Daughters of Miriam
There is an old lady in the hallway, every day, seated in her
wheelchair every time I visit my mother. She babbles. It resembles
baby talk. It sounds like "Mata Pata." Over and over. "Mama Papa"?
She is at least 90. The span of her memory frightens me. Will I
remember so long? The answer I fear is Yes.
There are people visiting the Home who are in their sixties. Their
relative—mother, father— has been there since they were in their
forties. This is their world as much as it is their parents'. Oh
Fool, I shall go mad.
One morning I put on the NBC morning show on TV and Willard Scott is
doing his jolly ho-ho greeting to Mrs. Evelyn Crabtree of North Salem,
Massachusetts, 114 years young today. It is funny. Maybe. I say to
my wife "If my mother lives to be 114, I will be 79. On visiting
days, the kids can go to the nursing home to visit their grandmother,
then go visit their father in the hospital for the criminally insane."
My mother greets me one afternoon by demanding to leave. She cannot
walk but wants to go home or to our house. I am trying to be
reasonable. Inexplicably I want to hit her. "You cannot live alone
anymore, and in our house cannot handle the stairs, you would not be
able to get to the bathroom, and nobody is home during the day." "Oh.
Never mind." Good. My mother is Gilda Radner. At home alcohol and
tranks merely get me straight.
I take home her delicate washables. I tune her radio. I hold her
hand. "You are a good man, Kenny" she says to me. I thank her,
excuse myself, and go into the hall. I begin to cry because it is too
little. It is too late. I am 47 years old. All I ever heard from
her was that I was helpless and hopeless, a drag and drain, my wife
was disrespectful, and then she played favorites between my sons. And
now I am transformed into a good man. She proved the old Polish Jewish
scholar of Radun nailed it: "Life and death are in the power of the
tongue." I will forgive her for her performative words when I descend
into Hell to find her. Still, the weak compliment helps me get
through the next year of tending her through relearning walking, then
a mind-robbing stroke, dementia, and not having enough people at the
graveside to recite a proper Kaddish. We do it improperly.
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