She bought the buffet from a man who lived in that same prison town where she lived and worked and planted a garden so lush people would drive by the brick house on the corner lot just to hang their heads out the rolled down window and point at the blue hydrangeas big as dinner plates and valentine-red geraniums. I think she said she paid $400 for it. A good deal, she declared, for something hand-crafted that a’way. A painter and quilter herself, Mama appreciated anything created from scratch, including a good biscuit.
The dining room was too small for such a large piece but she wedged it in a corner next to the silk curtains. A person sitting on that side of the table had to scooch their chair outta the way if somebody forgot to get a serving spoon for the mashed potatoes, or the green beans from the center drawer of the buffet.
That first Christmas she had the buffet I bought her a set of exotic black dishes adorned with pink Irises to stand up behind the glass doors. I wish there was a light inside shining down on those shiny plates, I told her. That would be nice, she agreed. Mama always liked anything that sparkled.
She lived alone, her and Dixie, the black bouvier whom she loved better than any companion she ever had in those decades after Daddy died, including his brother, my uncle, who once admitted to me, and perhaps to himself, that she never really loved him as much as she needed him. Need can be a blinding thing to even the most perceptive people.
When she finally quit that prison job, and moved off to the beach house she’d spent twenty years aching for, Mama had a big garage sale in the basement of that brick house on the corner. She got shed of a lot of stuff, including a collection of vinyl records that she had carried across country from Georgia to Oregon to Alaska back to Washington State. I am still upset about that.
In that stack of records was one old scratchy one that she and Brother John and I made for Daddy when he was overseas in Korea. The vinyl was old and not well-preserved but I would drop it on the stereo from time to time and listen as my three-year-old self screamed out “There goes that man again!” Mama said I was yelling about a man in the recording studio who kept coming in and out when we were making the Christmas gift for Daddy. I suppose whoever took the stacks of Boots Randolph and Floyd Cramer from the garage sale likely tossed away the treasure that Mama didn’t bother to keep.
She lost Daddy’s wedding ring in the move, too. The rings of my mother are a hard subject for me to talk about even yet. It’s troubling the resentments that seep in like black waters after a person dies. No matter how many times I mop up, and promise to seal off the source, that muddy water returns, threatening to drown me once again. I get that it’s just a ring. A material thing. But it’s not just a ring, not just a material thing.
When Steve, my husband’s best buddy, was killed by that drunk driver all those years ago, we drove up to Spokane to attend his funeral on his seventh wedding anniversary. The Widow Bev came up to me and asked if we had seen Steve’s body there in that casket. No, I said. We didn’t want to look.
Oh, she said. Steve had the strongest body. It was hard to leave it. That physical body, you know? I’m going to miss that. That curly auburn hair that made people stop Steve on the streets and ask if he was Bill Walton. Those wide hands that could palm a basketball or grab both sons and tickle them to the ground.
I understood what she was saying, even then, long before that December night a year ago when my sister and I bent over our mama’s dead body, bathing it with warm water one last time. I’d tested the water, made sure it wasn’t too hot, too cold, as if it would have mattered at all.
She lost Daddy’s ring and sold the stack of vinyl but Mama took that buffet with her when she up and moved off to that beach house, and when she lost the beach house, blaming it on the financial collapse of Wall Street and not the gambling addiction that had been her undoing, and in so many ways all of ours, she took that buffet to my brother’s house and wedged it into another corner. Those black dishes, stacked unseen behind a cupboard door, no longer looked exotic. They looked misplaced, relics of a misremembered life.
She joined one of those groups that help addicts overcome, and was surprised how normal everyday people like her get caught up in addictions. She said it was loneliness that drove her to gamble. I still think it was unresolved grief. It doesn’t matter now, though, she’s gone. Her addiction died with her.
My brother lived a mile from the biggest casino in the Pacific Northwest. No matter how many resolutions my mother made, no matter how much she prayed and hoped and trusted God to cure her addiction, the casino and all those flashing sparkly lights were just right down the road. She hated her weakness, felt it made her less of a person.
My neck and shoulder have been bothering me. I got this knot in my right shoulder that just won’t quit aching. At first I thought it was from all that holiday company. But when the guests left and the hurt was still there I realized it was the buffet I hauled from my brother’s place when he up and moved off to Southern California after decades of living in the cold and wet of Anchorage and Seattle.
I’m in the midst of a restoration project, painting the buffet. All nine drawers, inside and out, the top piece with the glass doors and the bottom piece where I found the Tupperware box of cards Mama bought intending to send to people but never did.
Resolutions. Good intentions. They are the best of us. Hope in flesh-clothing.
That we fail to follow through on resolutions and good intentions doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.
That we believe we can, and when we try to do better, makes us the sparkle of Heaven.