2011 / Year Nine
I put on a new Doris Day CD, and I’m walking my mom back and forth, dining room to living room—42 steps—to get her some exercise. I wrap my arms around her from behind, and we stand next to my dad’s recliner. He’s eating a tomato sandwich.
I say, “What’s up? I’ve never seen you eat in here.”
“I’m waiting for a song I want to hear.”
“You know you can go right to the song you want,” I tell him.
“Or you can wait,” he says. This is the same calm response he had to his dial up Internet connection. Each time I complain about his slow computer he says, “Where do I gotta be?” I love it when my historically impatient father schools me in patience.
I say, “What song?”
“Until the End of Time.”
My dad has always been a sentimental guy who goes to mush when he hears a song he likes or reads a Father’s Day card or watches a touching TV program. When I was a kid, he got teary over every Kodak commercial or pretty much any “Walton’s” or “Little House on the Prairie” episode. Since my mom got sick, he carefully chooses the most loving birthday cards for his kids and grandkids. It’s how he says he loves us.
I settle my mom onto the couch, and I sit beside her.
“This is it,” he announces.
“You’ve got to be quiet,” I tell Mom.
She covers her mouth with her hand. “What if I have to laugh?” she says. She lets out a little giggle.
When the music starts, she says, “Oh, I LOVE this song.”
She sings along. “Long as stars are in the blue, long as there’s a spring, a bird to sing, I’ll go on loving you.”
My dad chews his sandwich.
“Roses bloom?” she yells over the song. “I can’t hear what the words are.”
I say, “Just listen then.”
“Each mountain disappears?” she says after Doris Day sings the line. “Holy cow!”
I have never heard her use that expression before in my life. I bust up laughing and she laughs too.
I’m afraid my mom and I ruined this moment for my dad, but he can put his CD on again when I’m gone and my mom’s asleep.
“Well,” my dad says, “time for my nap.”
Later at home, I look up the Doris Day lyrics. How appropriate for my dad. He’s living it:
Till the end of time,
Till the wells run dry,
and each mountain disappears,
I’ll be there for you, to care for you,
through laughter and through tears.
I wonder if he ever suspected, 66 years ago when he started to fall in love with my mother (the little neighbor girl with curly hair) that it would come to this.
I don’t remember when I started to call her “mama.” It just came out of my mouth one day when I was washing Mom’s hair or dressing her. I used to call her Virgie, until Geralynn said, “No wonder she doesn’t know you’re her daughter—you don’t call her ‘mom.’”
She was always “mom” or “ma”—never a mommy—to all of her kids. Somehow now “mama” just seems appropriate. After all, I’m caring for her as I would a baby.
As my mom becomes less and less lucid, some of her lines bring me to tears.
“I have one and a half boyfriends,” my mom says one day when Geralynn and I are giving her a bath.
Each time Geralynn pushes Mom around the block in her wheelchair, which she uses fulltime now, Mom says to her, “Let me push for awhile. You must be getting tired.”
Mom and I look at photographs of my older siblings when they were babies and toddlers. “Those babies have the chubbies,” she says.
Later she says, “Look how cute these little kids are. It shaves my heart.”
I laugh and laugh. “Do you know what I mean?” she asks. She puts her hand over her heart.
“Yes, I do,” I say.