Mom’s Books

Two weeks ago at the start of our visit Mom said, “Where are all my books?”

I told her they were in her apartment (of course, a lie, we let her apartment go in 2011 after she moved into the nursing home).

“But what happened to them?”

“They’re still there, Mom. I didn’t bring them all because you’re always saying it’s too cluttered in your room.”

“But I need my books.”

Her once deep brown eyes were filled with fear and anxiety. They have turned a lighter, more watered-down brown over the past several years.

“Okay, I can bring them. Which ones do you want?”

Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Vivien Leigh.”

“A biography of Vivien Leigh?”

“Yes.”

“What’s it called?”

Vivien Leigh.

“Okay.” That biography was written in the 1970s and the jacket cover is a photo of Vivien Leigh in 1890s dress and a parasol. Thank goodness, I remembered it and purchased a used copy from amazon.

vivenleigh

(google images)

“Are you sure they’re not lost?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Please bring them right away.”

“I’ll bring them next week.”

I looked into her bedside dresser and found a paperback copy of Wuthering Heights.

“Here it is!” I said.

She leafed through it, momentarily calmer.

“That’s not it. It doesn’t have the pictures.”

She wanted the 1943 version of Wuthering Heights with wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. That book, along with Jane Eyre, also with wood engravings by Eichenberg, was severely water-damaged during Hurricane Irene. Most of Mom’s belongings had been stored in our basement and most had been damaged beyond repair when our basement flooded. She doesn’t know that we had all her belongings, nor does she know about the flood. I hope it stays that way.

Wuthering-Heights-1943-Random-House

(google images – cover of 1943 edition of Wuthering Heights)

“Okay, Mom, I know which one you want. I’ll bring it next time.”

This past Saturday, I presented her with a copy of Vivien Leigh, along with cookies, a birthday card and a bouquet of flowers: today is her birthday.

“What about Wuthering Heights?” she said.

“I have it in a box in the basement, but haven’t had time to dig it out,” I said.

Another lie. I ordered a set of the vintage Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, but they haven’t arrived yet.

“Oh, you’ve been very busy, haven’t you?” she said.

“Yes, I have. At least you have Vivien Leigh. You can start re-reading it and look at the photographs.”

The truth is she doesn’t read anymore and hasn’t in some time, but she enjoys looking at photographs and illustrations.

“You’re sure nobody took it?”

“Yes, Mom. No one stole your books.”

“Oh, thank God. I was so worried. I need them with me.”

“I told the florist your favorite colors were pink and lavender, and he put together a wonderful bouquet. Smell them.”

I brought the vase of flowers close to her nose.

“Yes, lovely.”

We brought our Dunkin Donuts coffees to the Secret Garden and sat outside.

“The air is heavy,” she said, “so quiet.”

“Yes. I suppose people are on vacation.”

“I suppose so.”

The books were not spoken of for the remainder of our visit. Ahhh.

 

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.

Mom and the Magical Cat

Yorkshire

Matthew Hillier

Mom once had a sweet gray and white cat named Mouse. Mouse had lost a ton of weight, and Mom had become too ill to take care of her, so Lorin and I brought Mouse to the vet. A mass was found on her belly—the vet believed it was cancer–and we opted against surgery, as Mouse was quite old. We thought it kinder to have her put to sleep. That was in March 2011. They kept Mouse frozen in the veterinary hospital morgue until Mom could pay her respects. They cleaned her up and brought her out in a shoe box with a towel wrapped around her.

Mom stroked Mouse and said to the vet, “She’s so clean and healthy-looking. Thank you for taking such good care of her.” I believed she had found closure.

Shortly after Mouse’s passing, I bought Mom a stuffed animal cat at the Hallmark Store. She looked remarkably like the original Mouse. Mom was thrilled with her and placed her on her dining room table. She said, “This is just how Mouse used to lay on the table, and these are her markings.”

Mouse

Mouse I – photo by E. Herd

(Note: pseudonyms are used for the nurses)

Fast forward to 2015. Mom still has the stuffed animal Mouse, actually Mouse II—the original disappeared at her first nursing home. Mouse II sits on the bed in her room along with Snoopy and a teddy bear, but she doesn’t call her “Mouse” anymore. She calls her “Sheepy” and other names.

The real Mouse is on the loose, a wild thing, like Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

Over the past couple months, Mom has asked if I’ve seen Mouse, and said she went missing for days and returned with had a gash in her leg.

One night when I called, Deidre the nurse said, “Who’s Mouse?”

I told her the story of Mouse.

Deidre said, “Okay. One night I found your mom crawling around on the floor in her room calling ‘Mouse, Mouse.’ Now I understand.”

Mom told me last week, “Mouse went away for three days during the blizzard, then she came to the window. I needed tuna for her, but I didn’t have any.”

I said, “Ask the nurse for tuna, she’ll feed her.”

“Okay, I will.”

“She’ll be okay, Mom. She’s gone away before—she’s resourceful.”

This is true. Mouse was an adventurer. When Mom was living on Holland Avenue in the Bronx in the late 90s, Mouse slipped out via the fire escape one Memorial Day and didn’t return till the 4th of July. She was spotted in the courtyard by Mom’s friend and neighbor, Carmen, and brought back home.

When Mom told me she had seen Mouse at the window, I thought of the ghost of Cathy in Wuthering Heights, rattling at the window, haunting her lover Heathcliff. Mom’s happiest memory of the trip to Europe she took with my dad was visiting Brontë country, the Yorkshire moors. She brought back a sprig of heather and placed it under the glass cover of our antique coffee table, which is now in my home.

Mom owned a magnificent illustrated version of Wuthering Heights from the 1940s, which was severely water-damaged when our house flooded after Hurricane Irene. She had inscribed the inside of the book with this passage from Emily Brontë’s poem, “The Old Stoic,”

In life and death a chainless soul, with courage to endure.

When I visited Mom yesterday, James, another nurse. told me about Selena, a resident who makes sounds like a cat.

He said, “When Selena makes the cat sounds, your mom turns around and asks for Mouse. I tell her, ‘I’m giving her some tuna,’ and all is well.”

And so it goes. The circle of life continues. Mouse’s intrepid spirit endures.