“My mom'll be disappointed if we move back to the old neighborhood, Joe,” I said to my husband.
I was nine when Dad died. Mom had struggled as a single mother raising me and my four siblings. When crime began to move in, she transitioned our family to a safer area.
Now, I stood in the hall of our second floor apartment less than a mile from Mom. Stretching my back, I leaned on the railing, scanning our simple living room, kitchen and bedroom.
“We won't have to live there long,” Joe replied, organizing his tools as he boxed them up for transport. “My aunt said we could rent to buy. We don't even need a down payment.”
Guilt tainted my excitement of being a first time homeowner. But I'd never seen Joe's handsome face so full of drive. Was I choosing between my husband and mother?
A 28-year-old widow, Mom had been left with a disabled son and mother to add to her tragic situation. She stood poised as a super heroine in my mind as she continued to care for my brother.
“We could just stay here a little while longer to save up for a bigger apartment,” I suggested to Joe.
He waved his arm towards our living room stacked almost to the ceiling with baby gifts from my showers. “Dawn, we need more room. Once the baby comes, we won't be able to walk around in here.” He lowered his voice. “Besides, I think our landlady wouldn't like hearing a baby crying at night.”
That patient woman downstairs had allowed us to bring our cat when Joe and I moved in two years before, even though she initially said “No.” She took a chance renting to a young couple with no references. After late rent payments, a clogged toilet, cat urine and our squeaky bed, adding a crying baby seemed too cruel.
“How am I going to help you with all those repairs, and take care of a newborn?”
“We'll be okay,” Joe coaxed. “I can do the work myself.”
“Joe, I don’t want to bring my mother's first grandchild home to an unfinished place to live? And she'll worry too much about our safety.” But waddling into our living room, I began to see the opportunity of a larger home as providential. “I guess we don't have a choice.”
I didn't want Mom to think I disrespected her earlier efforts by agreeing to take the house. However, she had taught me to put my husband first when making a decision.
Joe kissed me. Once more, he assured: “It won't be for long, I promise.”
Hauling a huge belly into my mother's home after one of my last prenatal appointments, I told Mom about our decision. Lowering myself into her chaise lounge chair, I elevated my swollen legs. Mom believed that anxiety wasn't good for a pregnant woman or her baby, so yes, I played hard on her sympathies.
She handed me a glass of lemonade and asked, “What's the address?”
That question rocked me. The thought of her visiting us had never crossed my mind. She had stopped by the apartment only once, since Joe worked two jobs and I had worked a crazy shift doing overnights. But now that I'd be leaving my job to care for the baby, Mom would surely visit.
At that time, I wasn't sure of the answer to her question. I knew how to get there, but hadn't written down the exact number and street. Mom didn't press me for more information than what I gave: “A big drug store's on the corner.”
Two weeks later, past my due date to have the baby, I happily scraped off old living room wallpaper in the house we called our own. Despite my condition, I wanted to help my over-achieving husband with home improvements.
I dabbed at perspiration under my glasses as Joe worked on the testy front door.
Throwing his hands up he said, “I'm gonna work on the bathroom.” He shuffled upstairs
mumbling a list of tools and materials to purchase on his next trip to the hardware store.
A half hour later, he came back down and put his face close to mine. With a twinkle in his eye, he whispered, “Your mom's outside walking around.”
“Yeah, yeah, right.” I wound up to playfully slap him.
“Dawn, I'm serious.” Joe nodded to the window. “She's out front looking around right now.”
My sudden nausea wasn't from morning sickness. “Did you give her the address?”
The way he said “No,” made me put down my scraper. I couldn't believe her homing instinct in finding her very pregnant chick.
I hid behind the wall between the door and front window. I didn't want her to see the place until it was perfect, at least on the inside.
Mom smiled the whole time I watched her wondering the sidewalk in front of our home, hesitating at each house on our block. How did she know from the sketchy information I gave her where to find us? We didn't even own a car parked out front to give her a clue. How long had she been canvassing the neighborhood? I couldn't let her continue walking around in the heat.
I came out of hiding like a little child and called out the front window. “Mom.”
She beamed and came up to the screen.
“Mom, the door worked this morning but I'm not sure if I can open it now. I'm sorry. You might have to climb through here.” We laughed. With Mom pushing from the outside, and Joe pulling from inside, the door opened.
My feeling of pride in being a first time homeowner returned when Mom took in a deep breath and said, “The woodwork in here is beautiful. What a cozy house.” She handed me a box of donuts and a bag of soft pretzels, our first house warming gifts, and perfect for a pregnant woman.
“Mom, how did you know where we were?” I asked.
She just walked past me into the kitchen, lovingly fingering the dusty wood.
Years later we realized Mom had known the area well not only because she had lived in it for years, but also because that pharmacy, at the corner of our block, was where she went to get my dad's prescriptions filled when he was dying of cancer.
Knowing Mom, she hadn't shared this information with her pregnant daughter because she didn't want to upset me or put a damper on our impromptu celebration that day.
When our baby girl turned four, the sale of that sweet small row house was enough for a down payment on our single suburban home where we had three more children. That time, before moving, I gave Mom the address.