In Memorium

nan.jpg

Although my Mother was nearly ninety-three when she died, she was never old enough to receive Modern Maturity, the AARP monthly sent to every member, like it or not.

“God damn it to hell,” she would shout when it arrived so as to be heard as far as the duck pond across from her townhouse in El Reno, Oklahoma and the cemetery down the block where her ancestors slept. The publication was so repulsive that several days passed before she could lay a hand on it. Then suddenlyshe would stub out her cigarette, rise from her prone position on the couch, pick up the despised magazine and toss it with extraordinary precision–considering she was not athletic, hated to walk or move about unnecessarily–from some distance into the wastebasket.

“I’m not mature enough!” she’d say and then, as if she’d heard a chorus of protestations. “No, and I never will be either. So there.”

She must have had her last cigarette on the evening of September 3, 2000, because the next morning I found her, via telephone which she answered as if nothing were wrong, by her bed on the floor where she’d fallen, following, as I later learned, a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). The only upside of this episode was that she never smoked again. Before this it was useless to protest her habit even though I found burns on tabletops and burned out cigarettes in ashtrays whoseinch-long ashes drooped menacingly. It also did no good to mention my throat got sore from second hand smoke.

“Why that’s not true, dear,” she said, disappointed at yet another confirmation that I had failed to inherit her good sense. “There’s no such thing as second hand smoke.”

One evening after I coughed and coughed twice more, she stood up, glared at me and said, “That’s just ridiculous and I don’t want to hear about it ever again.”

She was firm, confident, unyielding. I don’t recall her being in doubt ever about anything except once. After an evening when she said she’d had “a snootful,” a self-compliment because people who didn’t
drink were of no consequence, she wondered if she’d behaved quite as she should have the night before.

“Still” she said, upon a brief reflection, “I did it–so it must have been all right.”

When it came to politics or bias my mother never held back. At the height of William Jefferson Clinton’s undoubted scandal, my Mother said she had characterized the President to her younger sister, a woman as far to the right as she was to the left, as “that sweet, darling Bill Clinton.” Her sister allowed she wouldn’t be in touch for a long, long time.

“I don’t care one bit if she didn’t like it–that’s how I feel. Anyway,” she continued with accidental clairvoyance, “she didn’t have to make such a federal case out of it.”

The mini-stroke affected her profoundly, and, unable to be on her own any longer, I brought her home to Connecticut. Although she lasted another nineteen months I knew my mother had turned a final corner when she said nothing about the Florida ballot dispute or the ultimate determination of the election of 2000. As often as W appeared on the screen, I was never again to hear her say,”I don’t know what it is–but I just cannot STAND that man!”

A month after her death I went to get the mail across the street from the end of our driveway and found my Mother wedged in above the circulars, junk mail and bills, in a box. It was a shock despite the fact that I’d been expecting her. I thought she was going to be delivered by UPS, a dispatch I would have preferred as more dignified and less trivializing although there’s nothing dignified about having ashes delivered by any means, then to save, inter or sprinkle them, as I would do when I decided where. I thought it might be appropriate to take some to Park Avenue where she lived for many years although itdidn’t seem environmentally correct. What if everyone did that?

I could also have sent them down to Oklahoma where my mother was born, and where she lived fifteen of her last seventeen years. Courtesy of one of my many cousins, her ashes could go in the duck pond or around her parent’s graves. But mailing her again would have been “too macabre” as my mother liked to say–that always made me want to ask if there were such a thing as just macabre enough? Of course I knew full well that she just liked saying the word, glamorized with the “too” asin “too fabulous” while stretching out the second “a” in macabre for a bit longer than was endurable. It was also her way of not having to discuss something as unpleasant and, to us both, unlikely as her death.

She went so far, however, when lost for a more controversial topic, to remind me she did not want a funeral or a burial–that she wanted, never mind the disapproval it engendered among her siblings–my mother thrived on disapproval–cremation.I thought I might put her in the Atlantic Ocean where she’d sprinkled her husband’s ashes in 1980 off the Westhampton shore, their summer residence. That had to be the place because as soon as I thought of it I heard her come to life in my head and respond in five of the many voices that accompanied five of her many roles:

The baby, “Oh goody, swimmin’ with the fishies;” the grande dame, “Absolute perfection, darling girl;” the hillbilly, “Shucks, this old country gal’s not fussy;” the kindly gentlewoman, “Bless heart, what a sweet idea;” or herself, “Goddamn it to hell, I don’t give a shit!”

So my inimitable mother was reduced to ashes–as we will all be, one way or another, to be delivered–as we will all be, one way or another, back to earth. It is very ordinary. It is very strange.

0 Responses to “In Memorium”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s





%d bloggers like this: