My Mother pilots her walker slowly along the vinyl tiles, sliding the rubber tipped feet inches ahead, pausing, and then shuffling to catch up to with them; slide step, slide step, in the long journey from the table to the refrigerator. It takes minutes to cross the room. But this is her domain and she is resolute, even as she winces. Her kitchen is the axis of her world. The table came with marriage to my Father and stood in the center of her kitchen in the house where I was raised, her first house. The refrigerator is a new one and this a new kitchen, decades and hundreds of miles removed from that kitchen and that house and that garden and the flowers and butterflies that enveloped it all. From the doors she extracts small plastic Zip Lock bags, which she arranges in the basket of her walker. Then she continues the long trek to her station at the counter, six feet away. She methodically assembles her breakfast ingredients: Quaker Rolled Oats, wheat germ, flax seed meal, raisins, and the half apple remaining from the previous day. She spoons her ingredients into an ironstone bowl glazed the same mottled color as the oatmeal, carefully eyeing the precise amounts. This is how she prepares food, intuitively. With lined and creased but fine and still nimble hands, she deftly cores (but does not peel) the apple, and dices it. In one sweeping motion, like scooping a hand full of jacks from the pavement, she sweeps the red and gold confetti of tiny cubes from the white cutting board and casts them over the dry ingredients in the bowl.
Decades ago these hands had held my much smaller ones, assisting and steadying them in loading ingredients into sparkling stainless steel measuring cups (the engraved lines and numbers ignored) from a prized nesting set. Those hands had hovered suspended, ready to snatch tiny fingers from whirring beaters or catch cups slipped from clumsy hands as I added the contents gradually into the spinning bowl of a white and black enameled mixer. They lightly touched my wrist when the correct measure had been achieved.
My mother cannot lift the half gallon carton of non fat milk. I pour it for her into one of the same old measuring cups, now lined and scratched and dull with many many meals of use - the lines and numbers still ignored. As directed, I add the liquid as she folds in the other ingredients. I meet her eyes ( small and dark brown like the Nestle's Toll House Morsels which she'd helped me pour into past cookie batters as they'd monitored intently- a tight budget splurge then, so much tastier than the cheap store brand). She looks down at the bowl and nods her instruction. I slowly pour more milk. She gauges the level's rise and the mixture's blend, watching for the proper color and consistency to develop. Satisfied, she touches the back of my hand with her pink fingers, small and delicate against it like a tiny wrinkled child's.
I place the bowl onto the microwave carousel and she shuffles back to the table while I wait for the cycle to end. End. I notice that the seat she takes had been my spot - where I sat at her left elbow, for nineteen years worth of meals and birthday cakes and chocolate chip cookies. When the bell rings, I'll carry her breakfast across this kitchen and place the porridge before her. I'll sit at her right elbow, in what had been her spot twenty years before, and she will eat and I will drink coffee and we will talk about the old house and the old garden, and the flowers and butterflies.