L and M
It’s hard to write during a pandemic. I am skipping days. The deaths are getting closer. A student’s grandmother. A scholar I met last fall at a conference and have known in an online forum for years. A lovely, generous, compassionate and learned man.
But I will try L and M.
Lena and Mama. Lena is stuck here during the pandemic. She came to help us move and her employer, who provides her housing, is making it difficult for her to return. So we both zoom and work from home. I like having her here; my apocalyptic visions as I raised my two children always involved scenarios in which I was separated from my children and had to find my way back to them. They were little in these visions and I worried, but how they are grown and I know where they are. Liza is with a wonderful family who are taking good care of her (even today, her 20th birthday). And Lena and Scott and I are settling into our new smaller space. It’s also cleaner and newer and we got rid of a lot of junk, so it feels nice. I like hanging out at home, so I can forget about the pandemic from time to time. But I don’t like working from home, zoom meetings, zoom classes, grading online. I am at the computer far too much every day. It’s making me more committed to reading physical books, but still. It’s hard. As it is for all of us, and I remember to be grateful that I have a steady paycheck. I got my contract for next year in the mail yesterday. More security. We are lucky.
During these weeks, Lena has told a story, twice, once to me and once to Scott in my earshot, that I find peculiar. She says she remembers the exact moment she switched from calling us Mommy and Daddy to Mama and Dada. In her mind, at 7 or 8, Mommy and Daddy were babyish and Mama and Dada were not. She says she was in the hammock and she called me Mama, and then she said, “Did you hear that? I called you Mama instead of Mommy,” and I said, “Okay.” I vaguely remember such a thing, and I remember fleetingly wondering why she had switched. To me, Dada is something toddlers say before they can put together more varied syllables. But to Lena, it was a moment of being more of a big kid.
Kids’ minds are so peculiar.
Another riff on L&M’s.
My dad smoked L&M’s, and my mom and I would buy them by the carton at Heinen’s, our local grocery store in Shaker Heights. My mom would ask me to retrieve them from a low shelf in the checkout line. I liked the sleek packaging, the simple red and white with a hint of gold, the long lines of the L and the M. I must have absorbed some TV commercial telling me that smoking was sophisticated, back when TV aired cigarette commercials.
I only have one other specific memory of shopping inside Heinen’s. (I remember the outside, with the numbered tags on our car window and on the cart we left for a grocery boy to wheel to our car and unload—and picking the number tags on the way out of the store. Childhood wonder imbues the most mundane of items with magic—the large oval tag that hooked onto the cart, the smaller round tag for our window, both dark red with white numbers concave in the nubby rubber covering on the plastic tags.) That other memory is shopping with my father, his first time after the motor scooter accident he and my mother were in that nearly killed them both. She was still stuck on the couch in a cast, but he was able to walk again after three weeks in traction. And he bought a 12-pack of beer. I can see the red and white packaging over the stout brown bottles, shoddy cardboard and rough design, nothing like the sleek L&M’s. I don’t remember the brand, but I remember the sudden sick feeling in my stomach that spread throughout my body, knowing he was going to drink again. And I remember his encouraging smile, trying to get me to go along. That feeling of powerlessness.
L and M for Lena and Mama is a much nicer story, for me, and I hope I’ve given that to her. Oh, I know I have.