Mom and the Big Apartment House

by Ruth Z Deming

I took the backroads to Mom's house, the crunchy autumn leaves carpeting my way to her six-bedroom house, where she and my late father had raised six kids who had all flown the coop. Ellen still lived at home as her caregiver. She had gone downtown to meet her friend Ginger. We were happy for her as she rarely left home, which, apparently, she didn't mind.

Lynn and I were there to keep Mom company - aka "babysit" - until Ellen got home.

Driving, I passed Mason's Mill Park where I used to play volleyball and take my children when they were little. Sarah is now 43 and Dan, 41, with kids of his own.

The radio was booming. "Lippy kids on the corner again." My body rocked with the rhythm.

I turned down Mom's street of big houses. There were a couple of dog-walkers I waved to and an old man taking a stroll in his khaki shorts. No one waves on the street and most neighbors don't even know one another.

Challenging myself, I backed into Mom's drive, unbuckling my seat belt for better leverage, and tapping my accelerator softly until I was in place by the front walk. My sister Lynn was already there and was parked out front.

I struggled to get in the front door. Although it was unlocked, the door was warped and I kept pushing it and the chimes on the back jangled as if I were an intruder. Finally, I rammed it open and propelled myself into the light-filled kitchen.

There was Mom, ninety-five, sitting on her throne at the end of the long table. Her white hair fell limply to her shoulders, but, for sure, she had more hair than I do. I stopped feeling self-conscious about my thin white hair, though- dyed a brilliant red - since my boyfriend Scott found me attractive and even sexy.

Before Ellen left, she made an asparagus broccoli quiche for us. Mom and I gobbled it up. The two of us were huge eaters. Even though she was ailing with several infections and horrific back pain, she loved her food.

Lynn and I had to wait on her because she was in excruciating pain from a fall she had taken last Christmas, so she spent her time at the end of the kitchen table or upstairs in her bed. Do not ask about the difficulty she had moving her bowels or peeing.

The fate of the elderly. I refuse to be like her.

Little sister Lynnie brought some treats she picked up at Target. Swedish cookies with powdered sugar on top. "Look," I joked. "Cocaine." Mom is practically deaf - even with her hearing aids - but I did repeat myself. She likes a good joke, especially randy ones.

"Too sweet for me," I said, "since I have diabetes..." patting my belly.

"Oh, you'll love these, Ruthie," said Lynn, pushing over a box of chocolate candies. I picked out my favorite, chocolate-covered cherries, and munched with delight.

Excusing myself, I went into the dining and injected 12 units of insulin into my soft flabby butt.

Mom socializes via the telephone. She got four phone calls while I was there - Hildegund, Judy, and Maxine - and told them she'd call back later. "Ruthie is here," she told them.

I was prepared to stay a long time with Mom. Every move I made was geared to taking as long as possible. In slo-mo.

Lynn gathered her care packages and kissed Mom goodbye.

"Be right back, Mom," I said. "I'm going to walk Lynn to her car."

When I returned, Mom was picking up crumbs from the floor. Her nature is to be constantly busy, though she admits she has no purpose in life. She loves life, though, and has no intention of dying. Her favorite thing is visiting doctors and being fussed over. And taking medicine exactly the way it is prescribed. She refuses, though, to take painkillers for her back.

One less victim in the opioid crisis.

For the occasion, I brought a huge book with me and plopped it on the table in front of Mom.

"This is 'La Pedrera,' an enormous five-story high apartment house, a souvenir from when I went to ..."

"Yes, I seem to remember," she said. "Where is it again?"

"Spain," I said. "Barcelona."

She turned the pages with vigor, staring intently at each photo on the shiny page.

She repeated the name of the architect a couple of times. Antoni Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi. A photo showed a dapper man with a dark Freud-like full beard.

Mom's fingers were slightly twisted with arthritis. Her family doctor prescribed Celebrex, but she was rarely took it. The pill bottle sat idly in the kitchen drawer.

We viewed the huge marble hallway of the apartment house.

"Looks like my house," she joked.

"Wait till you see this," I said, turning the pages.

Several shiny pages heralded one apartment. There were no walls to separate the rooms.

"Gaudi's considered a man ahead of his time," I told Mom.

"Like what's his name, that begins with an 'F.'"

I paused. "Oh, you mean Frank Furness."

Mom mentioned that she'd heard about him when she listens to "Fresh Air" on her Bose Radio.

She leaned forward and patted the book "La Pedrera."

A married couple shared a beautiful bed made out of oak, with a lace coverlet on top. In the playroom, children's toys sat neatly on shelves, frozen in time. A red tricycle with black wheels stood patiently on the floor.

"Such attention to detail," said Mom. In her earlier years, she had taken art lessons and had sculpted a teenage boy which sat on a shelf in the dining room. Might it be my late brother, David?

Now came the wooden ironing board, with a long piece of crocheted fabric draped across it. The iron sat still, waiting for the hand to steam the cloth.

Mom lingered over the pages.

Occasionally I touched Mom's hand. We were not an affectionate family, including my late father.

"Be quiet a moment," I said to Mom.

"Whenever I'm here," I continued, "I think I hear Daddy running up the stairs."

She smiled deeply, lighting up all the beautiful wrinkles in her cheeks and forehead.

"And Triscuit, too," she said, about our beloved late dog. My dad would walk him after work and let him poop wherever he wanted, under cover of darkness. And whenever he got loose, we wondered if he had fathered a couple of little Tris's.

Mom gazed up at the kitchen clock. "Ellen should be home within the hour," she said.

Mom was ready to move from the kitchen to her bedroom. I urged her to take a drink of water. She was rarely thirsty but mustn't get dehydrated. She took a reluctant sip, then grabbed her walker - my mom, using a walker? - and shuffled along in her big black orthopedic shoes. This was serious business, traveling upstairs. She had a method for doing it, which got increasingly more difficult.

She clung onto the iron railing, lifting each clunky foot onto the carpeted stair. At the top she was home free and my mom, who played tennis with Lenore Oscar in high school, rolled into her bedroom. Above her white headboard is a huge Monet print of red poppies.

Laboriously, she sat on the side of her bed, pulled off each two-hundred-fifty dollar pair of shoes, and slid onto the mattress.

"I'll be fine now," said Mom. "Thanks for coming."

Bending down, I kissed her pillow-soft cheeks, then blew her a kiss and ran out the front door, chimes jangling in approval.

Ellen was pulling into the drive.

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