Grown-ups aren’t shy when it comes to telling children who they resemble. I was a toddler when my dad took me to his men’s club; the Silver Rod soda fountain. There, dads and grandpas would gather on early weekend mornings to pick up a Daily News, a pack of Pall Malls and discuss the merits of sports idols named Pee Wee and Sugar Ray. Each man who entered stopped to rub my head, pinch my cheek and tell me how much I looked like my dad. Fair-skinned, fair-haired and green-gold eyes, there was no mistaking our DNA. Perhaps that’s why I thought my mother was simply an add-on to our relationship. We both loved her, but really, we were the pair: Daddy and Daddy’s girl.
After his death, I tried pairing with mom. Our politics clashed, our fashion styles differed: She teased my clearance shopping, I loathed her fancy boutiques. And while she continually complimented my parenting skills, it only fueled my disparagement for her mothering. We were nothing alike-I knew that as surely as I knew our names.
It wasn’t until her last long goodbye that I remembered a similarity. It isn’t one that warms my heart, but it certainly makes a home in my brain. When I was 14, an exhaustion I couldn’t explain, overtook me; leaving me too tired for school or for play. My already pale complexion grew ghostly. I was taken for a blood test. Even then Mom and I differed, I needed to tackle problems head-on in righteous indignation. She asked my father to call for the results as she waited in the kitchen clenching a dish towel in her fists.
Not felled by some hideous fatal disease, I was diagnosed with anemia. Lots of liver and red meat (two foods I shun today) and a daily dose of iron would see me right. I ate liver and sautéed onions without a hitch. I chomped on veiny minute steaks at lunch, but the iron pills were more than I could stomach-literally. I already hated school, attending with constipation and nausea was impossible. I opened the jar at breakfast, took out a little brown tablet, hid it in my hand and drank down nothing but water. Later, I tossed the pill out my bedroom window. Little did I know that iron was iron whether it was made into girders or supplements.
After a lengthy snowy winter, Mom took my little brother out to the backyard to welcome spring. I was greeted home from school that day by my mother’s hands cupped before me like an alms offering. Those nasty little brown demons lived to rat me out. Mom raved more about the cost than my deceit. I don’t remember if my father defended my actions. He usually did.
In what would be that last year of her life, Mom was on a regimen of 18 medications a day. Prescriptions neither of us could pronounce would glide down her throat on a flume of Tropicana No Pulp, but the chalky Potassium lozenge made her gag. Fearing her health aide would find me neglectful, I called every evening, between her two favorite shows; Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. (And for your information; Mom kicked game-show butt even with dementia and a bad ticker.)
“I swallowed it. Can you hear me? I’m drinking it down right now.” She announced as easily as I hid my iron pills. I believed every word. Later, while she was in one of her many hospital stays, I tidied up her apartment. There, in her dresser’s top drawer, lay a carpet of tissues. Each one held a long white pill. Like iron in snow, potassium has a forever shelf life-- like the memories made by moms and daughters.