There’s a hole now that she’s gone. No one loves you like a mother, even mine, maybe especially mine. We lived close by all my life except for brief periods like college, Army commitments, and for a short while after marrying Samuel when we moved to the Adirondacks. But that only lasted a few months—not a lot of ways to survive in the Adirondacks unless you trap animals, fish, cut down trees, or are on welfare. We moved back and stayed put.
We’d always been close emotionally too, so close I’d describe our connection as a bug living off a large animal. I was the bug. But I did learn to break away, live my life, bring up a family, and stop leaning on her for gifts. Her charitable spirit held trappings of other things—being bought, being owned, selling out. I learned to live with what we had, which wasn’t much, but more than enough because it belonged to us. I didn’t owe, and especially not to Mom.
At eighty, keeping a home became too much. Don managed to excite her into selling it for a move to the city and a brand new senior living complex, still under construction. The big seller: an indoor pool right down the hallway from her new apartment, so her 6 a.m. swims at the high school across from her house could continue with the added convenience of not even having to brave the elements to get there.
Luckily Don had the presence of mind to look out for her that way. I didn’t. I struggled running my own life. At that time I felt caught once again in the middle of a bad depression, this time from quitting my first nursing job, one I somehow managed to feel fired from. It became a depression of clinical proportions that took therapy and a year to get out of. But I managed to give my two cents‟ worth of demands to Don.
“Make sure it has a pool,” I offered, my only tidbit of advice in the life of Mom, all the concern, trouble, and work falling on Don’s shoulders once again, the only one who seemed willing and able.
Mom and I took a drive to see the construction in progress. She tried mustering enthusiasm for the big move, but it meant leaving friends and a lifetime of connections behind, along with a household of stuff. There wasn’t much to see from the car, and still a lot of work to be done. We looked at each other, and then back out the car windows at the large piles of muddy dirt, the heavy equipment quiet under thick clouds on a grey Sunday, but we didn’t say anything. Driving there made it more real. A large pond had been dug greeting those at the entrance gate off the busy highway, and a white picket fence surrounded the complex, pond, and gazebo.
“Mom, you’re being put out to pasture,” I said. My attempt at humor sounded tinny in the tight space of the car, hanging in the air like a bad fart. Her barely-there smile faded, fake and forced.
She began planning and shopping for furniture. I’d stop for a visit and find her and Don bent over graph paper discussing room dimensions, what fit where, the size of a new couch, bedroom set, dinette set, the shopping to be done, thrillingly endless: towels, linens, and on and on. He did the math, I helped her shop. We were like kids in a candy store. For two foodies, shopping came just slightly below eating on the “fun things to do” list.
I prodded her into buying a thirty dollar lamp shade that happened to match the flowery new bedspread. She put it in the cart, giggling. At that point she still walked, bent over the top of the cart for support. It made the best story to tell and laugh about, our weakness for simple pleasures, and what her daughter talked her into. We split the cost of a plastic talking hot dog that opened its bun, offering trays for assorted toppings, and sent the contraption to my brother Seth in California.
She decided on a first floor apartment so she could have her flowers. There would be a tiny patio large enough for an outdoor furniture set and gobs of flower pots filled to the brim with whatever plants she could get her hands on. She bought three chairs with comfortable padding and a small circular glass-topped table to go between two of them. The padding was pink, not bright pink or horrid pink, but a splash of muted flowery colors that resembled the bedroom left behind. Mom leaned towards the feminine side more than me. Anything pink, lacy, or involving curls and frills turned me off, but not her. I must have made a disappointing daughter after so many boys, once old enough to pick out my own clothes. All tomboy.
With all the angst between us, the patio was where we put down our swords and enjoyed time together. The water I’d spray in her pots would ooze out on our hot bare feet, cooling them along with our tempers. Many, many happy times were spent resting there after groceries were put away, chatting, or just quiet, breathing in the fresh air of spring, summer, or fall. And the endless supply of bubble-blowing wands, with a quart or two of sudsy liquid in bright colored bottles tucked under the table, kept us surrounded by sparkling floating orbs, tinted by sunrays as they wafted out from the patio into the glare.
She blew and blew until the time came when the list of losses included her breath. But Don’s daughter Krista found a battery- operated bubble-blowing wand that needed no blowing, so our porch delight and laughter continued. Even during my deepest depressions, I could relax with Mom on her porch and find respite.
Though she had a car for a while, I drove when we went out. We shopped, shopped, shopped, and then had lunch. We ate at countless restaurants we’d never been to and had fun. Mom made it fun. How she did that despite a daughter that often showed up angry, sad, or tired, and despite a failing body of her own that eventually needed a scooter, then wheelchair equipped with oxygen, I don’t know. But she did. She knew how to have fun, life-loving and adventurous, a hellion. She and her sister, Aunt Jean, loved nothing better than to hop in the car at the sound of a siren and chase it down, following the fire truck to the fire. But that had been before all Mom’s babies. And I learned from her how to love the feel of dropping on a hill in a car. While most people brake on a hill, fearful of feeling out of control, I take my foot off the gas and let the car go on its own, the weight building momentum like a roller coaster. In her day, she may have slipped the car in neutral to add to the effect.
There came a time when she couldn’t go out unless she absolutely had to for medical appointments. I brought groceries and lunch to her, or she cooked for us, tempering the tendency to embellish foods to the point where I wouldn’t eat them, instead sticking to basics like simple grilled chicken and vegetables. Often I stopped on the way after therapy, bringing lunch from a nearby restaurant. One most memorable: Chinese food served in pineapples. She never forgot that day, our heads bent over the carved-out fruit on the glass-topped table, worth the struggle to the patio with her walker where we ate al fresco. Autumn beckoned. The hot sun mixed with the bite of its approach. The quiet brought by fall was interrupted only by our laughter as we poked chicken out of pineapples in the cool shade of her porch.