Saturday, August 22, 2009

That 8 Letter Word

As we celebrate our 700th blob entry (yes, folks, you long termers really have been dedicated in staying with us…) it occurs to me that I will slightly reverse the tables on my beloved writing partner. Long time devotee’s of the blob probably have some sense of the ups and downs Iris had in trying to find a workable and reasonable place for her mom to live. At a certain point in life, balancing autonomy, safety, and burning toast can become more challenging. For the last two years instead of being relatively isolated in New Jersey, Nana has been living in Bainbridge (across the sound from Seattle) in a lovely place near the water, with lots of rain and, consequently, much greenery nearby, and more importantly, Jeff and Els living in close proximity so that a drop in visit is easy, and not a multi-state trudge. Two years ago, my mom moved from her long time (how does 89 years work?) home of Salt Lake City to Palo Alto, the home not only of my sister Lisa, but of Stanford University. Both mom (Journalism ’38) and Lis’ (something akin to FolkDance ’74) went to Stanford, as did brother Tom (MBA ’67) – this reporter was denied entry not just once (1964) but again last year in a failed attempt to join the Knight Journalist Fellowship program. But I’m not bitter. Really. I’m not.

Lis’ never left the area (and frankly, why would you? It is quite paradisical) and mom decided she wanted to live near one of her kids. So by a small accident of fate (a friend of a friend’s mom lived there) we discovered the Hyatt Residence – a Senior facility near campus that is just gorgeous. Mom’s been there two years now, and is a more than full fledged member of its robust and interesting community. She and a few other rebels organized a regular 5pm Sunday gathering around the grand piano in the main lobby to sing show tunes, and standards of the 30s and 40s.
"She's gonna turn me down, and say Cant' We Be Friends.."
Every week at least a dozen, more likely a couple of dozen crooners descend on the marble accented room for an hour or so of tunes that would make Glenn Miller proud. Because there are a lot of former professor types living there (and at least one ex-Secretary of Defense), the discussions around the tables at meals and morning coffee tend to be more elevated and sharp than at your average Starbucks.
Morning Coffee..bring a big cup!
Lis’ has been a real star in all this because, let’s face it – nothing in the current world of junk mail, electronic banking, and anything to do with Medicare or doctors, can be easy, and much of the straightening out of things has fallen to her. I mean frankly, I’m amazed. She actually knows what Medicare IS! I will admit that I know it exists, but what it does, or how, no clue. All I DO know is that I don’t want the government getting involved with it. The next thing you know they’ll do to Medicare what they did with the post office. (I’m not quite sure what that means, but it has an authoritative ring to it.) Anyway, the dynamics of a family are like anything else which changes and evolves over time. I’m sorry that it takes me so much organizing to finally get on a plane to California to see mom (and so many airline $100 change fees) but I always enjoy the visit when I’m there, and it’s usually too quickly passed. Mom barrels through cross words still at an astonishing rate: at least two or three a day. Her neighbors drop off newspaper sections from a half dozen different papers, and the pile of not-quite-finished puzzles begins to look like the back alley off 41st street where the Times is now published. On my last trip, just two weeks ago, we played a killer game of Scrabble, a game which I realize I miss playing, using our 1956 original Playroom version of the game. All the original tiles are there, looking as fresh as they were when the box was opened during Eisenhower’s first term. The accompanying yellow Guide to Scrabble words is also the original, and should probably be sent to the Smithsonian. Words like ‘cyber,’ ‘modular,’ and ‘laser’ aren’t even in there. And we did play an expanded version where we allowed certain Asian rooted words which have made their way into the argot of today. It provided an extremely hard fought (I won the first game, Lis’ the second, but all of us within about 30 points) combatative and enjoyable respite, and best of all, a certain comfort in hearing those familiar phrases which haven’t changed a whit in fifty years: “I can’t do a THING with these letters!” and “How do you make a word with nothing but vowels?”

Mom can still be stubborn, and berated me a few times for having forced her to give up her car and keys 18 months ago (on the occasion of her 90th.) I offer my face up gladly, inviting her to take a poke at me (she has yet to actually take a swing,) but I rest easier knowing that inspite of her unmatched crossword ability, her diminished hearing and sight will not ever serve to cause a traffic accident. She still regularly reminds me that she drove accident free for 75 years, no mean feat. And I regularly remind her that there is nothing like quitting while you’re ahead. In amongst her “papers” I found a wonderful pair of manscripts which she wrote in the 60s and 70s, complete with the rejection letters from several magazines who decided not to print them. One, “A Memoir of a Middle Aged Siren” was sent to Cosmo in 1970 (when she was in her early fifties) and was a wonderful exploration of her life as a faithful wife for 30 plus years. She wrote it in response to one of those “I Slept With the Laundry Man, and Boy Did I Have Clean Sheets” pieces that Cosmo had published, and mom felt they ought to give equal time to someone who didn’t. It remained unpublished, but I will try and get it retyped from the original, and publish it here, albeit to our smaller audience. But who even knew she harboured that desire to write all those years. Sometimes it takes a while to discover those little amusing things about family and loved ones, and I’m glad I found this while we can still talk about it.

She remains my best publicist, and these days, on those occasions when I have a set of pictures published in Time or PEOPLE, you can see her racing around the Hyatt (she recently adopted a ‘walker’ with saddlebags, and her gait and mileage has definitely improved) showing it off to anyone who will listen. That in itself is inspiration to keep shooting, just so she has some new material to show off at the morning coffee club. Now, if I could only figure out what #16 across is….that 8 letter word for a “government run health care for seniors.” We’re just sayin’… David


Anonymous said...

There's still nothing like Mom..It's so cool and good of you to see her whatever the distance.

Walter Briggs

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