John Grogan - The Longest Trip Home


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


Blogger Shorty said...

Awww! Happy birthday, Ruthie ~ from AR! I'm an amateur photographer myself and I adore old photos. I'm sure she will cherish it for several more years.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Tildan ( & Enzo) said...

Hi! FIRST! Excuse my bad english :D And then, I know it is a while since "Marley & Me" first came out. But I'm from Sweden, and we're a little behind!
Just wanted to tell you I absolutely LOVED the book! Guess you haven't heard that before :) But I want to give you a BIG heart for writing so lovnig about your dog. The good, the bad, the ugly, but still with LOVE =) Rekognized A LOT!=)



4:38 PM  
Blogger john.s said...

after reading Marley and me a poem and a story which I have became very relevant. they are "if it sould be " by Mary Pringle" and "The Rainbow Bridge". Both of these will bring you comfort and anybody else who has lost a friend.

5:14 AM  
Blogger labmom said...

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1:35 PM  
Blogger Melisa said...

Hi, John
Your blog made me cry, to see how much family means to you. I'm glad your mother enjoyed the picture.
Happy Birthday Ruthie!!
How is Woodson and Gracie doing? All of my feline friends are fine.
I enjoy your book "Marley and Me". My favorite part is when you took Marley to the airport.
I enjoy your blog a lot. Keep up the great work!

9:41 PM  
Blogger  said...

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2:10 PM  
Blogger  said...

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2:12 PM  
Blogger  said...

Hello Mr John Grogan, congratulations for your books!
Are amazing! I am very emotional with the book Marley & me. Now I'm reading his other book.
I identified a lot with Marley & me. I love the other book!
The film was also very good and left the cinema-goers crowded here in Brazil, I had to buy my tickets almost a day before watching the movie!

ps:sorry for my bad english!

2:13 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

Happy belated birthday to your Mom! My mom was not like her, but I wish she had been.

I always look forward something new on your blog.


5:00 PM  
Blogger michelle | bleeding espresso said...

Aw, happy belated birthday to your mom!

I'm just reading Marley & Me now (and loving it), and can't wait to read your memoir. Although I'm a native of a small town in northeast/central PA, I live in southern Italy now so it takes me a while to catch up on American cultural phenomena ;)

8:00 AM  
Blogger deborah said...

Hi John, it is a mighty nice surprise to see a picture of Ruth on your blog, she certainly is a huge star in the sky in my books. As your neighbor Dick and Ruth were like Cary Grant, impeccable-no other words to describe the leading couple. I am both elated for her and the family that they could get together for just a few moments in time-life is very precious-and Ruth will always remain that way to me

2:16 PM  
Blogger drew said...

I just finished the audio book last week. It was excellent. My maternal grandparents are 93 and 92. My grandfather is WWII vet that was at Ohama Beach and the Battle of the Bulge (where he earned the bronze star medal) and his birthdate is 12/06/15 (close to your Dad's). My grandmother will be 93 in June (her name). They are amazing people and he has ushered at his Catholic Church for years. They had a lot of similarities with your parents but they both have been in intensive care units over the years and blessedly they both have come home. I am glad I read your book it really made me appreciate my own family more. Thank-You.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Lisa Natoli said...

Hi Johh,
I am reading Marley and me and it is LAUGH OUT LOUD funny! I am cracking up over here. Your sentences are brilliant. I'm laughing out loud on practically every other page. I decided to write (just now) with the part where you and Jenny are going to buy the home pregnancy test, and you open the car door to let Marley in (I'm over laughing again, just typing it, thinking about it!) and you wrote:
"When i opened the door, he leaped into the backseat with such gusto that he sailed clear to the other side without touching down, not stopping until he cracked his head loudly, but apparently with no ill effect, against the far window." hahaha. I can so see it. This dog is brilliant. Your writing is hilarious. It brings me right there. I can't wait to see the movie now. Great job!!! ps: I also love your wife. The part about how she over-waters the plant and kills it and blames you both. haha. Sounds like something I'd do.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Lindalou said...

I just finished The Longest Trip Home last night. You're killing me. You've got to right a book where I'm not balling at the end.

Having attended 12 years of Catholic School in the Detroit area, I loved all your school stories. They brought back a lot of memories.

I was in the convent a couple of times and your description was right on. I also worked at the Church Rectory during High School and again dead on. The life style of nuns vs priests...very different. Especially the "beverages".

Thank you for bringing it all to life again.

And Happy Birthday to you Mom!

10:36 AM  
Blogger Jellytotssssssss///The crazyyy buuumbleybee said...

this hasn't got much to do with this blog entry, but here I a link to a small fan group on bebo ( 75 members ) and I hope you will take the time to have a look.

Alos, I was the first in the class to read Marley & Me about 2 years ago. Now, everyone is dying to borrow the book off of me. Its kinda funny. When I went to see the film, which, by the way, is a baddish adaption, I cired a bit, on on my other side, my friend was full out crying. But a few seats down another friend was laughing, and now she has been sutibly shamed, ie. Told off like mad!

From a big young fan in Ireland, your beloved place!

3:00 AM  
Blogger SuperBK said...

Hi John, I enjoyed both your books and the blog. Please keep writing. Boy, you were really a troublemaker as a kid!

10:11 PM  

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