In little ways she tried to make me whole. After I finished college, I worked at home in a room where I kept the door locked, whether I was there or not, to separate that small space from everything else. She helped me to be separate, although she didn’t entirely understand why I wanted it. She sorted out my mail in the morning and left it in front of the door of my room with a knick. She fixed meals for me at different times from the others. We rarely talked about my various likes and dislikes in the house, there was no point. She had been reared to be loyal, as she was being loyal to me by supporting my dislikes.
Her legs were getting worse. They had been going bad ever since I was a child, but, as I imagined it anyway, they had reacted to the Depression. She took treatments of various kinds, and occasionally she went to bed for a day--or two. I tried not to think of the trouble she had in walking. There was nothing I could do about it, nor anyone, it seemed. Whenever she had a bad day, moving slowly, touching the wall, I looked away and thought of the small crossed slippers on the photographer’s cushion. Or tried to drug my awareness of her trouble with secret doses of gratitude, for what she was doing for me.
One warm spring day I was locked in my room trying to write something. I came out in the late afternoon and saw her entering the front door, walking clumsily, carrying a couple of bags from the A&P. I took them from her and scolded her for not asking me to go to the store, though I was glad she had not bothered me. I took the bags into the kitchen. There were two other big bags from the A&P. She had already made a trip to the store, three long blocks down a hill and up again. She had not wanted to spend the money for a delivery boy and had not wanted to disturb me.
I didn’t scold her. I didn’t thank her. I went back into my room and locked the door and looked at whatever it was on my desk that I was writing. Nothing. Pointless. How could it be anything? Burdened thus with a blessing.
Stanley Kauffmann is the film critic for The New Republic.
By Stanley Kauffmann