Unexpectedly, a small army of my mother’s badminton friends banded together to buy several lavish flower arrangements for my grandmother’s memorial service and for my mother. A massive pot of stunning purple and violet orchids were delivered to the chapel and a few days later, a young Hispanic man showed up at our door with two smaller but no less gorgeous arrangements for our home. Together, they cost a pretty penny and my mother was grateful.
“I ought to do something for them,” she said, “They really didn’t need to spend so much money and send so many flowers.”
It was decided that to show our thanks, she would buy them little candies and I would bake cookies to put together in pretty gift bags.
I baked an assortment of holiday spiced cookies: molasses gingerbread, cinnamon oatmeal lacies and pumpkin spiced walnut cookies and give each contributor a dozen or so to share with their family. I kept the oven on for what seemed like two days straight to bake enough for seventeen people, and when everything was packaged and wrapped, my mother was delighted in the overall effect.
So were the friends at the badminton club.
She came home on the evening after all the gifts had been delivered and I asked her how it went.
“Oh they were all so happy,” she said, “especially Ju Pei.”
“Who’s Ju Pei?”
“Don’t you remember the woman with the daughter that doesn’t like her?”
I did. I had very nearly written a novella about her.
“She loved the cookies,” my mother said, then her eyes got wide, “and she ate the whole dozen right in front of me.”
I stared at my mother. My cookies are known to be larger than the average sized cookie – whatever that means – and I always end up making ten or so less than the recipe calls for because of this.
“She ate all twelve in one sitting?”
“In less than thirty minutes,” my mother said.
My mother had presented her the gift bag upon her arrival at the club and Ju Pei was there, forty-five minutes earlier than when her lesson was scheduled to start. She often did that, as she disliked being alone in her house and passed most of the afternoon at the badminton club.
“She was so happy when I handed her the bag, and even happier when she saw the cookies. We started talking and she just reached in, eating one after another. By the time her lesson was starting, the bag was empty.”
“Didn’t she feel sick?”
My mother shook her head, her expression as surprised as mine, “No, not at all. She just kept on saying how delicious they were and how lucky I was to have a nice talented daughter who took the time to bake things for her friends.”
“Wow,” I said, “Well, that’s really nice of her. I guess I can make more for her next time, since she liked them so much.”
“Yes…” my mother said slowly, “Though she plays so much badminton to maintain her sixty pound weight loss…so I’m not sure if you should make her quite so many cookies.”
After her lesson Ju Pei came to chat with my mother again, asking if my mother and her husband were free to have dinner with her on Thanksgiving.
“I was thinking,” Ju Pei began, “I’d like to take you and your husband out to dinner on Thanksgiving. To Capital Seafood in Irvine. We’ll have lobster and crab! You can bring your daughter too.”
“That’s very nice,” my mother said, and trying to phrase the obvious as gingerly as possible, “but we spend Thanksgiving with our family.”
Ju Pei’s expression, my mother said, could not be described as crestfallen, but discouraged was certainly apt.
“Who the hell invites someone to dinner on Thanksgiving?” I asked, incredulous.
“Well she didn’t know that we made a big to-do about it, because she never celebrates with her daughter.”
“She says her daughter never asks her to dinner at her house, never mind Thanksgiving.”
“That’s really a pity,” I said, feeling terrible for the woman. I thought ahead to all the faces I looked forward to seeing on Thanksgiving and how warm my aunt’s house felt, no matter how cold it was outside, no matter that we had just lost our grandmother. I imagined the woman eating alone at the Seafood Restaurant, a glistening, sautéed lobster on the table before her.
“I don’t know what you do as a mother, as a woman to end up like that,” my mother shook her head, “but I sure hope I’m not doing it now.”
I kissed my mother on the cheek, knowing that it wasn’t a so much a difference in action as it was in souls. The woman wasn’t a bad person – she had just been ill-advised and then, it seems, too narrow-minded and nearsighted. Impulsive too, perhaps. But from what my mother told me the woman was beginning to change. She was definitely someone worth studying, but perhaps not right now. My mother and I had Thanksgiving with our family to think about.