Updated: Apr 29
This column was published April 28, 2023 in the Manhattan Mercury.
“You have a firm handshake…” It came from a friend of my mother’s, as they gathered for lunch. Jene is 90-something, thinning white hair, impeccable manners and a twinkle in his eye. In his younger years, he was a physical therapist, so the man can discern legit handshakes from dead fish.
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. Mom’s been in assisted living in Tennessee for more than a year.
When Mom moved to the mid-south, I promised to come visit every spring and fall. Last weekend, I arrived just in time for lunch. When you live like this, meals take on importance that transcend mere sustenance.
Jene had read my book. Mom was apparently subtly shopping it around (“My son, the author…”). His son battled addiction and it was on that plane that we connected.
Audrey is her closest girlfriend. Her birthday was approaching, always a bit emotionally precarious at this stage of life, so Mom suited up some of her Nashville friends to send along birthday cards, to give Audrey something to feel good about. Birthday wishes from complete strangers made her day.
George and I hit it off right away, connecting over movies. He’s the resident film buff and apparently holds court on movie night, amid the walkers and canes, regaling the assembled masses with cinematic pearls. We swapped favorite movie stories. He’s partial to From Here to Eternity. Mine’s Goodfellas.
“What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?”
Every one of them, sharp, curious, eager for fresh faces, though a bit hard of hearing.
“I SAID… BILLY WILDER DOESN’T GET HIS DUE AS A NOIR DIRECTOR, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?”
Until very recently, George’s wife lived with him. She was a lobbyist for public schools in Alabama and her father served a term as governor of Oregon. His wife was recently moved to long term care (same complex). Not sure what that means other than the limits of her life are such that she needs full-time care, more than “assisted.”
When his wife was moved, George was alone, often seated by himself at chowtime. Mom and her cronies saw the danger and invited him over.
Recently, when the quality of the food was headed south, this crew wrapped what was billed as “chicken fried steak” in a napkin, demanded an audience with the administrator and pleaded their case. The term “hockey puck” was deployed. Within days, a new chef. The system works, if you work it.
Mom and I are both middle children. We’ve always had a strong connection. It was stretched thin during my self-obsessed addiction years, but that’s long since repaired. She raised me, taught me right from wrong, protected me from all manner of harm, a good chunk of it under our own roof. It goes without saying (but bears repeating) that I am concerned for my mother’s well-being. There’s an intuitive understanding that I want to protect her from harm, for the rest of her days.
There’s no sadness in seeing Mom in her sunset. She has surrounded herself with a group of interesting and engaging friends. They see their glasses as half full and understand that leading with the helping hand effects positive change, as does the occasional well-timed sharp elbow. Lovely people who look out for one another and make the absolute best of their shared circumstance.
That strikes me as a laudable aspiration at any stage of life.
I’m only a generation away from my mother’s circumstance. When my time comes I hope I can remember what she taught me. The footsteps she is leaving are well-defined.