Mother: She’s still ticking
July 26, 2005
My cousin Kaki wrote a hair-raising but hilarious book (“Gargoyles in the Library”) about the travails of renovating a couple of homes in Philadelphia with her architect husband, and I sent a copy to my mother not knowing whether she’d be able to read it or not.Hal, my brother-in-law, had been e-mailing me that my mother, who is 98 and totally bedridden, had lately been so weak and incoherent that she wasn’t even able to read the newspaper anymore. This was an ominous sign – none of us could imagine that she could die without The New York Times in her hands and a pile of books on her bed.So it was with even more trepidation than usual that I phoned home to ask Carol, her English/Jamaican caretaker, if the book had arrived and if my mother was aware who had written it. “Oh yes,” Carol said, “she got it, she know ‘er niece wrote it, she read it.” Carol went off to see if mother was awake, reporting that she was watching “Wheel of Fortune” (when my brilliant father was dying his favorite show was “Gomer Pyle” – he said the characters were just like the people he knew growing up in Alabama), turned the TV off and put Mother on the phone who said, in a clear voice, “I’d MUCH rather talk to YOU!”Excellent start. I asked about the book and she said she had read and enjoyed it and asked if I’d read it. I said I had and that I had sent it to her – she said she thought I was the one who sent it.I told her I’d ordered her the new Harry Potter book and she said she looked forward to that. I said it was a long one and she laughed and wondered if she’d live long enough to finish it – she is as amazed as everyone else that she keeps on ticking. It’s hard for her to hold the phone and it drops away from her ear. “Are you talking? Are you talking? I can’t hear anything!”Carol comes in and adjusts the phone and Mother says, “Guess what! KAKI has written a BOOK!” “The nicest thing about being an old, old, old lady,” she said, “is … enjoying such a long life. It’s terribly interesting in a way, and in a way funny.” I don’t think she meant ironic, maybe she meant a bit absurd but I don’t want to put words in her mouth.Last week I called to ask if Harry Potter had arrived – the sixth in what will be a series of seven books. My mother is a huge Harry Potter fan and has predicted since the third edition that she’d never live long enough to read the next. Carol said that she had been reading it, but had been very tired the past few days. As Harry Potter grows older and the plot darker and more complex, I don’t know how much she can follow it – I have a hard enough time myself. But I think that at the least she liked holding the new Harry Potter in her hands.My mother was trying to tell me when the book had arrived. “I got it … I got it,” and she bogged down right away because time has ceased to have meaning, a continuum that does not differentiate between morning or night, much less between Monday and Saturday.”It’s OK, we can talk about it later,” I say, and she agrees with relief. We stick to simple love words and goodbyes. “It’s good to hear your voice,” I always say, and she always hears that. “It’s good to hear yours,” she always replies. Su Lum is a longtime local who sees her future. This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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