Mother shows love in deeds, not words
Michelle K. Yost
I have always known that my mother loves me. And I, of course, love her. Our love, however, is the type that finds itself demonstrated instead of spoken. Our relative inability to express that love is probably not uncommon among the descendants of the stern, reserved Bavarians who flooded America early in the country’s existence. In German, “Ich liebe dich” doesn’t sound very affectionate — which might explain why we don’t often say “I love you” to each other.
I was 30 before I understood the depths of that love, expressed through the methodical application of soapy water and a wire brush.
For two hours one night last year, my mother lay on the hot cement of the driveway, reaching into the tight contours of the undercarriage of my car, and tried to remove every trace of the human body I’d run over five days before. My car was the second vehicle to hit the pedestrian, with the first having fled the scene — and, to the best of my knowledge, having not yet been found.
I sat on the sidewalk for two hours, shivering, and could only stare straight ahead. The body was to my left, with my car to the right. Kind souls who stopped at the same time I did under the burned-out streetlight waited with me, retrieved my purse from the car I couldn’t go near, let me call my family. I was deeply touched by their kindness, and so I did everything I could to avoid crying, to keep from upsetting them during an already-trying time. That was my way of saying “Danke schoen” to them.
I will never, ever know whether the pedestrian survived the initial impact before I added insult to injury. Although my action wasn’t criminal — the contact was unavoidable — the lack of charges wasn’t comforting. I transferred an inordinate amount of self-loathing to the damnable car I’d been driving — a car that I suddenly thought was badly designed. The engineers, I thought, had made it too low to the ground to account for bodies left in the road, removing any chance of survival.
I knew nothing about the victim for several days — the time that authorities needed to identify her: The middle-aged woman had lived alone in nearby apartments. Carrying groceries across Morse Road, she hadn’t seen the black pickup, the truck not found. For two days after the tragedy, my mother drove me everywhere; on the third day, she let me borrow her car and drive myself to work, past The Spot. When I left work that night, I stopped at The Spot to leave flowers — because no one else had and someone should have.
On the fifth day, we drove to the police impounding lot to retrieve the damnable car. And, for two hours, my mother cleaned the car, trying to scrub away every trace of what had happened — no premium carwash with the extra undercarriage spray, no high-pressure bursts from a hose or sponge on a stick. She used only a short wire brush, similar to those I’d seen her use to clean beakers and bottles, and a bucket of soapy water.
I couldn’t feel sorry for myself in the face of such labors. I went inside and made dinner for her: a vegetarian Reuben she likes — topped with sauerkraut. When dinner was ready, I went back outside to find the car parked in the street and my mother hosing off the driveway.
“I’ll do it,” I said. “You go inside and eat.”
She didn’t want to give up the hose: “You shouldn’t do this.”
“Because there are pieces of other . . .”
I looked again at the cement, and I knew what she meant. I took the hose from her anyway.
“That’s OK; I can do it.”
After dinner, she asked me whether I wanted to trade cars with her permanently. My mother loves her car, but she was willing to surrender it so I wouldn’t have to drive the vehicle I detested past The Spot every day.
But I couldn’t hate it quite so much anymore, because the car meant something else to me now: a visible embodiment of how much my mother loves me.
I was finally able even to cry — and she let me, if only for a little while. All things in moderation.
So I still drive the car. And I make her dinner to show: Ich liebe dich.
Michelle K. Yost, 31, lives in Worthington.
This may seem unusual for me to post, for it isn’t about this crazy world we live in, or the problems we face on a socio-economic level, or the injustice so many live with on a daily basis. . .or our crazy idiocy on a political level – the likes of which some of us older folk have NEVER seen before, even in our imaginations. Not any of that.
This story is the kind of thing which is both poignant, sad, emotional, tender and even magic., . .for it catches us up sharply into realizing what lives are REALLY about, . . .the most important dynamic we can know – love. It is the driving under- current in our lives , that which holds it all together. It is remarkable, complex and yet so simple. Thank you Michelle for sharing this distinctive life experience. Well done, Jan)