Back when I was still a working gal if it was Friday it meant ending the school day earlier than the rest of the week. Instead of hanging around until after five everyone was gone no later than four, including me. I joined my colleagues in a race from the parking lot and jumped onto the Beltway with glee, heading in the direction of my mother’s home because Friday meant our time together.
It was a long ride from southwest Houston where I worked to southeast Houston near Almeda Mall. I always felt a bit of anticipation as I drove over the high bridge that connects the Beltway with Interstate 45 heading north. Because of my mother’s illness I never knew exactly what her frame of mind would be but I faithfully went to see her week after week. If all was well I knew that the two of us would have a wonderful evening together.
Friday evenings with family had always been a kind of tradition for me. As a child my mother took us to see our grandmother Ulrich every Friday night. We would meet up there with all of my aunts and uncles and cousins and have a rollicking time. We children would play games mostly outside while our parents gathered around a table for a poker game or just sat together talking in voices so loud that I always felt sure that people miles away would hear them. Those were literally the very best times of my childhood and somehow spending Friday evenings with my mother when I became an adult felt much the same way.
My husband Mike never minded that I was galavanting with Mama each Friday because he was always exhausted after his long week at work. He liked having a quiet evening at home to recharge his batteries, so my date with my mom became a rock solid tradition that was always an adventure.
My mother enjoyed getting out of her house for a few hours. Sometimes when I drove up she would already be sitting outside on a little bench that my brother had given her for Mother’s day one year. She would be dressed up in her finest clothing and a huge smile would appear on her face. Those clues told me that she was feeling well and that we would surely have a glorious time.
She always wanted to eat first and the better she felt, the more extravagant her choice of restaurant would be. Of course she was a woman of simple tastes so she rarely wanted to travel too far from her home or to spend an exorbitant amount of money for the food. Her absolute favorite eatery was Cracker Barrel in League City where she tried everything on the menu over time. Eating there also meant spending an hour or so wandering through the country store section where she almost always found a gift to set aside for someone’s birthday or other special occasion.
We might eat at a Mexican restaurant or feast at an Italian bistro depending on her cravings. Sometimes she only wanted to head for the Piccadilly Cafeteria just down the street from where she lived. She always thought that we should have dessert and she would magnanimously insist that she be allowed to pay for those sweet treats. An ice cream cone or a slice of pie caused her to beam with childlike delight.
After we had filled our bellies I allowed my mother to decide where we would go next. Sometimes she wanted to visit a nearby mall or take a tour of Walmart. Other times she just wanted to get her weekly grocery shopping done. On very rare occasions she asked to go see a movie or take a drive along the seawall in Galveston. Regardless of what she chose I understood that it would take hours to sate her enthusiasm. It would often be nearing midnight before I said my goodbyes to her and headed home.
My mother was generally filled with optimism. If she was anxious or on the verge of tears I knew that she was heading for a cycle of depression and mania caused by her bipolar disorder. On those occasions being with her was painful and required great patience on my part, which I did not always display as much as I should have. I felt like I was with a stranger when she was sick. It hurt my heart to see her in a state of confusion and to know that others feared her strange behavior. Those were the times when she was disheveled and her eyes darted back and forth like those of someone caged. She would check her food to see if it had been tainted by someone intent on making her sick. She would argue with waiters and clerks in the stores. Nonetheless I knew that getting her out of the oppressive loneliness and darkness of her house was a first step toward becoming well again. It also gave me an opportunity to determine if she was in need of emergency care from her psychiatrist.
Sometimes I was so exhausted after a long work week that I did not want to spend my Friday evening with my mother but I always forced myself to go see her anyway. The majority of time I found my fun, happy and loving mother and I would quietly chide myself for hesitating to join her. Even when she was struggling with her bipolar symptoms I knew that it was incredibly important to be with her and so week after week, year after year Friday evenings belonged to my mama.
After my mother died I felt lost when Friday rolled around. I missed those good times that we had shared. I found myself thinking of the pearls of wisdom that she had given me in our many conversations. I realized how much I had even cherished the evenings when she was depressed and in need of my consoling or when she was manic and there was no telling what she might say or do. I longed for all of her and the lessons about life and love that she modeled for me on our little adventures together.
My mother never had wealth in her life. She was not a woman of substance. We inherited almost nothing from her in terms of worldly riches. What she gave me was an example of how to enjoy and appreciate the ordinary in times both good and bad. She was a treasure and whenever Friday rolls around I find myself remembering how important it is to grasp each moment and enjoy it.