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My Mother at Age 91

My Mother at Age 91

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Published by A. Rod Paolini
A somewhat estranged son visits his mother living in her small hometown in Minnesota. The debilitation of old age has left her unable to establish new relationships nor enjoy her former pastimes. He asks the question of whether or not he can bring her back to life.
A somewhat estranged son visits his mother living in her small hometown in Minnesota. The debilitation of old age has left her unable to establish new relationships nor enjoy her former pastimes. He asks the question of whether or not he can bring her back to life.

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Published by: A. Rod Paolini on Feb 22, 2013
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02/22/2013

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My Mother at Age 91
By
A. Rod Paolini
 
My Mother at Age 91
Within a few minutes of landing in Rochester, I was rolling through farm country for a three-dayvisit with my mother in her hometown in Minnesota. Most of my previous visits were in summer, whenthe sky was a clear blue and the sunlight so bright that its reflection shimmered on the rows of corn andsoybeans that extended as far as the eye could see. On this January day, gray clouds hung low in thesky, and a hazy mist blurred the horizon. The fields were just a dark gray of dirt or a dingy yellowishbrown of dry grass. The trees were barren of leaves, and the farm sheds and houses looked disheveledand run-down. Frigid air swirled about my legs despite the valiant effort of the car’s heater. My moodwas no lighter than the day, for I was not looking forward to this visit. I was going through the motions,my mind and body on autopilot.Three years ago, my mother suffered her third psychotic episode, and I brought her to my homein Reston, Virginia. After eight months of living with my wife and me, we relocated her to an assistedliving facility in town. Feeling cast out, she quickly got her act together and moved back to herhometown. She bewailed the disposition of her home and furnishings for which she believed that I wasto blame. “You betrayed me!” she cried.The love went out of me. I continued to fulfill my duty as a loyal son by phoning and writing,but not with any great deal of enthusiasm. Almost every time we talked, she would bring up the loss of her house and furniture which she claimed that I had forced her to surrender.She lived independently for two years, then crashed again in August 2012. As the 2012Christmas holiday approached, she gave subtle indications that she would like to visit, but it becameobvious, even to her, that she could not manage the trip. When she declared that she missed me, Irelented, and I promised that I would visit her in January though my heart wasn’t in it. In the last twoyears, I felt frustration, guilt, anger, remorse, and helplessness. Would I be subjected to three days of her recriminations?And so here I was, traveling U.S. highway 52 through the towns that I now knew by heart:Marion, Chatfield, Fountain, Preston. As I crested the last ridge, I could see a cluster of buildings in thedistance crowned by the town’s water tower, ironically proclaiming, Harmony!I entered the day room of the assisted living facility, and my mother, sitting at the dinning table,immediately recognized me and rose to greet me, arms outstretched. We embraced for a moment, andthen looked lovingly into each other’s face. She smiled and held my arm, then turned to introduce herassociates: “This is my son, Rod.” She proceeded to introduce each of the residents that were present.“This is Betty, Martha, and Carrie.” When she turned to introduce the young resident aide, she paused,and then apologetically asked: “I’m sorry; I forgot your name.” “I’m Nicole,” the aide responded. “Ishould remember that,” replied my mother. “Nicole is that name of my granddaughter.”The day room was spacious, bright and cheery; the furniture was country casual with anabundance of knickknacks, gingham patterns and country folk art. The day and date–Thursday, January-2-
 
24–was written in large letters on a white board. We were in the ‘memory’ unit, somewhat of a
th
misnomer as the criterion for being in this unit was a lack of memory to some degree. The exit doorswere locked, requiring a four-digit code to exit. The doors of the resident’s rooms face onto the dayroom, and my mother ushered me into her room for a visit. Furniture from her house was there as wellas many of her pictures. In contrast to the folk art in the day room, my mother had framed prints fromart catalogues and books; they had been tastefully placed around the walls. I thought the room quitepleasant.“How do you like it here?” I inquired cheerfully. “It’s all right,” she demurred. “These are nicepeople . . . but they’re not family.” This was a somewhat ironical statement as almost everyone inHarmony is related in some way. In the past, whenever my mother would introduce someone to me,invariably she would mention some genealogical connection that would require a family tree diagramfor me to comprehend. But being related doesn’t mean being close. “I don’t have Rod and Ferdy anymore”, she added–referring to her brother and sister-in-law, both having recently passed away, leavingher the last living sibling of her family. I tried to stress the bright side: “I noticed that Jim and Harrietare living here,” I said, they being cousins. “Yes . . . but I’m here in the memory unit and they’re in theassisted living unit. I hardly see them.” And so continued our conversation with little enthusiasm orcheer. She did ask about my children, Nicole and Jared, but she hardly responded with any questions orcomments.My mother seemed to attract many friends, those in Harmony and every other place that shelived, but I don’t believe that she ever felt close to anyone save her siblings and me. In fact, I think sheconfided more in me that she did my father.After chatting for a while, I thought some soft music would fill the void of pauses and provide apleasant background for our conversation. My mother had a very large collection of classical recordswhich she had converted to cassette tapes several years ago. I popped one in the tape player, but nosound emitted as the reels didn’t turn. “Has the tape player been working?” I asked. “I haven’t playedanything since I’ve been here,” she replied. I spied a CD that could be played by the DVD playerconnected to the television; but no, that was not working either, nor was the television as the cablewasn’t connected to the building’s network. Only the VCR was operational as I tested it with a tape thatI found in the recorder:
Mama’s Family 
, circa 1978.We started to reminisce about our lives when I was a young child and our family was living onGeorge Street in Chicago. “You always played with Neal and Harriet,” she exclaimed warmly. “Do youremember that Harriet always tied your shoes, and I said once to her, ‘He’s never going to learn if youtie them for him,’ and she replied, ‘Well he can’t, can he?’” I smiled sweetly, though I had heard thisstory many times. She then pulled out one of her scrapbooks, and we perused the photographs, one byone, recalling names of neighbors and incidents which she could recall with unfailing memory. “Iremember when Harriet’s little brother died,” she said sadly. “I visited Harriet’s mother, but it was sodifficult to know what to say.”Having exhausted the many photographs of these early years, I noticed an assortment of letterson the table, even my most recent, and also one from her dear friend in Rome, Jacqueline Laran, whomshe met several years ago on a tour of Eastern Europe and Russia. “She writes these wonderful letters-3-

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