Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Cherished Moment From Long Ago

Heather Armstrong posted a link to this article today. (Warning: do not read this at work.)

While I was drying my eyes after reading the article, I remembered a long-forgotten experience from my youth. I share it now, as a tribute to old women everywhere who manage to lay aside their past with dignity.

I'm having trouble with some of that these days. Maybe I am reminded of this experience for a reason.

Here's my story:

I grew up in a town in Ohio that was so small it is still classified as a "village" even today. I was known as a great babysitter, even though I was never really super with kids. I think my reputation was based primarily on the fact I didn't date so I was generally available. I babysat for one family or another nearly every night of the week.

At one point when I was a junior in high school a lady who lived a few blocks from my family asked if I would be interested in a different kind of "sitting" job.

She and her husband were caregivers for her elderly mother. They wanted to attend a Bible study group together once a week but they could not leave Mother alone. She asked if I would be willing to stay with Mother one night a week. I jumped at the chance. I babysat for money but I didn't really like little kids. I have always loved old people. I would have stayed with Mother occasionally for free, but I was saving up for college, so I agreed to accept money.

For several months, once a week, I spent about two hours with Mother. She had a reputation as something of a "pill" among people in her church and in the neighborhood, but I found her to be an utter delight. She was a lovely gray-haired woman who always sat erect and lady-like in her wheel-chair. When I knew her, she was in her late 80's. She had lived in our town her entire life, and knew all its history and its people. Occasionally she asked me questions about my life and my school experiences, but mostly she regaled me with stories about her past, which included a lot of information about my heritage as a native of the village. I soon came to love the hours I spent with her.

At one point in the late spring, I was asked to help with a special assignment. Mother had finally accepted the fact that she would never be able to live alone in her home again, so the family had put it up for sale. It was an incredible prize, sitting atop a hill with a fabulous view of the Ohio River and the Kentucky farmland beyond. It had sold quickly.
They asked me to sit with Mother on a Saturday while they moved her furniture out of the family home.

Mother's daughter and her husband lived in a small cracker box, ranch-style home, built literally in the shadow of Mother's house, with a shared driveway. We all knew it would be a difficult day for Mother. I am glad I was too young to anticipate just how gut-wrenching the day would be for all of us.

The daughter, her husband and their sons spent most of the day hauling treasures out of the home Mother had lived in for more than fifty years. It was the home she moved into when she married her husband. She had shared it with him for decades until he died. She lived there alone for several more decades after his death until she became unable to live alone.

All day long, she sat in her wheel-chair in the front window of her daughter's house, watching her children and grandchildren remove her furniture and possessions from the home she had lived in and cherished for most of her life. As they carried each item out the front door, she gave me a running narrative of what it was, where it came from, how it had been used, which member of the family had used it and loved it the most. She never cried, although her voice did become a bit hoarse when she described certain items that had been given to her by her mother or her husband.

By midafternoon, Mother's home stood empty. The family members went inside to do a final cleaning.

Mother suggested it would be a good time for me to help her to the potty-chair before they all came home for dinner. She was a dignified and proper lady. I respected and admired her. She and I both hated the potty-chair routine. Nevertheless, I knew she thought would be better to get it out of the way before her four or five grandsons came in from their labors. She did her business. I emptied the bucket. I helped her back into her wheel-chair and we waited, together, for her daughter and grandsons.

Soon, the family came inside for dinner. Someone asked if I wanted a ride home. It was still daylight. I lived nearby. I desperately needed to be alone for a while, so I declined the offer. I kissed Mother on the cheek and left. I had managed, somehow, not to shed a tear all afternoon, but I sobbed all the way home.

Mother went into a nursing home soon after that, and died within a year. I never saw her again.

I still cherish the memory of the time we spent together, however.

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