• Mike Matson

The Works

This column was published November 27, 2021 in the Manhattan Mercury.


The script for women in my mom’s generation didn’t allow for much independent thought. At intermission, she started writing in the margins. By the end of her third Act, she had tossed the script entirely. Today, at 86, she is modeling an invaluable life lesson.

Mom decided the time is right for assisted living, and this week, moved to Fletcher House at Uplands Village in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, deep in the hills and hollows of the Cumberland Plateau, about midway between Nashville and Knoxville.

It’s a full-service turnkey community for folks Mom’s age. There’s the assisted living complex where she’ll live, nursing care when and if needed, a unit specializing in memory care, a swimming pool, taco Tuesday, the works.

My siblings and I love this place for several reasons. It’s an open and affirming community, they care about sustainable living and adhere to something called The Eden Alternative, which views elder communities as habitats for human beings rather than warehouses for the frail.

Which begs the question, why is this not the industry standard?

Mom’s childhood Thanksgivings were like something out of Norman Rockwell. Mom grew up on a farm in the Saline River basin on the windward edge of the High Plains, right about the point where the geography flattens as it flows west to the front range.

The turkey would fall victim to Mom’s father’s deft wielding of the “good” sterling silver fork and knife. Later, as technology progressed, the sterling gave way to a state-of-the-art electric carving knife.

Giblets in the gravy. Butter and finely chopped onions in the mashed potatoes. Gelled cranberry sauce that kept its original tin can shape while wobbling on the bone China. The works.

She grew up believing God helps those who help themselves and that belief is strengthened and nurtured in a community of faith.

Mom has already lived longer than both her parents. She’s lost her older brother and younger sister, leaving her the sole survivor of her nuclear family.

In the 1980s, when the radioactive fallout from the patriarch of my nuclear family got too intense, Mom turned the corner from reactive to proactive.

Mom has always made decisions about her aging before the crisis. A decade ago, while still able-bodied, she left her beloved Kansas, and moved to a ‘mother-in-law’ apartment in the basement of my sister and her spouse’s home in Nashville.

Three years ago, recognizing her own limitations, Mom quit driving and donated her car to public radio. Last spring, she asked us to help her pick out a burial plot, in the rolling hills of Tennessee.

She inherited her father’s fragile heart and it’s enough of an underlying condition that Mom’s life for the last couple of years has been pretty cloistered. That’s hard on someone whose most precious gift is making friends at the drop of a hat.

As I was hanging art on her new walls this week, it struck me how many paintings Mom has of sunflowers and that the Kansas girl will never return to the physical place where these values and gifts were instilled. Mom will spend what remain of her days and nights in the Cumberland Plateau.

In her Appalachian autumn, with a profound sense that life is there at her command, Mom scans the horizon, trusts God, settles into a new home, and makes new friends.

The works.

I give thanks for her gift of foresight.