My Mother has a hutch. As with most hutches, especially in the midwest, hers is filled with old plates and bowls and glasses and mugs and pictures and greeting cards and tchotchkes, all holding some kind of sentimental value. When I was visiting in July, I found a pair of ceramic mugs with the Hawaiian phrases Makua Kane (Dad) and Makua Wahine (Mom) on them. I have no recollection of buying them, but it is assumed that these were gifts I gave to them when we went to Hawaii as a family in 1980. Which means, those mugs have been collecting dust in that hutch for 37 years. Or, I guess I should say, had been collecting dust, because I asked my Mom if I could have them back. “Sure,” she said and added, not for the first time, “All of this will be your headache someday anyway.” On that visit, one of our goals, the three of us, was to declutter some of their house. We had mixed results.
Anyway, I brought my two Hawaiian mugs home to LA. I showed Eric, we both have a thing for old stuff and tiki stuff and sentimental stuff so it was a perfect fit for our home.
A few weeks later, on the morning my Dad began his chemotherapy and radiation, I saw the Makua Kane mug hanging from one of the nails in the converted ice box (old building) that stores our plates and mugs and bowls. I selected the Dad mug and began my daily coffee ritual. One packet of raw sugar, a little half and half, poured cold, then the coffee. I sat on the couch with my coffee and I thought about my Dad and Mom, in Bartlesville, kicking things off. They were on my mind, in my heart, and in its way, this time was a sort of prayer.
The next morning, I did the same thing. Same mug, same ritual. My Dad’s early response to his treatment was exceptional. For several days, he felt few side effects. On one day, I skipped my mug ritual, and on that day, he hit a rough patch. Certainly, I know the rough patch was not because of me, but still, I did not want to take any chances. Except for that one day, every morning since August 14, I drank my morning coffee from a hotel souvenir I gave my Dad 37 years ago.
When I drove back to Kansas, to help in his final weeks of radiation, I brought the mug with me. Too cumbersome to fit in the car’s coffee holder, I balanced it in my lap. The next morning, I brought a coffee up from the hotel lobby and poured into my mug that I’d cleaned out with the hotel’s Pantene shampoo sample.
In Kansas, my parents did not ask me why I had brought this mug home. No mention was made, but knowingly, as I packed to leave on Monday to return to Los Angeles, they both said, “Don’t forget your mug.” And then later, “You do have your mug, don’t you?”
On Tuesday morning, me just leaving Albuquerque where the dog and I had stopped for the night, my Dad took his last radiation treatment. I drank hotel coffee out of my special mug.
On Wednesday, it occurred to me that I needn’t drink out of the mug, the whimsical deal that I had brokered in my mind, was just to get my Dad through his radiation. I could drink out of my favorite dog mug now.
Of course, I didn’t drink out of my favorite dog mug, which is a very cute mug. (Fishs Eddy.) I opened my packet of raw sugar, poured my cold cream then added the coffee. And I sat on my couch and thought about my parents and all they’ve been through and how well my Dad navigated it all. There were rough patches, of course. Quiet moments and painful moments and worried moments. It will be weeks before we know the effectiveness of the treatments.
Until then, we wait, doing the things that keep our mind busy. My Dad is golfing today, my Mom listening to her books on tape. I go back to work tomorrow. But every morning, until I see a reason to veer from the habit, I will pour my daily cup of hope and drink from it.