2010 / year eight
All through the winter, this is our Saturday ritual: I arrive at 11a.m. and wake Mom, get her fed, and call my sister if I think Mom is well enough for a bath. Geralynn lives just two blocks away and pops in to visit my parents many times throughout the week. She is the one my dad calls if he can’t get my mom to come in from outside or if his car is stuck in the snowy driveway or if he has an extra dozen eggs to share. She is his lifeline, and I’ve often thought that he could not have kept my mom at home this long without having Ger so close.
Ger and I catch up on our week while our mom splashes in the tub, a scenario that is no longer strange to either of us. We talk about our kids—all adults now.
While we chat, Mom interrupts us to ask, “Why did he do that?” Or “I remember that guy.” She almost sounds like she’s part of our conversation. We give her generic answers: “You know how that goes” or “Whatya gonna do about it?”
“Oh yeah,” Mom always says.
Our mom is in the tub, wiggling her red painted toenails. “Where did THESE come from?” she says, and Ger and I laugh. I’ve been painting her toes with the same bright polish for six months. Ger says, “Maybe you should take the polish off.”
“They’re too entertaining,” I tell her.
“What are?” my mom asks.
“Your beautiful red toenails.”
She says, “I don’t know where they came from.” We laugh harder.
We each take hold of one arm to get Mom out of the bath tub. I think it’s a miracle each time we get her safely on the bath mat.
Mom stands there with a daughter on either side holding her up, and we towel her off. Ger says, “Doesn’t this remind you of being at the car wash?”
We laugh and laugh and my mom joins in. Each Saturday Ger sings, “Working at the car wash,” as we dry off Mom. Maybe for the rest of my life whenever I get my car washed, I will think of bathing my mom.
After Ger leaves, my mom sits in the living room in her robe while her parts dry off completely. I lotion her face and arms and legs, while she focuses on her 11 X 14 wedding portrait on the wall, a close up of her and my dad.
“Look at those people,” she says to me. “I think I know them.”
“It’s you and Joe,” I say, what I always say.
“No, it looks like a young couple, but I bet they know me.”
“They do,” I play along.
I help her up to get dressed.
“Let me just say hello to those people.” She often thinks her wall photos are real people, but she’s never done this before. I walk her over to the photo.
“Do you know us?” she asks the couple in the photograph. She waits.
I’m standing behind her, considering whether I should try to throw my voice so it sounds like the young woman in the photo is answering.
“How long are you staying here?” she asks the photo couple.
Seconds go by. I don’t know what to do.
“They’re not saying anything,” she says to me. I tell her, “You know how young couples are: they just like to be with each other.”
She nods, and I lead her away.
I visit my mom after work two afternoons a week. Today I find her sitting in her wheelchair at the dining room table. Before I have my coat off, she tells me, “I’m really worried today.”
“You don’t have to worry about anything,” I say.
“What I’m worried about is how are we going to get something to eat?”
“Who is ‘we’?” I ask.
“The whole world,” she says.
She looks around the dining room. “We like it here. We’ll probably never leave. It’s sure a lot different here than when we were little.”
She eats breakfast around 11 each morning at the dining room table. We push her wheelchair up to the table where she can see our recent family picture, a 20 X 24 portrait.
“That lady, she smiles at me when I look at her,” she says. She’s talking about herself in the picture.
“Yep,” I say, “she’s a nice lady.”
“They are all nice people. They smile so nice. Betcha they’re waiting for me to wave at them.” She waves dramatically at the photo on the wall across from her.
She says, “I like this town. It’s really nice.”
Another day I sit at the same dining room table with my dad as my mom naps in the livingroom. I ask how he’s holding up. Before his words are out, my dad’s bottom lip is trembling. I pat my dad’s back as he cries.
This past year all of us have just assumed forward motion, keep on doing for my mom day after day. It’s wearing us down, particularly my dad, who only escapes to go to the grocery store or to church. He could visit friends or go to his kids’ houses, but he won’t go anywhere without his wife. Every day—many times over—he tries to convince my mom that this is her house and these are her things. She still knows him, but we all know that won’t last much longer.
We sit together at the table, and I hand him used napkins as he cries. He doesn’t have to say anything. I know.
On the way home, I realize I’d rather wipe butts than tears.