July 21, 2018 11:01 AM
I’m a big fan of people watching and eavesdropping in on conversations. It’s honestly not that I’m nosy; I really don’t care how other people live their lives. But I do enjoy watching the interactions people have with each other and I often try to guess the nature of their relationships. They become characters in my own little story. I’ve seen a lot of interesting interactions over the years and I’ve even used some of them as inspiration to write actual stories. I’ve decided to set up a separate category on this blog where I can share the interactions I have observed that have touched me through the years. It’s called “Interesting Folks”. This will be the first entry.
Dennis and I went to the farmer’s market in Waukesha this morning and, afterward, we went to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was peak breakfast time and it was crowded, so we took the only open booth. This booth happened to be across from a booth where a woman, probably in her late thirties, sat with an elderly couple. I assumed they were her parents.
The elderly man sat on one side of the booth, the elderly woman shared the other side with her daughter. Immediately, I was reminded of going out for a meal with my parents. This was always the seating arrangement for us, too.
The first thing I heard the daughter say, in tone that was slightly too enthusiastic to be entirely genuine, was how nice it was to see them once a week. She got no verbal response from her parents. The father smiled, the mother didn’t react — or she didn’t react enough that I could see it out of my peripheral vision.
There was silence until the daughter brought up an entirely new topic of conversation after twenty seconds or so had passed. She elicited a few words from each with that topic, but no real back and forth conversation ensued.
And so it went for their entire meal. The daughter tried various topics of conversation and the parents responded with a few words before the silence returned and the daughter introduced an entirely new topic. I wondered if the daughter had a list of topics stashed in her purse (like I used to have when I went out for a meal with my mom) where she could “check her phone” and glance at it if the conversation really hit a wall. I remember my mom used to carry a list of topics in her purse when her and my father took my grandma out for a meal.
Don’t get me wrong, the interactions of this family were not at all unpleasant. But they weren’t the effortless chatter that comes from a family that is truly comfortable together, either. I could feel all three of them trying, each parent spoke a little and asked the daughter an occasional question. The daughter was attentive and responsive to both her parents and remained upbeat and enthusiastic throughout the meal. It was the strained dynamic, though, of three people who love each other, but aren’t connected the way they once were and are struggling to find common ground.
As I sat there, I felt the daughter’s struggle; the attempt of an adult child trying to reach out to elderly parents to bridge the gap that has grown from passing years, and diverging lives. I felt the struggle of the parents, too; trying to connect with an adult child with whom there is little in common with now except for shared memories and shared DNA. There was probably a sense of relief for all three, and then a sense of guilt, when the meal was done and they could go their separate ways.
This family reminded me of my experiences with my own parents, especially my mom. After my dad died, I would take her out for a meal two or three times a week. Often, Dennis and my son would join us. Sometimes not. It was difficult to come up with conversation, especially since, if I didn’t see her, I would talk to her everyday on the phone.
Unlike the family next to me, my mom would come armed with her own topics to introduce when the silences fell heavy on the table. She probably had a list in her purse, too. I found a list of topics to discuss with me that my mom made and saved, next to her phone, when I was cleaning out her house.
The Americans (one of mom’s favorite shows)
What you made for dinner
I kept it, tucked away in a shoe box, along with her glasses and the small stack of recipes she still used.
Is it sad, that a mother/daughter relationship gets relegated to a list of topics of conversation on a piece of paper? It is. I know it doesn’t happen in all families, but it did in mine. And, I believe based on what I saw today, it does in others, too.
I wanted to reach out to the daughter and tell her I understood the struggle, the responsibility, and the loss, that she was probably feeling. Nothing underscores how far life has taken you from a parent than having to grasp for common ground in which to share.
I was reminded of my mom earlier, today, too, at the farmer’s market. I saw the beautiful bouquets of flowers that were for sale, and it reminded me of the times that I bought one for her. It made me miss her, even though our conversations didn’t come easy in the end.
Was I right about the interactions of this family at the restaurant? Maybe they were acquaintances and not even family at all. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t really matter. They touched me and made me remember my mom, so whatever the true relationship is, they’re a family to me now.