Mom turns 93
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Many of you who have read my memoir, The Longest Trip Home, have told me you feel as though you personally know and love my family. I always like to hear that. My mother, Ruth, especially seems to have won her way into many readers' hearts. With her break-the-mold combination of comical antics, motherly worry, fulsome love, and moral certitude, she in a way was a sort of Everymom. The kind who dedicated her life to keeping her children happy and healthy, safe and secure, and on the right track--not just as kids, but as adults, as well. Many of you have told me she reminded you a lot of your own mothers. I always take that as a compliment, and I know she would, too.
Well, Mom had a birthday recently. Frail now but still in good spirits and with her sense of humor intact, Mom celebrated turning ninety-three, and I was blessed to be able to be there to help. The day before, I was in Findlay, Ohio, about 90 minutes south of Detroit, to give a talk. (Thank you, Findlayans, for the warm reception!) I tagged on an extra day to make a sidetrip to visit my siblings Mike and Marijo, who remain in the area, and of course, Mom, who lives in a nursing home on a lake about 15 minutes from where I grew up.
I wanted to give my mother something memorable as a gift, but at her age there are not many things she needs or wants. Candy is always a big hit but the doctor discourages too much of that. Flowers provide a pick-me-up, but a week later they are spent. What I decided to give her was a blow-up of a photograph my father, who was quite a talented amateur photographer, took back in 1959, when I was 2. It's a shot I found at the bottom of a pile of family photos when I was researching The Longest Trip Home, and which appears inside the book. In soft black-and-white tones, it shows Marijo, Mike, Tim and me sitting on the floor of our living room not long after moving into our house in Harbor Hills, the neighborhood that plays such a big part in my memoir. I framed the photo and carried it in my luggage from Pennsylvania. It had been decades since Mom had seen this image, and I wasn't sure how she would react to it. For several years now, Mom's memory has been failing, and sometimes she cannot remember whether she ate lunch, let alone what she ate. I wondered if she would even recognize the four young faces staring out of the photo at her, faces that now belonged to middle-aged adults with graying hair and a few wrinkles of their own.
Mike, Marijo, her partner Kent, and I took Mom to one of her favorite restaurants, Weber's in Ann Arbor, where she grew up. We were all pleased to see how well she ate. Wolfed down her whitefish and finished all her vegetables. Good girl, Ruthie! She even had a sip of my beer. After dessert, we presented her with gifts. I placed the photo in front of her upside down, then watched her face as I turned it over. Instantly, she broke into a giant warm smile. "My four little kittens," she murmured, using the same expression she favored so long ago. Mom sat there for the longest time, beaming as she studied the image. I suppose for her it was the same as for me: a bittersweet reminder, mostly happy but tinged with the sadness of loss, of all that had come before, all that we had shared -- the laughter, the joy, the struggles -- and all that had faded into the realm of memory.
"Happy birthday, Ruthie," I said and gave her a big smooch on the cheek. Then it was time for good byes and the trip to the airport. Another year, another milestone. Despite time and distance, family remains.
posted by John Grogan at 4:54 AM