My mother has a date tomorrow night.
It's her first date in about a year. Last New Year's Eve she got set up on a blind date with a widower who lost his wife around the same time we lost Dad, by the woman who sold both of them their respective spouse's grave markers (this always struck me as a grim way of playing matchmaker.) She was really excited about ringing in 2007 with a former high-school football coach, but by the end of the date, after she had had to help him in and out of the car because of his bad hip and after realizing the "party" he was taking her to was at his house with just one of his friends, during which he very proudly showed her his late wife's beloved washing machine, she realized that dating sucks and that it was not going to be easy to find someone who makes her heart go pitter-patter (though with her heart problems, she should probably avoid anyone who makes her heart do anything except pump calmly.)
She says she's not interested in marrying again. She has freedom to do what she wants, when she wants, for the first time in her adult life. She can spend the little money she has tucked away however she pleases, and can spend every dime on herself. What she would like, though, is a fairly-decent-looking older gentleman (she doesn't kid herself that she's going to find an unmarried Harrison Ford look-a-like around here anywhere) to go places with. Someone besides her girlfriends to go to dinner with, someone who might want to go dancing every now and then, and someone to fill a little bit of the gap left in her life in the wake of Dad's death.
Since the New Year's Eve debacle, she's had one or two men that friends have tried to set her up with, but they've never gotten further than a few phone calls. Last Saturday, she went to a local hot-spot for the over-50 set, a dance hall that doesn't serve alcohol and plays live country and bluegrass music and has forgotten that line-dancing hasn't been "in" for over a decade. There she met a guy who seemed a little smitten with her, and they've been talking all week. He is taking her back to the dance hall on Saturday. Like the true Southern lady she is, she didn't want to go on a date "alone" with him until they had gotten to know each other better. I'm so proud. I raised her right.
At first, I was giddy. She didn't want to go on the date at first, but I told her to go for it. Why not! But then she hit me with the bad news.
"I need to tell you something about him, and your sister doesn't like it, and you're not going to, either."
Oh, no. Is he an ex-con? Did his last wife die from a mysterious fall in the bathtub? Does he train pit bulls and hold fights in his basement every Thursday?
"He's a smoker."
Dum-dum-dum. Not a smoker! Anything but that.
After I hung up, I started thinking about it. And so help me, it started to bother me that he's a smoker. I admit it! I am prejudiced!
It only bothers me because my mom is doing so well after her stint placement about staying away from the cigs. The last thing she needs is the temptation of having someone close to her lighting up and making her cravings a little easier to fix. Plus, if he's going to smoke around her and make her breathe the polluted air that contributed to her heart problems in the first place, I am going to get pissed.
I got so stewed about it, and so worried about this guy and what he might be up to with my mom, that I had to call her last night. He's nine years younger than her, and while my mother doesn't look or act her age, I had to wonder: is he trying to weasel into some money? Get a free ride from a widow? Stick around until he's made it into the will and hope she dies long before him? What exactly do we know about this person? Maybe he's one of those guys you see on Dateline or 48 Hours who goes cross-country switching identities and swindling mature women out of their life savings. He says he's a business-owner and part-time minister in a very small Methodist church a few counties to the south, but what on earth is a minister doing at a dance hall hitting on women? And the smoking! My God, the smoking!
My mother was patient with me as I told her she should be careful, and asked her what she knew about him, and what his family was like, and whether or not he had always lived here, and whether or not she thought it would be a good idea to invite him back to the house after date. She let me get that far before she laughed at me.
She assured me she is going to take things slow, and that they have both said they're really just looking for a friendship. She said she was going to ask him not to smoke in her house or in the car with her (should it get far) and that she is going to trust her instincts about him and stop taking his calls or seeing him if she feels like he's not on the level. She told me there was no way she was ready to be alone with him yet, since he's practically a stranger, and she's old enough and wise enough (and seen enough Datelines herself) to know that inviting someone you don't know very well into your life can be a risky proposition. Finally, she said that she would never dream of moving forward with someone who hadn't yet met my sister and me and gotten our approval.
And that's when it hit me: the tables have been turned.
I can picture myself at my mom's door Saturday night (thought I won't be; give me some credit) and inviting this cigarette-smoking "young" man in while Mom touches up her hair and makeup. I would sit him down across from me, and very politely ask him what his intentions are with my mother. I maybe would end with the time-worn, "If you hurt my little Mom in any way, you're going to have to answer to me," while absent-mindedly polishing a weapon of some sort, but I hear that only works for tall, scary-looking fathers.
I know I've got to let her go. I've been looking out for her for a while now, but the time has come to let my little bird fly out of the nest. I've given her advice, I've taught her the best I can, so now I just have to trust her judgement.
They grow up so fast.