Aug 13 2015

Rectitude

Published by at 10:07 am under Mothers & Daughters,Travel

This is strange. I found a fully developed blog post that I wrote on April 8, 2012 that I never published. I’m gonna do it now. Just try and stop me. It still seems relevant (to me, but not to you). Here ya go:

I gots me a baby sleeping at my feet. This won’t last.

Last week I went to the TESOL conference in Philadelphia and got to see Maw and my Stella dog for a day afterwards. When she’s gone, I’m certain I’ll thank her for being organized, but I find her current obsession rather unnerving: putting in place every detail of life-after-her-death.

We spent much of the day scrutinizing every wall, floor, piece of furniture and objects on surfaces. Ma’s objective was to find out which things I want when she dies. It’s a bittersweet notion; the price of acquiring these possessions is more than I want to pay. Admittedly, she does have cool stuff, much of it antique: snow sled, rocking horse, powder tester, silver-plated samovar, ivory crocus, barometer, grandfather clock, wing-back chair, Chinese memorial marker, French pistol, Copenhagen buck, copper coal bucket, glass target ball, silver snuffbox, family Daguerreotypes, George Washington’s bookplate (Jay gets it), letter from Jefferson Davis (Katie gets it), Howard Pyle sketches (I get them). It’s strange to “shop” through all this, feeling greed slip in around the edges of the sorrow that underlies the activity. Next month, my sis and bro will make the rounds with Maw, after which she will make assignations.

We spent a while reviewing her Little White Book, a miniature three-ring binder in which she has handwritten, alphabetized and indexed all the data of her existence: taxes, assets, attorneys, locks, insurance. Under A there’s a page that tells us how to get messages from her answering machine. P includes information about Passwords. She hates computers so there’s not much there, but she does tell us how to access to her bank, Barnes & Noble, and her Jacquie Larson E-Card account.

Like any thoughtfully composed book, this has a preface, with explicit instructions for her three children. She ends with a passionate request. Please, please, please–everyone try to get along amicably…or I’ll haunt you! There are four identical copies of this book, one each for herself and her children. The current version is outdated, so her next task is to rewrite four new copies. After that, she’ll write her obituary.

That night we went to dinner at the country club. When I was young, I had impeccable manners. I used to know how to greet, speak, stand and reply in the company of my elders. Now my knowledge is dust, though I think I could summon a respectable curtsey, if you paid me. So when an acquaintance of Mom’s came to the table, it didn’t even occur to me to stand up for her, as I would have done in the last century. Later I asked my mother, who knows These Things, if I’d made a transgression. Oh, no, she replied. If you’d stood up, it would have been insulting. Huh? Something mysterious has happened during the past forty years. Have rules changed? I wondered aloud. No, but you have. You’re not young. If an older person stands up for a person even older, that’s like telling them they’re ancient.

After dinner, Mom said, Oh, we should go see Grannie and Granddaddy! For a split second I was confused. I thought, How could I have forgotten about them! I always go visit when I’m in town. Then I remembered: they’re dead. Mom was talking about their grave. So we had a nice visit, and I hope they didn’t mind that I stood on their heads.

I was traumatized at leaving Maw so soon, particularly since it’ll be a long time till I get back there again. She’s a good little mother, little being the most immediately apparent. This is but one of the reasons I call her Small. I promised her that I would try to move back there if she got too doddery to live on her own, and that I would manage her home care.

The only good thing about leaving was getting to see Emmy and Eleni. Now a week is passed and Emmy is here again. Last night Anna came over. Emmy adores her. Emmy wanted to put on my sneakers and walk down the stairs. So here’s that.

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