My mother is a very generous person. She likes to see that her children are living well even when times are hard. She always has a connection which will invariably help her score free tickets to cultural events, discounted designer clothing and incredible trips. So far I have accepted the clothing and the ballet tickets but turned down the trips. I passed on China and Egypt but when I saw the deluxe accommodations she had stayed at, and places she had visited, I felt more than a twinge of regret.
The truth is, I would have loved to see those sites, but I wasn’t sure that I could endure two non-stop weeks with Mother. So last winter, which was interminably long and unendurable, and after begging my husband to go with me to no avail, I broke down and booked a one week trip to the Mayan Riviera with Mother. Its not that I don’t have friends, I do, but owing to circumstances, no one could make the trip with me. My husband, less forgivably, loathes the beach. Of course, as Mother goes so does my sister, Layla, who never leaves her side.
I made a reservation at a beautiful old style resort with palapa roofs, left over from the days, not long past, when that part of the world was quiet and totally unspoiled. New hotels have grown up all around, as has the town, in my memory a sleepy little fishing village. With all the construction going on, people from all over Mexico have flocked to the area looking for work, bringing their habits with them. Unfortunately, this includes their animals, left homeless or allowed to wander around at will.
After we arrived we were assigned a beautiful casita close to the beach. We unpacked, went for a swim and a long walk along the shore. So far, so good, I thought. It was only after dinner that I was to get a preview of things to come when my mother made her first friend, a pregnant tabby that lived on the property. I love animals, they are pure and true and I have always preferred them to people. I love them but my mother is positively crazy about them. During World War II, she housed and fed twelve cats at a time when there was not enough food for people to eat. And so not having anything to give to the kitty, she began to audibly sigh and make empathic noises. Even when we were tucked in for the night, mother kept asking if we thought that the cat was still out there.
In the morning, before the sun rose, she was already up urging us onward. My sister merely rolled over, ignoring her, and I, ever the voice of reason, pointed out that the beach was cold until the sun came up and that the restaurant didn’t open until seven-fifteen, giving her about an hour and a half to kill.
As she herded us out the door at seven sharp, her true purpose was revealed. Her kitty, no stranger to the predilections of gringo tourists, was firmly ensconced on the restaurant steps. Seeing the buffet, Mother immediately hatched a plan. We would overload our plates, eat a bit and save the rest for kitty. This worked for me, since despite having a Mediterranean figure I have little appetite. My sister on the other hand, needs a lot of fuel. And so the second part of Mother’s plan was revealed. We would diet. Since breakfast and dinner were part of our package, we would skip lunch. My sister, looking at her in disbelief, picked a bunch of bananas off of the buffet.
‘No,’ Mother commanded, ‘ One banana for you Layla, two for Lil.’
I’ve always played well by myself, having been an only child for almost eight years. But my sister needs direction, or so my mother believes. However, she was going to make a valiant effort to break her habit and leave us alone. And so I arranged our lounges under the best palapas, spread out our towels, went for a swim, a walk, another swim, read my novel, and so on while my sister plopped herself right under the sun. By afternoon she was red as a lobster and by evening, one leg was swollen to twice its normal size due to sun poisoning. Mother saw that she was going to have to take charge after all.
That evening, we saved half our dinner for her cat, who knowingly, brought a friend to share the spoils. So began our regular routine of stealing food. This was intensified the next day. Walking up the beach a couple of miles we found a homeless dog who was living on a yet undeveloped property, and who followed us for some distance looking forlorn. At breakfast we had to pile even more food on our plates, particularly sausages and ham, since our dependents were multiplying. I hated to think what the waiters thought of us.
Additionally, Mother had taken to directing my sister, throughout the day. ‘ Layla, put sunscreen on, pull chair out of the sun, put chair in sun, get up take valk, go for swim, use towel to dry so you don’t catch cold,’ she intoned in a continuous drone.
At night when Layla is out of commission, she directs me, usually with a deep sigh; am I asleep, she wants to know. Not any more. Then we begin, air on, air off. But when she says, ‘ Layla, I see you reading novel, why aren’t you studying French?’ I know I have to get away from them. I pull my chaise under the neighboring tree, out of earshot. Mother takes one look at me and says, ‘Lil, that coconut vill fall on your head.’ I hope so, I think to myself.
That afternoon, Mother’s dog brings a friend, an emaciated bitch who has just given birth. Scandalized, Mother insists we walk to the grocery store for fresh meat and so we trek four miles under the blazing sun to town and back. The dogs are happy and gobble up the fresh meat while my mother moans with pity,‘ YOY, YOY, YOY, Vat vil hapin to dem ven ve go avay?’ she asks.
That’s when I blow my stack. In truth I too am worried but I don’t say that. Instead I tell her that she has obsessive- compulsive disorder. She waits until my tirade is over and says with great dignity, ‘Lil, you have bad temper, just like Daddy.’
When we get back to our spot on the beach, there is a bird cawing in my coconut tree, ‘Do you tink dat brrrd is hungry?’ she asks. It’s hopeless, and I resign myself.
At the airport my sister says that she had a really good time, I say so too. Mother hesitates, ‘It vas good. But next time I go vit my grrrlfrrends.’