Black and White
I stand at our meeting place waiting for Mom and her caregiver Sahlee and watch people walking down the path towards me. From far away, the people look tiny, and with my fuzzy focus, I can’t determine whether Mom is among them. Will I recognize them right away? What will give them away from this distance? Will it be Mom’s slow, sloping gait? The faded pink of her jacket? Maybe the white hat she always wears. Perhaps they’ll walk here from a different direction, come upon me while my back is turned and surprise me. Or maybe I’ll overlook them. What if—like a sinister fear playing out in my darkest moments—I don’t recognize them?
Finally, they are unmistakably in my sight. I walk towards them and wave to Mom but she doesn’t recognize me yet. When I’m a few feet away I call out to her.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, clearly puzzled.
“I came to see you,” I say, and take her arm.
We walk into the city and I can tell she’s in a good mood by her happy chatter. We enter a local coffee shop for a quick snack before Mom’s appointment with the hairdresser. We’ve found a French woman named Virginia to cut her hair, and there’s promise of a pedicure. This is the day’s goal—to successfully navigate these appointments as though Mom were a ship on rough seas.
We wait for Virginia to finish with her previous client. Mom slips into French as she effusively praises not only Virginia (“You are amazing! You look beautiful!”) but also her client. Then it is Mom’s turn. No problem getting her hair washed. No problem sitting in the chair. No problem sitting still as Virginia snips with her scissors.
The cut ends up being too short, but that means it will take time to grow and time until we have to do this again.
Then it’s time for the pedicure. Again, Mom is in top form as she somewhat reluctantly steps out of her shoes and places her feet in a warm basin of water. We’ve let her nails grow too long, especially as she’s started wearing closed shoes, but the pedicurist works gently to cut them properly. Mom and I sing with the radio as the pedicurist works, and overall, this too is an easy experience.
I am thrilled that we’ve come through this without any major kerfuffle. Past experiences have taught me to be cautious, to expect Mom’s sour anger telling me she can cut her own nails, that she’s not a baby, that I’m wasting my time. There’s only one more hurdle to go—cutting her finger nails. That will wait until we are back in her apartment.
Once we are back on the city streets, we stop at the grocery store to buy a few vegetables. As we take our purchases up to the cashier, Mom whispers something in my ear.
“I wonder how that woman got black,” she says, “and how she stays that way.”
I look up to see that the cashier is a young Ethiopian woman. Oh, my. Did Mom really just say that? Moving beyond the shock, I try to explain that the young woman was born with dark skin, but Mom doesn’t know the first thing about pigmentation or Africa or anything beyond her own shrinking world. I’m reminded of a boy from India I babysat who once asked his mom who had painted him brown. Or my 7th grade teacher who told me how her son’s relationship with his best friend in kindergarten was tested when the friend’s mother saw them together and loudly pronounced “but he’s black.”
Israel is a rainbow nation with citizens from all corners of the world ranging from Chile to China, from America to Africa, from Canada to Uzbekistan and all points in between. We strive to build together a society where those differences are both valued for their unique qualities and downplayed in social interaction.
None of that matters as we walk slowly—dare I say trudge—back to Mom’s apartment. Once there, I must cut her finger nails. Some are very long, others cracked and torn. I’ve neglected this task because I am afraid of what might happen. I would never forgive myself if I cut her accidentally.
I turn on the TV and start one of the movies my brother Simon has copied. All those lovely old musicals like Easter Parade, An American in Paris, and Carousel. I choose Disney’s Frozen, because I know Mom loves the voices in the opening scene.
Unfortunately, the movie is not engaging enough for her to pliantly give me her hands. I put my hand in hers, then gently pull it towards me.
“You’re hands are so cold,” she cries, as I try to distract her. She wants to warm them but
before she realizes and hastily pulls away, I make one cut.
Mom tells me to mind my own business. I wait a few minutes and try again. I somehow manage to convince her to watch the screen as I surreptitiously cut one nail then another and another—despite her protestations—until I’ve succeeded in cutting them all.
Whew. Relief. My child mother has become a naïve innocent and sometimes I don’t recognize her.
“It’ll warm the cockles,” Mom would say when she made soup for us. We often joked about what cockles might actually be. Apparently, it comes from the expression to “warm the cockles of the heart,” which refers to the ventricles of the heart. What it alludes to is gratifying one’s heartfelt feelings.
Now that winter is here, I too, strive to warm my family’s “cockles.”
This dish will definitely warm your cockles. I was relieved that even my French daughter-in-law enjoyed it.
1 kilo beef, cubed (2.2 lbs)
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
10-15 whole shallots (or pearl onions), peeled
1 cup red wine
2 cups water
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp thyme
2 whole cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup flour
Cut beef into 1” cubes. Dry each cube individually then coat with flour by shaking cubes and flour together in a plastic bag. In a large pot, brown cubes in oil on both sides, working in batches if there is not enough room for all of them on the bottom of the pot. Remove browned cubes from pot. Scrape bottom of pot then return cubes and add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil then simmer for up to 5 hours. Onions should melt in your mouth.