Boonton, New Jersey, is a town preserved under a bell jar for the 65 years I’ve known it. There’s a boutique in the old firehouse and a photo shop in the old movie theater, but the hilly town hasn’t changed much since 1939 and neither has the house I was raised in, where my 98-year-old mother lives and begins to wonder if she’ll ever die.It is always a time warp to go back there and my mother was having time warps of her own, startling me by confiding that she was pretty sure that the road in front of the house was right around the corner from her childhood home in Florence, Ala., and that she suspected some kind of conspiracy was afoot to keep her in the dark as to her true location. I had set up my computer at her desk to the right of her bed and broke out a jigsaw puzzle on the card table on her left, and that’s how I spent the next 20 days: trying to reach the outside world on the computer and getting mostly disconnects and trying to better understand the puzzle of my mother’s disconnects while my hands put together cardboard pieces.This is not to say it was a vigil; my mother did lots of dozing and I’d hie up to my old haunt in the attic and read, or into the rental car for small explorations.When she felt up to it her caretaker would give her a wheelchair ride around the house and driveway and, after several repetitions of her certitude that the road in front of the house led to Florence, I lobbied to take her for a drive to give her a firsthand view of the three forks that road takes.My mother had taken a turn for the worse in August and had some major hallucinations about being back in Florence. I thought if I could just get her into the car and oriented as to time and place, she could go forward, wherever that might be.It was ironic that during the drive I got lost and might as well have been in Alabama myself for all I knew, but quickly found a road back and my inner panic went unshared. References to Florence vanished and I naively thought I’d done my job but, as I learned in the next two weeks, I was wrong.Nature is taking its course and part of the course is a series of expeditions, not like the delusions of August, but lots of them. “I travel all the time,” she said one night, “and I always end up back in my own bed.” “I wish I could come with you.” “So do I.””Oh, I AM home!” she woke up saying after a short doze. “Where were you?” I asked her. “I was riding in a dog cart with my … with my … nurse” (I had seen a photograph of my mother about 2 years old in a little cart pulled by a harnessed dog, probably with a nanny) “and I told her, ‘I have to get back home because my nurse is coming’ (her hospice nurse was coming that morning) and then I WAS home.” “Think of your room as a magic carpet,” I said.A mission was to get my mother an absentee ballot so that she could vote against Bush. When she said it in June I thought it a dying wish which would probably not be fulfilled, but she voted, and laughed aloud at Marx Brothers movies and sat up for two hours regaling me and my niece with stories of her childhood and I’d think she was a lot more in touch than I knew, but then she’d point to a piece of furniture in the room and ask, “Where did that come from?”I told her I was leaving the next day and every time I came into the room that day she was startled to see me, thinking I’d already left, and when I went into her room the next morning it was as if she had seen a ghost. Su Lum is a longtime local whose mother is “up and down” and “here and there.” This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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