This series of reprinted posts is a tribute to my mother, Esther Tamara Rukasin Annis, who died on December 5, 2013.
Fresh posts will resume sometime soon. For now, I hope you'll spend the time with us as we remember our mom.
"I am NOT an Old Lady", she said.
JannyLou and G'ma and I were at what passes for a deli here in Tucson, chowing down on pastrami, turkey, and salami-and-eggs because that's what G'ma said when we asked her what she wanted to eat. The fact that she's craving salty food might be coupled with the fact that her feet are a little bit swollen; I'm talking to the doctor in the morning. Today was girls' time. We weren't worrying about anything.
I went to the pod castle after finalizing the flowers for the wedding. I was feeling relieved, un-burdened, list free. G'ma was, to my surprise, sitting on the couch in the family room, surrounded on each side by what passes for a handsome man in her arena, participating in the group exercise class. Olga, she who cannot be refused, was tossing an inflated globe to the residents. As it bounced and arced and was caught and returned, her gently accented English spoke of the cruise they'd be taking that afternoon.
No one wondered if the tickets had been purchased. No one asked about the itinerary. No one was processing her words. So much of what goes on in my mother's life is new to her - no matter how many times she's been-there-done-that-heard-that-been-told-that. She's decided to accept that as a fact. She doesn't rail against it; doing so wouldn't help her remember any better than she is right now, as she reminds me on a regular basis. The fact that this young woman was telling her that she was boarding a ship in a few hours made no impact at all; it was incomprehensible, as is so much of her life these days. She sees no sense in being pissed at the whole thing. It is what it is.
I am so going to school on being a very old person on my mother. G'ma is living proof that there's no age limit on being the exemplar.
I sat in the comfy recliner in the back of the room, reading Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose on my Kindle, as the air-filled-globe was tossed and that cruise kept on coming up. Following the shoulder shrugs (careful of G'ma's fragility in that area) and the toe points and flexes, Olga had them touch their toes and their knees and try to touch the ceiling and by the time they were leaning forward on their chairs to aim for the furthest post for the ring toss she'd moved every bit of them without a single grunt or groan. All those gentle stretches and my mother was right there, in the middle of it all.
I've spent hours trying to motivate her. Olga, apparently, has the touch. I'm not complaining, I'm just sayin'.....
Vern wanted to go back to his room; Olga left to aim him in the right direction. Norman missed the post with his ring and, not missing a beat, G'ma told him to "bend down and pick it up.... she's not here... she won't know!" To an encouraging chorus of miscreant octogenarians, he did just that. They may not be sure where they are or what they're doing, but getting something over on the teacher seems to be hardwired in the American genome.
After decorating the September calendar that adorns the hallway, much like that in an elementary school classroom.... and I try not to feel sad... or to go there.... because G'ma thinks it is a pretty thing on the wall when she bothers to look that way at all.... and I go back and forth feeling sad and lonely and delighted with her spirit and the joy she takes in the mundane.
I try not to conside the fact that anything beyond the mundane, the here and now, is also beyond her ken. If she's not sad, how dare I be?
We went over to JannyLou's house and then we went out to lunch and we were talking about the wedding and the party and if G'ma wanted someone to watch over her and that's when she told us, in no uncertain terms, that she is NOT an Old Lady.
Old Lady. With capitals. It's a state of mind, not a state of being. She's 5 months from 90.... that's old in anybody's book. She can't remember her address or the year or my name most of the time, but her attitude is still around. She manages to annoy me in the same ways she's always annoyed me, and she is able to comfort me in the old familiar ways, too.
Character is immutable. I'm not sure who she is right now, and neither is she. But we do agree on one thing - she's not an Old Lady. Not yet.
(First published September 11, 2012)