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January 2009

Pastrami and Other Strange Meat


My mother wants me to mail her a pastrami sandwich. No kidding.

A tall two and a half inch thick pastrami sandwich on rye bread, preferably with French fries wrapped up with it. The kind of sandwich that you have to open real wide to wrap your lips around and the kind of sandwich that stays with you for a long time afterwards.

But I don’t think I can do it.

You see, back in October she was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with COPD/emphysema which is pretty much what happens after you’ve spent 55 years as a regular cigarette smoker. She’ll be on oxygen for the rest of her life. But if she can stop from smoking and eats right and takes her medicine she could still have quite a few years left.

To describe my relationship with my mom is probably as complicated as trying to describe the taste of pastrami. If you try to liken it to other things, you never really get quite the right flavor. To swallow it, you have to open wide but still digest slowly.

But suffice to say, she encouraged me to be independent which I was then criticized for by the rest of my family when my independence didn’t coincide with the agendas that they had lined up for themselves. Free to be you and me my family are not.

In 2000 following some demoralizing comments made by my sister and my mom (just the latest in a long line really) I had decided that perhaps the indifference and out right cruelty that plagued the relationships with my family (I should stress: my biological family, I don’t put up with that kind of crap in my acquired family) was better left behind.

I vowed that since I could not end the abuse entirely (try as hard as I could to seek peace and understanding), I could end the communication and at least start the healing of the debilitating paralysis that had plagued me up until then.

And to some degree it worked although occasionally the last 8 years were filled with angry one-sided arguments in the shower in the morning and the occasional bad dreams at night.

Still, when the email arrived from my sister that mom was ill, none of that mattered much and I immediately planned for a trip back to Mosinee to visit her.

The BF joined me in what was his heroic act of bravery. Neither of us knew what kind of movie of the week scene we were going to walk into and both of us prepared for what felt less like a family reunion and more like preparing for war.

But all things considered, my brother and sister gave me and my mom a present by staying away and giving us space and peace. At least I didn’t have to deal with the barrage of their abuse on top of everything else.

We arrived at the nursing home where she recovered and although frailer and older than last I’d seen her, she was still my mom with all the mom charm she’d perfected over a lifetime. The BF was won over and I think so was she by him, and the three of us spent time together acquainting each other with who we are now.

She has since gone home and is on her own to decide whether she will eat healthy or not, or smoke or not with only the threat of a return to the nursing home (or worse) to keep her healthy.

Whatever the problems and trials that we’ve had we’ve tacitly decided not to talk about, and maybe it’s just simply better that way isn’t it?

I mean, at some age, I guess that some stuff just has to become unimportant. The childish mind wants everything to be solved neatly and tidily (the really childish mind wants everything to be solved in their favor) but I think the grown up mind realizes that not all can be solved and the one sided arguments and bad dreams can be put away and one just has to live with what one has rather than continue to wish otherwise. It’s messier than one thinks it’s supposed to be.

So we stay in touch by phone. It’s been a beautiful time filled with stories of the past and keeping up with what’s happening now. I even called her from the street in front of the capitol when I went down to DC for the Inauguration festivities. She asked for a t shirt which I have here on my desk packaged up and ready to mail. It was fitting somehow. She could be there with me while in the comfort of her home and by sending her something from there, she felt as though she was there with me.

The question still remains whether or not I’ll send her the sandwich. It might simply be unhealthy or unhygienic to send such a long distance but if something as simple as a pastrami sandwich will make my mother happy, who am I to say no?