears had started before we'd left for the airport and had continued as she held my hand in the car. Matthew and Papa had talked comfortably about sports and work in the front seat. I hated to see my parents leave, but we were brave, maintaining that other time-honored family tradition of waving until we can't see head or tail of each other anymore.
As we pulled away from the terminal curb, Berto said, "Hey isn't that Grandmama still waving?"
"Wave everyone!" I ordered, and we waved vigorously at my Darling Mama who was standing just around a corner in the airport, leaning out.
Once on the freeway, Danny Sam asked, "Are they going out to lunch?"
I glanced at Matthew, and then said to my little boy, "No, baby. Paca and Grandmama are flying home. That was the airport."
After a minute he said tremulously, tears sprouting, "I'm going to miss them."
"Me too, baby. Me too."