“Life at best is bittersweet” Jack Kirby
Normally I probably wouldn’t have used yesterday’s WordPress Daily Post as inspiration for a story. “Bittersweet Memories”. “You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?”
It is a bit too melancholy for me. But I was at the hospital volunteering when I read it; and it instantly conjured a memory for me.
When my mother moved to Toronto she knew no one, other than me and my closest friend. When I was growing up she was a hospital volunteer. It was always something she enjoyed doing, so she told me she planned to do it here, as well. It would not only give her something to do, she figured it would also be a good way to meet people. So she signed up for two days a week, Mondays and Tuesdays.
She moved here when she was seventy-five. By the time she turned eighty, she’d made quite a few good friends. I wanted to make her a party. Eighty is, after all, a milestone. She didn’t want a party. She said she’d prefer to
have dinner with me and my friends, who she adored. And she’d also have another dinner with her friends.
Whatever made her happy made me happy. But it bothered me. Because I didn’t think it was celebratory enough.
As it turned out, her birthday fell on one of her volunteer days. I can’t remember now, whether it was the Monday or the Tuesday. So I thought it would be fun to surprise her at lunch time with a cake she could share with her fellow volunteers. I called the Volunteer co-ordinator and asked if it would be all right. She thought it was a fabulous idea and even offered to get the cake for me.
On the appointed day a colleague of mind said she’d come with me. I had checked with the volunteer department to make sure what time my mother had lunch. We agreed Sharon and I would go to their office, where’d they’d have the cake. We’d walk it over to the cafeteria and light the candles just outside the door. And then walk in, singing Happy Birthday.
The best laid plans.
By then my mother had been volunteering twice a week, every week for five years. She ate lunch in the cafeteria, with most of the other volunteers every, single time.
Not that day.
We couldn’t find her. She was nowhere to be seen. MIA.
Sharon started to giggle. Who could blame her? It was funny. Pretty soon we were all laughing like mad fools. The head of Volunteer Services offered to go and search for her. Sharon and I, and the cake, stayed hidden away, out of sight, in the office. She finally found her, sitting in the cafe on the main floor of the hospital. Why she picked that particular day to eat some place else, I never did find out. Anyway, Joanne cooked up some reason my mother had to go, with her, to the cafeteria.
We gave them some time to get there, and get settled, and started the whole birthday cake procession again.
My mother was shocked. Her mouth flew open. Her eyes filled with tears. And then she jumped up from her seat, with a HUGE smile on her face. She was beyond thrilled. The cake was humongous. Could have fed an army. So we not only shared it with the other volunteers, I think everyone on duty at the hospital that day got some.
You have no idea how excited my mother was. Such a little thing, really, but she just loved it. She told the world about it. Talked about it all the time. It made her eightieth birthday really special for her. And for me, for that matter.
About a year or two after I started volunteering at the same hospital one of the volunteer coordinators stopped me as I was signing in. She’d been cleaning up files and she found a photograph of my mother, sitting at the table, when Sharon and I walked in with the cake, candles blazing. And she gave it to me. Instantly I replayed the entire event in my mind:
Coming up with the idea, all the organizing, trying to find my errant mother, and watching the expression on her face when she saw us carrying an enormous cake that looked like it was on fire from all the candles.
Pure joy. Mixed with a little sadness, because by then my mother had passed.
A bittersweet memory.