As she took her second bite her niece Elizabeth (Lilbet to everyone in the family) announced, "I like to play pretend."
Samantha smiled at her niece, "I liked to play pretend when I was a little girl as well. What is your favorite thing to pretend?"
Lilbet peered at her aunt ignoring her question and said, "Momma says you still like to play pretend. She says you like to pretend you're better than all of us."
Samantha almost chocked on her peach. "Does she now? And what else does Momma say?"
Now that Lilbet knew she had her aunt's full attention she launched in to an almost pitch perfect imitation of her mother. "Momma says, you like to waltz in here wearing your fancy shoes that cost as much as her entire outfit and look down your nose at her and her house. She says that since you moved to the city you like to pretend that you weren't raised on a farm in the middle of nowhere and that you are..."
"Elizabeth Ellen Gardner, you get in the house this instant." Samantha's sister had appeared at the backdoor of the house just in time to prevent Lilbet from sharing whatever else Lori felt about her sister.
"I'm sorry about that, that girl talks like there..."
"...was a two for one sale on words at the 5 and dime." Samantha finished one of her father's favorite sayings with her sister. Though when he used it, it had been about Lori herself as Samantha recalled.
Lori had the good sense to look at little chagrined about what her four year old had just shared with sister. "I'm sorry, I wish she hadn't said that to you."
"You know what Ms. Cicily would say, Never say in front of a child what you don't want them to say in front of everyone else."
As Lori looked down at her feet Samantha fought with her self about letting her sister off the hook or making her squirm just a little longer. "Look, I know we have our differences but this is about Momma so we just need to work past it right now."
Lori took a deep breath and launched in to what was obviously a rehearsed speech, "I am doing the best that I can. I don't know why Ms. Cicily thought she needed to call you anyway. We are handling things. You didn't need to drive all the way out here to check up on us."
It was Samantha's turn to take a deep breath and to try and keep from yelling at her little sister. "Ms. Cicily felt that she needed to call me because this is the third time this month Momma has wandered off. I know you are doing the best you can, but you can't take care of your house, your kids and an old woman who doesn't remember what year it is let alone where she lives half of the time. I'm not saying you are doing a bad job of it, I'm saying no one could do a good job of it. You have too much on your plate and trying to take care of Momma is too much for you. It's time we took her to the nursing home in Alsatia. I toured it when Daddy was sick and it's a lovely place. They do a really good job watching out for the folks that are there. It's clean and well run and the staff is just lovely."
"Momma said she didn't want to go in to a home like some woman with no people of her own. You know that." Lori crossed her arms and set her face into it's most intimidating glare.
"I know what she said, and I know when she said it. But that was 5 years ago when Daddy died. She wasn't wandering back then. She was able to take care of herself. She can't do that now. You know it and I know it and I don't know why you feel you need to be so stubborn about it."
"You don't know what I do. You don't know how hard I work to keep things running out here! You waltz in every few years and throw your money around and think you are being the good daughter when you aren't! You are the one who left! You left! You left me to take care of everything and run everything and do EVERYTHING! So don't tell me now that this is what we have to do. You don't know anything about what we have to do!"
"Three times this month, Lori. Three. And how many times last month? And the month before? She's not going to get better. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. She isn't going to wake up one day and have all of her memories back and never forget again. Each day that passes she gets farther and farther away. It's not your fault. It's not my fault. It's not even her fault. It just is. And we need to do the right thing by her now." Samantha knew she was using her "professional voice" with her sister right now. And she knew that it drove Lori crazy when she talked to her so calmly when she was so angry. But Samantha also knew that she was dangerously close to yelling at her sister and she wasn't sure if she started that she'd ever be able to stop.
"You always do this! You always think you know everything!"
"I always do this? By always do this I guess you mean I always have to be the one to play the bad guy? Who had to take Daddy's keys away from him when he kept insisting he could drive and that the scratches and dents on the car happened in parking lots when he was no where around? Who had to come out here when Daddy was so sick and forced him to mind the day nurse so you and Momma could get a little bit of a break now and then? Who had to threaten to put him in hospice care if he didn't settle down? Who had to make Momma move in with you when she couldn't manage her own house anymore? Who was the one who had to show her how nice it would be living in your guest room and getting a chance to see her grandbabies every day? If that's what you mean by I always do this, then yes, yes I do. I always have to fix things because you won't!"
"You left me with all of this to take care of! You waltzed out of here at 18 and never looked back and left me to deal with all of it on my own! So don't you dare try and tell me how much you have had to do over the years!" Lori's face was turning bright red as she yelled at her sister.
"Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. I'm tired of that, Lori. That's always your line, I left you to deal with all of this. I went to college. I got a job in the city. I have a life out there. You fell in love with your high school sweetheart and couldn't wait to get married. You bought the little house down the road from Momma and Daddy so you and Gary could help them work the farm and live out here in paradise just like you had always wanted to. You benefited from all of that all along. You got to be the golden daughter. The one who Momma passed all of her recipes to. The one whose children got all of her and Daddy's attention.
Did you know I am up for a full partnership at work? I've worked hard for my company and I am this close to it paying off. More money, more responsibility and my name on the goddamn door. It's between me and another one of the junior partners. One who went to all the right schools, lived in all the right places and thinks it's just wonderful that I grew up calling my parents Momma and Daddy. That I have actually milked a cow with my bare hands, can you just imagine? And that I've done so much to better myself. Like there was ever anything wrong with me because I happened to be born in a small country town instead of in a big city.
And then I get a call from Ms. Cicily that Momma has wandered down to their old house and is yelling at the lovely young couple that live there to get out of her house. And that though they are truly lovely and patient this is the third time this month she's done it. And I might want to come on out and talk to you about what needs done. So I had to leave work early. And you know Mr. Man didn't leave work early. You know he probably worked late. And you know he probably told the partners that it's great, just great that I am making sure to take the time to be with my Momma out on the family farm and that who knows...I might just decide to pack up and move back out to the country because after all you can take the girl out of the country, but you can never take the country out of the girl. And there goes my fucking partnership!
But here I am, Lori. Here I am. Doing what I always do. Which is telling you what you already know but don't want to admit to yourself so you can keep on being the good daughter and I can keep on being the bad one. Momma has to go in to the home. I called them on my way over and they have a bed for her. Pack a bag and I will take her tonight. You can get the rest of her things together later and you and Gary can take them this weekend. I will arrange for the payments out of the trust Daddy set up before he died. You won't have to worry about anything. Because that's what I do, Lori, that's what I always do."
Samantha turned and looked at her sister who was staring at her like she had just lost her mind. And maybe she had. She was just so tired of fighting.
"Well if they have a bed for her and they are expecting her I guess it would be rude to keep them waiting."
And with that she turned on her heel and marched back in the house to pack up a few of their mother's things so Samantha could take her in to Alsatia to the Whispering Pines Home for Active Adults. Though there were no pines and the adults weren't exceedingly active. But she hadn't lied to her sister, it was a lovely place with a kind staff. Ms. Cicily's husband had spent his final years there and she highly recommended them.
Samantha looked down at the half eaten peach she was still holding. Sometime while talking to her sister she had squeezed it hard enough that now she had a handful of peach goo instead of the tempting fruit she had started with. While she was washing up at the kitchen sink Lilbet twirled in to the room. She was wearing a princess hat with a veil dangling from the top and a long skirt made from scarves that she was playing with as she danced. "I heard you cussing when you were yelling at Momma. Ms. Cicily says that people who cuss show a distinct lack of imagination."
To hear Ms. Cicily's words spoken so carefully from Lilbet's mouth made Samantha laugh. "Yes, she does say that. I have heard that more than once from Ms. Cicily."
"Are you really taking Grandma away?" Now Lilbet looked concerned.
"I'm not taking her away. She is going to move in to town. You and your Momma and Daddy can visit. You can bring your brothers and you can have Sunday dinner with her if you want to. Or you can sit with her in her room. When ever your Momma says you can visit you can visit."
Lilbet narrowed her eyes, "Are you going to take her in your truck?"
"My truck? I don't have a truck, honey, I have a car."
"But Grandma always says that out of her kids you were the one who didn't truck any nonsense."
Samantha laughed, "Yes, yes she did. But it doesn't mean that I drive a truck. It sort of means that I just do what has to be done. No matter how hard it is or how many excuses could be made."
Samantha turned to go back out on the porch and saw Lori standing behind her holding Momma's suitcase. "Lilbet, you go change out of your play-clothes and clean up that mess you left in your room. It will be time for dinner soon." Lilbet did one more twirl and left the room. "I swear that child will be the death of me. Always in everyone's business."
"She'll be fine. A good mind is a questioning mind. Or at least that's what Ms. Cicily says."
"How old is Ms. Cicily now anyway? That woman never seems to age."
"I would bet she wouldn't tell you, or she would have something to tell you about someone who asks a lady her age."
Lori looked down at her feet. "I'm glad she called you. I was just so ashamed that I wasn't doing a better job. I just...." as the words failed her the tears started to flow down her face.
Samantha crossed the room and took her sister in to her arms, "Hey, now, none of that. You did a fantastic job. You have taken the best care of Momma that you could but she just needs more now than you can give. You know if you could go back in time and ask her she would tell you that we are doing the right thing."
As Samantha held her sister rocking her back and forth like when they were children she repeated over and over..."it will be all right...it will be all right..." She wasn't sure if she was trying to convince Lori or herself.
Lori took a step back away from her sister, "Are you going to be okay getting her settled on your own? Gary won't be home for another hour but if you want to wait until then I could go with you."
"Ms. Cicily has offered to come with me. You know she volunteers there three days a week? They told her that if she wanted to stay tonight with Momma and help get her settled in she was welcome to. She has been getting ready for us to make this move for awhile. I think she was just waiting for the right time to call me.
I will call you when we get her settled in. You all still go to the church up in Alsatia right? I was thinking you could visit on Sundays after services? Eddie and I can make it out here on Wednesdays or Saturdays. And with Ms. Cicily there her three days Momma won't really be lacking for company. It will be okay. I know it will."
And with that Samantha squared her shoulders and took her mother's bag from her sister. "Now let me go put this in my truck and we will tell Momma together...."
*edited ending 6/16/12