It has been years, I thought as I walked away from the big brick building. The front room is as nice as cozy and warm as any living room. Mom and I don't use it much. Mostly we pass through on our way in and out , Mom usually holds my right hand and uses her cane as she slowly walks towards my car.
She asks, again, when did I get the little red convertible. I tell her that I bought it recently from a friend. Her husband passed away and she had too many vehicles, so I got it at a good deal.
Mom doesn't remember we've traveled in the car many times the last few months. The last 3 years she is not consistent with her memory and my sisters and I just listen, and we don't remind her of all the things she's forgotten the last few years. Today we'll be taking a trip where she will
have her hair permed and cut at the local technical college. It's inexpensive and she enjoys all the attention from the ladies there. Usually, after that, we will go for an ice cream treat at Gadsden City Pharmacy. Sometimes we come to my home for a few hours. I let her decide when it's time to go back. She will laugh and say, 'I like the home ok. But the doctor said I can go home anytime. Will you come get me tomorrow? If you can't, then one of my daughters will take me home. I am happy there. I can see my own TV. You know I can't see the one in my room.'
Listening. Something I'd never done well until this last year or so. Learning to listen has improved my life and I'm learning something from everyone I listen to, it's taken me a long time to learn the respect of listening. My mom tells me so much about her childhood and how her parents always had a garden, and how my grandparents both sewed!
After the trip to the beauty shop, as mom calls it, we travel on to stay at my house a while. She loves my sweet tea and asks on the way if I have any made. I tell her, 'of course! What Southern lady doesn't keep sweet tea?'
She laughs about that and says, 'Your daddy always loved my cooking.'
'I know. I never knew he was so picky until I cooked for him for a couple of years. He could almost put me into a panic attack when he criticized my cornbread! If he said it was too dry or it was too moist, I would wonder how in the world you cooked such good meals everyday! We just took your good cooking for granted!'
The day turned out to be a good one. She asks a lot of the same questions each time I see her. She forgets how long she's been at the nursing home. She thinks she's only been there a few weeks. It's actually been over a year. She asks over and over about her daughters, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She forgets their ages. But so far, she's not forgotten any of her relatives. That's good, I tell myself.
Years ago, I look back at the times my mom and I would have disagreements, we didn't see eye to eye about most things. And being the oldest daughter, I was sure I took the brunt and had the strictest parents in the world. I know I made it much easier for my younger sisters. In fact, by the time the youngest ones were teenagers, they had a different set of parents. I always tell people, I was the 'poor' child. The one who had two pair of shoes a year, and I went to a school where nearly all the girls had a pair of shoes to match every outfit. I also remember the year, very clearly, when daddy sold our good car and bought a real jalopy! He was a brick mason and it must have rained for weeks. But when mom came driving up at my school in this old gray car, that the ceiling was ragged, and the smoke was so thick you couldn't see who was driving, I didn't know whether to get in or run when she motioned to me! After that day, I begged her to please wait and pick me up at least 10 minutest after everyone had left the school!
Now I'm listening again as mom talks on the phone, 'Well, I do have friends there and really good food, too,' she is telling my sister, Luann, who lives in Anchorage. 'But, I'm going to get on that air plane and come see you. How are the kids?' She has forgotten Luann's children are grown up now. Then she remembers when Luann tells her they have lives of their own and in fact she may be coming here for a visit. That makes mom happy and she tells her, 'We can stay at my house when you come.'
The time has come. It's time to take my mom back to the nursing home. As we go down my steps, she is cheerful and holds my hand tight again. 'You're so good to me. I love you so much,' she says.
'I love you, too, mother,' I tell her, thinking to myself, I've always called her mother, so why did I use 'mom' in this story? As we walk towards the car, she can't remember which one we came in, and asks me and I tell her we're the ones in the little red convertible, 'You know the snazzy chicks, looking all young and good with our lipstick fresh and our hair all beautified!
My heart is crying on the inside. I understand so much about my mother than I did when she was young. I see her so differently now. And I'll tell you in a heartbeat. All those times we had those disagreements do not seem important anymore. All the times I thought she just didn't understand life, well, I see that differently now, too. She has written poetry, and short stories, and even a book. All of them are as good as any published ones I've read. So mother, if I'm lucky, I'll live long enough for my children and grandchildren to have another chance to get to know me as I've gotten to know you. But if I don't, I already have my stories in a box. In fact, your box of poems, stories, and that book are sitting side by side. Keeping each other company, who knows we could be published together someday.
The lobby is there. Just as we left it. The fire is going. The paint is fresh and new. The nurses and aids are smiling. We are smiling, too. I want my mother to be happy there. I want them to know she is loved and it is hard to trust them to care for her. After all, it's just a short stay.