I am Dorothy

back up of Mom's story

Home | Patti Livingston Remembers | Talking to Mom | Dorothy Raitt Lykes

February 22nd

 

February 14, 2004

 

     Valentine’s Day.  Shortly before leaving for the International Club Ball, I called Mom’s room at the rehabilitation center in Scottsdale.  Debbie answered the phone.  “This may be it,” she warned.  “Don’t let this spoil your evening.”

     “Don’t let this spoil your trip,”  Mom had said after Richard died.  She had given us $4000 for the week at a Club Med in Ibiza.  We decided to continue as planned, rather than attend Richard’s funeral.

     It was coincidence that Debbie was in the room.  Mom had been moved to the hospital.  Debbie had stopped by to pick up Mom’s clothes.  “I will take that as a sign.  You may be right,”  I told her. 

     Driving to the ball, I talked to Hubert about the possibility: my mother might die.  “I don’t want to spend all evening talking about this,”  he complained. 

     “Alright.  Just until we get there.” 

     Hanging up our coats in the entrance to the Schweizerhof ballroom, I put those thoughts out of my mind.  Hubert and I dined and danced and had a lovely evening.  Just once, during the next to the last dance, it hit me:  Mom might die.  My face fell.  I pushed the thought away.

 

February 15, 2005

 

     One year ago today, the telephone rang, Sunday morning, 8 a.m.  “Your mother is dying,”  Dad said.  “Debbie has been trying to reach you for hours.”

     We returned home late (2 a.m.).  Hubert must have taken the phone off.  He likes to sleep in.

     I was unable to react quickly.  If I could have, I would have thrown a few clothes into a suitcase, had Hubert drive me to the train for the airport, and flown that day.  Instead, I went back to bed.  We spent the next couple of hours me curled into the fetal position beside him while he dozed.  That afternoon, I used the internet to book flights from Zurich to Phoenix on Delta and American.  In the evening, I packed.  Into the suitcase, I placed a brass dish hand-crafted by Mark, a Happy Meal clothe tiger from long ago who wears a vest hand-sewn by Micha, and a ‘Charmin’ soft toy bear from me for Mom.  The next morning, I would leave.

 

***

     I spoke to Debbie on the phone this past Sunday.  I told her about injuring my knee skiing in Saas Fe last Wednesday.  I told her my story about the miracle of receiving perfect vision, and my visit to the eye doctor who said,  “I will write down, ‘Big Question Mark.’ ” after which I said, “Then I’ll say,  ‘Thank you, Mom!’  My mom can work miracles.”

     “I wish I knew how she did that, from there to here.”  She glanced over one shoulder to the ceiling.  “I could use that for my patients.”

     “I think,”  I told her proudly,  “it’s love.”

     “Can you still see perfectly?”  Debbie asked.

     I tried reading the small print on an envelope on the coffee table.  “It’s gone now.”

     “So you got perfect vision which lasted for a week and a half.  Hmmm.  That leads into my story.”  I smiled and raised my eyebrows: another Debbie miracle, like the butterfly fluttering in front of her face after she said,  “Give me a sign, Mom,” while cleaning the sheds?  “I have skin cancer.  Two kinds, squeamish – is that how you say it? –  and basel.”

     “Squeamish.  That’s what Dad had.”

     “I have surgery on March 8th.  Lisa’s coming down.  Dad said he would.”

     “It’s good Lisa is coming.  If she weren’t, I would come.  You shouldn’t have to go through this alone.”  She didn’t react to my suggestion, just like she never replied to my query,  “I have a flight coupon: when would be a good time for me to visit you in Phoenix between now and March 17th?”   (Maybe she never received the email?)

     “Don’t come if your going to be like last year,”  she said in 1999. 

     And then there was the year they didn’t want me to come if I was bringing my teenaged children.  “I don’t like him,”  Mom said about Mark. 

     “I’m not coming without an invitation, Mom,” I told my mother the Tuesday before she started to die.  It was our last really good conversation, and the first time in months she had been so talkative. 

     “You’re like me,”  she responded.  “You don’t like to be rejected and ignored.  I’ll talk to Debbie.”

     “A year ago today,”  Debbie said,  “I had my last conversation with Mom.  Then she went into a coma.”  It was the second time I have heard Debbie say Mom went into a coma.  ‘Why do you say that?  Mom never went into a coma,’ I wanted to say, but we don’t have that kind of honesty anymore.  Too many things have gone down – beginning one year ago today.

     I told Debbie that I was excited that the end of my moratorium on writing is fast approaching: February 25th, 2005.  “There is so much I want to write about Mom.  I’ve been doing research; reading the letters she sent me in college; reading the pink notebooks she kept for me.  She was amazing!”

     “I know.  I have notebooks filled with her letters, here.  Each one is a lesson.”

     “That’s right!  The day after I injured my knee, I lay in bed all day reading the purple notebook with the clear plastic cover.  She prepared one for each of us.  You know what I mean?” 

     “Yes.”

     “It’s all in there.  So many things.  I never asked Mom how she dealt with her mother’s death.  It’s there.  She deals with it in one poem.  And I never asked about her religion.  That’s there, too: all the things she believed.  Have you read yours?”

     “No, but I’ve been going through the papers.  It’s all there.”

     “I don’t suppose I would be doing this, but I promised Mom two hours before she died that I would write a book about her.  Boy, that’s the sort of promise you ought not to make!!!  It may be a short book; maybe a very short book!  After all, she dealt with her mom in one poem!”

     “Why wait until February 25th?  Do it now.”  The spirit of Mom was in those words.  “When Mom was inspired to write a poem, she never waited.  She always went straight to the typewriter and got to work.”

     “Mom would never have approved of my moratorium.”

     “No she wouldn’t have.”

     I could feel a coolness in Debbie during this phone conversation.  Usually, she is so chipper when she recognizes my voice.  I manage to get through about once in three weeks.  “Linda!”  she exclaims.  Maybe it’s the skin cancer, or maybe I am losing her the way I have lost the rest of them.  It hurts.  When I offered to meet her on the East Coast and travel together visiting historical sights, she replied,  “You have never been interested in history, Linda.”  When I complained that I have hardly any memories of Mom as a slender young woman, she said,  “That doesn’t surprise me.  You were always centered on self.”  That is how they see me.  I see myself as continually giving and never complaining.  God knows who is right.  Maybe this story will tell.

 

***

     This is a far cry from writing Mom’s story, which is what I intended to do when I sat down today.  I wanted to follow Debbie’s instructions and begin right now, not wait until the anniversary of Mom’s death: February 25th.  My plan is: each day, from now until then, I will write up to two hours whatever I can think of about Mom, or whatever comes, like this about sibling rivalry.

 

***

     Last week, driving to Graechen in the Valise valley of Switzerland, I bathed in the glow from the miracle of perfect sight.  The dashboard was clearly visible.  I could see all the little bumps on the plastic.  At the rest stop, I could see… everything!  I could see the mountains.  Long distance vision and close up, I had perfect sight for the first time in years – a Mom/God-given miracle.  It lasted from Monday, January 24th through Wednesday, February 9th.

     I thought about Mom and God so much on the ski slopes last week; so much that I wanted to stop thinking about them.  I think once I even asked them to leave me alone.  I think after that, they did for awhile.

     I skied down a gently-sloping road all alone, the sky so blue behind the pines and drifted snow, I wanted to cry.  One tear rolled down my cheek: there is so much beauty, so much goodness in the world.

     That night, or the next, I dreamt about Mom.  We were side by side driving in a car.  “Are you dying, Mom?”  I asked.

     “Yes.”

     “Are you dying, Mom?”  I asked again.

     “Yes.” 

     Then we kissed, mouth on mouth.  In a way, it was a bit revolting.  One doesn’t.  It was the kiss I wondered if she had asked for after I smeared chapstick over her cracked, dry lips a year ago, saying,  “So your lips will be nice for kissing Norman when you see him.”  Perie Longo had asked over the phone if I had mentioned Norman.  I hadn’t.

     “Kiss,”  Mom had said.  In the abbreviated language she used while dying, I couldn’t tell whether this was a command or an echo.  I didn’t kiss her, then.  I kissed her now, in my dream.

     When I was little – this is what I am writing for – to command the memories – to coerce them to appear – she rubbed Nivea into my scalp into the part at the top of my head which had become sunburned hiking the Yosemite high country on the Seven Day Loop Trail.  Oh my mother!  I know you wore jeans rolled up to just below the knee, and a sleeveless cotton blouse, plaid, and tied in front revealing a trim, brown midriff.  You wore Redwing hiking boots with vibram lug soles: the best!  I know you were long-legged, statuesque, and beautiful.  Five foot ten!  You wore your hair in a duck tail.  Your hair was red.  I only realized this recently.  Astounded, looking at a photo from then, I exclaimed,  “Mom was a redhead!”  Is that why you always wanted little red-headed grandchildren?  Debbie and Lisa had glimmers of red in theirs.  I had none.

     Standing near the door with glass slats from the addition to our Whittier house, nearly nine months pregnant, you said, “There.”  You placed my eight-year old hand on the soft white cotton of your print dress.  “There.”  I felt it – the unborn baby’s foot or elbow or fist pushing against your belly, against the palms of my hands held under the palm of yours.

     I have been thinking about you, Mom. 

     What comes are the bad memories: our fights: the time I pounded your upper arm over and over, unable to stop until the feeling came back into the side of my fist.  Your arm became black and blue.  I was so ashamed, I never hit you again.  You stopped spanking Richard after you realized he had grown so tall that, had he wanted to, he could have beaten you up.  We used to wound each other with words, striking right to the vitals, hitting where it hurt the most.  We knew how to do that.  We were experts.  I see us in the kitchen, the island counter in between.

     Aged twenty, I returned one night, very late.  You were hysterical.  You screamed through your tears, accusing me of doing drugs.  I wasn’t.  I always became very cold, steely, when you would get like that.  That must have driven you mad.  I spent the rest of my life, my adult life, trying to make it up to you, to undo all the hurt I had caused by being such a teenager: irresponsible, thoughtless.  I wasn’t “centered on self,” as Debbie believes.  I’m sure it was the ADD which we didn’t know about then.  I just wasn’t aware.  “You could have called!”  You screamed.  “You might have been killed in a car crash, lying dead somewhere on the street!  How was I to know?!!!”  We were standing, face to face in what is now the green room.  Was that my bedroom once?  I can’t remember. 

     I suppose I will have to plow through these hurting memories before I can reach the good ones.  “Let out the bad and the good will follow,”  Mom always said. 

     There was another fight.  You were sobbing, gulping air, in the office chair behind your typewriter in the room which had become and would remain your office; previously my bedroom.  What year did that happen?  I think while I was away at college.  “Why do you do this to me?  I have high blood pressure!  I’ll have a stroke and die.  Then you’ll be sorry!”  When you were like that, I never cried.

     “Look at yourself!”  I was eleven or twelve.  You dragged me to the mirror on the door.  “See what you look like!”  I smirked into my own reflection, looking so much like my son, Mark, can look now – like he doesn’t care.  It was only my face.  But how were you to know?

     (Break to make tea with lemon and honey for my cold, take two vitamin C, 1000 mgs, brush my hair).

     Yes, the green room was mine, once, or at least, I slept there one time.  I remember waiting for you.  I was lying with the covers pulled up to my chin in the dark in the big double bed.  I had a relapse from the flu.  For the second time in two weeks, I felt like  ‘death warmed over.’  How I hoped you would open the door – and you did – letting in the golden light from the hallway, the sounds from the rest of the family enjoying their dinner in the kitchen.  You came in to comfort me, to see how I was doing.  You put a hand on my forehead to check my fever.  You rinsed the washclothe in the bathroom, wrung it out, arranged it, cool and damp against my scalp.

     “You always made me feel safe,” I told you in our last conversation, two hours before you died.  It was the best conversation of our life.  “Mmmhmm,” you answered.

     “My Mom said, ‘mmhmm,’ too!” Charlotte Nacht told me when I told her about it.  Is this something dying mother’s do?

     The piano was in the green room when it was my bedroom.  “You can’t talk to Linda when she comes home from school until she’s play the piano,”  Mom said.  Returning from Arcadia High School after eight hours of school, I would shut myself in and play.  When I came out, I felt better.  At night, George, our cat, knew to jump onto the keys and walk the length of the keyboard.  I bolted upright in bed, jumped up, and opened the door to let her out.

     It was in this room Mom told me,  “Don’t ever lie, Linda.  It’s written all over your face.”

     “You have memories?”  I asked Debbie on Sunday. 

     “Oh yes, lots of them.  Yosemite.  …” she listed some, but I have already forgotten which ones.  What are mine – my starting points?  How can I reach some semblance of who my mother was?  Did I never look into her eyes until that last time when the bather pushed me into her line of sight, when I forced myself to smile – perhaps the last thing she ever saw on this earth – a stupidly grinning Linda? – before she closed her eyes for the last time  “Why aren’t you crying?”  she asked a few days before she died.  Maybe she would have asked, if she still could have spoken,  “What are you grinning for?  I’m dying!”

     It was as though I had never seen what color her eyes were before, or were they only that color just before the end: soft green, opaque – or was it translucent? – the color of the sea lightly frothed.

     Of course I couldn’t see the color of her eyes!  I was sitting in the back seat!  She was driving.  I remember so well the way her hair was brushed toward the back from each side, then up in the ducktail.  The back of her head was what I saw when she corrected my grammar driving to Huntington beach:  “Never say ‘ain’t.’ ”  and, “It is I.”  I suppose I was looking down into the food on my plate when she served us our dinner – did she ever serve us?  I think we helped ourselves – not up into her eyes, not knowing how much I would one day wish I had looked up and memorized them, looked into those eyes I didn’t even know were green to say,  “Thank you, Mom.”  Did I ever say ‘Thank you?’

     “I’m home!” I cried, every time I returned after absences of many months. 

     “Linda’s home!”  she cried from the other end of the house.  It was always good to come home.  Until her death, if ever I asked,  “Where is home?”  it was Mom’s house in Phoenix.

     When I was a young woman, I could only stay three days before we would start to fight.  I was in my twenties.  Why couldn’t I make my own bed without being reminded? 

     In the past weeks, reading through the notebooks she made and kept for me all these years, notebooks I piled into the two 70-pound suitcases and one 50-pound backpack – all I may ever inherit – to bring home to Switzerland after she died, I read the letters we wrote, planning and anticipating her visit to me in the spring of my freshman year at Raymond College.  Hers are so full of hope; so full of joy.  This was to be a long-awaited, cherished reunion.  She wanted so much to share who she was with me.  I see now, in those letters, how hard she tried.  Did I even read them?  She arrived.  The visit was a disaster.  There was a fight in my dorm room.  I split and went walking for hours.  I was sobbing.  I encountered a callous youth who held a dead bird behind his back and pulled it out to frighten me, or was the bird just lying in some park on the grass?  Poor Mom.  What was she doing?  What was she thinking all those hours while I was gone?  She had come so far just to see me.  It was parent’s day.  Seated at picnic tables, teachers and parents and students together, David Lyon, the teacher I adored told me,  “Your mother is a poor piece of work.”  And I – oh youth be damned – I told her that!  Was that what started our fight?  How could I?!  She was not the poor piece of work; he was.  I was.  No one was.

     My loyalties were twisted in those days.  How I regret, now, that I found boys more interesting and gave them more importance than my mother – boys who are long-since forgotten, or if remembered, remembered with the slight taste of bitterness: they weren’t worth it; nothing important from them is left.  Why did I spend so many hours and years paying attention to them instead of to her?  “Linda is boy crazy,”  she said.  Only now, seeing Micha still together with her first boyfriend after three-and-a-half years, and Mark and his colleagues who have never had a girlfriend, though they are nineteen, and Kim and Kelly who, as far as I know, have never had a boyfriend, does my boy craziness begin to seem strange.

     I tried to make it up to her.  I guess I succeeded, in her eyes if not my own.  “If I should die, have no regrets.  You have done everything a daughter should do,” or was it, “been everything a daughter should be?”  That was a few years ago, maybe when she was 75.

     I never knew (so thoroughly have I forgotten) that I told her about “Demian,” the book my college roommate, Maureen Corcoran recommended which meant so much to me.  Mom read it!  She wrote in her letter how she could picture me!  She was so much more grown up than I.  And I was so – it wasn’t thoughtless, though it seems that way – forgetful.  She called to the dormitory in my freshman year.  It is clear from the letters, we agreed that she could reach me on Tuesday afternoons.  She hadn’t been able to reach me for two weeks.  A girl found me on the ground floor and said, “Your mother’s on the phone.  She’s crying.”  She was so upset.  Why hadn’t I called?  Me?  I hadn’t thought of her.  Poor Mom.  What an awful daughter I was.

     I reread ‘Demian’ last week in two days.  It is about good and evil, and finding a god which unites them both.  It asserts that the most important thing we can do, our reason for being, the basis for our personal religion, is the search for self: to be the most yourself that it is possible for you to be.  I did not realize, then, that this was what she was striving for, too.  I guess I thought the struggle to achieve your self is the privilege of youth.  She wrote, “You and I share the same search for self and truth.  I have only known three people who do: you, Janet, and Karl Seethaler, who, even though he is dead, I still count.”

     In my freshman year, she gave me my first book of poetry:  ‘This is My Beloved.’  I read about sex and ripe, juicy plums.  On the phone one Tuesday afternoon, I told her, “Knowing what I know now, I’m glad you gave me that book.”  Much later, she told me, “From what you said, I should have guessed” (that I was by then no longer a virgin).  On my next trip home, she asked.  I had never learned how to lie.  I told her the truth and went back to college.  I guess she was afraid of the consequences if I got pregnant and Dad found out that she had known, so she confessed it to him.  She told me that he replied, “If she gets pregnant, will get her through this, then ship her off to New York and be done with her.”  I felt betrayed.  Some time in those years, I remember sitting on the asbestos roof or our house – no one talked about asbestos being dangerous, then.  I climbed the grapefruit tree in the patio, then onto a shed, and jumped from the shed to the roof where I often went to watch the sun set.  I remember thinking, “I hate them.  If I never see my mom or my dad again, I won’t be sorry.”  Is it possible we can be like that when we are young? 

     When I was home from college, I handed mom my Richard Harris’ ‘MacArthur Park’ album and told her it reminded me of Ben.  She played it over the sound system and really listened to the words.  “I didn’t understand how much you cared for him,” she said.

     “If you ever have children, don’t ever expect any thanks from them, ever.”  She said.  I think of those words as a clear and rational warning, but maybe they were a cry of pain.

     Why can I not remember her face, young, beautiful.  Why can I not visualize her eyes gazing into my own?  Will I, when this book is done?  “I will write a book about you,” I promised, two hours before she died.  “Mmmhmm.” She said.

      I told Debbie that on Sunday.  “Mom wouldn’t hold you to that,”  she said.

     “Oh yes she would!”

     But she wouldn’t.  Mom would only want, only ever wanted, what made any of us happy.  She was always there for us: a lioness. 

     Once we were in Carmel together.  We were in a little shop.  I selected four wine glasses made from glass with colors like the rainbow sheen of oil on water, and a large brass keyring.  She paid for all.  One by one, the glasses broke.  One slid from the banister of my Seven Trees apartment, landed in one piece on the wooden floor of the small balcony of my junior one bedroom apartment – ah luck! – then rolled, and I, frozen, too slow, watched in awe and horror as it reached the edge, saw it growing smaller and smaller, heard the tiny tinkle as it shattered on the blacktop of the parking lot below.  The brass key ring is with me still.  I thought – oh woe! – that it was in my purse stolen from the handle bar of my shopping cart in Köniz in 1993 or 4, but it was beneath the driver’s seat of the car, thank God!

     When I waited too long to begin my school term papers, she sat at the typewriter until one a.m. and typed as fast as I could dictate.  After few hours of sleep, maybe four, she would wake me up.  I took the paper to Arcadia High School, turned it in and got an A; thanks Mom.

     When I came down with Valley Fever, I couldn’t wait ten more minutes until she would arrive.  I had to call.  She came immediately.  “I didn’t understand, until I saw how sick you were,”  she said.  Wasn’t that the best thing in the world, Mom pulling up to the curb in the station wagon, opening the door, helping me in, looking concerned.

     Of course there’s the memory of my head under the faucet in the bath tub in Whittier in the fifties, and, “You won’t let me drown, Mom?  You won’t let me drown?”

     “I won’t let you drown” – told to her after, “You always made me feel so safe.”

     And, handing me the fly swatter, “For every fly you kill, you are killing one million fly babies.”  Funny, at the time, that chore made me feel so proud.  Now, I would open the window and chase the fly outside.  These flies were outdoors already, resting innocently on the yellow wall of our house, I can still see the bumps in the plaster.

     We were huddled in the cave in the High Sierras during a lightning storm, Will Kneely’s olive green pant legs appearing, crawling out together to his, “That is the most dangerous place you could be.”  She was frightened near the top, looking over the edge – her fear of heights passed on to me in that moment.  I must have been twelve.  Younger than that, you couldn’t go on the Loop Trail Hike.

     She braided my hair into two pig tails, it must have been every morning before school.  And later, pulled it into a tight pony tail at the back of my head, every day to my tears and screams.  She cut my bangs until I could cut them myself.  Later, a teenager, “Would you cut my hair, Mom?” I asked.  We would go outdoors onto the back patio.  I would stand with my freshly-washed hair combed straight.  Mom worked at the back with a razor, the razor rat-rat-ratting my hair, the locks falling into a pile of scythe-shaped curls onto the cement between her toes and my heels.  I think my favorite memory is standing on the coffee table or a chest of drawers in the living room.  “Turn,” she said, and I would turn 90 degrees, “turn.”  She held the pins in her mouth, and I was afraid, every time, for her; that she would swallow one – that was when I was still a child, before I became an awful, ungrateful teenager.  Those were years we had it good together!  Except for the one time I said, “I’m bored,” and she said, “Your neurotic.”  I didn’t even know what ‘neurotic’ meant – only found out a couple of years ago that it means having ungrounded fears, and yes, I did, but that’s not what she meant to say.

     Oh Mother, my mother.  How I love you.  How I wish I had stayed your darling child.  How I wish I had always been good, and shown you how much I loved you!  “I know you know I love you.  I know you love me.” 

     “Mmhmm.  Mmhmm,” you said.  Two hours before you died.  I was not too late.

     What else?  Memories.  You let me have a party on my birthday.  It must have been my senior year.  Jim Butler was there, and Margie.  Instead of being a good hostess, Margie and I holed up in the bathroom adjusting our makeup, fixing our hair, gossiping.  “Stop primping and get out there to your guests!”  Mom scolded.

     Thoughtless, self-centered, forgetful.  Yes, that was me.

     Enough for today.  Tomorrow is February 16th.  The day I flew to Phoenix via Texas.  Tomorrow I will search for more memories.  Maybe I will find them.  Maybe I will, in time, fulfill my promise:  “I will write a book about you.”  Mmhmm.  “Mom would never hold you to that.”  Mmhmm. 

     Do you mean yes?  Mom?  Mmhmm.

 

 

The year off from writing turned me into a reader.  I have read more books this year, and magazines, and fliers arriving in the mail from the post or the cable company or insurance, than in the previous ten.  I don’t think this well-established habit will go away.  And, when the time to write again arrived, it was, like riding a bike, as though there had been no interruption.  So ist es richtig.  Thanks Mom.

 

 

 

I like the way this is working.  I began the year from Mom’s death writing about her.  I will write now until February 25th.  Instead of beginning to write again on that date, I will, I hope, finish this work about Mom on that day.  Yes. That feels right. 

 

February 16, 2005

     A year ago today, I rode the train to Zürich.  By now, 10:31 a.m., I was in the air on my way to Dallas.  I took a Mom’s Commonplace book with me and read what she wrote about Janet, me, and others.  Marjorie wanted a copy of what Mom wrote about her, but Mom hadn’t written about her.

     Already this morning, I have been to the Röntgen Institute at Brunnhofweg 45 and had an MRI on my knee.  Holding still for twenty minutes seems to be the hardest thing in the world!  Lying on my back, leg in the tube, Küschelrock piped in through a headphone, I thought of that nap oh so long ago, Whittier, California, snuggeled up beside my mother in her big bed in the afternoon:  “Yes you can take a nap with me, but you have to hold still.”  How hard that was then.  How hard it is now!

     Lying there, listening to the crankings and moanings and groanings of the enormous machine, I pretended it was the noises from the motor of a boat, at first the small boat transporting Debbie and me to Catalina Island early one morning for what???  Not scuba diving.  Then, it was the mid-sized ocean liner, 1991, with Mom to view the total eclipse of the sun. 

     I have spent so much time with Mom’s spirit this past year, learning to speak her language, recognizing all the ‘little miracles’ she promised (and has delivered!), I guess I moved kind of far away from Mom in her physical life.  I had not anticipated this, really, but work on this ‘book’ (said with a smile, because what sort of book will this give?), is bringing her back to me.  I looked forward all the way home (Hubert took time off from work to pick me up and drive me), to sitting down at the typewriter (Freudian slip), computer, and let it all flow into me and back out again through my fingers, keys, to the monitor… here.  Mom.  Memories.  Here.

     And yet, when I reached home, I spent from 10 until 10.30 tidying up the kitchen, putting away the sorted socks, clearing papers from the buffet, even picking a rubber band off the floor and carrying it (on tired knee) to the kitchen.

     It reminds me of a letter Mom wrote in the forties (before I was born!) or was it the fifties (after I was born), listing all the things she had accomplished in that one day.  It was astounding.  What energy she had!!!  The list included canning X- glasses (an astounding number) of some kind of … could it be? … jam?  Probably fruit.  Maybe apricots.  I am sure I will come across it again one day.

     Well, is this pre-writing and procrastinating or isn’t it?  What am I afraid of.  Be still, and start seeing:

     Mom said, “Linda loves to hear herself talk.”  I don’t think that was true.  I think that’s the ADD again.

     I sure am loving to hear myself talk this morning!  Blah, blah, blah.  So what was it I saw, lying in that tube?  The table where we dined in the ship.  Mom, Richard, Brian – one time when he sat down, the back of his chair, an oval, popped out.  “Poor Brian.”  (Lisa’s voice explaining the cracked toilet seat in her and Bruce’s & Velda’s former home).  “It is the second time.”  Mom paid $3000 per person for us.  She paid an enormous amount to the photographer to have family portraits and individual portraits made.  We dressed up.  Mom and I shared a stateroom.  I was so honored when I heard I would get to bunk with her.  Who was with Brian?  Kelly at the table.  Debbie and Lisa, but I don’t remember them.  I have that entire trip.  I can reread it and look for Mom passages.  I also have a 17-page story of the Santa Barbara Writer’s conference I can read again.  It’s the one which caused Irene Ritter of the Berne Writer’s group to say, “You can’t write that about your mother.”  As far as I can recall, all I said was that her breathing in the night frightened me.  Mom and I always shared a room at the writer’s conference.  Debbie was with Lisa, I guess.  One year, we were next door to Janet and Wendy. 

     I loved those writer’s conferences.  I went three times.  Mom always paid for everybody.  Now that it’s been and gone, I wish, that last year, I had gone to all of Perie’s workshops so I could sit next to Mom those extra times.  Instead, I felt that I needed to experience a bit more of the breathe of the conference, and attended this and that workshop with a smorgasbord of teachers.  One father’s day at the Yellow House restaurant, we saw Jonathan Winter’s dining alone, sans son.  Mom stopped and talked to him.  Entering the building, her hand on my shoulder, for balance.  Her dear hand!  She ordered three egg omelet made with egg whites.  That was before I was conscious of cholesterol to the extent I am now.  We ate so much, as much at breakfast as during three daily meals in Switzerland.  I gained 8 pounds in one week, one year.  The year after my heart trauma – 1998 – she grew impatient when I was so dizzy at the Japanese restaurant.  The food on the black enamel try in front of me was practically swimming.  And one year, we went into the ocean together.  I got carried away floating on my back, riding the swells up and down.  When I turned around, Mom was making her way toward the shore, but when she reached shallow water, there was not enough to support her, and she fell onto her side.  Before I could reach her, five men had gathered around her and were helping her up.  She was my responsibility! 

     Marianne Michel just called and we have talked for a long time. 

     I am thinking of the trip to Nepal in 1978.  Debbie and I lived in the Shakti hotel.  Mom flew into Kathmandu (I have no memory of picking her up at the airport, though we must have), and we went trekking.  I remember the day that the trail came to a steep, narrow place and we had to traverse a rock face which was wet from a waterfall.       Mom was heavy.  It seems that I see her in a lime-green pants suit pausing in her decent of a stone stairway, a walking cane in her hand.  When we reached a stretch where the trail crossed partway up a stone face, Lopsang maneuvered ahead of Mom, kneeling down, placing the toe of her boot on the next foothold, showing her exactly where to step.  After she made it, I thought, “Lopsang saved my mother’s life!”  Out of gratitude, I became his lover.

     I love to read Mom’s poem about trekking in Nepal.  What a magnificent experience!

     Driving across the desert, riding in Brian’s car, somewhere in the dry mountains between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, he talked about an ambition he once had to make a book with photographs out of Mom’s Nepal poems.  No, that was when he told me that Dad gave him his love of trains and planes, a love he which has stood him in good stead his entire life.

     Was it Debbie who wanted to make the book with Mom?  No, I think it is Brian.  I will mention it to him.  (I did.  February 21st, he answered that he is planning on doing this when he completes his other projects).

     In the Shakti hotel in Kathmandu, Mom had her own room.  Carol Carbaugh came to visit, and I showed her into Mom’s room.  She sat down on Mom’s bed while telling that she had genital crabs.  Mom NEVER forgot or forgave that!  Her opinion of Carol Carbaugh was lower than low for the rest of her life!

    

 

     After she died, a collection of walking canes stands in the corner of her office, way in the back, out of reach, between the bookshelves and the gray filing cabinets.

     In the nineties, I visited Mom every year.  A couple of years, I sent the children to Gramps and he took them on two or three week long, expensive vacations to visit amusement parks or to go water skiing with Bill.  I spent those weeks in Phoenix, working with Mom to clear the counter and desk tops in her office.  Time after time, I appeared at the front of her desk and stood, patiently waiting for instructions.  She amazed me with her mental competence.  “Take this paper and file it in the ‘Linda’ folder, top drawer, filing cabinet beside the rolltop desk (in the family room).”  “A place for everything and everything in its place,” she used to say in the fifties, or sixties.  Like a busy little bee, obediently, I buzzed between her office and the place I was supposed to go.  “Put this through the shredder.”  Dad had told her she had to have a shredder.  I shredded old bank books, deposit slips and the like.  “Second drawer, toward the front, in the so-and-so folder.”  She had created folders for any author you cold imagine.  “Make it straight.”  She wanted the books binders even, the pink notebooks, too.  With immense care, I placed the labels she would create with the label-maker Richard had given her onto the pink notebooks.

     “Is this o.k.?”  I held the notebook up for inspection.

     “Perfect!”

     She always praised me.  She made me feel like she always believed in me. “Linda is good.  Truly good.”  She wrote in the Commonplace book.  I read it again flying over (a year ago today). 

     When I was small and the aunts and cousins were taking a walk around the block, the shabbier one on Grandma’s side of the street in Santa Ana, I heard her voice behind me: “Linda hasn’t stepped on a single crack!”  I was doing that on purpose, but she said it as though it were a natural talent and a complete accident, or so it seemed to me: the ultimate praise.  How my heart swelled with pride.

     In that last summer, when I went over two weeks early to help Debbie get the house ready for Mom’s 80th birthday, (and arrived with a frozen shoulder from lifting the 70-pound suitcase), Mom wasn’t talking much.  I felt like she had become retarded.  I complained to Dad and Elaine.  I didn’t understand that this was part of her dying.  We sat side by side at the breakfast table and she praised and ate the sausages or eggs or avocado and bacon sandwich Debbie had prepared, but we didn’t have “conversation.”  Nevertheless, when I went into her bedroom in the morning between 6 and 7 a.m. to check if she was awake, whenever she was, she said, “Let’s work on your book.” 

     “Did you make that change?  I don’t think you did.”

     “I made the change, Mom.  Do you want me to read it to you?”

     Reading over the editing suggestions after my return to Switzerland, I knew she wasn’t retarded.  Every change was right on.  Her judgement was infallible.

     “You are the best editor I ever had,” she told me many times in years gone by.

     That last summer visit, I had to take off the compression bandage.  When I unwrapped it, and saw her leg like the terraced slopes of the mountainsides in Nepal, I got an instant headache.  I was embarrassed to bring Hubert to Phoenix for the last several years because of the smell of urine in Mom’s bedroom.  Only that last year did I discover, it was the waste basket beside her bed she used as a portable toilet.  Once I knew the source, I emptied and rinsed it every day, and her bedroom stopped stinking.  But she dribbled because she didn’t wear underpants, and the little spots had grown together into a pathway marking her passage along the carpet.  I told her over the phone to walk the length of the house five times back and forth each day, to stay fit.  This was after we had stopped going to the pool for her water aerobics class with Dan.  She would pay the five or fifteen dollars for my visit (I can’t remember how much).  Those visits ended after Dan retired, and after Debbie or Mom made the connection she might be catching a cold or flu at the pool.  Year after year, the cold or flu sent her to the hospital where she stayed for days – I’ve written a story about one of those visits – with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and once misdiagnosed congestive heart failure.  “We have strong hearts,” Richard said.  Mom must have, to have survived so many years in such poor health.  I raged, inwardly, at her weight – guilty for everything which plagued her.  But when she came to visit me in Baldingen, circa 1991, and I tried feeding her small portions of non-fattening, healthy food, it was as though I was trying to starve her.  I thought, sometimes, if I had been the one who had to care for her instead of Debbie, I would have been hard enough and cruel enough to get the weight off.  That weight!  When I see her in heaven, maybe she will tell me why she got fat.  I took her to visit a doctor in a village near Baldingen on that trip.  She was sitting on the table.  I said something about her weight, complaining, scolding her about it.  She began to cry.  I never had the heart to plague her about it again.  “Grandma’s too fat!”  Mark would complain.  He wanted only what was best for her.  “Why don’t you tell her.”

     “You can’t tell her.  It only makes her sad.  That makes her frustrated and when she’s frustrated, she eats.”

     I didn’t mean to come here with my memories. 

     Even thinking about Mom’s fat leaves me feeling disloyal. 

     One year not so many years ago, I was with her in her bedroom.  She was naked and I was pulling her underpants up over the shelf that her bottom made.  It was no easy task.  I checked the tag: size 9.  But I wear size 7!  There is no way that she is only two numbers larger than me.  So, the next time I went to Target, shopping for a new wardrobe for my kids like I did every year, I bought her size 13.  I paid for it with my own money and took it home to her.  (She usually reimbursed me for all my expenses at the end of each vacation, so I always came out ahead).  “Size 13.  You must think I am huge!”  she cried.  How could I break it to her.  She was.  She refused to wear the enormous underpants.  We compromised on size 11.  I can’t remember if I went back to Target and bought her some of those.

     When we lived in Logan, Utah from 1985 to 1989, Mom got diabetes.  Late onset diabetes, they called it.  The doctors told her that if she would lose the weight, the diabetes would go away.  “I give her five years,” Debbie said.  I think she survived fifteen.  “Debbie keeps me alive!” she said.  “My poetry keeps me alive.”

     I wrote a poem around that time and actually, with trepidation and regret, showed it to her.  I was surprised and relieved when she didn’t seem to be hurt or offended.  I had written about her weight and claimed, “I will not cry when you die.” 

     Funny thing is, I didn’t.  In the moment I entered her bedroom after Kelly had knocked softly at my (locked) door – in the green room, I felt her spirit, free now from her body.  She was joyeous!  I did not cry. 

     One trip to Logan, we were sitting at the round wooden table, a cable roll.  I was preparing apple pie from the apples which tasted like candy that grew on the apple tree in the back yard.  “That is one thing I never have to do again,”  Mom said.

     I know that cooking wasn’t her pleasure and joy.  She had to cook seven days a week for seven people every meal.  I never watched her cooking, so when I married at 32, I hadn’t learned to cook.  It seems to me she made large quantities and we could eat leftovers seven meals in a row.  My favorite (leftovers, too) was tamalie casserole which she prepared with hamburger meat, corn, pinto peans, I don’t know what all, but it was wonderful and I wish I had the recipe.  She also made the world’s best baked beans with ham and onions.  I especially loved the bit of pork fat floating in the sauce, and took it whenever I had the chance.  In the fifties, Mom made scrambled eggs for breakfast.  We had eggs every day.  Americans believed:  “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  My favorite was the crust.  Mom scrapped with a metal spatula, scrape scrape scrape against the black cast iron scrapping all the crumbs from the bottom of the heavy frying pan onto my plate.  When I went away for a one or two-week YMCA caravan trip, while I was gone, she sewed purple gauze curtains which Dad probably tacked onto the outward opening doors of a white wooden vanity table.  I had a fever on that trip.  Lying in my sleeping bag on the floor of Yosemite Valley abandoned by all the other kids and counselors, I don’t think I ever felt so alone and miserable in my life, so far away from home; from Mom, I was digging into my duffle bag looking for I-know-not-what and felt something soft.  Out I pulled, a rabbit’s foot.  Only Mom, my dear sweet, far away Mom, could have put it there.  Oh Mom!  I cried and cried, the tears washing my soul in wallowing misery.  What homesickness.  I got to ride in the cab of the truck instead of in back on the flat bed with slats of wood the wind blows through, into the night on the last day home.  The truck arrived in a parking lot somewhere in downtown Whittier.  Mom was waiting, and Dad, had been waiting how long?  On the blacktop, waiting, there, for me.  I stepped down from the cab of the truck and melted into her arms, pressed against her skirt, dissolving into tears.  Blinded, my face pressed against fresh clean cotton print, sobbing, I heard Billie say to Mom and Dad, “When I have a little girl, I hope she will be just like Linda.”  They took me home to my room.  Had they painted it purple while I was gone?  It was purple and the bedspread was green, and there beneath the window was the vanity with the purple gauze curtains. 

     There was that other time – I know this is already in my autobiography – when I hid in the tall grass on the other side of the garage in the Overin’s avacado orchard.  I heard them calling my name, over and over, “Linda!”  I wish I had thought to ask Mom, before she died, if they knew all along exactly where I was.  Knowing how Mom understood child psychology, I’ll bet anything they did.  I heard her voice, loud and clear, “Well, we can’t find her.  I guess we’ll go home, now.”  It was quiet after that.  What seemed like a long time later, maybe five minutes, maybe fifteen, out I came.  I walked proudly into the Overin’s house.  “Here I am,” I announced. 

     “Your Mom’s already gone home.”  After awhile I asked, “Can I call her?”  They phoned and she came right away to get me.  Driving home she said, “You know who we saw on the way home?  The three bears!  We stopped by the Market Basket, and there they were.”  For years I regretted my wrong decision and missing Goldilocks and the three bears.  Oh yes, Mom understood child psychology.

     Talking to Debbie about memories, having them and not having them, last Sunday, I said, “I don’t remember the cousins ever coming to our house for family day.” 

     “Oh, yes they did.  They were in the family room with the cork floor.”  I still can’t see it.

     There is, of course, the very early memory.  Mom and Dad had left me with the baby sitter.  I had a fever.  The night seemed to drag on forever in endless misery, until at last, she appeared: a silhouette in a golden rectangle.  She was my angel.  My Mommy.

     One memory, so much about her and she wasn’t even there: I was skiing in Hopfgarten Austria, 1978.  I rode the ski lift up and when I got off and turned to face the slope – I didn’t yet know how to ski – the round ball hill disappeared over an edge I couldn’t see beyond.  I sat down on the snow and started to cry, “I want my Mommy!”  I was 29 years old.  (Attempting my decent, I injured my ankle so severly on a turn, I was scooting down the hillside on my bottom, my hurt leg outstretched straight before me).  A rescuer arrived pulling a gurney across the snow behind their skies.  He loaded me in and skied me, as fast as I have ever gone, I think, head first down the slope to the ski lift to the valley.  “I don’t have money to pay for this!!!”  I wailed in protest.  He took me anyway, and I was never charged.

     There was the night in Luzern, on the Rhine River trip with Mom, Norman, Janet, Clayton, Dolly and Walt (Wally and Dolt), when I met a boy.  Every hour on the hour, Mom descended the stairs from our bedroom in the little pension where we were staying.  Every hour on the hour, she opened the door to the street.  Going on 2 a.m., I waited with the boy, standing across the street watching.  “There she is,”  I told him, when the door opened promptly at 2.  I said ‘goodbye,’ and in I went.  Thank you, Mom.

     She was always there for us.  A tiger, she would fight for her kids.  “I have great kids,” she said.  “I have the best kids in the world.”

     “I had the best mom in the world,”  I’m sure I told my friends.  At least I knew it myself.

      In 1982, freshly married, pregnant for the first time, living in Tunisia, I had only two books to get me through the pregnancy, birth, and introduce me to nursing.  I read Dr. Spock, because Mom had.  I read, “You can only be the sort of mother you had.”  I would be great.  No worries there!

    

     Lemon; fresh-squeezed.  When I went swimming at Mountain Shadows pool, the chlorine turned my platinum blonde hair green.  School was starting the next week, so you bought some bleach and bleached it.  But the next time I went swimming, it turned green again.  You couldn’t bleach my hair every week, so you squeezed a fresh lemon and applied it to my wet hair, right into the scalp.  It stung!  Then I washed it out.  It worked.  My hair was blonde.  I could go to school! 

 

     “You don’t know me,”  Mom said. 

     And, “I have been your mother for eighteen years.  Now I’m done.  If you want to be my friend, we can be friends.”

 

Afternoon: I see what is happening.  Mom’s spirit is shrinking, like the tail of a tornado, becoming small enough to fit into Mom in her body.  She is an “Every Man.”  She is all of us: young and strong, and filled with love and energy, though she contained more than most, hope and dreams, her fabulous intellect, her weaknesses and foibles.  Am I demystifying Mom?  And if I do, what will become of Cosmic Mom?  What was it I wrote in that Christmas poem composed to her some years ago: 

 

“And right across the room, I'd see

your happy, smiling face;

your wondrous spirit grown so large,

together we would race

 

the wind, the stars, the shrieking hawk

that flies on desert skies.

Imagination, poetry

Would open wide our eyes.”

 

Somehow, it is possible to be both: small and large, physical, and, as Mom said, “I am spirit living in a human body,” – spirit.

 

Enough for today.

 

Late afternoon:  I thought, “How can a spirit so large come from a body so small?”  In that moment, I looked out the window.  Smoke was rising and expanding, dissolving into sky.  Like that, then: like a log, burnt, transforms from a solid body into … spirit.

 

February 17th, 2005

 

     I don’t feel like looking back to where I was a year ago today.  The story I wrote when I returned to Switzerland has that information.  What I feel like trying is playing hide and seek.  Enter the rooms of the houses we lived in and see in which, and doing what, and looking how, I can find Mom.  Like Finding Waldo in those books Richard gave the children.  Another chapter could be: things Mom gave me.

     But, right away I’m sidetracked. 

Another could be, little wisdoms she said.

Sidetracked, yes.  The deadline for Mom’s research paper on Edgar Allan Poe was fast-approaching.  Although I had only cheated three times in my own school career, I agreed to help her write the paper.  I even drew a picture of Poe for the cover page.  She got an A+.  I didn’t know whether to feel proud or ashamed.  Now, raising children in Switzerland, I know it’s alright to feel proud.  A Swiss education is a team effort.  Nobody could achieve it without a whole team of backstoppers.  And so Micha said last week, she couldn’t work as many hours at the Credit Suisse as she does if Theo were employed, because then he could fill her in on the schoolwork.

     A room.  Looking for my mother:  Whittier, California, 1950’s.  The kitchen.  Mom: “The babies will be born tomorrow.”  I watched as she lifted the cup filled with castor oil and downed it.  She doubled over on, her head on her arm on the pink tiled countertop.  The next morning, my 8th birthday, she handed me one plastic giraffe (that’s all I got for that birthday).  She wore her camel’s hair coat and climbed into the 1953 Plymouth station wagon to be driven to the hospital. 

     Mom and Dad’s bedroom.  It was the night of the day that I had slipped through my inner tube to sink to the bottom of Aunt Dolly’s swimming pool in Santa Ana.  I remember gazing up at the sunlight glinting off the surface of the water several feet over my head.  I remember not being afraid.  I must have been holding my breathe.  I have no memory of being rescued, but that night, I lay in the middle, Mommy on one side, Daddy on the other.  And I woke in fright at flames of fire licking the walls of the bedroom: a nightmare.

     The family room we added on when I was about seven or eight.  Mom?  Are you in there.  Can’t find her.  The dining room: Mom and Dad and company seated around the dining room table dining while Rickey and I were banished to eat in the kitchen.  The guests each received a chocolate praline.  After they were gone, I think Mom offered me one.

     The pink bathroom of the original house: I think it must have been in there that she told me about the little boy who had snipped off his penis and the walls were splattered with blood.  Mom loved the dramatic.  I think she wanted to scare me into never doing something similar.  But then, I didn’t have one!  I can’t imagine now, as a mother, why on earth she would have told me such a thing.  Something to ask when I see her in heaven.

     Another strange thing she told me was the one about the grease spots in the road being little boys and girls who had gotten run over by cars.

     Children’s bathroom, and the driveway up the side of our house: “pee pee pee pee pee,” I said, gleefully I think, walking up the driveway.  Mom heard me and marched me into the house.  In the bathroom, she “washed my mouth out with soap.”  That was a threat I heard often, but I think this was the only time she actually did.  The soap, needless to say, tasted abominable.  I’m not sure I understood what was wrong with saying “pee pee pee.”  I don’t suppose I did it again.

     Family room.  Returning from a vacation, must have been to Yosemite: I screamed, at least inside, the moment I reached my fish acquarium, eager to see how my fish were doing: one goldfish, only half of him left, pinned beneath the snail that was eating him.  I think Mom must have been standing behind me.

     Adult bathroom in the addition: standing behind/beside Mom, watching in the mirror… oh yes I can see her, head tilted to the side as she brushed mascara onto her eye lashes.  She wet the brush under the faucet and rubbed it into the brown cake makeup, then onto her lashes, first one eye, then the other.  She wore a black dress that revealed her white shoulders, and a pearl necklace.  Her hair was short.  I thought she was the most beautiful thing in the world.  She smelled good, too.  Perfume!  She and Daddy were going out.

     My bedroom when I slept in the purple room (next to the living room): I wanted to wear a dress to play outside.  My girlfriend, Sandra Van Trease was wearing a dress.  “Vacuum your carpet,” Mom said.  Filled with self-pity, I sat on the carpet and picked the lint pieces up, one-by-one.  When she opened the door and saw me she said, “I didn’t know it meant that much to you!”  What a strange little girl I must have been.  In that moment, her heart ached for me, I’m sure.

     The back yard?  Can I see her filling the gray metal buckets with water from the garden hose for us to sit in – our own private swimming pools?  No, but she must have, and I must have watched her do it.  She wasn’t there when the bird swooped down and in one bite made off with the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, but she was with me in Yosemite when we purloined it.  Oh yes!  She woke me up early the morning after the forest ranger had lifted the milkweed branch to show us the cocoon.  She woke me and I dressed quickly and she and I, all alone, hidden by the early morning emptiness hiked back along the trail on the valley floor.  We found the bush.  We plucked the branch and put it into a jar.  We took it with us when we drove home to Whittier.  There, the caterpillar hatched, and lived… one day.  Ah what reqret?  And this deed committed by a conservationist and a future conservationist.  It just goes to show, her children were more important to her than anything else.  She knew how I loved the monarch; had always wanted to see one but never had.  (I still never have!)  So, she was going to make sure. She taught me to go to the source.

     The front yard.  Can I see her there by the pirate ship float they allowed us to keep after the school parade?  Was she wearing a sleevless white dress with a wide, patent leather red belt?

     In a store in Whittier, standing beside me.  What I see are the bolts of clothe.  I hear the plop and she turned them and moved them aside.  “You may have any one you want.  It doesn’t matter how much it costs.”  That was her principle, even then.  Today, I am still unable to buy myself presents, even clothes, easily – unless they are a great bargain.  That wasn’t from Mom.  That’s because of Mom’s and Dad’s voices coming to me through the ventilation system, from their room to mine – I’ll bet they never realized I could hear! – arguing after she had spent money on another dress for Linda, his voice low and difficult to hear beyond a sort of rumble, hers shrill and insistent. 

     “Any one?”  I never would have dared, but… she had given permission and I selected a thickly woven linen of orange and yellow print.  She paid, we took it home and sewed a shift.  7th grade?  I think maybe I needed it for home economics class.

     The chocolate room, walls painted brown, can that be?!  She kneeled beside my bed while I said out loud, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my sew to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the lord my sew to take.”  That is also the room where, aged five, I asked her, “Mommy, does God have a wide face?  Because, if he doesn’t, how can he see two robbers on both sides of the world at the same time?”  It is also the room where I hid an Archie comic book under my pillow, and read it by the light from the closet, pulled on by a chain from the naked lightbulb?  Excited by the fear that she, or Daddy, would open the door and catch me.

     At easter time, she brushed up strands of my long, blonde hair, put a pink foam roller at the end, and rolled the hair down down down until it reached my scalp, then snapped the plastic rectangle over it until my head was covered with pink curlers.  She also made pinwheels of my hair and put and “x” of bobby pins to hold it.  The next morning, she removed the curlers and brushed out my hair.  It became bilious and stood out like an umbrella.  Wendy and Cheryl said, “Hello, Umbrella girl,” when they saw me.

     I don’t remember where or when Mom told me about her mother swallowing her tongue.  I was about four years old.  For the next year, unbeknownst to her, I’m pretty sure, I clasped my tongue between my teeth each night at bedtime, holding on until I fell asleep for fear that if I let go, it would slip down my throat and I would “Swallow my tongue.”  Oh yes, sometimes I wonder that she wasn’t more careful with what she shared.  I’m not sure she understood what was going on inside me some of the time.

     I remember her on the carpet.  She had Lisa pinned down.  Lisa was squirming and fighting bloody murder.  Mom was trying to apply the eye medication, squeezing the tiny white tube, holding the thin pointed metal tip into Lisa’s eye.  The eyelid turned inside out and I saw with what horror the pink of raw meat – too late to ever lose the image scalded onto my brain forever.  Wish I hadn’t been there! 

    Oh, and after Papa operated out Mom’s hangnail, she begged, “Come and look!”  I didn’t want to, but it was so important to her to be able to share this.  I looked at her finger.  She removed the bit of cotton and I was staring into a deep, open pit he had dug in her flesh.  Egad!

     Many years later, after her hysterectomy, I believe she wanted me to look.  By then, I knew better.  I didn’t look! 

     The only time that comes to mind when she was holding my hand is Asilimar.  She and Norman were attending some kind of camp, sensitivity training or something?  I had arrived for a brief visit.  As we walked up a slope, she took my hand.  We walked along, side by side.  It was nice, holding hands, but I was in mortification that somebody might see!  Like lesbians.  Still, thank goodness I was old enough to force my hand to remain in hers.  It wasn’t easy, but I think, even if she didn’t realize it, it meant a lot to her.

     Of course, when she was dying, I put my hand under hers.  When anyone tried to take her hand, her fingers would flutter as she shook them off.  But I learned that if I rested my hand palm up on the bed and placed hers on top, she would leave it there. 

     There were other times when I was a grown woman when we would be someplace together in public, probably a writing conference or something like that, when she would place her hand, warm, good, over the back of mine.  Ah, how lovely.

     Back to childhood.  Can I get anything else?  Oh yes.  She drove us to the mushroom factory.  She left us in the car when she went inside.  Why didn’t I get to go?  I would be interested to know what it looked like.  She came out carrying a tray filled with mushrooms.  Back home, in the kitchen, she taught me, “Mushrooms are grown in manure.  Be sure to wash them seven times.”  To this day, I rinse and rinse and rinse them again, although I’ll bet the brown flecks on today’s mushrooms are nothing more shocking that soil.

     She handed me an ear of corn.  “Please remove the corn silk”  Every time I prepare ears of corn for my family, I think of “Corn silk.”  The sight of it always reminds me of that Whittier day long ago when she let me remove it for the first time.

     “Grate this cheese.”  It was cheddar.

     “Help make sandwiches.”  We took them to the beach.  We stacked them layer by layer, a slice of whole wheat bread (I can almost smell it), spread with mustard or mayonnaise, a slice of cheese (pre-sliced, or did we have to slice it off a brick of Velveta?), I can’t remember what else we put in, but maybe a lettuce leaf, then another slice of whole wheat bread (Mom never bought white bread: too unhealthy).  Another slice of bread, and so forth, all placed into the original plastic bread bag, bound at the top (with what?) and taken along to the beach.

     At Huntington beach, I think we went every week, Mom and her sisters sat beneath the beach umbrella while we, their children, frolicked in the surf.  Wasn’t it dangerous?  I learned to ride the waves from Richard.  I knew to dive under to get under the big ones.  When a too large wave smashed me off my feet and I tumbled and rolled in the foam and sand, maybe scraping my face on the bottom, tearfully I left the water and tromped across the sand to Mom.  “I got dunked!” 

     “Oh, I’m sorry.”  It was all I needed.  And sooner or later, I was off again back into the surf.  I watched when Mommy swam out beyond the breakers.  I see her arm, long and white and bent at the elbow above the surface and disappearing again, the ball of her bathing cap (with a strap beneath the chin), turning to one side, then upright, then turning. I was filled with trepidation.  Would she be alright?  Would she be alright?  Isn’t she going to far. 

     “If you get caught in a rip tide,” she told us, “Don’t fight it.  Let it pull you out, then swim parallel to the shore. Then you will be able to swim back in again.”  Rip tides.  Our greatest peril.  I was never caught in one.

     We ate the sandwiches at lunchtime – there was always sand in them somehow, and it gritted in our teeth – and when we stayed until after dark, we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows at the ends of sticks, sticking them into the flames, letting them catch fire and burn until they were black.  That was the way they tasted best.  (Nobody talked about carcinogens back then.  It was even before “ecology” had been thought of).

     Campfires.  Yosemite.  If I strain really hard, can’t I see her face, lit up in the glow, in profile perhaps, in a long row of orange-lit faces of family, cousins, Henri singing and playing the bongo drums, or people we didn’t know seated in a large ring, a forest ranger at the center telling us about Smokey the Bear and how only we can prevent forest fires?  Can I see her?  Or is she seated too close beside me.  Is that her arm slung over my shoulder?  Ah, but her voice, singing!  To hear that, all I have to do is sing the same songs!  She taught me, “He liked to swing back in forward on a horse, a pretty good horse, that is sinqupated gated, and there’s such a funny meter to the roar of his repeater how they run, when they hear the feller’s gun because the Western folks all know, he’s a high falooten rooten tooten sun of a gun from Arizona ragtime cowboy, talk about your cowboy, ragtime cowboy Joe, they call him Joe.”

     Nobody has forgotten about Upduck.  Mom in front, we kids in back, driving along and she wanted to change lanes.  “Duck!”  she commanded.  Then, “Upduck,” and our heads bobbed up like corks on the water.  “Qlack qlack,” we chorused.

     There she is, her face above mine, blue sky all around it.  I am looking up into to concerned eyes.  “If I die,”  I am saying, “I loved life.”  It was after I jumped into ice cold water in a pond on the Loop trail near Tuolumne meadows and my heart slip into one of it’s first irregular cadences.  “If I die…”  ha ha ha!!!  I’m still hear.  And Mom?  Her heart was in atrial fibrillation for the last ten (or less?) years of her life, beginning with the day they did knee replacement surgery.  They tried three times to zap it back to normal, then let it be.

     “On top of old smokey, all covered with snow, I lost my true lover, for a courtin’ too slow.”  Is that Mom’s voice I hear?  No, I think it’s Kathy who sung that song loudest.  But, “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad,” well that’s all of us, singing together.

     And then, when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and I went to that camp with the youth from the Unitarian church, and I came home, I told her about the man who wanted to kiss me.  She told, and it caused a big rucous.  “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself,” she asked me after it had all blown up, as though I, the child, was the one responsible for the mess.  Those were different times.  Maybe better times?  After all, he hadn’t hurt me. 

     She told me that Bill Miller had done something to Lisa.  I can’t see her saying it, but I know the words: “When a five-year old tells you something tells you something like that, you believe them.  A five-year old wouldn’t make that up.” 

     I can see Mom, head tilted to the side, fingers stuffing her short-cut hair beneath the plastic of the tight fitting bathing rubber bathing cap, then the flap slapping against her ear, and her fingers working to clasp the chin strap shut.  Or is that the Overin girls?  Mom’s figure in a bathing suit must have been stunning.  I wouldn’t have realized it then, but I’ve seen pictures.  All of the sisters had stunning figures, long legs, good breasts.  “I have the best breasts of any woman my age.”  I was in high school, then, so she must have been in her forties.  (She passed them on; thanks, Mom).

     Phoenix, the sixties, I remember that for lunch, instead of eating, she would drink a can of “Sego.”  Is that what it was called?  I wanted to taste it.  She let me.  It tasted good.  That’s how she managed to stay thin; to keep her great figure.  What sacrifice!  After she and Dad got divorced, that was the end of that.  She put on 50 pounds in six months and her weight just kept on creaping up after that, year after year.  She didn’t want Lynn Nelson, a professor at A.S.U. to see her after she had gotten fat.  She gave me his book to read.  When I did, about a year ago, and I realized what a cool cat he was, I think I thought maybe she was kind of in love with him.  It can happen.

     I remember Mom and me and Norman seated on a blanket eating a picnic in the dessert.  I was telling him about myself and she was proud of me.  That’s all in the poem I wrote: History’s Lessons, and happened before Mom and Dad were divorced.

     Once, some meeting somewhere, ASU I think, I was flirting with some guy.  Afterwards Mom said that you could cut the chemistry between us, it was so thick.  But, on the cruise in 1991, she said, “You really have changed, Linda.”  Because I didn’t pick up any men.  I guess she didn’t know about the dance with the doctor.  Nothing happened.  Not because I had really changed, but because he had to leave.  Duty calls.

     Wow, I’ve written 12 pages today.  Page 20!  My back hurts enough to show it.  I guess that’s enough for today.  I’m pleased with the early memories this brought back.  I think I am beginning to see her.  I didn’t for years and years.  Then, a year ago yesterday, sitting in the plane flying to her, I started to.  I saw her in the Yosemite high country, could her the joy in her voice as she screeched at the icy cold of the water.  A stream, a lake, no matter what, she found some place behind the pines to change into her bathing suit and Mom went swimming!  I told her about that while she was dying, in that last great conversation.  “Mmhmm,” she said.  I think she liked being reminded.  The quintessential Mom.  Bye for now.

 

Love you,

Linda

 

Wait a minute?!  I typed twelve pages in an hour???? !! It’s only 11.36, and I didn’t get started until 10.30 or thereabouts.  No wonder my back hurts.

 

February 18th, 2005

 

Having arrived at the last bit of procrastinating, I allowed myself one more… I’ll just read this Molly Wolfe email, and then I’ll get to work (here).  The first few paragraphs didn’t grab me, and I was about to give up when I read:

“Lent is about accepting and valuing reality, however
superficially unlovely, and what's more real and unlovely than an urban
southern Canadian winter, with slushy sidewalks and salt-stains everywhere?

Lent shares with Advent the sense of stillness and of waiting, but it's far
more than that. Lent is for reality checks. If there's a problem, what part
have I played in it? If a relationship has come unglued, how did I
contribute? It's not about guilt or shame or blame; it's about seeing the
patterns that need to be set to rights.

But sometimes what needs to be set to rights is our unrealistic,
unnecessary guilt or shame or blame.  Lent isn't about feeling bad,
although feeling bad may be part of what happens in Lent, if that's an
appropriate part of the reality check. Sometimes we need to repent of
self-loathing, realizing that loathing any of God's children is not
Christian, and that includes our own selves. Lent is about forgiveness, and
that may involve forgiving ourselves as well as others, being
self-reconciled in mind and heart and spirit and body, accepting God's
forgiveness as well as seeing our deep need for it.”

 

“Oh, Mom,”  I sighed, a big smile on my face.

 

Yesterday at 18.10h, I called to Mark who was cooking up a gourmet storm (meatloaf Ceasar) in the kitchen, one year plus one hour ago, I was in my lost hour.  That’s the hour that changed my life forever; the hour when I experienced God’s love.

 

     I was lounging in the recliner chair at the foot of Mom’s bed.  Tuesday was the day Mom slept all day, after her restless night.  I asked, “What is going on inside her right now?”  then allowed myself to relax into a receptive state so I could possibly experience it for myself.  And did I ever!  For the next hour (which passed without any sensation of time moving whatsoever), I was witness to the most immaculate love I could ever imagine.  Wow!  What a trip.  (Mom wouldn’t let me say/write that).(But this is the unedited version).  I achieved the realizations which govern the way I look at things from then on: “None of this matters” and “It’s all about love.”  How glad I am that I sang, “Love is the opening door.  Love is what we came here for.  No one could offer you more.  Do you know what I mean?  Have your eyes really seen?  Love is the truth we must find…” to her.

     I didn’t remember to think, “It was happening a year ago right now,” between seven and eight.  Micha, Theo, Mark, Hubert and I were dining, and I do mean dining.  That was one heckofa meatloaf.  I said to Hubert, “I don’t think you have eaten this well in this house since… I don’t think you have ever eaten this well in this house!”  It was the second night in a row Mark had read the cookbook, selected a dish, jogged to the grocery store AND the butchers, and come home and cooked.  “Good thing you turned off your computer!”  I told him.  

     “I’ve turned off my computer before.”

     “Well, I guess you were ready.”

     I did think, while savoring yet another succulent bite, “Mom would have loved this!”  I meant, the meat loaf, and Mark cooking dinner.  She would have been proud of him.  I wish she had seen how he turned out.  I think as a grown man, she would have fallen in love.  She wasn’t really into kids.  She wasn’t that kind of grandmother.

     Later in the evening, I was going through the stacks of paper on the counter top searching for a “script” of math information Mark was missing.  As I did, the scarf started to billow.  Nothing supernatural about that in itself, but, well, it was the scarf which was hanging by a corner from a book in the bookshelves in Mom’s bedroom.  Micha hand-dyed it for Mom.  I took it (as the rightful owners) after she died.  It has been hanging (by a corner) from Janet’s painting on the wall behind me.  This is the first time I caught it billowing.  And it kept billowing.  Well, I kept searching the stack of papers.  I touched it as it danced, softly with my fingertips, and whispered, “Aw, Mom.”  And what did I find in those stacks?  Not Mark’s math, but ‘Gone from my Sight,’ which I noticed was missing some weeks ago.  I have wanted to find it again, and when do I?  On the day, to a year, that I received it in the first place.  That Tuesday, in Hospice.  “Aw, Mom.  I love you.”

     So much for yesterday.  Today, February 18th, is the day Mom got to go home.  “When do we go home?”  she asked.

     “Soon Grandma, soon,”  Kelly answered.

     It was supposed to occur at 11:00 a.m., but we had to wait for the hospital bed to be delivered.  At 3:00 p.m., we were set to go.  We all got out of the room, went out of the building and waiting on the far side of the parking lot under the desert trees.  (Under is good: they don’t offer much protection from the sun, but this was winter).  “OW!!!  OWWW!!”  we could hear Mom through the open window.  The whole world could hear, I guess.  They got her onto the gurney.  Every bodily movement seemed to be pure torture for her, as though rigormortus had already set in.  (All right, Mom, I’ll delete that when I edit.  I’m not supposed to try to be cute or clever.  That never succeeds).

     I got to ride in the ambulance.  I always want to do that.  It was right up there with riding in the cab of the hook-and-ladder fire truck, a childhood dream come true.  Did they blink the lights?  Flash the siren?  (I don’t think so).  Mom was in the back.  I could see her through the little window when I turned my head.  A nice young man was seated beside her, watching her.  She always loved the nice young men.  She loved everyone!  (“Dorothy never met a stranger,”  Bob Schiller wrote).  Every bump or hole in the road – and it seems there were an inordinate number – made me wince.  She would hate them.  I don’t remember if she groaned. 

     Then there was the ordeal of attempting to get her down the narrow hallway.  Thank goodness the bookshelves were removed a few years back.  I kept trying to lift her arm back onto the gurney so they wouldn’t squish it between the gurney and the wall.  “They know what they are doing, Linda,”  Brian said.  I didn’t understand yet how my interference grated on his nerves.  The gurney wouldn’t make the corner so they had to wheel her back to the kitchen.  It took every one of us to transfer her to a stretcher.  More shouts of agony and pain which would have demanded, “What are you doing to me!” if they had been words.  We had to go outside again, at least, they sent me outside.  When they called me back in, somehow they had managed to get her into bedroom.  They told me (unfortunately I missed hearing it) that when Kelly said, “You’re home, Grandma,” she answered, “I love it!”

     That was a year ago today, in a few hours.  Right about now, I was mercifully sleeping.  I didn’t get much of that between Saturday, February 14th (2004) and the following Thursday.  But we’ll come to that in a couple of days.  For now, back to memory lane.  What will I discover today?  Mom?  Here I come!  (But first, pit stop).  Yes Yes Mom, I’ll take it out!

     Well where was I?  Whittier?  Phoenix?  I rub the skin on the back of my left hand with the thumb of my right.  Skin!  Mom’s skin and mine.  I like the skin of my lower legs because it’s like Mom’s skin: kind of dry, and flakey, and blotchy with freckles and flecks of discoloration.  Yeah.  When Mom was still young and slender, I first saw cellulose in the flesh of her upper thigh.  I thought it looked pretty awful, then.  Guess whose got it now.

     Her smile: when I smile a certain way, sort of wide, my teeth and lips are the same shape as hers when she smiled. 

     Back in Whittier, I noticed her dark red lipstick creeping up to fill in the crack which rose like a pine tree straight up from her lip reaching for her nose.  Yep, got that, too.  Also Whittier, I noticed the little bundle at the front of her armpit.  “You’ve got those little ‘poochies,’ too,”  Dolly told me.  Just like my mom.  These were things about her I didn’t want to have.  But, that’s heredity for ya.

     I don’t think Mom would like my attitude this morning – a bit too flippant.  Why that?  Well, maybe I’m a little slap-happy because the Orthopedic surgeon this morning said 50% chance we won’t have to operate.  He gave me a diagnosis (torn meniscus, torn Kreuzband, broken off bit of knee bone) so I can get some sympathy, and permission to do anything I feel like doing including driving a car.  I’m Back!!!

 

     But, I’m not doing very well with the memories. 

     Try again.  Phoenix.  Mountain Shadows.  Meals.  What did Mom cook?  Well, there were rounds of balony with a slice of orange cheese under the broiler in the oven until the edges curled up and the cheese became all bubbly and started getting brown spots.  Those were good.  When Norman had Alzheimer’s and Mom cared for him (for seven years), she made him grate soups with vegetables and fish.  He came to hate eating fish, I think.  Or was that Mom.  Debbie prepared fish for them every week.  For the seven years she took care of Mom.  Seven years Norman; seven years Mom.  Egahd, for the final fourteen years of her life, Mom was dealing with Health. 

     “Maybe he’ll just die,” she said to me about Norman once. 

     “It’s not going to be that easy, Mom,”  I replied.  Not going to be that easy.  How true it is!  Every time the bather came, she seemed surprised that Mom was still alive.  “She’s very strong!”  she said. 

     Karen Bowden came over and said, “My mom was like that for a year.”  A year?!  A year?!  No way we could keep this up for a year. 

     The bather said,  “In the beginning” (when they start to die) “everybody comes.  Then, one by one, they start to leave.  Somebody has to get back for their dog… another…”  Twenty-four-seven, well, it can’t go on like that forever.  That’s why the bather told us to start giving Mom some time alone.  That Monday, but I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s not for six more days, after receiving permission, I didn’t go into Mom’s room for five hours.  It was kind of wonderful.

     I’ll say this: for the seven years of the recurring hospital stays, the life-threatening emergencies, the “Is it this time?  Shall I come?”  Not yet – I did a whole lot of worrying about Mom.  Everytime she went into the hospital, usually once a year until she stopped going to the pool and Debbie said, “Mom lives in a bubble.  We don’t let any germs in,” every time, I became crippled, for days, by my fears.  When I was a little girl, up to age five, I guess I went to sleep every night praying, “Please don’t die, Mommy, please don’t die!”  Man, that’s fifty years of “Please don’t die.”  And then, she died.  And afterwards, I didn’t have to worry anymore.  And wasn’t that great?!  I mean, what a relief.  No more worry. 
     I don’t worry about my Dad.  He’s so healthy, and so young (now 82).  No need. But Mom.  Man, how I used up my energy worrying about my Mom; not all the time, but for ten days to two weeks every year until she was out of danger; until the next time.

     Because of Mom, I put the “Staying Biologically Young” article on my homepage: “I promise you, you are not too old to begin.  Maybe, for you, it's not going to be jogging; maybe just walking.  Or, if you are bedridden, do exercises in bed.  Everything you do will bring results.  It won't take nearly as long as you think to feel better and be stronger.  Now if I had that wish, I would give every person on earth all the fitness which is within their power.”  I didn’t really mean ‘everyone,’ I meant, ‘my mom.’  She never read it.  She never got to see my homepage.  She couldn’t use the mouse because, as she said, “I have palsey.”  Her mother had palsey.  It’s when you shake.  You can’t very well use a mouse when your hand shakes while your trying to position the pointer. 

     Mom sitting at her rolltop desk.  Mom working on papers.  Mom learning.  Mom teaching.  Mom studying.  Mom reading.  Mom watching TV.  Me, lying in her big bed on the other side, our heads on pillows, watching … “How to Make an American Quilt” which I rented for her; which she had to see because it was ‘my favorite movie,’ because it was like our family; the four sisters; the generations; family day.

     “They read to each other, they discussed, they ironed,”  Debbie said.

     “They mended!  Don’t forget that!  They mended.”

     Mom used to embarrass me in front of strangers.  She was so enthusiastic, giving the maid at the hotel in Culver City a five dollar tip (the seventies?), thanking her SO much!  When I had children of my own and they were embarrassed by my enthusiasm and openness to strangers, I said, “My mom used to embarrass me.  Now it’s my turn.  I get to embarrass you!”  A sweet kind of revenge.

     I was embarrassed for Mom when David and Roberta came to visit.  They were engaged in a heated discussion.  Mom treated David abominalbly.  I was amazed, after they left, knowing they would return for more.  They were loyal friends until Mom died.

     Mom thought Pauline was a tramp.  She figured she’d been to bed with everyone.  However, Pauline was a loyal friend, driving Mom to poetry days forever. 

     Mom loved Perrie Longo.  She admired her so much.  I heard her talk about her for years.  Finally I got to go to a Santa Barbara Writer’s conference.  I met Perrie.  I was surprised to discover that Perrie’s respect and awe of Mom seemed to match Mom’s of her.  How wonderful that these two amazing women had each other in their lives.

     I would drive Mom from the parking lot above our room to the front door of the one-story white building where Perrie’s group met year after year.  I helped Mom by walking with her (her hand resting on my shoulder for support), or just beside her, walking ever so slowly, carrying her bags, positioning them on the table at the front of the room so she could spread out and work until the workshop started.  Then, maybe I’d go walking on the beach with Holly and arrive five minutes late.  Mom was never late.  I drove her to the poetry class she taught at the Senior Center in Scottsdale every year once or twice during my visit.  The classes were three hours long.  Sometimes, a participant irritated me because they didn’t treat Mom with the respect she deserved.  Invariably it was a newcomer.  They didn’t know who they were dealing with.

     Mom took me to the meeting of the Phoenix Writer’s Group once when I was in town.  We were served lunch, then had the meeting.  That was the day Grace Kaiser told me, “Never hurt anybody, ever, with your writing.”  I’ve tried to live by that.  Mom had shared Grace with me two times before, once at a meeting of the same group years before at the Methodist church in Paradise Valley, and once Grace came to the house, walking to the back door with her crutches.  “Grace and her husband were camping in a trailer.  Grace tripped over a wire and fell, hitting her head.  They thought she would never walk again.”  Mom had the greatest respect for Grace.  I called Grace while she was dying, to let her know.  I called everyone I could think of, and those who were able to came to the house to pay their last respects in time: Norman Dubie (I missed his visit); Pina – how Mom’s hand fluttered when she realized Pina was in the room; Pina sang in her melodious voice.  Everyone except for Victor and Guido.  I reached Victor after Mom had died.

     “Mom got her hair cut in the rehabilitation center.  We should have gotten Victor to cut it,”  Debbie said.

     “He would have!”  I said.  He went to Good Sam hospital in downtown Phoenix when she was there, once, just to cut her hair.  Mom had good friends.

     Guido found out about her death reading the obituaries.  He is such a good, sweet soul.  Her typewriter repairman.  There is a special and surprising bond between a great writer and their typewriter repairman.  Nobody used those kinds of typewriters anymore.  People had moved on to computers.  Guido made Mom’s writing possible.  He kept her typewriter’s alive.  I hope Debbie remembered to give him the typewriter.  We promised it to him when he and his wife stopped by to visit Mom’s urn.  Such sweet souls.  I gave them the poem I had found in Mom’s office: “Do not stand by my grave and weep; I am not there; I do not sleep.”  I wished several times afterwards that I had kept a copy.

     Guido and his wife arrived at the carport door the day after Mom’s 80th birthday party.  They had mixed up the dates, but it worked out because they got to have a nice conversation with Mom and on the day of the party, there were so many people – the living room was wall to wall people – they wouldn’t have had the chance for more than a brief audience.

     Mom held up well that day, at her party.  “This is the wake,”  Debbie said.  “This is it.  When Mom dies, I’m not doing one.”

     Debbie also said (another prophetic remark), “This may be the last day you get to spend working on Mom’s poetry with her.  Maybe you don’t want to spend it fighting.”  I had been working for three days organizing Mom’s poems into my concept of a book.  I worked up until it was time to leave for the airport.  Indeed, it was the last time we worked together on anything but her dying.

     Driving to the Santa Barbara writer’s conference, we stopped at a little flower stall beside the road in the middle of flat fields of agriculture.  We picked out bouquets of flowers, one for ourselves, maybe one for Janet, but certainly one for Mary and Barnaby Conrad.  Mom let me give it to Mary who was attending in the red-carpeted entranceway to the auditorium where we had to sign in.  Mom would always arrange for you to win brownie points.  She gave me instructions to be “especially nice to Mary.” 

     Mom liked to make everybody feel like they were important and special.  When Hubert left for work yesterday morning after making himself late correcting Mark’s French speech so he could memorize it during the day and present it to Hubert that evening (he got a 4.5 today!), I stood in the front doorway and called after him, “You’re a great father!  You’re the best!”  That was Mom in me.

     For the past – gosh, you could almost say twenty years! my relationship with my mother has mostly not included physical presence.  I could always call her on the phone.  For years after we first arrived in Switzerland, when a phone call cost 3 Franks per minute, when I didn’t call often and never talked for more than about 3 minutes.  After the prices came down to 10 raps per minute, I called nearly every week.  I called before we left for vacations, and I called to let her know we had returned home safely.  I called to discuss any disappointment, or dream.  I called when I caught Micha smoking her first cigarette.  “Shall I tell Hubert?”  I asked.

     “You’ve got to tell Hubert!”

     “Shall I unlock the front door?”

     “You’ve got to unlock the front door!”

     So, many of my understandings of who Mom was are these phrases; the good advice – always good advice – she would give me; the lessons she would teach.  After Grosspapi died, I called her from their Winterthur apartment.  “They’ve left me alone with the body, Mom!  I’m scared.  I thought I saw him turn his head, open his eyes and look at me!” 

     “He was a good man.  He loved you.  He would never hurt you.  Go back in and talk to him.  In America, you’d never have a chance like this to be alone with a body.”

     I was shocked and dismayed to read a letter she wrote me (recently, in one of the notebooks), while I was living in Nepal.  She rarely interfered, but she wrote, “Don’t you dare…”  marry this man.  I think she thought from whatever I had written to her that he wasn’t creative enough for a lifetime mate.  But when he came to America and they met for the first time, I guess she changed her mind:  “He’s quality.  Real quality.”  I don’t think she liked my other boyfriends, although once in San Jose at Dad and Elaine’s, watching Victor playing with the dog in the back yard, she decided she liked him.  I know Jim Butler loved her.  After I went away to college, she wrote me when he we show up at the house with Fred or Fred and Tori.  After she died, I called Margie in Salt Lake City (from Dad’s – she didn’t realize I was calling from in town), and she said, “I loved your mother.” 

      When I arrived, that first night, just over a year ago, she said, “I am loved.”  I am so glad she knew it.  She deserved it.

     She was generosity itself.  I should not list all the things she paid for so that we could have them. 

     When I moved into the Seven Trees apartment in San Jose, over the phone she said, “You’ve got to have a TV.”  She paid $300 for a Sony Trinitron.  (Dad always bought Sony; Dad always purchased the brand he considered ‘the best.’)  She paid a lot for a moving company to bring me the smaller of the two piano’s from the Phoenix house.  (I wonder what became of that after I left the bay area?)  In Logan, Utah, she felt I must have a microwave, so she gave us $260 and we went out and bought one.  She paid $3000 for the Baldwin Hamilton piano we bought from a piano shop on the main drag of Logan.  It had such a bright, clear tone!  I practiced and practiced before she came to visit.  When she arrived, she sat on the sofa in the living room and I played “Moonlight Sonata,” which I considered her favorite.  I had learned it just for her.  “I thought you played better than that,”  she said.  I never practiced after that.  That would never have been her intention!

     She was a good driver.  But maybe the last time I ever rode with her anywhere, when she pulled out onto Camelback road, there was not enough safe distance between us and the oncoming traffic.  I think I yelled at her.  She was very ‘benommen.’  We were on the way to the pool for water aerobics.  Her driving scared me to death.  When she suggested we drive out to Wickenburg to look at the land, I said, “O.k., if Hubert drives.”  I didn’t want to say it in a way that would hurt her feelings, but I wasn’t going to risk my children’s or our lives riding with Mom.  I don’t think she took that too badly.  Hubert drove and we went.  She bought me the hummingbird t-shirt which I wear to the gym. 

     There were gifts she bought when I wasn’t around which I will keep and wear forever.  She liked to give me beautiful pieces of clothing, always gorgeous colors: the Loatian jacket I’ve had more than twenty years; the patchwork vest in turquoise, pink and purple.  There was a purple neckscarf.  It broke my heart when I left it hanging on the hook above my seat in a train.  I went to the lost and found at the police station in Winterthur.  No luck.  She gave me another: turquoise.  I wore it this week.  And once a huge cotton one with instructions for wearing it as a turban or a skirt as well. 

     When I was a little girl, she loved to dress me up, I guess.  Those flared skirts with stiff petticoats underneath, ribbons in my hair tied into perfect bows at the end of my pigtails.  She sewed many dresses for me.  I remember one with stripes in beige and purple.  Before Christmas, she spent hours one year working late into the nights until she had finished long-sleeved flannel nightgowns for all the girl cousins.  The crunch crunch crunch of the needle moving up and down, her expert fingers pushing the soft flannel clothe, white with small print motif in blue or green, or maybe pink, the glow from the single sewing machine bulb creating a halo on clothe and on her face, the pins held firmly in her lips, and if she had to talk, it was a mumble because she couldn’t open her mouth.  She worked tirelessly when she was young.  And when she was old, she slept at all hours of the day, but sometimes was a wake at odd hours of the night, which was my big advantage because then, nobody she knew in the world was awake except for me.  To my great good fortune, then she would call me. 

     One of my first conscious thoughts – and disappointments – after her death occurred while I was standing at the kitchen sink looking out past the carport to the grass and grapefruit trees, the stem of the one tall palm (which used to be as only as tall as my dad), and I thought, “I’ll call Mom and talk to her about this.”  Then realized, I couldn’t.

     After I injured my knee last week, I told Hubert, “This is the first time something bad has happened to me and I couldn’t call Mom and tell her.”  (Not counting her death, of course).

     There was that time that the tree trimmers arrived.  Mom and I sat in folding chairs in the shade at the end of the carport and watched them work.  Then she paid them -- $70 I think.  We kept increasing how much we wanted to pay, as we fell in love with them.  That was such good camaraderie, she and I!

     She loved to give; oh how she loved to give.

     One year, she claimed to have spent $500,000.  I couldn’t believe it, but then I discovered a pencil holder made from a stone hollowed out and polished.  On the bottom was a price tag: $475, or something like that.  A little paper tag on the earrings with turquoise she gave Micha read $160; the matching necklace was over $400.  Toss in a car for this relative, another for that, and it doesn’t take so much to reach half a million.  After that, the accountants or attorneys, whoever was handling her money for her made her stop giving things away.  “I have to account for every penny,”  she told me.  It’s a pity, because, well, we know now the story of the inheritance that wasn’t.  Eating at one of those steak places (I forget the name) with Mom and Debbie and Pauline, I think, in Scottsdale, one of those places which is dark and freezing cold, where a hamburger costs over $10 and a steak lunch between 20 and 30, Debbie said, “Order whatever you want, Linda.  There’s $100,000 cash in the bank.  We need to spend.”  Oh fool not to listen.

     And yet, the one time I imitated her and sent Mickey a check for $400 after his first stroke, when I told Mom, she said, “You’re a fool.”  So when I gave Janet $300 for a new television set after hers broke, I never told and I instructed Janet not to either.  Somehow, I think Mom would have approved of that.

     Once Mom and Pauline and I went to a great, peach-colored restaurant behind Fashion Square mall for lunch.  The salmon was the best I ever had.  Mom always took me to eat with her good friends.  She wanted them to be my friends, too.  She took me to eat with Perrie and another woman from the poetry workshop.  But beforehand, she instructed me to talk to the woman because she wanted to talk to Perrie.  Obediently, I did.  She took me to eat in a restaurant on the other side of Camelback road with Lee Arp.  Lee.  We also met at Fudrucker’s for hamburgers.  In the parking lot afterwards, I averted my eyes, but not quickly enough not to see him kissing her on the mouth and holding her tight.

He dumped her, and she never understood why.  When she was dying and I was calling everyone, I asked Debbie, “What about Lee?” 

     “Don’t you dare!  Mom was afraid to go into hospice for fear she might see him.”  This, however, is another of those places where I disagree with Debbie – where her authority prevented me from following my heart.  I should have called Lee. 

     After the Camelback lunch, Lee, Mom, and I returned to the house.  We sat at the dining room table.  I was very honest with him, telling him what I thought about their relationship, telling him, “She is like this, or she is like that, and if you want to get along with her you have to do this.”

     I guess he was hoping for a slice of the pie.  I guess he got tired of waiting.  I don’t know what his game was.  I know she loved him beyond measure. 

     “I always fall in love too easily,” she told me after attending the Billy Collins reception.  “They treated me like royalty.”

     “You are royalty, Mom!  In the world of poetry, you are!”  There were two receptions.  Funny, I don’t know where it came from, but the book marker in the book I am currently reading (Frau Stark, one of Mark’s Matura books), is from that event.  It lists the poets who will read at this poetry reading series, and there it is:  “Billy Collins, October 3rd, 2003.  I guess it was the last time Mom fell in love.  Or, knowing Mom, maybe not.  There seems to have been one nice young man at the rehabilitation center.  I answered a phone call from him while she was dying.  He wanted to thank her.  Her recommendation had won him praise on the job.

     “Consider the source,” she used to say.

     She was hurt forever, and this is a pity, by a fellow-poet, Genevieve Sargeant, who filed an official complaint after mom won for the second time in Sandcutters with a poem she had entered many years before.  She tried so hard.  She kept records.  There were leather bound books with a poem and a date written on each line:  records of who she had sent what, or what she had entered where.

     It’s 12.37.  Mark wants lunch.  I’ll stop for today.  Maybe tomorrow, I will manage to find the way back to the more distant past.  I was thinking about it yesterday, about “Family Conference” when we all gathered in the living room, all sat on the sofas and chairs to discuss a significant family event.  It troubled me that I couldn’t “see” Mom sitting there, and then I realized “I can’t see any of them.”  After trying really hard, I got a flash of Debbie as a child, but brief, and I’m not sure it’s an image or a remembered snapshot.  I do, however, see Lisa at five, in the moment after she launched a bite of pumpkin pie which landed squat in the back of Mark Anderson’s plaid cotton shirt the one and only time he ever walked me home.

     My consolation is, as Mom said, “I am spirit living in a human body,” that it isn’t our bodies we are, and Mom’s spirit, well, that, I think I can find.

 

    Mom didn’t tell me how to raise my kids, but once she mentioned that “Brian’s job was to empty the dishwasher.  The dishwasher was always empty.”  This would have been a help to Mark and to me.

     On a Phoenix visit when the children were pretty small, she and Mark got into the fight.  I stepped in and defended him.  Afterwards, I thought about it and decided that their relationship was between the two of them.  As far as I know, I didn’t interfere again.

     Mom was caught in the middle when Debbie didn’t want me bringing my teenagers, and I felt, “This is my mom.  This is there grandmother.  We have to come, otherwise how will she know them?”  I persisted stubbornly, until the end. 

     So, now I’ll break (it’s after lunch and Mark just did the dishes – for ten franks – Mom was never above rewarding us for a job we did).  I’m going to shift to another file and write the story of my knee injury.  Mom would want me to.

 

February 20, 2005

 

     It’s Sunday.  Yesterday, Saturday, I didn’t work on this.  It is unusual that I get to write on the weekends when my people are around.  I have learned to “verzichten,” and yesterday, I did.  (Refrain is the word in English, I think).  But I thought about Mom a lot.  I thought, maybe this isn’t a good thing.  I am remember Mom as a person.  A person is so much smaller than a soul.  Do I risk losing my “soul connection,” if I resurrect her with all her human weaknesses and failings.  God knows, she wasn’t perfect.  Like Michel Phillippe once said about me: “You are a difficult woman.  It would take a strong man to live with you.”  Mom was, I think one could say, “a difficult woman.”  But she was worth it.

     I have thought of other things she said in the past twenty-four hours.  They don’t come into my head at the moment.  Getting started is always the hardest.

     “Why is it so difficult for me to get organzed?”  she asked, “when it seems to be so easy for others.”

     “ADD Mom,”  I told her.  They all got tired of hearing ‘ADD’ during my ‘ADD’ phase.  “It’s an explanation, not an excuse,” I explained.  But it seemed to them that I was using it as an excuse.  Maybe I was.

     So, I sit back and wait.   

     My knee is much better today.

     Papa said, “They (Cheryl and Ward) are so poor, they haven’t got a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of.”  Which brings us around to Christmas at Papa’s house.  In that croweded living room with all the cousins and aunts and uncles, Mom and Dad were certainly present.  But it isn’t them I see.  It’s our pretty clothes and the piles of giftwrapped boxes, and the tree reaching up through the ceiling to touch the sky, and the huge balls, all the same color, not like our little tree at home in Whittier. 

     Drying my hair this morning, I could feel Mom’s fingers on my scalp, rubbing all over the place, the towel draped in front of my eyes.  How many times I have remembered my introduction to cream rinse while applying today’s modern version.  Mom mixed the new liquid with an equal part of lukewarm water like it said in the instructions, in a tall tin cup, maybe gold, or green, or silver, or blue.  We had them all.  She emptied the cup slowly and evenly over the top of my head and the warm, thick goo seeped down along my scalp to my ears.  She rubbed it in, and rinsed it out.  And that was “Cream rinse.”  The miracle of it was that, afterwards, the tangles just seemed to disappear. 

     Of course there’s the Sunday mornings I snuck into the kitchen and set the table, then went back to bed while everyone was still asleep.  Mom announced at breakfast time, “Elves must have come in the night!  Look, they set the table.” 

      When I had a nightmare, she said, “Do you want to tell it?  After you tell it, it looses it’s power.”  And when I couldn’t fall asleep, she told me, “Think of something wonderful,” so I imagined candy land with paths lined with lollypops and cotton candy clouds, and all sorts of lovely things.

     “Get a new one,” she told us if a spoon or fork fell on the floor.  “Don’t let the sheets touch the floor!”  “Soap is poison.”  Papa told her that, and she taught us, so when I got to know Hubert’s parents and they didn’t rinse the dishes they had washed (because Swiss have only one sink), I thought secretly that this was a possible reason Grosspapi got cancer.  “Let’s pretend a tornado is coming. Everything we put away before it arrives will be save.”  This made cleaning the kitchen in the Phoenix house pretty exciting.  “The pressure cooker!  Get out of the kitchen!”  she cried whenever the little spigot in the middle of the lid raised up showing the red streak, and we all dived for cover.  Peeking around a corner, terrified for her, I saw her lift the pot with two hot pads and move it into the sink, turn on the faucet and run cold water over it, a cloud of steam billowing up around her arms and under her chin.  I was so frightened for her.  It seemed, she risked her life for us on a daily basis.

     “She’s a taker,” she said of one of my friends.  She hated anyone (most of the teenagers I brought home with me) who didn’t “carry their own weight.”  When I brought my children to Phoenix when they were old enough to clean up after meals, but not trained to do so, they didn’t want me to bring them back the next year.  The next year, I made them wash up after every meal.  Markus Baumgartner was with us.  I don’t think that changed anything, really.  I think the reason they, whoever they are, didn’t want us there was because of the inheritance. Ha ha, there wasn’t any.  Or was there?  The math doesn’t add up.  1.3 million for the land.  800,000 cash in the bank.  The contents of the house and the cars not worth mentioning.  Debbie’s house, 635,000, as far as I know not part of the estate.  700,000 in taxes paid and 50,000 for John Vryhoff.  1.3 + .8 = 2.5.  However, to have to pay .7 in taxes, you need to have 1.4 above and beyond 1.5, which is 2.9.  Well, there’s only .45 missing there, which is less than 100,000 for each of us split five ways.  Not worth asking about.

     “I went to my XX high school reunion.  There was a list of all the members of my class who have died in war.”  She wrote anti-war poems.  I got two of these published on the Poets Against the War website in the days preceeding America’s invasion of Iraq.  She never got to see those.  I searched for and found the book on my next trip to Phoenix, but Mom’s and my poems weren’t in it, so I didn’t buy it.

     She would lie on her side on top of the sheets on her bed, napping, naked.  That’s another reason I didn’t take Hubert there anymore.  I told the kids they didn’t have to go into Mom’s end of the house.  They didn’t need to see that.

     Years earlier, at some public swimming pool dressing room or somewhere, I can’t think where, we were changing.  “You are the only one of my children who could see me naked,”  she said.  I suppose Richard was spared, but none of the rest of us.  That’s just part of caring for someone while they are dying. 

     When I was small, heck, probably forever, I couldn’t imagine my mom and dad ‘doing it.’  I still won’t go there.  However, at Silver Lake, sitting at a picnic table in the sunshine after lunch, talking with Norman, he was telling me something about having sex with my mother.  “Your mother is just so damned fat.”  I was ashamed for him that he had said it, and ashamed for Mom that he had to. 

     She wasn’t always fat.  She put on 50 pounds in the six months after she and Dad got divorced.  I figured it out once, why: menopause; she started drinking alcohol which she had never touched so long as she was married to my teetotaling father; I forget the third thing, but maybe it was depression.  She was 47, I believe, when they divorced.  They had been married 25 years.  After the fact, Dad wanted to take her back, but she wouldn’t have him.  She married Norman three months later.  I didn’t go to their wedding.  I escaped and spent two weeks at Randy Parker’s house in Sacramento.  It was a rebellion, I guess.  I’m sorry for it now.

     We drove across the country ‘in caravan’ for Mom and Norman’s honeymoon.  Debbie and I drove together in Norman’s small, white car.  We tried to say the word ‘penis,’ but I don’t believe either of us managed it.  Norman crossed three lanes of freeway traffic to exit quite suddenly, and Debbie or I, whoever was driving, managed to do the same, cursing.  As the sun slipped behind a wooded hill in some East Coast state, Debbie and I said simultaneously, “Bye bye, sun.”  That was nice.  Then we arrived at Norman’s North Carolina home, built by students of Frank Lloyd Wright over a stream.  Mom was so proud of that.  It was a horrid place.  A winged cockroach flew down the hall straight at me, and we found a dead mouse.  It was damp and it smelled bad.  I took walks in the undergrowth and dread “Five Smooth Stones,” sobbing inconsolably when I reached the end and the hero, a young black man, was shot in the head.  During our stay, Norman yelled at Mom during an argument.  “Nobody has the right to shout at my mother except my father,”  I fumed inside.  It took me two years to warm up to Norman.  However, I was nice to him.  My siblings gave him the silent treatment.  It is their gift.  It is how they treat me, now. 

     I know Mom made a trip to Washington D.C. and climbed the Washington monument, and visited all the famous museums, but I wasn’t there.  One New Years Eve, she and Raitt strolled around New York City, visiting the former homes of poets.  Jimmy stood under a street lamp and recited poems.  I think it was raining.  It think they were standing under an open umbrella.  I wasn’t there.

     Before leaving for our two week vacation each summer, Mom stayed up until all hours of the night getting the house in perfect order.  That part of her has been instilled in me.  I try so hard to “leave the house in perfect order” before we leave for a trip.  At four a.m., she or Daddy woke us up.  Bleary-eyed, I stumbled down the hallway.  She had prepared a bed of sleeping bags spread out to cover the entire back end of the car.  We crawled in lying on top of a sleeping bag and under another, heads on pillows, and fell fast asleep.  By the time I woke up, we had reached the Grapevine.

     “You’re an Idiot!”  Dad said to her; I’m sure it was more than once.  I smarted for a long time, after he did that.  Or, “You’re crazy.” 

     “If you don’t settle down back there, I’m going to stop the car.”  I don’t know if that was Mom or Dad.

     Once, riding home (probably from Santa Ana) after dark, I was soooo tired.  They let me lay with my feet on Daddy’s lap and my head on Mommy’s, the length of the front seat.  This was in the days of bench seats, before bucket seats.  That seems like about as close as I have come to heaven.

     When the earth moved in the quake in the fifties, Mom rushed us to stand under the door frame of the little wash room at behind the kitchen: Mom, me, Ricky and Debbie side by side in the door frame.  Looking out at the sky, it seems that it was purple/orange.  Maybe there were fires and it was night?  Too late to ask her now.

      When Davy Schmidt chased me and my toe hit a crack in the sidewalk, and I went flying and struck my cheek just below the right eye, when I ran, crying into the house and my voice sounded like the new baby, Debbie’s, it was Mommy I was running to.  I don’t remember reaching her, but I knew she must have been there, standing close to me leaning over when the blood in my eye closed my vision while I lay on a table and the doctor in Whittier sewed me up, stitch after stitch, tugging on my cheek.

     10 days later, the evening of the day the stitches came out, Mommy put Ricky and me into the bathtub.  “Be careful of your sister,”  I can hear her say.  We started rough-housing and Ricky’s foot struck my cheek.  I stood in front of the mirror and watched the drop of red, like a tear, roll down my cheek.  “Mommy’s gonna be mad,”  Ricky said.  She, or she and Daddy, drove me all the way to Papa’s house in Irvine so he could stitch it up again. 

     Once, she and Daddy left me with a babysitter who cut off my hair.  They were furious when they returned.  I never had that baby sitter again.

     Another sitter had Ricky and me cornered.  “You go that way; I’ll go this,” he instructed.  “She can’t get both of us.”  She got me.  She spanked me and put me to bed.  I crawled out the window so that she wouldn’t know where I was and would be terrified of getting into big trouble when Mommy and Daddy returned.  I snuck back in and hid under the bed.  When they arrived, I climbed into the bed and pretended to be asleep. 

     Another sitter dragged me down the hall by the toe of my pajamas with feet.

     They got Bill and Alma Miller to babysit when they went away for a week or two at a time.  Mommy prepared a grab bag.  Each day, Alma let us reach into our grab bag, a brown paper sack, and pull out a small gift-wrapped item.  Ricky got a paddle with little red rubber ball on an elastic string.  He hit it over and over.  I was so grateful to Mommy for the grab bag, but oh how I missed her.  It was a big aching right in the middle of my chest which wouldn’t go away until she returned.  It was in the time before time had real meaning, and it seemed that she would stay away forever.

     One Christmas time, we drove up to the Baier’s house.  They had moved from their small home at the end of Allerton Street into a large, sprawling house in the Whittier hills.  This was one of the glorious events of my life.  Roger played piano and Mommy, Daddy, me and Ricky and Jeane, and I suppose the Baier girls stood around him and sang.  At Dolly’s, one of the cousins would pump the pedals on the player piano and we would stand around and sing.  I don’t remember Mommy in that crowd.  It was probably the Overin girls and the rest of the children.  There is one photograph of Mom with a beaming smile wearing one of the fake fur coats we all got at the factory outlet in San Fransisco when visiting Marjorie.  Mom is hugging Kelly as a toddler, and smiling soo big.  I have this photograph memorized.

     Mom took a hat-making class somewhere in Whittier, maybe at the flower shop where she brought me for flower making classes.  She came home with hats she had made.  They were really professional.  She was gifted at sewing. 

     Later, when I was about thirteen and we were living in Phoenix, she began attending classes at Arizona State University.  She studied with Norman and Jeneanne Dubie, and Alberto Rios, Lynn Nelson, Dr. Erno.  Her curriculum vitea (I didn’t really understand what that is when she told me) was so long, she said it would drag along the floor.  I remember when she was working on her masters thesis.  She studied brain functions.  That was something which always fascinated her.  She certainly had enough credits to have had a doctorate, but she never received one. 

     One afternoon, she and I went to visit Dr. Erno in his office.  (Or did I do this alone?)  I showed him the unfinished story I wrote while living in Pokhara with Hubert (so this is post-1979).  He criticized me for the single spacing and the tiny margins, plus some comments about the content I can’t remember.  He broke my heart.  By the time I reached the stairwell, I was sobbing.  I don’t know if Mom comforted me or criticized me showing him something so sloppily prepared, but my heart feels that she offered commiseration.  This might have been one of those times when she would have said, “Consider the source.”

     She also said, “Don’t label things.  That puts them into a box.”

     “Linda likes to take risks,”  she said.  When Dolly said she didn’t know how she could have stood being my mother – this was at a family reunion in Janet’s later Whittier home living room (where Debbie is today!) and they were talking about my solo trip to Europe or my trip around the world, Mom said, “It never bothered me.”  Could this be true?  It’s kind of amazing when you think about it. 

     I paid $260 for Mom’s birthday dinner with Richard and Sue and the rest of us at the end of one Writer’s Conference.  I charged it.  Mom said she would reimburse me, but she forgot.  Richard picked up the bill for the wine.  It was the first time I tasted a merot wine.  He recommended it.  Afterwards, Richard pushed Mom in her wheelchair out to the end of the peer.  Mom’s head bounced up and down, yackatayackatayackata, as the chair passed over the slates of wood in the peer.  It was so funny.  We walked behind her trying not to laugh out loud at the sight.

     Climbing the stairs from the deck to the parking lot behind our SBWC rooms, with Richard, when she reached the top, Mom said, “Did I do good?”

     “You did good,”  Richard replied.  His approval was so important to her.

     When I arrived from Switzerland and Mom was with Richard when they picked me up at the airport, and before we had even reached the car, I had made some innocent remark which could have inspired my brother’s derision, Richard asked her, “Do we have to be nice to her?”

     “You have to be nice to her,”  Mom replied.  The perfect straight man.

     When I was attempting to film everyone at the Phoenix house, Richard told me to stop, but I kept filming, so he chased me.  I ran from the kitchen down the hall around the corner up the living room and hid behind Mom at the end of the dining room table.  Mom would protect me.

     When Brian attacked me when Debbie and Kelly had left the house, hissing, “Get away from her!  Let her die in peace!”  I left Mom’s bedroom so she wouldn’t be subjected to our fight.  She couldn’t protect me any longer.  However, after she died, I joined Debbie and Brian in her bedroom, thinking he wouldn’t dare be abusive to me in front of her body.  Her spirit was certainly hovering, observing everything.  “I would like to stay, and for everybody to be nice to me.”

     “It’s too late,”  Brian said and left the room.  Later, Debbie told me that I had ruined Brian’s last moments with Mom.  That’s my family today.

      Walking down the hall toward her bedroom after Kelly had knocked on the door and said, “She’s gone,”  reaching her bedside, alone with her, my first thought was, “I’m free of them.”  I put up with so much from them.  When I phoned from Dallas, she said, “When Norman was dying, you left too soon.”  She had never mentioned this; never complained.  “I will stay for as long as it takes, Mom.  I promised.”  A promise is a promise.

     That was something she would have said:  “a promise is a promise.”

      A year ago and a few hours from now, we were in Mom’s bedroom.  “I’ve got to sit up,”  she said.  We had sat her up on the bed.  I was standing behind her, rubbing her back.  Lisa entered the room carrying laundry to put away.  “Are you sure she wants you to be doing that,” she criticized. 

     “Mom always liked to have her back rubbed.”

     “Rub it!”  Mom said.  I can see why things like that would make Lisa hate me.

     Not much later, we were giving Mom a ‘sponge bath,’ washing her off with a wet washclothe.  I put the washclothe into her arm pit.  When I lifted the arm slightly and removed the wash clothe, Mom’s B.O. struck me in the face like a sledgehammer, triggering an attack of atrial fibrillation tachycardia which was so severe that Kelly said later, “Her heart was all over the place.  I couldn’t even get a pulse.”

     When I was a little girl, sick with the mumps or the measles – back in the days before vaccinations – Mom gave me sponge baths.  She braided my hair.  “You’ll feel so much better when your hair is clean.”  “You’ll feel so much better when you’ve eaten.”  “The whole house looks better when the beds are made.”

     Every day, year after year, she got us off to school in the mornings.  Sometime during the day, I don’t know when, she made all the beds.  Six beds!  Every day!  She organized the clothes in my closet.  She saw to it that I got hand-me-downs from the cousins.  She made me clothes.  She took me shopping and bought me whatever my heart desired (my wishes were small), knowing it would mean a fight with my dad over money. 

     I don’t remember her changing my diapers, but I know she did.  I know that because I had kids of my own.  Only after I had Micha did I begin to understand all that my mother had done for me.  Until that time, I took it all for granted.  I never knew.

     After Mom died, I realized that the most magnificent thing in all the world… is a mother.  (Nice that I am one!)  I wrote a song, even played it on the piano.  Micha found it on the floor and tucked it into the stack of papers on her desk: a keeper.  I found it there and smiled: contentment.  The words are:

“I love my mother.  You’re the best thing in the world.  Repeat.  You fly on the sunrise, you glide on the sunset; you’re the best thing in the world…”

     Mom was always true to me.  She always believed in me.  She wanted my life to be as rich as it could possibly be.  “Travel is the best education!”  she said.  When I came to Phoenix with Hubert and the kids in 1992 with our standby passes and asked, “Would it be o.k. for Hubert and me to go to New Orleans?” she said, “You HAVE TO go to New Orleans,” even though it meant leaving Micha and Mark with her and Debbie for three days.  We went, and it was wonderful. 

      The only time she hesitated to grant my every wish (I dared to speak – asking wasn’t part of my nature, but sometime I dared to mention a dream or wish, knowing full well she would come up with the money) – was when I wanted to renovate our old piano and the piano maker wanted 7500 CHF.  She thought that was too much, and she was right.  She probably would have paid for another new one, if we had found one.  (This year I let him fix it up for 1700; now that was more like it!)

     I guess that’s enough for today.  Tomorrow, I’ll be alone in the house again.  Tomorrow is the anniversary of my return home from the hospital.  Today is the anniversary of Norman Dubie’s visit.  I’m sorry I missed that.  On the phone, he said, “I love you guys.” 

     “I love you, too, Norman,”  I told him.  I guess I was speaking for Mom. She loved so many people and they loved her.  They recognized her Great Soul.  Once I told her, “I am in awe of you.  I feel so honored to know such a great person, and the neat thing is, because you happen to be my mother, I get to know you for the rest of my life.” 

        

February 21, 2005

 

     Today I have managed to procrastinate until 10.57, and Mark is coming home for lunch.  Time to get started!!!

     Mom.  She loved to have you squeeze out blackheads.  On request, I placed the curved head end of a bobby pin around the blackhead in her back and pressed down hard until the filling came out.  The bigger it was, the more she liked it.  I can imagine her exclaiming, “That’s a good one!”  when I held it up (stuck to the bobby pin) for her approval.

     This morning at breakfast, I wanted to give Mark 20 franks.  “I don’t want your money,” he said.

     “Grandma would have said that.  I’m sure she used exactly those words.”

     “When?”

     “When I would try to pay her back for something she bought for me.”

     After I stopped writing, yesterday, I remembered some foods and how Mom fixed them.  I’ll try to recall them: cabbage, boiled and eaten with a dollup of mayonnaise on each bite; cauliflower, prepared and eaten like cabbage; cantalope, cut in half, emptied out and salted (for Dad).  When she peeled carrots, the sheller moved so rapidly back and forth, I couldn’t see it.

     Tunisia!  Mom came to visit me.  Debbie complained that it was so boring in Bou Salem, there had been nothing for her to do except to meditate on a green grapefruit in a fruit bowl on the coffee table.  I drove us in the little yellow R4 down to the Sahara desert.  Uniformed Tunisian policemen stopped us periodically to check our papers.  We slept on hard, narrow beds in a room in a primitive hotel in Douze which was sooo cold, I caught a sore throat.  We stopped at a sand dune and Debbie and I rolled down the hill, and I got Instant Headache.  That’s because I was pregnant and my body was trying to tell me, “Do NOT do that!!!” but I didn’t know it, yet.  When we arrived at our hotel that evening, I filled the bath tub with warm water and soaked to make my head feel better.  We stayed in Monastir at a “4-star” hotel long enough to select each item on the half-pension menu.  Mom liked that!  We visited Matmata, the village where the homes are built in caves under ground.  We were seated on benches on a raised, concrete platform eating lunch.  I scooted back – or was this Debbie? – and the back chair legs slipped off the edge.  I – or Debbie – tumbled backwards into stacked plastic crates holding plastic water bottles.  Whoever this happened to was, amazingly, unhurt.  We wanted to go on a camel ride, but when Mom climbed onto the camel, she was so heavy that when the camel tried to rise, she slid off the back end.  The camel owner apologized and refunded our money, but refused to let us ride.  The last day, heading home, I drove through water in a dip in the road and killed the engine.  We were in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest settlement, and who should be working nearby by?  Germans (I think it was), who came to our rescue!  Back in Bou Salem, I took the urine-based home pregnancy test they brought from the states.  The little tube turned blue.  What a glorious feeling!  I was pregnant!

     We were invited to attend a Tunisian engagement ceremony.  Our host (and landlord) asked, “Would you like to stay with the women or the men.” 

     “Go with the women,”  Hubert whispered.

     “The women.”  So, Mom, Debbie and I were ushered into the room with the women.  We sat on the floor around a circular wooden table in a smaller room next to the kitchen.  A woman set plates of food down in front of us.  Only Mom, Debbie, and I were given cutlery – a soup spoon (maybe a fork?) each.  The rest of the women ate with their fingers.  Mom was incensed when the woman sitted next to her ate with her fingers off of Mom’s plate!  After we had eaten, we were led into a larger room.  Here all the Tunisian women were seated on the floor against three walls of the room.  Mom and I were seated on folding chairs, side by side in a row against the forth wall.  There was nothing for us to do but stare out at the room while the women talked and watched us.  How uncomfortable!!

     When it was time to go, Hubert was pretty drunk.  There had been no alcohol for the women, but plenty for the men!  Mom, Debbie, and I were squeezed into the back seat.  Hubert was giving a Tunisian co-worker a ride home.  I was blabbering away about something I shouldn’t have been talking about in front of the co-worker.  To get me to stop, Hubert reached back and pinched the knee he thought was mine.  I kept talking.  The more I talked, the harder he pinched.  Mom’s knee was black and blue the next morning!

     When their visit (two or three weeks?) was over, Hubert drove us to Tunis airport for Mom and Debbie’s return flig ht.  What a sad, empty feeling, walking away from the terminal building after they disappeared beyond passport control.  How would I fill the emptiness?  It almost seemed that it would have been better if they hadn’t come.  Before they arrived, I had been happy living there. 

     Mom loved her little German Schnauzer, Tresca.  One, descending the wooden stairs from Norman’s “office” (the house in the back yard), she missed a turn and tumbled to the pavement.  Her leg was broken.  She had to wear a white plaster caste. 

     Mom had always wanted a basset hound.  I rode in the back seat the day Daddy and Mommy drove from Whittier to somewhere north of downtown L.A. (I’m guessing) to pick up a basset hound puppy.  I got to name him.  Because he had a wrinkled forehead, I chose “Wizard.”  Wizard was anything but bright.  Mom screamed whenever she discovered he had peed, again, onto a laundry basket of freshly-washed clothes. 

     Mom used to fill a glass bottle with water and screw on a metal lid with lots of little holes.  When she had to iron, she turned this upside down and shook it over the clothes to make them damp.  Then she ironed them. She taught me how to iron handkerchiefs and pillow cases: iron one side, fold it in half; iron that side; fold in half; iron that side.  Or, with pillow cases, we folded them in thirds.  We folded our bathtowels and hand towels in thirds, lengthwise.  She taught me how to make the bed with a sheet under and a sheet over the blanket.  The top sheet gets turned under the blanket.  Then the bottom sheet gets turned over that.  When I was a young (but not so young because I remember her doing this when we lived in Phoenix, and we moved there when I was 12), she would make the bed with me in it.  I loved this!!!!  She pulled all the sheets and blankets up over my head, the did the folding thing until the bed was made with the blanket just under my chin and my head free again.  I would look up at her and we would both be smiling.

     When I was very small, but I remember this, she and Daddy would pick me up, one holding my wrists, the other holding my ankles. They would swing and swing me while counting, “… one… two… three,” and on “three” they would swing me up and “Whoops!” Onto my bed.  Heaven!

     Mommy used to sing, “Rock a bye baby on the treetop.  When the wind blows the cradle will rock.  When the bough breaks the cradle will fall and down will come baby, cradle and all.”  Yesterday, I sang that song out loud while working in the kitchen.  Afterwards, I caught myself humming.  My humming voice was exactly Mommy’s, fifty years ago.

     She had a Perry Como album.  She used to play that, or classical music, on the stereo system so that there was music in every room piped through the whole house after we moved to Phoenix. She loved that sound system.  I can’t remember listening to music that way in Phoenix for the past twenty years or so.  Does it still work?  For Christmas this year, I retrieved all the songs I could remember from that album from the internet via Kazaa.  I burned a CD and sent it to Mom, along with one I created for Debbie with songs we used to sing on car trips, especially, “Sing a Sad Song.”  When I talked to Mom in the rehabilation center the Tuesday before she started to die (our last really good conversation), I asked her if she had listened to it.  Debbie hadn’t given it to her, it seems.  That is something I will always regret.

     In recent visits to Phoenix, I set the glass garden table and Mom and Debbie and I ate out-of-doors, fragrance from the Eucalyptus trees that filtered the rising sun wafting to us.  Once, I knocked the blue vase of the table and it shattered.  “Richard gave that vase to Mom,”  Debbie scolded, which made me feel especially bad since he had died.

     When he was alive, Richard called Mom nearly every day.  “That’s Richard’s contribution,” Debbie said.  Mine was to arrive and spend my vacations dusting and filing papers, year after happy year. 

     On the cruise ship to view the total eclipse, Mom and I retreated to the “Quiet Room” where we sat at a small square table, Mom’s poems for Cobalt Blue spread out on the table.  One by one, we read them and I marked changes.  When we finished with a poem, Mark initialed it.  She said, “You realize that these are final changes.  Whatever we do here, that’s the way it’s going into the book.”

     Clint Coburn was Mom’s friend and editor.  He created and published “Cobalt Blue.”  I had heard about him for years, but met him for the first (and probably last) time at her 80th birthday party.  We really hit it off.  His young lover/friend was with him.  Mom was so grateful to Clint. She wrote a poem about how it felt holding her own book of poems in her hands for the first time.  I have read “Cobalt Blue” many times.  Reading it again in preparation for entering a poetry manuscript in the NFSPS annual contest, I realized (around 2001 or 2) that there are only 35 poem!  The first time I read it, I was awed to discover that a book of poems is greater than any individual poem: wonderful how they come together to create a bigger whole!

     “Someday you will get serious,”  Mom told me once, about my writing.

     “You write five poems in one day and you call yourself a poet!  You are not a poet!”  she said once when I bragged over the phone about my ‘productivity.’  “I spend weeks or months on a single poem, and I don’t call myself a poet.”  Later, she apologized and was so relieved when I reassured her that I wasn’t hurt or offended.  (I lied).

     “You were right,”  I told her.  “Those weren’t real poems.”

     Books.  She went to the nurses booksale each February with Janet who drove over in the van from California.  They bought books and more books.  At the end of the day, you could have a banana box filled with books for a dollar.  The books filled every niche and cranny of her house.  They filled the bookshelves in Norman’s office upstairs.  The ran down the hallway and covered the far wall of the family room on either side of the chimney from ceiling to floor.  They filled one wall of her bedroom.  Books books books.  “I never saw Mom actually READ a book,”  I told Debbie after she died.  In the last few years, she didn’t, but in the nineties, she read voraciously.”    

     Mom loved Victor.  He was her hairdresser for years.  His sister was in a car accident and decapitated.  I think Mom told me he had her disinterred for some reason.  Each year, Mom offered to pay for Micha, Mark and I to have our hair done.  Mom called Victor and made an appointment for all of us, herself included.  I was in the middle of my dizziness years (the post traumatic stress + perimenopause), but I drove… down Camelback Road, right on 30-something up to the beautiful, curving road which winds below the feet of the Squaw peak range in Paradise Valley, onto straight, crowded roads.  First, Victor’s salon was not so far.  I pulled into the parking space directly in front.  Mom had to descend a few cement steps to reach the parlor.  In this parlor, she paid for me to have my eyebrows formed.  This is done by applying an adhesive and then pulling it off.  Ouch!  In the new parlor, she could walk into the shop.  Here, she paid for Mark to have his hair bleached.  We sat side by side and read while waiting. 

     Mark just came home and wants lunch.  I only write three pages today!  That’s pitiful.

    We had lunch.  Mark went jogging.  I lay down in Micha’s bed for a nap with Diamond.  As I was waking up, more Mom memories came.  It is becoming easier and easier to remember.  It is though I have opened the doorways and can walk down the halls of our houses.  Now, to see if they will come to me here… at the computer.  I am not worried if they don’t.  I feel confident that they are mine, now, and sooner or later, they will appear here.

     “Linda likes to take risks.”

     Mom.  Well, it seems I have to sit her in silence and wait.  So I shall.

     When it strikes me, I open my mouth and let out a belch.  I sound exactly like Mom.  In the morning the first air escaping noisily when I sit down to pee:  Mom again. 

     She signed her notes, “Love, Mother.”

     Hiking in the Yosemite high country, I walked behind Mom.  Ranger Will Neely showed us a large rose quartz stone.  Mom loved rose quartz. I should have taken her some.  Grossmami gave us several large chunks because it is supposed to influence your energy in a positive manner if you put it near your bed or computer.

    Mom taught me to dip a q-tip in alcohol and stick it into my ear.  The more yellow wax which came out, the better.  She told me that Norman had learned a way to get wax out of your ear by sticking in a pencil and lighting the other end on fire.  Another method was to squirt water from a shower head directly into your ear.

     She called me, “Lin.”  She was the only person in the world to speak my name like that.  I knew it wasn’t ‘Lynn.’  I knew she meant the first syllable of “Linda.”  She called Brian “Bri,” and Debbie, “Deb.”  We all called Richard “Rich,” after he married Carol and she started calling him that. 

     She was standing beside me in the line at the market basket when I made such a fuss that the cashier gave me the hershy’s kiss I was begging Mom to buy for me for free.  I was ashamed.  When I stole an eraser from a Whittier store and she found it out, she made me march back inside, return the eraser and confess (to my crime).

     She told me after the fact that on an airplane flying in the far east, she had to lie down on the aisles floor because she couldn’t get any air.  I forget what she said caused this medical emergency.  She thought she was dying.

     Over the phone, before she flew to Switzerland to visit us in Baldingen, she said, “I’m seventy years old.  If the plane should crash… I’ve lived my life.”  On the Baldingen visit with Norman, Janet, and Marjorie, Mom always got to sit in the front passenger seat.  Janet and Marjorie had to squabble over who had to sit in the middle in back.  (Norman got a window).  I was their driver.  I felt somehow smug, and would never have suggested that Mom move to the back – not for a minute.  She had paid for everyone.  She was the queen.  She knew it, and I think she loved it.

     When she was dying, she said, “I’m going to hell.”  The only reasons I could think of why she might worry was her tendancy to let herself be queen because she was the one who had the money.  Or, it could be because she let herself get so out of shape that Debbie had to sacrifice years of her life caring for her.  Debbie said, “Don’t think I’m not giving my life for this.” 

     Mom always paid for everything.  “I don’t want this trip to cost you any money,”  she told me.  “How much was your airfare?”  At the end of most visits, she wrote out a check to cover that, my Price Club shopping spree, and then some, except when she forgot.  I never asked or reminded her, so there was a year or two I did without.

     When I raise my voice and sing, “I love you!” to Diamond, I sound exactly like Mom singing to her bulldogs.

     She always wanted a bulldog, probably ever since she got Brownie but couldn’t keep her, so Janet took her.  At long last, she got Sparky.  “I love you my little doggie pup!” she sang.  I wrote a poem about it.  I think she sang her way through life.

     I once read a letter in which Grandmother Velda accused Mom of never growing up.  Or was it that Velda said that to me.  I think my mom’s remaining a child, or childlike, in her enthusiasm and joy (joie de vivre) was her greatest gift.

     She was so proud that her mother’s parents were French.  “From Alsace Lorraine.”  However, when Hubert and I visited Mama (Mom’s mom) in Santa Ana, we sat beside her on the red leather sofa in the musty living room.  Mama opened a photo album which she held between us on her knees.  There were her parents.  Father and mother from Stuttgart and Berlin.  I don’t think I ever told Mom.

 

February 22, 2005

 

     I received a nice, friendly, personal e-mail from Brian yesterday in answer to one I sent him which, exceptionally, was about me and how things are going.  Usually, I just answer his with a supportive sentence or two.  I reinstalled fam.eisele@bluewin.ch and received an email from Debbie written before Christmas.  The distance between my family and me fell away like ‘drops off a duck’s back.’  It would be easy, now, to belong to them again.  I have thought it over about how Debbie feels about visitors.  It is surely not that she doesn’t want to see me.  She is middle-aged.  She has her pets.  She works hard.  During her vacations, she loves to work on her novel.  Guests always have been and always will be an inconvenience.  I have also thought about inheritance.  I mentioned my sometimes suspicion that maybe my siblings took the money and cut me out of the loop.  Na und?  When I offered to pay $30,000 for a year of college for Mark, Micha wanted to ‘talk about that.’  She felt that something should be written down to indicate that Mark has already received part of his inheritance.  I pulled back and in, like a sea anemone touched, internally; not that she noticed.  It is so: like my mom, I would give to whichever child needed when they needed.  Clearly, I am not the child who needs the money. 

     I received an email from Kathy Slobin yesterday to let me know that Johnny Raitt had died.  He was 88.  He died a year minus four days after Mom.  I feel nothing in particular.  His life was not mine to grieve, nor his spirit to celebrate its liberation.  What affects me most is to hear from Kathy again.  This is pleasant, and I am glad for it.

     I wrote in an email to Debbie, “I have spent so much time with Cosmic Mom this past year, I kind of forgot Corporal Mom.”  This morning, I thought, and then there is Cerebral Mom.  I would like, in the book I promised (which doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore), to interweave Cosmic, Corporal, and Cerebral.  This effort to Find Mom exemplifies Janet’s wise phrase: “Art is a search for the truth.”  It is also a perfect example of writing as therapy.

     Whenever ballet dancers appeared on the television screen, Mom’s voice rang down the hallway, “Linda!  Come quick!”  I ran, rounded the corner, plopped down on the foot of Mom’s bed and watched.  What glory that someone in the world wants to share art with you.

     In a way, I wish someone would do this for me – write everything they know about me (so I won’t get lost).  I thought about doing it for Mom while she was still alive.  Then I could have shown her.  She could have answered the unanswered questions and given her approval.  The motivation wasn’t there.  Like with Dad, now.  Knowing what I know since Mom died; knowing one day he won’t be here anymore, I know I ought to call him more often; see him more often; spend as much time together, create as many memories as we can.  Do I?  No.  When they’re still here, you take them for granted.  You live your life and they live theirs.  Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

     My friend, Ursula Weisseyer didn’t think it was normal for someone to be as attached to their mother as I was (in 1992).  But then I had Helen, and she loved her mother the way I love mine.  Confirmation.  Affirmation.

     I have spent the last hour-and-a-half procrastinating, again.  I have located Norman Dubie’s email address and sent him excerpts from Sam Hamill’s interview about being a Buddhist and a Pacisfist.  I thought Mom would approve.  I also found Alberto Rios, but haven’t emailed him yet.  I intend to send him the URL of our Christmas letter, though.  I have read the New York article about Johnny Raitt, and sent an email to all Overins, Marie-Rose’s and Hannigans whose e-mail addresses I have, informing them that he has died.  Now I’ll turn the computer off, shower and dress and tidy up. When I return, I’ll get back to “Mom’s Story.”

 

     “It’s pre-writing,”  Mom said. She advised me to delete the first couple of pages of “Meeting the Poet.”  She was right, of course. Mom was always right.

     Images of Mom eating.  Knawing the juicy flesh from a Mango seed.  In the past couple of years, Debbie brought them home by the case from Price Club. 

     “I can show you how to cut that, Mom,”  I offered.

     “I know how to eat these.  I’ve eaten plenty of these.”

     In Logan, Utah, circa 1986, Hubert barbequed lamb chops on the grill in the backyard.  He cut the meat from the bones.  “Oh, don’t do that!”  Mom protested.  He learned to leave the meat on the bone for her.  She loved to knaw it, getting every last bit.  I like to do that, too.

     Mom loved the liver paté from Switzerland.  Every year, I brought her three tubes, one of each flavor.  She knew it wasn’t good for her.  One morning, I walked into her bedroom unannounced and caught her sucking the paté straight out of the tube.  Her eating fetish was like a disease.  When caught, she was like a child caught in the act of doing something they know is naughty.  She would become gleefully guilty.  ‘I know it’s bad but I’m not going to stop.’  After that, I didn’t want to bring the paté anymore.  Each year, she begged, and each year, I succumbed.  “She feels bad,”  Debbie said.  “She believes that eating will make her feel better.”  Debbie didn’t see a reason to deprive her at this late stage.  What would be the point.  She loves food.  Let her enjoy it.

     I wondered why she had this ‘eating disorder.’  After I read, ‘A Rooster Crows,’ about the horrors of growing up with Mama and Papa, I thought, maybe it was to compensate for the traumas she suffered in childhood.

     Laughter is cathartic.  I have never laughed the way I laugh with family.  Mom, Debbie, me, driving down the coast away from Santa Barbara, waves pounding the waterbreak.  We stop and glory in it.  Riding in the car, laughing about something, laughing in a way I could only laugh with them.

     When was the last time Mom and I laughed about something.

      Sitting at the dining room table eating together in the Phoenix house for the first time since Richard died, we all here it: a plate in the kitchen has spontaneously started rolling on its rim.  It lasts for about twenty seconds.  I run into the kitchen, peer into the family room, down the hall; there is nobody there.  “That was Richard,”  we all agree.

     “We are psychic,”  she told me.  After Karl Seethaler died, she claims that he appeared before her, I think it was at the foot of her bed.  Afterwards (I think this is what she told me), she felt better about him. 

     There was some psychic event about a Saint Bernard, first someone thinks of it, and the next thing we know, there is one in the neighbor’s yard.

     “Debbie will make the truck get out of our way.  Just watch.  She has that power.”  This must have made Debbie feel proud the way Mom’s comment about my not stepping on a crack had made me proud.

     I read in the Raymond letter she wrote to me (freshman year) about her and Alison laughing about being witches.  Mom said, “He’s a pompous purple pig.”  She repeated it three times.  Then they drove out the drive, stopping at the mailbox.  They removed a letter from Linda.  When Alison opened it, inside was an orgami purple pig.  In a letter I wrote, I explain that it is the work of my roommate, Melissa Dunning.

     Mom wore 100% cotton underpants with elastic bands at waist and legs.  She bought me my underpants until after I was married.  I still have one very old pair (over twenty years old) still in good condition.  I keep it because certainly this is one Mom bought for me. 

     “I can’t stand people who have no neck,”  she asserted.  As a child, Mark had very little neck.  She would of loved the gorgeous young man, with neck, he has become.  I was ashamed for her because, by the time she said it, her neck had more or less disappeared.  She had a widows hump, and in the last years, her head looked down. 

     Recently, I thought, “My mother was the most beautiful woman who ever lived.”  I meant her body, fat, old – it didn’t matter.  My mother had a beauty which people recognized.  It’s why they loved her.

     “Mom always took care of her fingernails,”  Debbie said.  When I was twenty or so, Mom gave me a diamond nail file.  I kept it in my purse for many years until it disappeared.  She called the cardboard files, “Emmory boards.”  I watched her filing her nails, nonchalantly.  After she died, I picked up her hand and examined her finger nails.  Each was perfectly rounded it to a nice oval.  “She made me bring her an emory board,” to the rehabilitation center, Debbie said.  “She cared.”

     “Don’t listen to her and don’t do anything she said,” Debbie said when Mom tried to con me into giving her food she knew was bad for her.  She lied and said, “It’s alright with Debbie.”

     Why did she stop cooking?  Why did she stop doing her own grocery shopping.  Her weight became such a burden, the last summer, it was an enormous effort for her to move her legs from one side of the bed around the corner to the other so I could reach them to put on her compression stockings.  I tried to remember to bring her a half grapefruit every night at bedtime until it was revealed that one of her diabetes medications could react with grapefruit.  “It could kill me,”  she said.  I brought her a large glass of warm water with a heaping tablespoon of Metamucil stirred in each evening at bedtime.  “Make sure to stir it well,”  she instructed.  “Did you stir it well?”  she asked when I appeared.

     She drank a large glass of lemon water each morning when she was a few years younger.  “This is very good for you.  Make sure you rinse out your mouth after you do it!  The acid eats away your teeth.”

     On a last departure from Phoenix, all were in the car.  I went down the hall one more time into Mom’s bedroom, even though we had already said goodbye.  “It’s alright if I don’t come with you to the airport?”

     “Of course it is.”

     One last kiss; lips touching the soft skin of her cheek.  After she died, I kissed her all over her head, the way I had imagined I would have kissed Richard, had I known he was going to die.

     She taught me to uncontract contractions in my writing:  not, it’s, but it is.  So I just responded to an email from Hadi, “It is good to hear from you.”

     Once Mom and I had a good breakfast and a good conversation.  Everything was great.  Then Debbie arrived home, and, walking down the hall with her walker, Mom let her lower lip hang loose.  Debbie asked, “How are you, Mom?”

      “Fine,” Mom said in a pitiful voice.  She was the consummate actor.

      She was not alone.  In my blue kitchen in Logan, Utah, Norman said, “Let’s go outside and tell your mother that we wanted to cut this bath towel in half.”  I played along.  We went out into the summer garden where Mom was sitting at the round wooden cable-table with her notebooks – ah, the temperature and the air like Yosemite in the fifties!  “We thought, we would like to cut this towel in half,”  Norman told her. 

     She replied in a way which took him half-seriously but let him know that he could not.  This was when I wondered if maybe Norman was just playing at having Alzheimer’s but was really smarter than people gave him credit for. 

     When Mom and Norman came to visit us in Baldingen, they slept in the bedroom at the bottom of the stairs. Norman pee’d in a brown paper bag and it leaked through to the carpet… duh!  I blew up at him.  “Blew up.”  Now there’s a Mom expression I haven’t used in many years.  I am sorry to this day that I lost my temper for that.  Norman couldn’t help he.  He really did suffer from Alzheimer’s.  I think I know how it was.  I think Norman must have flown over ahead of Mom that time we lost him at Zürich airport.  Then Mom and Janet and Marjorie arrived later.  Shortly after that, while they were napping and deep in jetlag, Mark fell off the roof.  He had to spend the night in the hospital under observation in case he had a brain concussion.

     In Tunisia, I noticed that Debbie’s and Mom’s jaws clicked while they chewed their food.  This irritated me. 

     Mom chewed chewing gum with her mouth open.  When I did that as a child, she told me to chew with my mouth closed.  At meals, she tried to train us to “chew with your mouths closed.”

     She tried and tried to teach me not to be so forgetful.  She must have told me 2000 times to jiggle the handle of the toilet in the child’s bath.  Otherwise it would keep flushing and we would be “wasting water.”  “Don’t forget, this is a desert!”  She gave Hubert the book, “Cadillac Desert,” for Christmas one year.  She was a conservationist.  I only relearned recently reading a writeup about her that she was a founder of the Phoenix branch of the Sierra Club!!!

     “Turn off the stove in forty minutes,”  she said as she went out the door to run errands.  Invariably, I forgot.

     When I was in high school, she paid a woman 35 cents a shirt to iron Dad’s shirts.  Once I rode with her to drop them off, or pick them up.

     In the 8th grade or so, I had a flu.  Mom took me to the doctor.  I had been complaining all morning; I ached, I was miserable.  When we reached the examing room and the doctor asked me how I felt, I replied, “Fine.” 

     “You made a liar out of me!”  she complained afterwards.

     “Don’t make a liar out of me!”  I think I did that to her repeatedly.  Sorry, Mom!

     She loved cupie dolls.  She gave me a pocket mirror with cupies on it I still carry in the Loatian-hand-sewn cosmetic purse she gave me in my purse.  She loved hummels, and knew their value.

     When we traveled to Lichtenstein, she bought the Nativity in Hummels for only 300-and-some Swiss franks.  I would have loved to have that, but she took it home with her and gave it to Debbie.

     When she came to Baldingen on her return from a trip to Russia, (I think she attended an air show with Brian, but he didn’t come with her to Switzerland, or did he?  He gave us a bottle of original Russian vodka, which would indicate that he did.)  She gave me a choice of the hand-painted Russian treasures she had purchased.  I got the Babushka, a beautiful work.  I felt a twinge of guilt, like I was cheating my sisters with this one. 

     “Whoever said Life is fair,” Mom used to say.

     “I love all my children the same.”

     “I don’t hate you, I hate what you did.”  That one came, most certainly, from her readings in psychology.

     When I was five or six, she took me to a parade in downtown Whittier.  An open-backed truck drove slowly past, slates of wood making a wall around the flatbed filled with balloons.  A man or two were tossing balloons to the children in the crowd, to the left of me, to the right, only I didn’t get one.  Determined, Mom reached right into the cab and pulled out a large balloon.  Inside was a slip of paper … a gift certificate.  She took me to the store in downtown Whittier.  It was a china shop.  The gift certificate was for FIVE DOLLARS!  That was a lot of money in those days!!!  I selected the hummel boy with fence and goose.  It cost $6.00.  Mom paid the extra dollar.  That is MY hummel.  There were other hummels I claimed on my Wish List I emailed to Debbie after Mom died.  Debbie never confirmed receiving it.  But if I never get another hummel, it doesn’t matter.  I have the one my Mommy got for me when it counted most.  A tiger, my Mommy.

     There was the time we toured the Whittier police station.  We got to look through the one-way mirror into the interrogation room! I didn’t want to leave afterwards.  “Alright, you can stay,” she said.  She disappeared around a corner of the building. 

     “Uhoh!”  Fear at what I had done had barely begun to set in when she drove around the corner, pulled up to the curb and opened the door.  I ran to climb in.

     I rode in the back seat with Ricky when she drove him up into the Whittier hills to drop him off at the private kindergarten he attended.  I wanted to go there!

     I waited in the waiting room when she took Ricky to the eye doctors.  The eye doctor did something with him with red and green transparent plastic.  I wanted to discover all the secret things which happened in the examing room behind the closed door!

     She braided my hair.  She braided my hair.

     It’s all one life, even though its thread which goes from beginning to end.  I have vivid memories from her old age.  I have fewer, but lovely memories of her as a young mother – with five children!!!  When I asked her, having only two, how she had managed with five, she replied, “I forget.”  (Logan, Utah).

     I know about her childhood from her writing. 

     She told me, “They thought I was dumb until I was fourteen.  I was dyslexic.” 

     “I don’t know how to spell.  I never write without a dictionary.”

     I believe that at Pomona College, an English teacher gave her a D in writing!  Was that Mom?

     Her first true love died in World War II in Europe.  If that hadn’t happened, she wouldn’t have married my dad and we all wouldn’t have been born!

     When she was a little girl, there was a boy in the neighborhood who had horrible luck.  Once he had a hammer in his back pocket when the rope broke on the swing and he fell onto the hammer so that the prongs dug into him.  Once his leg caught fire and he stuck it into what he thought was a bucket of water, but was gasoline!  Finally, he was struck by a car and the handlebar went through his stomach and he died.  Mom told me about this child.  Can he really have existed??  Did someone in her neighborhood really have that bad luck?  If she were alive, I would ask her to verify these stories.

     When she was very young (I don’t know how old), her mother gave her a penny and told her to go to the corner store and buy herself a piece of candy.  They had left her to watch her mother.  “Don’t leave her alone,”  her father had commanded.  Have way to the store, she was overcome with some emotion, turned and ran back to the house.  Her screaming drew the neighbors.  “She’s swallowed her tongue,”  she heard her father say, bending over her unconscious mother.

      When her parents were fighting, she pushed in between them and pulled on the hairs on her father’s forearm, trying to get him to stop.  He slugged her mother in the jaw so hard he broke it.

     It was the depression.  Her father took them down to the river bed to visit the hoboes who lived in makeshift houses.  She watched as one man pulled on a string to erect a ship in a glass bottle. 

     She kept a museum of strange creatures: a baby octopus, dead human fetuses in jars.  I saw those myself when I was a child.  They were preserved in Formeldahyde.  As Mom had shown them to children from her neighborhood decades earlier, Jimmy showed them to us.  Fortunately, she has written about these events and they are saved for posterity in her poems.

     She attended Pomona college.  She dated my dad who was a student at Cal Tech.  “College is the best time of your life,”  she told me.  It is why I went to Raymond.  It is why I want to send Mark to Earlham (if he gets accepted).

     I wonder what it must have been like growing up with her sisters in Santa Ana in the thirties.  Mom was born in 1923.  She was the third of four daughters.  Her mother miscarried a male fetus.  Its name was David.  Because David didn’t live, Mom was born.  If David had lived, we would never have been born! 

     Papa always wanted a boy.  He remarried Harriet after he and Jessie were divorced.  He got his two sons. 

     Papa took Mom as a child to the pier and taught them to fish through holes in the wood.  A generation later, Mom took us to the pier before dawn.  I remember walking to the end and gazing out, the way the black green of the night merged so that you couldn’t tell what was sea and what was sky.  It must have been foggy.

     Mom strode along the beach, long brown neck, short-cropped hair, wearing a gray sweatshirt.  Was she barefoot?  I loved going barefoot.  Do I have that from her?

     I can’t remember ever seeing her and Daddy dancing together.  I know they danced, because once, dancing with Patti, my Dad pulled something in his torso.  Mommy took me to the hospital to visit him.  I know she was worried when he had an allergic reaction to a tetanus shot.

     I don’t think she every broke any bones.  When I broke my arm, she drove me to the doctor’s office.  She stood beside me while he set the break.  My toes wiggled, the big toe flipping back and forth off the one beside it.  The doctor told me I was very brave.  After the caste was removed (the first or second time), and I saw that my arm had atrified and the skin was all white and pasty and flaking off, I was horrified and became hysterical.  I was in the sixth grade.  Mommy held onto my other arm as I stomped and danced around her in a circle flailing the broken arm, threatening to strike it against any object.  (What was WRONG with me??!!)

     She let me lick the cream off the paper lid from the glass milk bottle the milkman left on the porch.  Cream floated to the top in those days. 

     She gave us bosco.  We liked to let it drip into our glass of milk.  We sang, “I love bosco, bosco’s bad for me.  Mama put it in my milk and tried to poison me.  I fooled Mama.  I put it in her tea.  Now there’s no more Mama to try and poison me.”  That must have been Ricky.

     She drove me to ballet and picked me up, week after week.  Once she forgot and didn’t show up for a long time (an hour?  Two?  Probably it was fifteen minutes).  She was very sorry. 

     I walked to piano lessons at Marion Howard’s, but Mommy was there for the piano recitals.  I sat beside her when Ricky, on the other side, counted under his breath, “one, two, three…” for each mistake the boy at the piano made.

     Very few physical images have survived from all those shared years.  But her young mother spirit is inside of me.  The way I raise my children – “Never say kids.  Kids are baby goats.” – I have from her.  The way I sing.  The way I grunt.  And yet, she was so much more than I… five foot ten.  Was she happy?  She was so smart.  She lived through the fifties when women were “the little woman,” or “my better half.”  Dad said, “What, work?  Not MY wife!”  Was she o.k. with that?  When she could, she enrolled at the University.  That was the beginning of the end of her marriage of twenty-five years.  She discovered poetry.  I remember thinking, “She writes when she is sad; not when she’s happy.”

     When she went through early menopause, she was awful.  She would scream and cry at the drop of a hat.  After the historectamy at age 35, they put her on HRT, the horse one; premarin?  She took it until she got skin cancer in her seventies.  She started to bleed from the nipples.  She told me over the phone.  I looked it up in my American Medical Association Medical Guide (a bible!) and told her it could be this or that harmless thing, or it could be cancer.  She should get it checked out.  She did.  They surgically removed the tumor.  Later, when they thought she might have a relapse, Debbie took her to the oncologist’s office.  Debbie told me how, wheeling Mom past cancer stricken patients in the waiting room, Mom sang, “It’s benign!  It’s benign!” 

     After she died, Bill Wilkins told me about camping in Arches or Moab or someplace with Mom and Norman.  Early in the morning, Mom emerged from her tent wearing a long, white nightgown, and sang out, “I survived!”  That’s my Mom!

     She loved life.  She had an exhuberance.  She gloried in nature and beauty. 

     “You need beauty,”  she told me when we were looking for a house to buy.  Then she gave us enough money to make it possible.  When she came to visit during those years, 1992, I drove with her to Lake Thun.  I pulled into a parking space overlooking a strip of lawn descending to the water.  It was a gray day.  “I wanted to move here for you,”  I told her.  We visited a house together in a neighborhood where mostly older people lived.   She made it clear that I didn’t need to buy a house by lake Thun for her sake.  It turned out to be true.  I think that was her last visit.  I drove her to Alpenblickweg before she flew back to America.  It was a clear day.  She saw the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in the distance.  She saw the hillside where our house now stands.  She never got to see our house, (until, perhaps, after she died).  But I’m not sure how spirits see physical reality.  Can she ‘see’ the house, or can she find it by its spirit?  And is a house unimportant, once you are spirit?

     Mom had an enlarged heart.

     She had a great sense of humor and appreciated humor in others.  Dolly was so funny that I think I didn’t think of Mom as funny in comparison.  However, Hadi just mentioned it:  “I remember reading her kind words and could appreciate her clarity of thought and sense of humor in the letters that she wrote me.”  That was Mom.  She wrote people letters.  She wanted copies of everything.  I didn’t always understand her scheme or the bigger plan, but I’ll bet there was one.  (like the purple notebooks we never finished).

     Hadi writes: “Along with her wisdom and her heart I remember Dorothy's generosity.”

     Mom said I was wise. 

     He writes, “I would always write her a thank you letter telling her how much I appreciated her many gifts that she gave to me over the years.  In fact, when I returned from Indonesia, and my parents moved to India at the same time, it was Dorothy who gave me a little help ( a lot actually) for when I first moved out on my own.  It was Dorothy who helped me with my first down payment and security on the apartment I still live in today.  There were so many others.  I remember when I was working at my last job, and I didn't make much money and was thinking about how to afford my and Allison's tickets to go to my brother's wedding, an unexpected surprise came in the mailbox at the same time which helped me pay for the trip to France to spend time with the family for my brother's special day.

     There were many instances where Dorothy's generosity was shown.  She never had to be so generous, and I would never ask.  It is just something that she did from her heart, and that is admirable and very special.  It showed the kind of person that she was.  It was because of her that, if I ever reach a level of financial success in my life, I am going to take care of those who helped me get there as much as I can before myself.  I've never needed for much, but if I ever have access to a lot, it will show in the lives of those I care about.”

     “Because she was so well read, and appreciated the arts so much, we connected on that level as far as writing when I was relatively young.  I think I wrote my first letter to her when I was maybe 7 or 8.  Our family was in Switzerland.  Janet sent my mother an audio tape that she had recorded from the funeral service of I believe my great grandmother, because my mother could not attend.  I heard Dorothy's voice in the background.  I bet my mother still has that tape as she saves things like that.  My parent's don't always believe that I remember these things, but I do.  At around the same time, I began to write to Dorothy.  

     “Dorothy was a wonderful person.  A well read artiste-personality who was as generous as she was wise.  I wish I had had the opportunity to know her even better than I did.  But I am thankful for the many letters and cards which accompanied her many gifts that I can keep to remember her by.  I was saddened to hear of her passing.  It's hard to believe it's almost been a year already.” 

     I wrote to Hadi that I will keep learning and learning from my mom for the rest of my life.  It will take that long to listen to all the cassettes she made.  I can see her sitting on the back of the bear stool in front of her stereo system working on tapes.  Years later, she forgot how it worked, and couldn’t make the tapes any more.

 

Enough for today.  Like Garrison Keillor says, “Be well and do good work.”  How Mom loved Garrison Keillor!

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