Thanksgiving with Mom and The Tijuana Brass

11:50 a.m. Thursday, November 26. It would be a quiet holiday. Just me and Mom at the Actors Home for their annual Thanksgiving Day lunch.

I was nervous about seeing her. A little over four weeks had elapsed since her TIAs or mini strokes. I was afraid to see her further altered, especially after the dreams I’ve been having: dreams of Mom dying. I’d wake up thinking, “It would be a blessing if she went in her sleep,” just as she used to say. After the momentary relief and positive self-talk, the anxiety and sadness would creep in. My heart skipped a few beats.

When I arrived, her aide “L” said she wasn’t ready yet. I waited and spoke with a couple of the nurses and aides; we wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving. They thanked me for coming.

I saw one of the family members I know with her Mom. She was wearing a royal blue sweater and a silver brooch, her snowy hair swirled in a meringue-y bun.

“You look beautiful!” she said to her mother. She thanked the aide for dressing her so nicely, and she and her family walked toward the elevator.

L wheeled Mom out and said with his usual beaming smile, “Here she is!”

“Hi, Mom, you look so pretty in pink.” She was wearing her pink and beige print dress with a pale pink sweater.

“Thank you, L,” I said. “Why don’t you come with us to lunch?”

“I wish I could,” he said.

I was afraid Mom might freak out as she sometimes does in crowds, and away from her comfort zone. I made a mental note not to reserve a spot for us at the Christmas party this year. Last year she behaved very badly, so we ended up leaving early. I was hurt and disappointed.

Don’t be negative, don’t be negative, Erica. Take a deep breath.

We arrived on the first floor and I wheeled her into the lunch room. Tables were decorated with a trio of autumn-colored balloons tied to a paperweight of some kind. A paper “HAPPY THANKSGIVING’ sign and several paper cornucopias decorated the walls. Rod Stewart singing “The Nearness of You” piped through the speakers.

A friendly bespectacled man in a polo shirt with a clipboard asked our names and escorted us to a table near the window—sun streaming in, you could feel the heat.

“It’s warm today, Mom, about 62 degrees,” I said.

“Really?” she said, smiling.

“Should we get our own drinks?” I asked one of the women holding a pitcher of cider.

“No, someone will take your order,” she said.

“Okay, thank you.”

“Mom, do you recognize this song?”

“Yes,” she said, smiling even more brightly.

“It’s Rod Stewart.”

“Who’s that?”

“He’s a rock singer, but he sings standards too.”

“Mmm,” she said.

“Would you like some apple cider?” a young woman asked us.

“No, thank you,” said Mom.

“What do you want?”

“Oh, anything.”

“Ginger ale?”

“Okay.”

“Ginger ale for her, and coke for me and some water,” I said. “Thank you.”

“I can feel the heat,” she said, closing her eyes.

“Yes, like a spring day.”

The next song that came on was “Tijuana Taxi” by Herb Alpert. Wow, that brought back memories of Jackson Heights. Mom and Dad had that album when my brother and I were kids.

“Mom, Tijuana Taxi!” I said.

“Oh.”

“Remember, Herb Alpert? We had the album.”

“Oh, we did?”

“Yes.”

I don’t think she remembered, but she smiled anyway. If only I had the album cover.

The nice man with the clipboard was going table to table with a camera.

“May I take your picture?” he said.

“Sure, but first would you take one on my phone first? It’s been ages since we’ve taken a picture together.”

I handed him my iPhone and showed him how. He already knew.

FullSizeRender

“Thank you,” I said.

“You’re welcome.” He took a photo of us with his camera. I wonder where the photos would be displayed.

I need the memories.

Mom stared at her plate.

“Aren’t you hungry?” I said.

“Yes, I have plenty.”

She scooped up some turkey and stuffing with a soup spoon.

“Would you like me to help you?” I said, bringing a forkful of food to her lips.

“No, this is easier.” She preferred the spoon.

I wasn’t that hungry either.

At about 1:30 I asked Mom if she wanted to go back to her room.

“No, I like it here. I like the sun.”

“Okay, we’ll stay awhile longer.”

And I was so afraid she’d make a scene or be unhappy. It seems I was the anxious one.

Rod Stewart started singing “S’Marvelous” over the loud speakers.

“Mom, you know that one.”

I started to sing along.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

Paris is the City of Lights

Towards the end of an episode of “The War,” a Ken Burns documentary on PBS, Mom said, “Paris is the city of lights,” with a gleam in her eye.

The men and women interviewed for this film were relating their experiences during WWII, when Mom was a young girl.

“Was Paris your favorite city?” I said.

“One of them.”

“Which other ones did you like?” I said.

“Vienna.” She had a dreamy look in her eyes.

“What about Haworth?”

“What?”

“Brontë country.”

“Yes, of course.”

Always a fan of books by the Brontë sisters, particularly Wuthering Heights, I assumed her favorite place in Europe would have been Yorkshire, England. She brought back a sprig of heather from the moors which she placed under the glass top of our antique coffee table, which is now in my house. She and my Dad traveled to Europe in 1972; it would be her only trip abroad. She kept a journal during that trip, jotting down her impressions. She used a delicate sprig of heather as a bookmark.

coffee table with heather

Her illustrated volume of Wuthering Heights from the 1940s was among the possessions that got ruined during Hurricane Irene. Most of her belongings were stored in our basement when we got flooded. She doesn’t know this, nor does she need to.

None of this matters anymore.

What matters is this moment, that she is happy recalling her time in Paris and Vienna, no matter how fleeting.

It makes me happy too.

The Bow

As I wheeled Mom towards the day room, Raymond swept his arm across his waist and bent his head slightly in a bowing gesture. Then he started to whistle.

“I can’t do it,” he said, only whistling for a moment.

“It’s not so easy to do,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

He smiled brightly at me as Mom and I moved towards the day room / dining room.

“Where are you going?” he said.

“In there,” I said, and he followed us.

I sat next to Mom at her designated dining table.

Raymond looked at us, smiling, “It’s lovely – this,” and he continued on towards other tables.

Raymond was a professional dancer. The daughter of another resident witnessed the bow and said, “He’s a real gentleman.”

“Yes, he is,” I said.

I can’t remember the last time a man bowed to me. It’s not something that happens every day, especially not in the 21st century.

One of the nurses told me Raymond used to dance with Fred Astaire.

He also likes to go from room to room. When he enters Mom’s room sometimes, he asks, “Is this okay?”

I tell him yes.

I wish I knew what he was trying to say. It’s the same way I feel about Mom.

“Mom, I was in the doctor’s office the other day and you know what he had?” I said.

“No,” she said.

“Pussy willows. Remember them?”

“No.”

As a kid, I marveled at the furry texture of the bud;, they seemed half-animal / half-plant to me.  Where did Mom find such a miraculous creation? 

“They have a long thick stem and little oval blossoms that are silky like kittens. You used to bring them home and put them in a vase,” I said.

“I don’t remember,” she said.

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photo by Liz West

Sometimes I wish she would.

 

*Pseudonyms are used for all residents and staff at the Actors Home.

Days We Have to Remember

ER

ER (google images)

“Oh no, not her,” Mom said when Jessie was wheeled to the table for dinner.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

“I can’t stand her,” she said, twisting her face.

Miss D, who was assisting Jessie with her meal, said, “But she likes you, Kathy.”

Jessie smiled at me, then at Mom. We sat a square 4-person table. Jessie and I sat on opposite sides, and Mom to her left.

Jessie, Mom and Gisele have shared a table since Mom moved into the Actors Home in September, 2014. They always seemed to get along. I haven’t seen Gisele in a while—maybe she was moved to another ward or went to another home. Gisele said Mom was her best friend. Mom fawned over Gisele, frail and gentle, and told her, “You have to eat something,” one time at lunch when she was fussing with her food.

Gisele said to me, “Tell me what to do.”

I helped cut her food and spoon it into her mouth, but she spit it out. She did that with everything on her plate. She only ate the chocolate pudding, juice and milk.

She’d eat a few bites, spit them out, and again say, “Tell me what to do.”

Maybe Mom missed Gisele.

Jessie smiled at Mom.

“Oh, you pest! I hate your simpy smile, you simp,” Mom said.

“Mom, don’t look at her.”

“But she won’t stop looking at me.”

“You don’t have to look at her. Look at the wall, or at me.”

Mom made a face like a little kid at Jessie, still smiling at her.

“Mom, enough.”

“Why did you bring me here?” Mom said.

Miss D frowned.

Mom put down her utensils.

“Have you had enough to eat?”

“Yes, I want to go now.”

“But you didn’t eat your soup or your brownie.”

“I don’t like brownies,” she said.

“But I might want it. We’ll take your coffee too.”

“I want to watch TV in the room,” she said.

ER?”

“Yes,” and her face instantly brightened.

I had arrived late and it threw off our routine, which included watching an episode or two of ER on DVD. We were on season 2, disk 4.

I turned on the DVD and inserted the disk. She looked calmer already; it seemed to ground her.

“We’re on season 2, disk 4, Mom.”

“Yeah,” she said, smiling.

At the end of the episode, she said, “But what about the credits?”

“They showed the credits at the beginning of the program, Mom.”

“They did?”

Then I brought her the mini spiral notebook she keeps at her bedside table.

I pointed to the names, “MARK GREENE, NOAH WYLE.”

We said them in unison, “MARK GREENE, NOAH WYLE.”

“Noah Wyle plays John Carter,” I said.

“Yes, that’s right. I’m sorry, I’m anxious today. I forgot Rick’s birthday.”

Rick is my brother who lives upstate.

“His birthday is October 9, I always remember it. He’s so upset with me.”

“He’s not upset, Mom. He understands.”

“These are important days, days we have to remember. I always remembered.”

(Mom hasn’t remembered my birthday for the past 4-5 years.)

“I know, Mom, and he’s not mad at you.”

“How do you know?”

“I asked him; he’s fine.” (I never asked him.)

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Her face was still scrunched up with upset.

“We all make mistakes, Mom. It’s okay.”

 

Pseudonyms used for residents and staff at the Actors Home.

Who Was Dirty Harry?

mom's room

Mom’s room (photo by me)

Mom and I had our Easter visit on Saturday afternoon. I brought her a card, potted daffodils, a thermos of chai tea and her favorite Choco Leibniz cookies—she calls them “chocolate grahams”—the ones with dark chocolate. Our weekly ritual is sharing tea and cookies, taking “spins” around the floor and watching an episode of ER on the DVD player—it’s her favorite TV show. Sometimes we’ll watch a program on PBS, like the Judy Garland documentary that aired a couple weeks ago. This time it was ER. We’re on season 2, disk 3.

After ER, Mom and I took a spin around the floor.

She said, “Mark . . . who?”

“Mark Greene,” I said. “What about John? What’s his last name?”

“Carter,” she said, proudly.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Mark Greene and John Carter are two of the characters..

“You always liked Carter,” I said.

“Yes, he’s so earnest.”

“He’s very good with the patients. He cares about them,” I said.

“Yes.”

We continued our journey up and down the halls. The activities director was coloring eggs with the residents in the dining room.

“Do you want to color an egg?” I said.

“No, maybe later,” she said. “Mark . . .”

“Greene,” I said. “John . . .”

“Carter,” she said, with pride.

“Right!”

The last time this happened was after we watched the film The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin when she was still living in her apartment, about four years ago.

She called me twice one day at the office to ask who the British actor in the movie was, and I said, “Anthony Hopkins.”

“Anthony Hopkins, of course. Thank you, dear,” she said, and hung up.

Ten minutes later, she called. “Quick, tell me the name of the actor.”

“Anthony Hopkins. Maybe you should write it down.”

“Good idea,” she said and hung up the phone.

A couple days later, when I was at her apartment, she said, “Who was the actor in that movie?”

“Alec Baldwin.”

“Right, and Anthony Hopkins,” she said.

“I’ll write it down on the napkin under ‘Anthony Hopkins’ so you remember,” I said.

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

“Do you remember the name of the movie, Mom?”

“Yes, of course. The Edge.”

Then she said, “Who was Dirty Harry?”

“Clint Eastwood.”

“Yes, of course,” she said.

“Do you want me to write it down?” I said.

“Yes, might as well, before I forget that too.”

Now the white napkin read in blue ink:

Anthony Hopkins

Alec Baldwin

Clint Eastwood

I guess I should have written “Mark Greene” and “John Carter” on a piece of paper for Mom so she can remember those names too. When I call her tonight, I’ll see if she does.

When I was ready to leave, Mom waited at the elevator with me.  One of the aides had to buzz me out. This is a locked ward, so you can’t board the elevator without the assistance of a staff member. I kissed Mom on the forehead.

“Mark Greene,” she said, scrunching up her face, as if it took all her might.

“Yes, and John Carter.”

“I’ll see you soon, Mom. Happy Easter.”

“Thank you for everything,” she said.

I smiled and took her in once more, the elevator door sliding until her face was no longer in view.

Age and Innocence

Ventura beach

E. Herd (Ventura, CA)

Holding hands in silence
walking out of the elevator
and into the hallway
boy and girl
following the leader
towards the activity room
girl drops boy’s hand
and hides in an alcove

Her absence is missed
she is brought out of hiding, and
walks hand in hand with the leader
it’s time for sand painting
vibrant colors poured on table tops

Girl looks at the sand and smiles–
light in her eyes
like sun shimmering on the ocean
then she looks towards the window.
Does she remember a moment
at the beach?
Is she seeing it now?

Some are in wheelchairs,
Some with walkers,
she sits in her chair
back tall, still smiling.

 

 

 

Baby Momma

 

Dolores and Mom II

Mom with her mother (my Grandma Rose) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

In a dream
I carried you
swaddled like an infant
you weighed so little,
as if you had no bones
“You’re so light,”
I said,
alarmed.
Then it hit me
it was you—now
85 years old
vulnerable and lost,
you didn’t speak or move.
where was I carrying you?