The Queen Mother has always had a bit of an ornery streak. So I shouldn't have been surprised by her conversation with Santa at the nursing home Christmas party this afternoon.
“Dorothy, have you been a good girl this year?” Santa asked.
That's my mom.
Santa was momentarily taken aback. He didn't immediately re-check his naughty/nice, but there was definitely a split-second of speechlessness. This 89-year-old, wheelchair-bound, white-cotton-candy-haired, quiet, gentle lady just told Santa she hasn't been a good girl this year?
Who would expect such honesty with Christmas looming on the horizon? Who would expect such truthfulness with a sleigh-full of goodies hanging in the balance? Who would expect such a midwest-candid “nope” delivered straight to Santa's rosey-cheeked face while he is still clutching her present in his gloved hand?
Me. I would. Yup. That's my mom.
After they recovered from the initial shock, everyone at our table had a good chuckle. None more so than The Queen Mother herself.
I laughed too, although I was more than a little disapointed in Santa's timing.
You see, Santa stole my speaking role. The Queen Mother and I have our set patter -- our little shtick -- and he horned in on my part. Each time I leave after a visit we go through the same routine: I kiss her cheek, hug her and squeeze her hand. I tell her “I love you. I'll be back soon. Be good.”
She wrinkles up her nose, sticks out her tongue and laughs.
So I squeeze her hand, hug her again, kiss her cheek and whisper “Be good. I love you.”
The second time I usually get a begrudging “I'll try,” accompanied with an exaggerated sigh and an eye-roll that rivals that of my teen-age daughter for theatricality.
Such drama begs my rejoinder: “Good, because someone has to do it, and it's not gonna be me!”
We do mix it up occasionally. Sometimes I'll tell her “No dancing on the tables!” This never fails to get us a strange look from whichever unexpecting nursing assistant is within earshot. Not that The Queen Mother ever danced on a tabletop (that I know of), and neither have I (that I remember). Although there was that one time she balanced the empty tortilla chip bowl on her head....
Sometimes she beats me to the punch and she tells me to be good. Then I get to deliver the world-weary sigh, roll my eyes and whine “Well, I'm so busy I guess I won't have time to get in trouble.”
The curtain call is always the same: One more hug, one more hand squeeze, one more kiss.
I pause in the doorway for one more goodbye. One more glance at this familiar stranger.
I search for that spark of orneriness that is my mom.
Her eyes shine. She is still there.
One more “I love you.”