I could hear the tap-tap-tap of my mother’s cane as she approached my kitchen. I looked up from the white sauce I was stirring with an expectant smile. “How was K-Mart? Did you find the pants you were looking for?”

My mother paused as if trying to remember why she would want to go to K-Mart. “We went to pick out a gravestone.” She sounded happy and relaxed. “We went out to eat, too, at Hoss’s.”

“Hey! You got the gravestone! Wow.”

For someone like my mother who reaches for her checkbook and pays each bill the very same day it arrives, six years is a long time to wait. She’s quick. She’s efficient. She’s ahead of her game. I still remember those summer Friday nights when Mom would say, “Don, we need to sit down and send out some bills tonight. Mr. Steinfenner still owes you from last month. We also never got any money from that job on 10th and Sassafras, you know, the Stillers.”

Dad would finally drag himself off the porch where he’d been relaxing. He’d pull up a chair to the table in the country kitchen. One of them would reach behind the sofa or his briefcase  and together they’d discuss hours worked and manpower on each job Dad did throughout the week. Mom would write out the bills  and dad would address the envelopes to his tree customers. Dad always procrastinated. Mom was the one to get the ball rolling from the bills to  taxes, from getting him to repair broken banisters to getting him to pick up a loaf of bread. She kept him on schedule.

So having to wait six years to get their gravestones must have just about killed her. Of course, getting his gravestone was long overdue, and hers, just as I expected, was prepared in advance. He would have just shrugged his shoulders and leaned back to enjoy a long nap. I don’t think he would have minded the wait so awfully much. But I’m glad it got done. My mother likes things done timely and orderly.   Not having him here to nudge into action must have thrown her off her game. Nudging other people takes adjustment. You fall into a rhthym. And wihout that rhythm, life takes on a different wait pattern.

As I continued to stir the sauce for the scalloped potatoes, she told me what the double gravestone would have written on it. “Our names and dates, and underneath, our nicknames. Dave thought we should put “The Tree Man” on your dad’s side and “Kitty” on mine. The dates are there so if anyone wants to trace the family tree, they’ll have that information.”

“Hmm. Sounds like you got everything squared away.” I sprinkled onion over a layer of potatoes and smiled over at her. I’m glad the headstone is one piece of granite between them. The way I see it, they had so much between them anyway, they each balanced the other. Fifty-one long years of marriage.

She talked about having some symbol between their names. “Maybe a ring? Not sure. I’d kind of like a cross to show I’m—mm—my allegiance to Christ,” my mother mussed. They had gone to two headstone places. “Well, I liked the place in Erie better. I thought a blue gravestone would be nice. But the lady in Springfield said the blue would fade in time. She said the granite held up better. Dave said she was more honest. He can read people better, I guess, being a salesman.” She went on to express delight regarding other details of the purchase and their day together.

As she leaned against my kitchen counter, I realized how much I loved my mom. She seemed excited after her day out with my sister and her husband and their grandkids, my mother’s great grandkids. She bubbled over with anecdotes of the girls and what she’d eaten at the restaurant. As I layered the potatoes in the casserole dish and listened to her talk, I thought of our how our roles had reversed. How many times had I come home, breathless and excited after a day out and shared it with her as she stood at her stove cooking?

At 82, my mother had shrunk in size. Much more delicate these days, cooking dinner exhausted her. I had taken over much of that burden. It felt good to give something back after all the hot cooked meals she had cooked over our lifetime, regardless of the season.

Watching her slide her worn fingers absently over my blue countertop as I poured the white sauce over the potatoes, I realized how privileged I was to share each day with her. I remembered my prayer from early that morning. “Lord, Mom needs to get out more. Please give her a wonderful surprise today. Lord, something soo special. Let her be the center of attention. Give her some fun.” I forgot that prayer until she tapped her way on up to my apartment to tell me my that sister, Carolyn, and family would take her to K-Mart to get the pants she wanted.

Oh, they went to K-Mart but the pants weren’t quite how she imagined them.  But ordering the gravestone, that was an even better answer to prayer. My mother was determined to have that  done before Memorial Day this year. She had waited so long for someone to have time to help her choose that very important memorial with her. Today was that day.  With calls back and forth and to my younger brother, everything fell into place.

God, thank you that you hear our prayers. What a milestone buying that gravestone must have felt like to my mother! I don’t know what emotions she went through as she prepared to finally commemorate my father’s resting place. What did she feel as she faced the thought of her own mortality? I admire my mother for having the patience to wait those six long years. Thank you, God, that the gravestone issue is settled.

Thank you, God, for the perfect surprise you gave my mother today. She went out to buy a few pieces of clothing and share a day out with family. She came home with a few other things: peace of mind and a piece of a rock to share for eternity.

“Supper won’t  be ready for awhile,” I said as I slipped the scalloped potatoes into the oven.

“That’s fine. I’m not so  hungry,” she said with a tired but contented smile. I heard the tap-tap-tap of her cane as she opened the door and left my granny flat to rest in her house below.

Milestones and Gravestones
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