Supper tonight at my mother’s condo with my Aunt Do, who, as I say every time I mention her, is 92. She started to tell family stories, and quickly I went to get a notebook and took pages of notes. Tales of my great-grandmother Charlotte Alice, who started to teach at her village school at the age of 14, moved to Northampton to teach elementary school when she was 18, and had to leave at 20, in 1895, when she got pregnant by the rakish Sam Bates. They married and 7 month later she was in labour for five days before my beautiful grandmother Marion Edith Alice Bates was born. Charlotte’s labour was so excruciating that, hanging onto the frame of the brass bedstead behind her back, she bent the brass. Needless to say, Marion was an only child.
Do was there when my parents met, in Oxford in 1944. In fact, my mother had come to visit her older sister that weekend. Do just described the scene to me in detail, how the very tall English girl and the Yank soldier met at a Chopin concert and immediately began to talk about the music. They had music in common for the rest of their lives. Do was also there when my father died, in Edmonton in 1988. She bookends my life; in fact, I owe my existence to her. So it’s my joy to make her dinner and listen to her stories. She remembers so much.
Yesterday, on the other hand, I was convinced my mother was near death, so terrible did she look. But today – not so much. There’s life in them there eyes. My brother and I went to see a retirement residence where she may go next, and the woman there pointed out that if the hospital felt she was at the end, they’d be telling us to find palliative care. But at their suggestion, we’re looking at nursing homes.
In the middle of all this, I got a text from my son. A friend of his, a chef in a restaurant where he used to work, has just endured the most horrific event – he discovered his parents in a murder-suicide. I gather that his father killed his mother and then tried to hang himself. That’s all I know. So as I sat by my mother’s bedside yesterday, I was texting and calling my son, who was doing his best to comfort his friend. Though it looked like she was asleep, I told my mother about it. And today, with eyes still closed, she asked about the people I’d mentioned yesterday.
I also told her, as she lay sleeping, about my teaching award. Her eyes did not open. “Fantastic,” came the faint sound. Today, she was looking about for a bit, so I told her she looked postively perky. “Crois pas,” she said. Don’t think so. If she’s speaking French, she’s getting better.
The sun shone madly this morning, though it was cold. I got outside when I could, to push my face into the heat and light, and then back inside, to sit by the bed, hold her hand, feed her meals, and read “The Help” when she slept. She is in a quiet room, by the window. The nurses are angels, the orderly are saints, the whole system, flawed as it may be, is taking very good and sometimes tender care of her. As I say every single time I enter a hospital, Thank you with all my heart, Tommy Douglas.