Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Whether an oasis is real or only a mirage, it offers both hope and respite..

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I know that in an earlier blog I compared living in Reedley to living in the wilderness. But, I must confess, Reedley does have a Starbucks!

Directly across Manning from Reedley College in the Riverwalk Shopping Center, Reedley’s Starbucks is, in fact, one of the busiest Starbucks I’ve seen anywhere. What a goldmine they found here in this "wilderness," too! In addition to Starbucks' proximity to the college, Reedley High School lies just to the east of the shopping center across Reed Avenue. Before school, between classes, during lunch, and after school, college and high school students stream from their respective halls of learning into the Riverwalk parking lot and through Starbucks’ swinging door to socialize, study, surf the web, and nap. For the adjunct instructors from the college (I am sometimes one of those), Starbucks is the perfect spot to hold office hours for want of available alternatives on campus. Farmers, business people, and young mothers with their children find both indoor and outdoor tables convenient for networking.

The Sunday after my mother's birthday, she was feeling too ill to come to our house for her usual Sunday outing and homecooked meal, so I decided to visit her in her room at Palm Village skilled nursing. First, though, I stopped at Starbucks to pick up her habitual cappuccino—double, tall, one pump hazelnut, extra hot—and, for myself, a quad, skinny vanilla latte, extra hot. "Getting Starbucks" is our way of cozying up to each other in a certain girly intimacy we’ve learned in the last two or three years and settling in for a comfy chat.

This ritual began years ago in the late '80's when our family—Jim, our two sons Matt and Mark, and I—lived in Yakima, a time when my relationship with my mother was a bit strained. It was also the time when lattes were becoming big and Starbucks had just been born. One day when my parents were visiting us in Yakima, I learned, and was duly shocked, that my mother actually knew what mochas and lattes were and liked them! We went downtown to the coffee cart (not Starbucks) in front of Nordstrom’s and ordered mochas, carried them across the street to the indoor mall, and set them on a round, white table in front of Cinnabon. There, we sipped and chatted.

The coffee phenomenon began its healing magic for us in those moments. As I talked with my mother that day over coffee, I began seeing a different woman inside her mother-skin, one who not only enjoyed having fun, had a sense of humor, chatted, and shopped, but one who had read many of the books on my master’s degree reading list, books that I had yet to read. She became interested in these books, she said, when I began my graduate studies in literature.

I always tend to feel a little depressed when I go to Palm Village. I try not to cringe at my mother's being there. Her  living quarters are tiny—one-half of a not-very-large room that she shares with a cranky roommate (who wouldn't be cranky?). I know I will find her in her wheelchair, facing a squat chest-of-drawers squeezed between her bed and a tiny closet.

 She will be ready for me, dressed in carefully matching pants and top, with complementing beads, even though she feels ill. She will either be giving her shiny silver-white hair one last touch with her fingertips, making certain there are no strays, or she will be asleep, having fallen far forward in her chair. I will say softly, so as not to startle her too badly, "Hello, Mama." I'll say it a couple of times, testing my volume, as her hearing has become so bad lately.

 When she awakens, she will look disoriented. Pain will be clouding her eyes from the sickening, daily migraine that is worse today. Then she will see me and her face will crease into its famous smile, pain momentarily disappearing from her eyes. She will hold out her arms to hug me, and I will hold on a little longer than necessary. Then the curtain of pain will descend again.

But I will get her out of this room today, down long rambling hallways, out of the skilled nursing section, and into assisted living where she once lived. We will sit in the airy, elegant main lobby and watch elderly residents as they mill around with canes and walkers or sit visiting their own aging children. A lot of people will stop by to say "hello," and my mother will be distracted. We will discuss something other than her headache and the unappetizing food there that disturbs her digestion. She will sip her drink (I guzzle more than sip) and we will gleefully dunk caramel macchiato biscotti and chat.

* * * * *

Thanks Starbucks, for long ago finding your mission and fulfilling it yet today. Thanks for letting it work its magic clear over here in the wilderness!


  1. Great story, I like how you wind a story of your mother around the spine of a cup of coffee.

  2. RuthAnne is my dear wife and love of my life and her mother, Doris, is my second mom. To hear this tender story about being together over lattes is so true. I just didn't realize how the coffee drinks were the solvent that melted the tension and became the glue of deepening love and mutual respect as they both grow older.

  3. How beautiful, RuthAnne. Makes me sort of feel like crying - as you know I do that easily - but I am actually smiling. You just painted an exquisite picture with words. I love you sister.