Mom wears Dad’s caramel colored fleece inside the house now. Often I catch her looking down at the black zipper, mumbling something to it, and then up and down it goes a couple times.
“No, I can’t do it. It’s Mary Ann’s.” Or, “I’ll just roll the sleeves up a little like this,” she’ll say cuffing the each end of her jacket so the other two shirts she is wearing are exposed; one white, another brown. Oh, how she adores the color brown!
This brown fleece seems like no big deal, right? I mean it is winter in Chicago. With the thermostat at 70 degrees, it can be chilly. What makes her ensemble complicated is what happens when we try to go outside.
“C’mon, honey we are going to go for a ride. Let me help you put on this nice purple coat,” Dad says holding the coat at the collar, the two arms shrugging in mid-air.
“That’s not mine. I already have this one,” Mom points to her chest.
“Rose, you have to put this on because it’s cold outside. This is the coat that you love, honey,” Dad continues to hold out the coat as he circles Mom.
“I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to play these games with you,” Mom is more defiant now.
Dad lays the purple coat on top of the couch and walks into the kitchen.
Two minutes later, he’s back to try again. Likely, she will have forgotten that she doesn’t want to put on the purple coat. Groundhog Day. All day. Everyday. Fun and games.
“C’mon Rose, let’s put on your coat. We are going for a ride,” Dad tries again. The power of perseverance!
“Oh, I’d love to get out of this house. Ok, I can do this. I know how to do it,” Mom coaches herself through the process. Yep, her left arm finds the arm hole just fine. The right one takes a bit more time as she bends her arm in search of the hole. Dad shakes the coat a tad to help her put it on. Mom’s chin meets her chest, as she stares down at the bottom of her jacket before each hand dotted with age spots, pushes each side of the coat together.
Toe to toe now, Dad’s salt and pepper crown just inches away from Rosie’s bowed and greasy head. He starts the zipper for Mom.
“I know how to do this,” she reminds him.
“Well, I know you do. I am just helping you, honey,” Dad says with a smile.
I’m outside now, walking in front, ready to open the car door for Mom. Ready to coax her inside.
It’s days before Christmas and we are running to Thuringer Meats to order a sirloin tip roast and a ham. Inside the store, Mom walks right over to a package of cookies whose acquaintance she’d like to make. Dad redirects her. I get busy placing the order so we can make a quick getaway.
Alzheimer’s makes small tasks a bitch and half, as Dad would say.
The wind is biting as I watch Mom shuffle her feet to the car.
“Come this way, Mom. Let me help you into the car,” I say.
The three of us settle in. Then, I change my mind.
“Dad, you know what? I think I am going to go back and buy you some fish for dinner. We can try it tonight. Just wait in the car with Mom.”
Purchase made. I open the car door and before I can close the door, Mom speaks to me.
“Ohhhh, hi Jodi,” Mom sings with all the life and twang reminiscent of her old phone message days.
“Hi, Mom,” I say super perplexed.
I am stunned.
“Dad, Did you just tell Mom my name when I was inside?”
I mean–I have to accuse him of playing the name game as he sometimes does. Which, if I am being honest, typically turns into a sad trip down I-don’t-know-lane.
“Nope. I didn’t tell her. I swear.”
For that split second, I was transported back in time. To a time where Mom was my Mom. Where she knew who I was. Maybe who she was. Who we were to each other. Now that might be a leap, but in my heart and mind, I have to believe.
It’s ironic how insignificant a name might seem until it is never repeated by those who love you.
And then poof! The light and life are gone in an instant. Mom’s back to mumbling about how the kids are tripping her, calling her fatso.
It’s like the phone’s been disconnected, but I am still holding the receiver.
As we make our way back to 1202 S. Patton..I am thinking. How can I get that feeling back? So I go searching in the basement. I don’t know what I am exactly looking for, but finding old pieces of Mom makes me feel better. I pick through a couple shoe boxes where I stumble upon an envelope.
Why did I write to Mom in New Hampshire? I think as I take the card from the envelope. I stand there in the basement play room and read. I read the card a couple times. I am taken by the last line of the card. I bolt upstairs. I find dad at the kitchen table, cursing his pile of paper; while searching for his glasses.
I hand the card to Dad.
“Just read it,” I say.
An excerpt from her 60th birthday reads:
I cherish your friendship, I wonder at your selflessness and am moved by your commitment to our family. Thank you for being a wonderful example of a mother. I look forward to the years to come. I only hope I can show you the care and nurturing that you have shown me.
I love you,
Dad closes the card.
“Well, you are sure doing that now, kid. Caring for her now. Jesus. It’s unbelievable,” he shakes his head.
“Fuck, it’s like I knew even then. It’s such bullshit, you know?”
“You better keep this card, Jod. To remember,” Dad hands the card back to me.
We often joke about how Mom might think she’s at a restaurant, a variety of her children, the waitresses and waiters giving her milk, a cookie, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as she sits unexpectedly on the couch.
Then, though I think about how the simple act of serving our mother allows each of us to feel some sort of connection and closeness that has long since passed. In small acts, we are repaying the unconditional love and care she gave all of us for so many years.
On this, you’re 77th year, Rosie Sebastian Arndt know you have so many who continue to love and care for you. Love you, Mom.