A Visit with Mom

Sep 19, 2014

It was a low-key weekend back at my mother’s house in St. Louis. I cleared my work schedule and drove across Illinois on Thursday, accepting the boredom of the interstate highway in exchange for its efficiency. At least they’ve added a couple of wind farms in recent years, and standing above the bean and corn fields those white towers and the slow waving of those great white blades make the sky seem alive in a new way. I crossed the Mississippi River on the north side of St. Louis, and circled the inner suburbs and took an exit ramp and before too long I was knocking on my mother’s door.

Then there she was by the kitchen table, completely and utterly herself in spite of all she’s been through this year. Her clothes were comfortable and loose-fitting, her glasses understated, and her soft blue hat matched her eyes. Her appetite is dulled by chemotherapy right now, so she’s more slender than normal. Around the edges of the hat, I could see her bare scalp. I’m happy to say, though, that she hasn’t lost her taste for a hug at the doorway from her adult children.

But her energy was low and we kept our adventures pretty low-key too. I picked up a few things from the neighborhood deli for dinner and breakfast, and we sat at the dining room table and caught up. On my right, her left, was the empty chair that was always my father’s place at the table. He passed away fairly suddenly before Christmas last year, in his early eighties, and all weekend long the conversation kept bringing him back into the room, as much as a conversation can perform that impossible task.

After dinner, the Cardinals were on the television, playing well, and we talked and watched the game and then called it a night. On Friday, our goals were modest. I opened up the computer and we designed a small piece of folding stationary with her name on it. There are a good number of Get Well cards to respond to these days. We watched an old movie that the family had seen in the drive-in theater back in the 1960s, "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." The movie held up pretty well, with its large cast of beautiful comic characters who were oblivious to their own foibles or else in love with them, living life on their own terms no matter how sane or ridiculous those terms were. Your heart goes out to them, just as it should. That evening we had dinner at a seafood restaurant where the walls were decorated with vintage fishing tackle. This called up memories of family camping and fishing trips and seemed almost to bring our true fisherman, my father, back into the room.

The conversation turned to chemotherapy several times too. I knew about the hair loss and the dulling of appetite, but I began to get a better picture of the great endurance that chemo requires. I think of it now as a marathon, run in this case by a strong woman who happens to be eighty-two. No wonder she rested in the armchair quite a bit on Saturday afternoon.

My sister, her husband, and our niece came over for dinner that night. They brought the two black Labradors, Chuy and Dignan. These friendly guys reminded us with their wet noses that they were willing to be petted at any time. I left on Sunday after breakfast, waving to my mother as she stood there on the sidewalk in the morning sunshine waving back. And the quiet weekend visit has stayed in my mind all week.