She couldn’t lean in for the picture, but she’s there in her usual place at the end of the table on the left. She doesn’t linger long after dinner anymore, but she enjoys the din of laughter and conversation while sipping her soup through a wide straw and gnawing on soft garlic bread middles.

Last Sunday morning, I left her with snug black socks on her freshly soaked and lotioned feet. When my sister came in a short while later, she’d mysteriously removed both socks and maneuvered them into a neat little pile beside her feet–puzzling only because she hasn’t been able to reach her feet in more than 50 years. When she saw my sister, she said, “Oh Kathi, I was praying and praying and there you are, body and soul.”

My brother was in town tonight. She clung to his hand tightly, holding it against her cheek and gazing at him adoringly even though she had to repeatedly ask who he was, and who I was, and who Mark was. The holes in her memory don’t unsettle me. I wrap my arms around her, stare deeply into her eyes, and anchor her in the present by asking her how many children she has.

“Ten?” she responds, and we both laugh.

“You might not have lived this long if you’d had ten,” I say. “Tell me their names.”

She does. All four of them, right in a row. There’s a special place in her heart for her son. He’s the epitome of the strong, silent type. So much of my father in him. Wise and capable.

It’s hard to keep sons close. They’re born with wings, ready to fly at the first opportunity. When they return to visit, you’re still their mother and they’re still your boy, but the world and its cares have got them just a little bit more each time.

This morning when my sister opened the blinds, the light flooding in was especially bright.

“It’s a sunny day,” my mother said, squinting. “They don’t always stay that way.”

January 13, 2017