Our contact had been minimal since the Christmas holidays. I was disillusioned by what appeared to be his indifference to her need for help and her refusal to help herself. My parents were united only when they badgered me to come back to church, their church. The way I saw it, they were asking me to admit that a quarter century of happiness with my second husband was somehow a sin. There were only so many times I could endure that argument.
By the end of February, love had once more begun to outweigh my weariness. A relentless whisper of hope softened my heart again. Perhaps they too were ready to let the differences between us fall away. Stubbornness and fear held me back. On the morning of their 67th anniversary, my sister told me our mother had a yen for flounder. She wanted the kind of takeout seafood they used to order from a place that had gone out of business.
Upon hearing of my mother’s desire, inspiration snapped me into action. A quick internet search revealed a place not far from their home that made mixed seafood platters to go. I would bring my mother something that she wanted. Time was the only obstacle. It was not yet 8:30 a.m. The restaurant didn’t open until 11:00.
There followed an excruciating wait. I could not concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. I interrupted my husband at work to tell him my plan. Steve cautioned me against opening myself up to another disappointing lecture. I was not deterred, although my mood swung from elation to despair. I was convinced I had found the perfect way to make my mother happy, but the certainty made me anxious. What if the restaurant couldn’t fill my order on short notice or was somehow out of flounder on a Friday in Lent? What if she said, “No, don’t bother coming?”
At precisely 11:00 a.m., I called to place my order. Then I phoned my parents. There was a pleasant lilt in my mother’s voice when she accepted my anniversary well wishes.
The next thing I said was a question. “What are you having for dinner?”
“Flounder,” she said. “I bought some at the grocery store a couple weeks ago. I just got it out to thaw.”
“Put it back in the freezer. I’m bringing you a surprise.”
She didn’t turn me down. I was out the door minutes later.
My first stop was the French bakery a few minutes away. I bought several of their favorite miniature eclairs and fruit tarts. After a brief return to my house to walk the dog and print out directions, I was back on the road, map in hand. I had not been to that particular area in years. This was not the day to get lost.
I arrived at the restaurant early, but the women who worked behind the counter packed up my order without delay. I was on my way again in minutes. The route soon led me onto the familiar roads of my youth. A surge of adrenaline made the blood pound in my head. I was at risk of investing too much in this small offering. One meal would not atone for all the missteps between us. I had to make this gift without expecting anything in return.
My mother’s smile was genuine when I came through the basement door carrying their feast. Tiny as she was, she always had a sweet tooth, so I opened the dessert box first. Her brown eyes began to sparkle. My father had to be coaxed out of his chair in the living room. When he saw that I had ordered his favorites, too, he helped himself to a few shrimp and began dividing the platter into his and hers servings.
I hugged them both while they were still sorting through their treats. “I can’t stay,” I said. “I just wanted you to enjoy your day.”
There was to be no lasting peace between us. My mother died six weeks later; my father two months after that. Tomorrow would have been their anniversary. Five years later, I still savor the simple pleasure of their last celebration.