Visit With My Parents Came With Chores


I’m writing this from my family home in Wisconsin because both of my parents got sick at once, and mom asked me to come. Dad is 89, and she is 90. So, when one of them asks you to come, you come. Plus, her request was cloaked in the mysterious statement, “I need the living room vacuumed.” Which, even to those of you who do not know her, comes across as a pretty flimsy excuse for air travel.

Within 24 hours, I was in the sky. It was 18 degrees when I arrived.

“Where’s your coat?” Mom demanded.

I like to travel light, but I had forgotten what 18 degrees felt like. When I changed planes in Minneapolis, it was 4. It was so cold, they were only boarding a few people at a time so no one froze to death standing in the jetway between the building and the plane. That’s cold.

On day one of my visit, I vacuumed the living room.

“It has been a disaster ever since the holidays,” mom moaned.

Yet, even after moving all the furniture, I was only able to suck up four dust bunnies and a two-inch piece of brown thread.

“You have no idea how other people live, mom,” I said, remembering some of the homes in which I’ve conducted estate sales. “What’s next?”

“Um, well, you could wipe down the shelves of the kitchen cabinet where we keep our food.”

I peeked in there and saw one loose grain of rice, but I pulled everything out anyway, wiped the shelves with a damp sponge, dried them, and put everything back. I also brought her 12 cans of extra food up from the basement and put those in there. I figure the fewer stairs you’re running down at age 90, the better.

On day two, I said, “Now, maybe the rest of the shelves?”

“That would be nice.”

I pulled out all the dishes and asked, “Are there any of these that you don’t want to use anymore? I could set those aside — and any of these recipe books that you don’t want.”

Six serving platters and a box of cookbooks from the 1970s were “voted off the island,” and the shelves were wiped down and restocked. Then I polished up the stove and microwave, not that they needed it. By 5 p.m., the sky was black as pitch — not navy blue — black. At 8 p.m., it was bedtime.

By tomorrow morning, I’ll be very well-rested, so I’ll straighten up the spice cabinet and burrow under the sink, but I know what I’m going to find — nothing. Everything is neat as a pin and perfectly organized. I’m beginning to suspect that I’m just up here as company, so nobody slips quietly out of winter into a scene from “The Shining.” It doesn’t matter; I’m glad to do it. Because there’s just something about your parents still wanting you around that’s kind of nice.