Francoise uses her imagination
Francoise gazed across the street. She could see trams trundling along, filled with the workers on their way to offices in the city. A feeling of discontentment came over her. There she was, compelled to stay at home and care for her aged mother.
“Francoise!” A tremulous voice interrupted her train of thought. “Francoise, my bottle, it’s cold. Will you fill it up for me, dear?”
I’m coming, Mother, just a moment.”
She continued to stare out of the window at the world outside. Not for her the world of work; not anymore. She had been a teacher until last year when her mother had fallen ill had come to live with her and Jan, her husband,. She had always agreed with her mother that should the need arise her home would be open to ‘Grandmere’. When her children had been young Francoise’ mother looked after them while Francoise was teaching in the local school. It had been a great help to her. She had been able to earn enough money so that she and Jan could buy their own house and take the family on holidays.
The family had all left home, the youngest only last year, and Francoise had been looking forward to some time for herself; for her and Jan.
“What bliss,” she had thought, “I shall be able to work part time and perhaps paint my landscapes, and maybe even sell some.”
But it was not to be, not yet at least. Francoise sighed and made a mental note that she must purchase some more coffee, and the detergent for the weekly wash was nearly finished. That too must be added to her list.
Drawing her hand across her brow to smooth the tense lines from her forehead, she walked over to the half-open door that led to her mother’s room. It had been their dining room, but now her mother lived permanently in it. Francoise sighed again as she pushed open the door to her mother’s room. There lay the old lady. She smiled as her daughter appeared in the doorway.
“Ah, Francoise, there you are. I was just thinking, it would be nice to have a lobster today would it not? Take money from my purse and go to the market and buy one, there’s a dear.
Francoise looked at her mother. She was very frail for her seventy -six years. She almost looked transparent. She still loved to think about food and to plan delicious meals, but when it came to eating them, she could only manage a little thin soup.
Very well, mother, I’ll make lobster bisque for lunch. Give me your bottle and I’ll heat it up for you…”
Francoise knew that neither could they afford to buy a lobster nor could her mother eat it. But the old lady must be humoured. Why argue? She picked up the purse lying on the bedside table. In it were a few coppers. Unnoticed by her mother Francoise put a ten-franc note into the purse. She always topped up her mother’s money when she could. It enabled the old woman to feel that she could treat the family to special things every so often. Sometimes Francoise would buy the much desired treat, and at other times she would pretend she had, and would show her mother the empty packet or bottle, or in this case, lobster shell, and say how much they had all enjoyed her present. This pleased Grandmere, being unable to participate in these delicacies, she was none the wiser.
Francoise tiptoed away from the room where her mother now lay asleep. There was time to go to the market and buy some vegetables for the main meal. No meat today as they could not afford it. She would shake some fish sauce from a bottle into the soup, and ‘lobster bisque’ it would become.
When Jan returned that evening, Francoise was looking rather low in spirit.
“Try not to let it get you down,” he said, giving her a squeeze. “Is there not something you could do here at home, while she sleeps. She seems to be sleeping more and more these days.”
“ I’ll try to think of something, Jan,” replied his wife, “I certainly can’t keep cleaning the house all day every day, it’s beginning to wear me down. I must do something else. I miss my colleagues at school so much and the children of course. I’ll have a long think about it. I do need something else in my life apart from Mother. She sleeps so much and when she’s awake she’s only half-aware of what she’s saying. She remembers so little these days. I need other company sometimes. I do wonder occasionally whether she’d be better of in a home for the elderly, but she’d probably hate it. I don’t think I would feel happy if I sent her away.
“You must do what you think is right,” replied her husband, but try to feel good about it and don’t resent her presence. I’m sure you’ll think of something else to do in between looking after mother.
Francoise smiled, “I should be able to. After all it’s an ideal opportunity to work by myself, undisturbed for most of the time.”
That night as Francoise lay drifting towards sleep, a picture came into her mind. She would set up her paints in a corner of the living room. She would paint peoples’ portraits. It was a dream she had had as a young woman, but because she needed to earn a good living she had chosen teaching instead. Now, she realised, she could choose again.
She would not charge much to begin with. She knew her colleagues from school would love to have portraits of themselves or their children. Yes! That is what she would do. She became quite excited. She had to wake Jan to tell him about her plans.
He knew they could live on his earnings, if somewhat frugally.
Jan greeted her idea with enthusiasm.
The next day Francoise went up into the loft and brought down some old canvasses. They just needed to be re-primed with paint, and she would be ready to go. She thought the first picture she would paint would be of her mother, asleep. She made a very still sitter.
Francoise was thrilled with the result. She had embued her mother’s face with a sense of great peacefulness. She felt a strong sense of compassion and fellow feeling for her mother. She was glad she would not be sending her away.
For herself she had found peace of mind by doing what she felt was right and not resenting it. She had found a way of using her time in an enjoyable and creative way, a way that could eventually bring some extra income to the family.
The picture of her mother won an award at the town’s annual exhibition of portrait paintings; it was so unusual and so full of sensitive appreciation of the subject.
Francoise never regretted the time when she cared for her mother. Her children now with offspring of their own said that it had changed her life for the better in so many ways. Instead of being the anxious teacher, always busy, she now painted most days, and attended lectures and exhibitions and her work was much appreciated by the many folk whose portraits she painted.
This story is published in SSEHV, free lesson plans in Human Values. Click on the link at the top of this page to find more.