During the holidays the TV networks like to rerun old movie favorites like "White Christmas" or "It's A Wonderful Life." It feeds into our holiday nostalgia for family and friends. Well, my nostalgia has started a little early this year.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and again this year my husband and I are spending the holiday with my family in Northern California. As turkey day draws closer, I've been recalling past Thanksgivings and thinking a great deal about my mom... missing her and wishing I could hug her one more time.
Below is one of the last essays I wrote about her before she died - and in her memory, I wanted it to be my movie rerun for all those who loved her, and to share "Vi" with all of you who didn't know her. And to remind us all to remember to hug our parents - our kids - your friends.
Why limit yourself? Hug everyone!!! I wish you all a loving, happy Thanksgiving.
I SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN OUT OF THE CAR
Guess what? We aren’t the Waltons anymore! Few Americans live in family homesteads inhabited by three generations. Trains, planes and automobiles, as well as education and career opportunities have scattered the family.
Baby Boomers may not be the first generation to watch with fascination and horror as our necks get crepe-y, our hair gets grayer and our eyesight gets dimmer, but we may be the first generation to watch our parents grow old from a distance. While we Zone, South Beach and Atkins our way into old age--- build more private “work out” gyms in the history of mankind--- continue to think it’s cool that Jack wears sunglasses indoors and still rush to Stones concerts, our parents are back in our home towns, often “downsized” into small apartments or retirement villages, or have moved to the warmer climes of Arizona or Florida.
Our generation isn’t going to gather any moss sitting in our Barcaloungers (even if they now look like “British” club chairs) and watching “Nick at Nite” hoping our grandchildren visit once a year. We’re going to redefine old age. Though we play golf in record numbers, no madras shorts for us. We are prepared to face aging head on, fight the good fight and have a good time doing it. What we really aren’t prepared for is watching our parents grow old as we grow older and, though we dutifully call them on our cell phones, being separated from them doesn’t help prepare us each time we make the effort to see them.
Recently my husband and I traveled to Northern California to visit my mother known to everyone in our family, including our family of friends as "Auntie Vi." Except for her mobility, my mom is in fairly good health. She takes her cane everywhere and huffs and puffs if she travels more than twenty feet on foot, but as she tells it, “What do you expect when you’re 87 years old?”
And that’s the rub. Home in L.A., I “see” my mother as a young widow of forty, five feet tall, brown pixie haircut, all of 98 pounds, working on Madison Avenue in advertising, then rushing home to Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York in her pixie, Mia Farrow, haircut, sheaths and high heels to make dinner for my brother and me. I forget that she’s become heavier, shrunk a few inches, has silver hair and wears false teeth, and it’s a rude awakening each time I visit.
Sometimes I lose patience just sitting in her apartment because she can’t jump in the car and go museum hopping or shopping on Fisherman’s Wharf. And, I get upset that she can no longer make those big family meals for us and my brother and his family. Then I get upset with myself for being upset with her. But Mom loves her apartment… especially sitting in her LaZ Boy watching the History Channel and those women on “The View.” At night she plays solitaire on a TV table to stay awake so she can watch old movies on TCM.
However, as soon as we walked into her apartment this past trip, I knew we were not in for a boring, sedentary visit. Her bathroom was flooded the day before and though a cleaning crew had sucked up the water and disinfected the carpet, there was a strong, “unidentifiable” odor--- an odor that my mother couldn’t smell, because along with her teeth, her sense of smell has left the building. So Mom retired to her recliner, feet up, as we lit scented candles, burned incense, scrubbed down the bathroom again and vacuumed everything in sight.
The odor prevailed. The landlord came and confirmed to Mom who, in her infinite wisdom, didn’t quite believe us that, yes, there was an “unfortunate” smell coming from the bathroom area. He promised he would have it taken care of. Of course, while the mystery of the unidentifiable smell continued, the dishwasher pipes sprang a leak flooding the cupboard under the kitchen sink.
As my husband retrieved and dried every wet bottle of cleaning product known to man that was stored under the sink (not to mention a bottle of scotch), Mom, not skipping a beat or ever leaving her chair, called the plumber then went back to playing cards, explaining to us that what old people need to acknowledge is their limitations. So do their children, something that is difficult to accept as we see our parents becoming more frail and our roles begin to reverse.
This was not the visit either of us had hoped for. Not enough time for all the hugs my mother misses and the arguments we invariably get into. I know she pines for me and wishes I lived closer, and that makes it more and more difficult for us to say goodbye.
As always, when it was time for us to go back to L.A. she walked us out to our car, her ever-present cane leading the way. And, as we drove away and she leaned on the cane to wave goodbye, my heart filled with so much love as I looked at this little old lady--- my mother --- and I felt an overwhelming urge to stop the car, get out and hug her one more time, but I didn’t. Not long after that visit my beloved “Mommy” died. I should’ve gotten out of the car.