When I went to visit my mother on her 90th birthday, I found her sitting up in bed looking peacefully out the window. She turned and smiled at me as I crossed the room. I noticed immediately that there was something dramatically different about her. She looked young. Her cheeks were full and pink. Her green eyes seemed to twinkle. Not a line or wrinkle creased her face. She seemed to be in a state of grace.
I kissed her on the cheek and wished her a happy birthday. She told me that she had been waiting for me. I could tell that she was happy to see me. My mother had been happy ever since she told me her secret during our last visit. It appears that my mother had fallen in love a few months ago. She described it as a “May-December” romance and it was a secret. I had to promise that I wouldn’t tell a soul.
The man who my mother had fallen in love with was almost 40 years younger. He worked as a maintenance man at the nursing home, where she had lived for the last five years. To complicate matters, this man was also a relative of the family who owned the facility. My mother said their relationship would be frowned upon by the owners and staff. She wouldn’t even tell me his name.
My mother told me that this was a true love story. It was the kind of love that only comes along once in a lifetime.” She told me that this love affair was so special that I should write about it. She spent the remainder of our visit telling me all about this special man. She talked, I listened. I was happy for her. In real life my mother had not been lucky in love.
As I drove home that night, I made a mental list of all the people who worked at The Pines. I thought I knew most of them. I knew the maintenance man and he was in his 70s and no relation to the owners. It didn’t matter, I knew what would make my mother happy.
I could sense my mother’s impatience as I hung up my coat. When I returned with a vase to put the flowers in, the birthday card was still in her hands unopened. She looked at me with anticipation. I pulled a chair up close to her bed, opened my bag and took out the pages that I had written. My mother had told me the beginning of her story, now I was able to give her an ending:
It was late, almost midnight when he opened the door to her room. She was waiting as planned. She was sitting on the edge of the bed wearing her prettiest dress. She took his hand and they headed for the door. They crept silently down the hallway and out the back door.
Holding her hand tightly in his, he led her into the warm spring night. They headed into the woods, moonlight lighting their way. When they came to the end of the woods they found themselves in a small meadow. My mother walked into the middle of the field and looked up at all the stars in the sky.
As she reached up into the night sky, the stars came down around her, spiraling into twinkling stairs. My mother turned around and looked into the eyes of her true love. Hand in hand, they climbed the stairs to a place where they could be together, forever in love.
He asks the hostess for their favorite table. The one off to the side with giant smiling suns carved into the backs of the chairs. She loves this place. Everything is so colorful, like being in the middle of a Mexican fiesta. He helps her with her chair and then sits across from her. He is so tall and rugged, she thinks, so very handsome. She is proud to be with him. A pretty young waitress appears at his side, saying something about being their server and would they like to order drinks.
As she starts to shake her head, no, he pats her hand and says, “Have just one, it won’t hurt.” “Well,” she says, “only one.” It’s the same ritual whenever they come here. She says, “no.” He says, “yes.” She always orders the same drink – the delicious one with salt around the brim and a lime on the side. The waitress leaves to get their drinks. She is happy and nobody else exists, except the two of them. He always makes her feel young, like a teenage girl out on a date. He is the best son ever.
She asks him about work. He asks her if she needs anything. “Where did he get those eyes,” she wonders? “So blue and his hair so thick and curly.” She wonders why he isn’t married. Secretly, she doesn’t mind. For now she doesn’t have to share him.
He asks her what she wants to eat. The same thing as always, she says. He watches as she enjoys her drink. The margarita is in such a tall glass that she practically rises out of her seat to take a sip. He laughs to himself. She was always good to him. After all, she helped him get his first car. He loves his mother very much.
Their meals arrive. He’s already slicing into his chicken burrito. He’s always been a big eater. There was plenty of food in her house. Neither of them wanted for anything. Of course, she couldn’t afford luxuries like the other kids had. It was hard after his father died. She got a job in the shoe factory and they managed to get by. She never remarried. There was one man she did like, but not enough to marry. But, that was a long time ago.
Lunch is almost over. She tries to prolong it. The waitress silently appears and collects the dishes. Yes, they will have another drink. Anything to keep the afternoon from ending, she thinks. He takes her out to eat every three weeks or so. He always comes over if she needs him. He’s very busy, but he always calls her. She never feels easy asking for help. She is lucky to have such a thoughtful son.
He helps her unlock the door. Her trailer is small, but comfortable. He helps her into her favorite chair. The cat jumps up on her lap. He got her a cat so she wouldn’t be alone. She’s sleepy. He leans over and kisses her on the forehead and tells her they’ll do it again real soon. She tells him she loves him as he closes the door. As she starts to nod off, she thinks how lucky she is to have such a good son.
Before my husband’s mother passed away, he would take her out to lunch at her favorite Mexican restaurant. My husband loved his mother very much.
I recently spent a week in Florida on Manasota Key. If I could describe the Key in one word, I would say it was magical. For the next seven days, I lived in a world of white sands, blue-green ocean and endless blue skies.
Manasota Key is located next to the small community of Englewood on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I found this enchanting out-of-the-way place home to a mix of artists, old hippies, fishermen, and anybody who enjoyed living “off the beaten track.”
When my husband and I arrived at our condo, we were informed that it was nesting time for Loggerhead sea turtles, Since our condo faced the beach, we needed to make sure the drapes were drawn by 9 p.m., so that lights wouldn’t shine out onto the beach. I later found out that more sea turtles nest in Manasota Key, then anywhere else on the Gulf Coast.
I was up before the sun every morning and walking on the beach, hoping to see the turtles. I later found out that most of them come up on the beach around midnight, lay their eggs and return to the sea before dawn. I did see large tracks left by the Loggerheads that led up to the little grassy sand dunes.
Although I wasn’t greeted by turtles, my early morning endeavors were rewarded with an abundance of colorful sea shells of all shapes and sizes. These beautiful little treasures seemed to roll right out of the waves into my hands. It paid to get up early, as the beach quickly filled up with other “shell seekers.”
Towards the middle of the week on a early morning walk I saw a group of people standing around something large. As I made my way up the beach, I couldn’t believe my eyes, a giant Loggerhead turtle was in the sand. She had just finished laying her eggs and was covering them over. One of the locals, explained that for some reason, she was late in coming and didn’t quite make it to the shelter of the dunes. I was told that she had probably laid about one hundred eggs.
She was enormous, I couldn’t believe my eyes or my luck. What a gift to behold. The Loggerhead slowly turned around, left her covered up mound of eggs and lumbered back to the surf. Soon she disappeared into the waves.
I didn’t see anymore turtles, but I got to see pelicans, cranes and little birds that hopped about the sand on funny stick-like legs. I watched the early morning sun turn everything rosy pink and and the setting sun disappear into a fiery glow.
I left Manasota Key with a suitcase crammed full of sea shells, memories of sea birds, a giant turtle and a promise to return.
Her room is the first one on the right. A light above her door blinks, signaling that she needs help. I stop and look down the long gray hall. Rooms of old sick people. I turn into her room.
A tiny woman is sitting up in bed, almost lost in a disarray of blankets and pillows. Her snow white hair is cut short, sticking out at all ends. She finally notices me standing there. “Can you help me get up?” she asks in a small voice.
I help her to the bathroom. She walks hunched over. She can’t be more than five feet tall. When I reach the bathroom door, she firmly tells me that she will take it from there.
I go and ready her chair. I put a blanket over the cold, slippery vinyl. I bring her table with her lotions and hand mirror closer. I see her peeking out the bathroom door and guide her over to the chair. I place a pillow behind her back and wrap a blanket around her shoulders. She smiles up at me. Her ice blue eyes are almost lost in the lines and wrinkles of her face. Her eyes are the color of a northern lake in early dawn. Her eyes twinkle as she thanks me.
“God, how old is she?” I ask myself, as I place her call light next to her. I tell her to press the red button if she needs anything. She asks for the book that she left on the bedside table. We talk awhile about the book and how we both like to read. I turn to go. She opens her book and puts on her glasses.
I return later to change her bed. The book is lying open on her lap, her glasses have slipped down her nose as she naps. All of a sudden she seems so familiar to me. I run my fingers through my own silvery-white hair and think of the book tucked away in my locker. I wish I were somewhere else. I wish I was reading. I quietly go over to her table and pick up her mirror. I see my face so much older now. I look into my own eyes. My eyes use to be blue, now they are more of a hazel and I don’t think they twinkle anymore. I suddenly realize that I do know this woman. I know her as well as I know myself.
Sun streamed through the window, bathing me in a delicious yellow warmth. I closed my eyes for a moment, imagining the sweet promise of spring. It had been such a long, dark winter.
I was out at Flight Coffee Cafe, sitting in one of my favorite seats, finally feeling good after a horrible weepy month of missing my little dog, Gigi. Her passing shattered my heart and left me with such a raw sadness.
After I wrote my last post about the dog’s passing, a fellow blogger sent me a thoughtful comment. Ray Laskowitz is a New Orleans photographer and storyteller, http://www.laskowitzpictures.com. Ray reminded me of what the well loved children’s book author, Dr. Seuss once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Dr. Seuss’s words became my mantra for the next few weeks. Dr. Seuss helped, Ray helped and many friends had comforting words. But what helped the most was writing it all down. Again the power of words have been able to soften sadness.
I bought a beautiful journal to write about my little dog. The pages beckon to me. Every word I scribble is like a warm beam of sunshine. Every sentence and thought fills my heart. Years from now when I find her memory fading, all I have to do is pick up my journal and read how happy she made me feel.
After my little terrier mix passed away, I went back to the beach where we usually took our walks. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. How could she be pawing at my shoulder, pestering me to get me out of bed to begin our day and then be gone?
I had stayed in bed a little later that morning. I figured since I had to give her medication for an injured disk in her back, we could start out a little later. Gigi always knew when I had a day off. She would only let me sleep so long, before she nudged me out of bed and into the car. We would drive to my favorite coffee shop and then to the best bakery for homemade muffins. We would split the muffin and then go out to the beach for a walk. It was a ritual that we both loved.
Six weeks ago, I notice that she had started walking a little funny. She was off-balance and soon started to sway like a “drunken sailor.” X-rays showed that an injured disk was causing problems with her spinal cord. The vet put her on anti-inflammatory medication and muscle relaxers. She started to recover immediately with tons more energy. She was soon back to running and jumping. But it didn’t last long. The symptoms came back stronger than the first time. The vet said that sometimes older dogs needed more time to heal. We resumed the treatment with confidence that this time it would work.
Gigi felt better immediately, so I thought a short ten minute walk on soft sand would be alright. It was a beautiful morning and spring had finally arrived. Naturally, we would get the tea and muffin first.
Just as I started to get out of bed, Gigi had a seizure. It was brutal and lasted at least five minutes. My husband and I both had to hold her down. I thought it would kill her. When it stopped she didn’t even know who we were. Her eyes were wide and she was just staring into space. She couldn’t move. We got her to the vet and decided the best thing would be to put her to sleep. It seems that what was going on in her spinal cord had progressed. She would be twelve years old soon and extensive back surgery was out of the question.
As I walked along the beach, retracing our steps, I just couldn’t make sense out this. She was so happy one minute and then gone the next. It just wasn’t fair.
I tried to find answers in the sand, but all I kept seeing was my little dog walking beside me, riding in the car with that look of total bliss, the joy of getting the middle of the muffin where the best berries were and curling up with me in bed with a book and a glass of wine. It was like a movie playing over and over in my mind. Re-runs of all the happy moments throughout the years. I was so lucky to have her in my life. She left me with the best memories.