“I hope you’re taking notes”, my mother exclaimed as we settled into a long overdue visit.
“Oh, I am”, I replied.
We have never had too much trouble communicating with each other. No time to beat around the bush, skirt the issue, wallow in subtleties.
I quickly discovered she was mad about “having” to be “placed” in an apartment with my father. But she always said it was OK if we had to place her in a nursing home and this is just an apartment. The light bulb went off in my head. “But this is the nicest senior housing I have ever been in.” I tried to recover from feeling like I had forgotten something. I guess I had. Does she remember when we talked…they had a choice…everyone thought it was for the best. Now I sat across from My Mom, a mad senior, one with nothing to lose, one with a mission to educate her health care professional daughter about the real world.
I remember when I was 5 and going to kindergarten. 3 doors down. So far away. My mother told me then about the real world. You will come here every day. They don’t have your name tag. You are in the wrong classroom. But I liked the other teacher. You will get used to it. You will have to take naps. I thought to myself, what’s a nap?
We often begin thinking things are one way and discover our perception is only that.
My viewpoint. My reality. Seen through My eyes and filtered through My experiences and My learning.
Some will never get to the point of seeing how their experiences shape their reality.
These are the my way or the highway types.
Some are willing to work through the experiences and consider their perceptions may be influenced by past events.
These are people like you and I who are trying to learn all we can in this life.
Then there is my Mom.
Deceptively quiet at times. Deep down a true warrior. Anti-war warrior, shaman princess, student of metaphysics, Esperanto, Rosicrucian, mother of seven assertive “Gerdt” children, Modern thinker, lover of ancient times, Atlantis aficionado, Lover of Omar Khayyam, opera and anything mystical, mindreader, painter, dreamer.
Now do you understand my dilemma?
She is always right (but staunchly left).
She is powerful but gentle.
She is outspoken but reserved.
The conversation turns as it always does (to my relief) to death and plans.
“I want to be cremated” my mother says plainly as she has done since I was a little one.
“I know, Mom.” How could I forget. After all these years hearing it over and over as if I would suddenly forget when the time comes and slip to the mortician. “Embalm her now, I would say. The purple fluid. “
I decide to change the subject.
“I have made a decision too, Mom. I want to be cremated and Fred knows where I want my ashes spread.” There, the conversation has been successfully diverted. Mom can’t say anything to that one. Now she knows how I feel. Or maybe she still doesn’t.
So we go on trying to make conversation about old days and pictures from the past and what they had for lunch or doctor’s appointments to come. Where is your pain today?
Or silence as the 24 hour news channel stirs up the elders. War, gas prices, political failures, government conspiracies, snafu’s. The golf channel with it eternal 18 hole game. The food channel.
Is it time to eat again?
We take a ride up the river road. One of my favorite places on the planet. The bluffs north of Alton remind me of a day this was all under water. When the planet was covered with water and we were all sea creatures.
We stop at the Wilton Hotel, an old family style restaurant/hotel with fresh fried chicken, homemade sausages and pickles. We get a pound of asparagus at a roadside stand. I envy the woman who sells it to us. She lives out here in the middle of nowhere and makes her living working the land. She has a peace on her face that farmers have. No money, maybe, but that extraordinary peacefulness. She may not even know I am looking at her like that. She may not think her life is so special. "Maybe I could take a vacation sometime", she thinks as we drive away. "Instead of picking this damn asparagus every day."
We get on the Brussels ferry, a 10 minute ride across the Illinois River. I get out to smell the river air. I close my eyes. Feel the motion of the ferry underfoot. Hang onto the railing. I envision the days when people rode the riverboats and played cards and traded and traveled these rivers. A short little trip but I try to prolong it. Hold on to the memory. Can’t I stay forever?
Before you know it we are on the other side.
Before you know it we are back on the plane to go home.
Short visit. So short.
I mindlessly chew the handful of peanuts they gave me and try not to cry on the plane. When I left home years ago, I was eager to find my own way, a new world, a place where no one knew me, or had preconceived ideas about me. It was a bittersweet memory like now. Leaving my parents, wondering if this was the last time, wondering why Vermont was where I landed. Why so different after all than Illinois.
But when the green mountains appeared on the horizon it was as if they said,
“Welcome back, we missed you”, just like the first time.
10 minutes to ground I pulled out my paper and started writing. I heard my mother’s voices say ”I hope you’re taking notes…”