Archive for September 2013

R.I.P. Mom 9/14/27 - 9/26-13

Can’t think of a better requiem than this number from our RCB concert last spring.  Like her, it’s at once both lyrical and fierce. While you’re listening, check out the anecdotes of her life as I collect them.  Feel free, if you knew her, to add anecdotes in comments below, or email, and I’ll incorporate them in the body of the post.

I’m gonna record some favorite anecdotes about my mom here, and it won’t happen all at once, I’ll be adding to this post as the muse grabs me.

  • I don’t know a lot about her young life, since we were not often in touch with her family in Lancaster, but one thing that she related about her time in high school amused me.  She said that she and some friends would meet in an alley or somewhere either before or after school to gossip, maybe smoke?, or just hang.  She said they called this meeting place “the heath”, a reference to the Weird Sisters scene in Macbeth.  You go for years thinking your parents are bland and pedestrian, and then some something endearingly literate like this bubbles up.
  • We had some testy interchanges about cars.  5 generations of my dad’s family (including me) made their living supplying glass to General Motors, and the American auto industry was our sugar daddy during the 50s and 60s.  When it came time for me to buy a car, though, that industry had surrendered its technological and qualitative edge to Japanese companies, attempting to compete not with innovation and quality but with import quotas and government subsidy.  The only new car I’ll ever buy was purchased in 1985, a Honda Civic wagon.  In later conversations with my mom, I’d talk about my disgust with the American auto industry and its failure to manufacture cars that met the quality and emissions standards of the Japanese cars.  She steadfastly castigated my assertions, and averred that the guys running Honda and Toyota were the same guys that were shooting at her high school friends who were sent to the Pacific theater.  It was hard to press my factual argument against her passionate and visceral position.
  • The joke she never tired of telling: A tipsy fellow is using a shortcut through a graveyard to get home from his watering hole when he comes upon a freshly-dug open grave, dirt piled to the side. As he approaches, he hears the plaintive cries of what is certainly a fellow inebriate who has fallen into the excavation, “Help! I’m so cold!”  The first fellow staggers carefully to the edge of the excavation and says, “Well no wonder you’re cold - you’ve kicked off all your dirt!” and proceeds to push the adjacent dirt into the hole.
  • Mom went to Ohio State after graduating from high school, with an idea of pursuing speech and/or journalism.  She ran headlong into swarms of GI-Bill veterans who were flooding campuses, and found her classes dominated by them.  She became intimidated as the faculty began to cant the classes to the GI’s, and recalled more than one professor addressing the women in the increasingly male-dominated classes as “pursuing their MRS degrees”.She met my dad (a GI-Bill vet) at OSU, they married and I was conceived in view of Ohio Stadium.  I think she always regretted not advancing to a degree, but the times were what they were, and she became a more typical 5os stay-at-home mom.  She wasn’t bitter, but I think she wanted more than she got from her college experience.
  • My parents were lifelong registered Republicans in Ohio, and it shaped my early political outlook.  I remember wearing Nixon/Lodge pins to class in the 6th grade in 1960 and, in my first election as a legal voter, I selected Richard Nixon over George McGovern, to my eternal shame.As the years progressed, Mom continued to cleave to the ideal of the progressive conservative that was never dominant in the Republican party, but that was at least prominent in its rhetoric.  A church-going woman, she became increasingly disgusted by the ideological poisoning of politics by religious and backwards factions, and so much of her conversation became stridently opposed to the party she was registered to vote for.  This one time in the early aughts, we were walking while she was bitching vehemently about anti-abortion Republicans that dominated Ohio politics, and I asked her why she was still registered as a Republican.  I honestly think it was a question she’d never posed to herself, she was so imbued with family-generated inertia.  I’m pretty sure that, within a week of that haphazard conversation, she changed her registration to Democrat and never looked back.Had she lived, she might have been the only Democratic vote in her adopted Georgia county.
  • From her neighbors Dave and Lana who lived in my grandparents’ place next door: “We were blessed to have Carol and Mickey as neighbors and as friends. Carol’s life should be an example to all of us.  Her gentleness ad selflessness was something to be admired.  Carol’s words of wisdom will remain with me as a mother and a friend. Thank you for sharing your mother with us! : (Mom:) Don’t worry about what your house looks like..invite people in”.
  • Watch this space…

I’m ready to go

My mom’s dying.  Well, she’s been dying for 10 or 15 years, in a dilettantish fashion, saddled with COPD and teasing death with bouts of pneumonia, ICU camp-outs and similar viral adventures.  But then last month she received a diagnosis of metastasized lung-cancer, and it’s taken a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

She’d been living in our childhood home in Perrysburg, Ohio, the one my parents built and moved into so proudly in 1961, and heretofore she’s insisted that she was leaving it feet-first.  Last spring she had a pneumonia episode that convinced her that, contrary to those assertions, she’d like to “have someone to hug me” when these episodes occur.  She’s had great neighbors on both sides who shoveled her walks when it snowed and looked after her and in general were model children, but I guess it started to matter that they weren’t HER children.

So in July we, my two younger brothers and I, began work to move her out of the house and into, eventually, a nice adult independent living facility near my youngest brother in the north Atlanta area.

I moved from northwest Ohio to Seattle in the fall of 1974, not necessarily to sever ties to the place or the people, but to establish my own ecosystem unburdened by expectations and close observation, but I always felt my parents’ place in Perrysburg as an anchorage.  Not a place that I would return to live necessarily, even in extremis, but something more archival, a memory that I could always illuminate with a visit or even a phone call.

The physical act of going through the house and saying goodbye to familiar stuff was filled with angst, but not unexpected angst.  My mom had resolutely pruned dunes of stuff in the attic and basement.  What really drove my emotional response was the fact that Mom and her house was the last link to a geographical and cultural touchstone that five (or more?) generations of my forebears had inhabited.  There were fields that my great-grandfather had hunted with my dad, places where my dad found Indian arrowheads and artifacts, generations of headstones with my surname displayed prominently, and the more distinctly-layered experience of my personal recollection - the swimming pool, places where Betsy and I had parked the car for sweet intimacy.  And once Mom moved, I’d have no concrete reason to return to northwest Ohio, and that tribal presence, which I still in some way felt after 40 years away, would no longer have its physical anchor.

We did Herculean labor and got the house ready for a furnishing auction and property sale over a 5-day weekend, and my SIL drove my mom south to Atlanta as the rest of us dispersed.  The movers arrived in Atlanta with the furniture that Mom had chosen to keep, and her new life of bridge and books and conversation seemed ready to begin.

Then, a couple weeks later, she fell ill, and a trip to a hospital hinted at, then proved, her cancer diagnosis.  Since then, we’ve been stepping through this journey of dying.  She’s still hanging in her independent living facility, aided by my brother and sister-in-law, hospice angels and home health-care folks.

Betsy and I flew here last month to ostensibly say goodbye, and she was able to walk to the car to go out for dinner and reminisce convivially.  It’s not easy to engage in a frank conversation with someone about their certain death, but Mom was kinda philosophical and said, perhaps to reassure me that I could talk about it, that she felt she’s had a good life, and that, in her words, “I’m ready to go.”

I flew to Atlanta today, as she had said she’d like to see me again, and things have deteriorated, as you might expect.  She has little energy to engage me, but her mind is as sharp as it was when she was fleecing her friends playing bridge.  She sits up for 15 minutes or so and gamely talks sports or whatever, then flags and has to lie down.

This will not be news to many, but it’s the first time I’ve been exposed to this granular process of dying.  My youngest brother and his wife will be doing most of the heavy lifting due to their proximity, but I’m glad I decided to allocate one more trip, both to cleave to my mom in her humbling decline and to give my bro and SIL a weekend to hang at their Lake Hartwell redoubt before the harrowing time ahead.