Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mom's 87th Birthday

Mom, 1946
Studio Portrait

Today would have been my mother's 87th birthday. Her final birthday was spent in hospice, where she passed away 9 years ago. She and Dad were married for 60 years and he misses her every day.

Even though dementia is slowly wiping away my Dad's memories, he does not forget Mom. Like many people enduring memory loss, he asks repeated questions daily. She is a prime feature of his question cycle.

"How long has your mother been gone?"
"Where's your mother?"
"Was anybody with us when your mother passed?"
"Did your mother and I visit you here?"

Dad is aware that Mom isn't around anymore, and he is aware that his memory doesn't work too well. He has put these two important facts together and has become convinced that there is a cause and effect relationship in that circumstance. He has told me that he "lost my memory when your mother died." That she, in effect, took his memory away with her.

My parents got married soon after the end of World War II. Dad had served in the South Pacific with the SeaBees, joined up 3 days before he turned 18. On their wedding day, Dad was 22 and Mom was 20. In the first 35 years of their marriage, they had two daughters, built three homes, and put both kids through public school and college. Dad worked his way up in the Texas Highway Department, and retired after 25 years. With both kids married and out of the house, my folks felt free to travel.

Mom and Dad loved to roam around this country. She was obsessed with genealogy. They must have hit every courthouse, library and public records building in every state in the union! Mom even got Dad to drive them to Alaska - not once, but twice! - just to dig up some info on an uncle. It's a good thing that my Dad loved to drive. And that he could fix most of their cars himself.

When we cleaned out Dad's house, we found many things that my mother let behind. She did not believe in throwing things away. As for her stacks of genealogy research, she filed her papers into hefty 3-ring binders which eventually filled 37 book boxes (now in storage). Three cardboard boxes hid her "mad money" which added up to a substantial sum of cash, much of it in large bills! That made Dad chuckle. He knew her well.

There were some things that I am very grateful that Mom left behind. These things were also in boxes (and folders and baggies and old envelopes). Photos - zillions of them. About 30% of these have some writing on the back giving us some idea of what the photo may mean. Some photos are in albums of black craft paper leaves, with captions hand-written in white ink, complete with dates and names. Memories - that Dad can appreciate. Memories that Mom is, inadvertently, returning to Dad. I scan these photos - many of which are quite small, but sharply focused - and organize them into groups on my computer. Then I put them on my iPad. When Dad is blue or upset or feeling lost, we take a tour through the memories that are preserved in these photos.

This is the Mom that Dad recognizes - the young woman that he married after the war. The "skinny, fat-faced girl" that gave him children. The woman for whom he built houses and gardens.

"How long has your mother been gone?"

Mom is still here - she is the slender hazel-eyed gal in the photos. She stands beside a 1940's DeSoto coupe. She poses with a statue in some county courthouse square. She holds your young child. Here, time refuses to move along, instead it lingers with you. Mom didn't make it to 87, she didn't visit us here, but in the leaves of the old albums, she is always with you.

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