Tag Archives: mothers

How To Be 78 Years Old

In 2009 I had the opportunity to spend both quality and quantity time with my mother while she recovered from surgery. Her recovery took about eight seconds—for which I’m very thankful—but then I got snowed in at her house.

Here’s a photo of her bedquarters. [Get it?? Like headquarters?? Oh, I crack me up.]

bedquarters1

From this command center she was able to direct and supervise all activities. Like me clearing two feet of snow off my car.

 

Snow2

Snow3

Spending this much time in her home was illuminating because I hadn’t lived with my mother since about 1982. Also because for about that same amount of time, I’ve been the oldest person I’ve lived with.

My mother has taught me many valuable lessons over the years, like these gems.

• Don’t giggle and fidget in church, but if you can’t help yourself, scoot over near another family so as not to shame us.

• Red wine vinegar is not the same as red wine.

• When arriving home after a long car trip, no one uses the bathroom until the car is unpacked.

• If you pay a kid a quarter for every tick they find on themselves after camping, they’re likelier to inspect their nooks and crannies more diligently. Plus, they’ll also check the dog.

As you can see, she’s a wise and wonderful woman.

And that weekend she taught me something else … how to be 78 years old. She’s actually ten years older now, but has grown weary of teaching me things. If I want to know how to be 88 years old, I’ll just do these things with more verve and gusto.

If you, too, would like to know how to act 78 years old, this will get you started.

  1. Get up at 4 a.m., make a pot of coffee and read for three hours. Then go back to bed, making it seem like you get up early AND sleep late simultaneously.
  2. Upon waking, immediately turn on the TV and make a full pot of coffee.
  3. Eat constantly, but only tiny dabs of this or that.
  4. Coffee, coffee and more coffee.
  5. Watch TV but only for about 90 seconds at a time because everything reminds you of a story … or something you need to remember … or a question you’ve been wondering about for several years. Glance wistfully at your computer, knowing all answers live there, but also knowing said answers prefer to hide from you.
  6. Turn the coffeepot off.
  7. Two minutes later, brew a cup of tea.
  8. Make sure you are—and this appears to be of the utmost importance—make sure you are AT ALL TIMES within three feet of a box of Kleenex. If you think you’ll breach that perimeter, pluck a couple and shove them into your pocket or your sleeve or between two buttons on your shirt.
  9. If you don’t bathe by noon, just take a “PTA Bath” reminding yourself that the mailman doesn’t care how you look. [Hint: The A stands for armpits, but the P and the T are not words an elderly woman with a proper upbringing should say. Except to her daughter. Who will crack up and tell all her friends what a hoot it is when old ladies lose their inhibitions.]
  10. More coffee.
  11. Even though you’ve cooked two-and-a-half million chickens for Sunday dinner in the last 50+ years, confess you never really liked to eat fried chicken. This makes your daughter feel guilty. Especially after she buys fried chicken to stock the fridge during your recovery.
  12. When recovering from surgery, eschew stairs, Scrabble and salt. But not sherry.

My mom rocks.

What will you do when you are 78 years old?

DEAR MRS. LINDBERGH

I wrote recently about finding a note from my mother tucked into this novel by Kathleen Hughes.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Frequently I dog ear pages that resonate with me as I read, whether it’s factual stuff I want to dig into deeper, or passages I find particularly lovely or funny or that show me something about the art of writing.

Often, though, I’ll revisit these passages after a week or two and they won’t light me up like they did before.

But these from DEAR MRS. LINDBERGH still work for me.

Water traveled well over this land. From time to time, her father had to reinforce the drainage ditches so that the water didn’t take over and start running any course it liked. She felt her life was like this sometimes, and the sadness, the urgency, was endurable so long as she didn’t let it get too far out of bounds. Give it a course, keep it there.

I love how that passage gives a perfect snapshot of this woman’s emotions. It also struck me, I think, because I’m cogitating over a rewrite of my own where I could do something like this. It would be easy for the author to have the character say, “Golly, I must keep control of my emotions,” but how boring. Mine has to do with light rather than water, however, and I’m not quite there yet. My passage is still at the boring stage.

What used to be a sanctuary from loneliness, these letters, eventually became a sanctuary of privacy, too, and maybe that’s what children and a husband at home do to you, they climb into every nook and cranny of your life until you have to search, to boot them away with a swift kick in the bottom, to have something, anything, to yourself. Writing the letters was the place she got to be alone.

I know this pings every writer’s heart. Surely it must speak to everyone in any kind of relationship who fears leaving that piece of self behind ”” that essence of you-ness which, when stripped away, renders you flat and stale, like week-old root beer. As much as we might love our kids and spouse, we need a sanctuary to remain fizzy.

He thought of the ghost story about the woman who wore a perfect scarlet ribbon around her beautiful neck at all times and the husband who finally could not resist removing it to see all of his wife’s neck. As it came away, her head fell off. If Ruth wanted to keep her scarlet ribbon in place, so be it.

Passages like this make me happy. Whether this is a real ghost story that Kathleen Hughes heard once or one she just made up, I love how she did that.

How ”˜bout you? Do you find these passages as lyrical and evocative as I do? And Kathleen Hughes … if you’re out there … I’d love to interview you!

Running Away

My sister scolded me. But my mom understood.

I got mad at my three children one day when they were youngish and terrible. I needed more than a time-out. I ran away. Only as far as the local library in our little Colorado town, but it was far enough. Far enough for me; too far for them.

I don’t think she was particularly scared, but my daughter called my sister anyway. I think she just wanted me to get in trouble with someone. Anyone.

My daughter also called my mother who lived in California at the time. Talk about tattling!

When I returned home, my sister called, asked the obligatory questions and got the appropriate answers to determine I wasn’t in immediate need of medical or psychiatric care. But then she scolded me.

Later, my mother called too. When I told her the story of the behavioral chaos of my children, expecting more scolding, she laughed. “I’ve done the same thing,” she said.  “Many times.”

I was immediately calmed and exonerated.

I was reminded of this story today because I sat on the deck reading DEAR MRS LINDBERGH by Kathleen Hughes. It was a book I had given my mother as a gift several months earlier. She’s becoming more and more housebound caring for her declining husband. She has very few needs, so books, I’ve decided, are an excellent gift.

She lives in an apartment without much shelf space, though, so she carefully writes the name of the gift giver on a sticky note and returns the books when she’s finished. Often, she’ll include a note about how she enjoyed it ”” or didn’t.

Sometimes I give books I’ve read that I know she’ll like. Other times I browse and find books I think she’ll like.

Such was the case with DEAR MRS LINDBERGH. I hadn’t read it, didn’t know anything about it. But I know Mom likes historical fiction, which this wasn’t, really, but it had that feel to it.

When I got to the end, I found a note from my mom tucked into it. In her precise cursive she told me she liked this one. She added, “On a very small scale I can relate to Ruth’s desire to fly away for an adventure of her own.”

Reading her note literally took my breath away.

My mother had eight children. I’m number seven. I was an adult before I ever knew ”” or thought to ask ”” if she had dreams for her life that didn’t involve a swarm of kids. She was a young teenager during World War II and the nurses captured her imagination. But then she turned 18, got married and immediately started having children. She and my dad never had any money. Nursing school was out of the question.

“On a very small scale I can relate to Ruth’s desire to fly away for an adventure of her own.”

I know Mom would say she’s had a perfectly fine life. But my heart has several tiny Mom-shaped cracks in it today.

A Baker’s Dozen

My mom made me laugh the other day. Don’t get me wrong, she makes me laugh a lot, but on this particular day she told me about the women’s group she was invited to join.

Me: So, what’s new?

Mom: Not much. I’m going to lunch with a group of ladies tomorrow.

Me: Oh?

Mom: Yeah. We wear hats.

Me: Cool! You’re gonna be one of those red-and-purple ladies?

Mom: No. We wear baker’s hats.

Me: [silent, wishing I had a red-and-purple baker’s hat] Baker’s hats?

Mom: Yep.

Me: [waiting for an explanation since she’s not technically a baker nor a hat-wearer.] And?

Mom: It’s a group of ladies who got together a long time ago because they were the ones who used to put together the parties at a church. You know, baking stuff. [Or something. I was still trying to picture my mother wearing a baker’s hat.]

Mom: Are you there?

Me: Yep, still here.

Mom: We’re called the Baker’s Dozen. There can only be 13 of us.

Me: So you had to wait till somebody croaked to get a seat at the table? How delightfully morbid of you. Lights Out Lunches! Death Watch Dejeuner! Grim Reaper Get-Togethers! Passing Parties! Vittle Vigils! Buzzard Bait Brunch! Gone To Meet Her Maker Gala! Stone Cold Soiree! Worm Food Wingding!

Mom: [clearly awaiting the return of my maturity] No.

Me: Oh.

Mom: Well, yes. But my conscience is clear. The one I’m replacing moved away. They told us to be thinking about who we might want in the group as Louise is scheduled for surgery next month.

Next time we talk I’ll have to ask if the baker’s hats were black. With lace veils.

If you created a group of Ladies Who Lunch, what would you name them and what would they wear? But more importantly, would you invite me to join?