the loneliest hour of the day
A response* to Alicia Schindler’s personal essay in the NYTimes [12–01–2014] . Written three years ago, it rings true to this day. The memory of my Mom’s 4:00p.m. loneliness still rings true, eight years after her death.
Ms. Schindler wrote a blog post about her “aging” father’s knack for calling just as she began preparing dinner. [Motherlode: Living the Family Dynamic] The post struck a chord with readers and elicited over 98 comments.
Mom explained it this way: For most of her adult life, five p.m. to six p.m. was the transition hour. Daddy came home from work, children tumbled in from the yard and sat down to homework, she began to fix dinner — we all transitioned both physically and mentally from public life to personal.
She thought this hour magical. Four p.m. was spent in preparation for the moment.
The time when everyone was safe, everyone was within reach … everyone was home.
For almost 30 years, the predictable week day pattern remained firmly entrenched and it gave her comfort. Such stability provided her a reliable framework from which she could face the post-war demands of her housewife role. My father was a labor negotiator. His job demanded much of him during contract negotiation time. Labor v management with Daddy in the middle, taking in both sides and finding a common denominator. He was a brilliant negotiator.
Mom told my brother and me that we had to “fend for ourselves” from 5:00–6:00 p.m. — Daddy’s private time. My sister was in college by then. Mom would fix Daddy a cocktail, usually a whisky sour or martini, and hand him the newspaper. Then she went to the kitchen to start dinner. We were wild children then, running outside for the final moments of freedom left in our day. I was an ardent pogo-stick addict, my brother roller skated in circles around me.
Looking back, Mom and Dad thought this final hour not as their quiet hour, no no, the joke was on us. It was the final chance to wear us out, otherwise we’d be screaming at each other over dinner uttering those imagined slights only a brother and sister can render. I remember saying, “these are good green beans” and my brother responding, “they’re not green, they’re puce and you’re stupid.” He was sent to his room over that one.
He was 18 months older than I and the older we got, the more we fought.
Fighting? Strictly prohibited at dinner. We talked about our day and were required to bring up either a new word and use it correctly or tell Daddy something “in the news.” I always had a lot to say. Still do.
So the quiet that came when I left for college, when my brother married, when my sister moved far away with her husband and children. The silence began but Daddy remained. The process could continue. Mom still cooked dinner, Daddy still had a cocktail and the newspaper. Long after he retired, they kept the hours sacred.
Then he died. And she tried to keep the hour sacred but it turned into a nightmare for her. The loneliest time of the day. No matter we’d been there all afternoon, me and the toddlers. No matter she’d been to church to her “circle” and met with other women all afternoon. Her private hell slapped her face every day at 5:00pm, no one there to care for, none of us safe and nearby.
She began to drink wine (from a box) and settle herself on her comfortable back porch — every afternoon. Her neighbor figured out someone was on the porch at the same time she (the neighbor) got off work. Time for a glass of wine with Ruth. Mom began to calm down once a new pattern was established and the 5:00 blues left her for a short time. The neighbor married and moved away.
Within six months, I understood the blues were taking over her life. She began anticipating 5:00 with dread, started drinking earlier and earlier. And when wine comes from a box, you have no idea how much you’ve imbibed. My 82 year old mother was becoming a lush. We intervened.
Bought a house big enough for us and her 5:00 o’clock shadow. And now she’s dead, my brother’s dead as well as my sister, my children are grown women and I face 5:00 with my husband.
But I’m one of the lucky ones. My grandchildren live four blocks away.
“I see you’re done listening. I’ll let you go,” he said, and then continues. “But if you could understand how it feels to be a burden, to have nothing to look forward to in this world and to hurt so bad…”