It was my seventh birthday and we were going to have a party. In the kitchen my mother feverishly cooked food and pastries I was partial to. I dropped in from time to time to see the progress. Beads of perspiration lined her face on that warm day, but she smiled every time I came in.
She wanted it to be a special event for me. As I came in the fourth time, I tried to take a look at the just-finished corn pudding and, in an awkward gesture, overturned a large jar of brown sugar. It fell with a loud crash near my feet, but I was unhurt.
I yelped, more in chagrin than in pain, but my mother misunderstood the cry. She turned sharply to help me and overturned a pot of hot oil. Her left arm was instantly covered with boiling oil. I rushed to get her some ice and, as blisters started appearing, some petroleum jelly. Her entire arm was soon red and splotchy.
She was clearly in great pain, and I begged her to stop cooking and lie down. She insisted that she had to finish the cooking before the guests came and kept cooking, though I could see from her face how hard it was for her. The party was a great success.
My friends enjoyed themselves; I had a great time and felt proud of my mother’s achievement. However, mother had to go to the doctor the next day. I heard her telling my father, that the nurse reprimanded her for ignoring such a severe burn for several hours.
There was an unsightly scar on her arm for several months. The ointment the doctor recommended seemed to work very slowly. Decades have passed since then. I have never been able to forget the accident or to forgive myself for inadvertently causing so much pain to my dear mother.
I knew she had deferred going to a doctor because she wanted to make sure that my birthday party was impeccable. I spoke to her the year she died at 91 and told her of my tenacious, troubling souvenir. Characteristically, she said, “You didn’t do anything wrong.
I was careless.” She added, “I was so glad your birthday party went well.”
The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected]