I don’t know the number of my mother’s corner room in the Beechwood Wing of her nursing home. Her room has lots of windows and looks out over the Monongahela River when the trees are bare. The trees aren’t bare today. They’re coated with snow and even though my mom has her glasses on, she says she can’t see them. She’s in a cantaloupe-colored top that I bought for her at Target and her hair is brushed but slightly greasy and she’s wearing her trademark black glasses. She looks like this hip, old NY designer to me, whose name I’ve forgotten. Her glasses are a replica of the original pair, which broke when she fell here one day. For a while she wore them with one lens out and the middle held together with tape. When I saw her in the damaged pair I immediately thought of former L.A. Laker, Kurt Rambis, whose trademark was his black Clark Kent glasses held together with tape. I don’t live here in Pittsburgh so when I came for a visit and saw the new “look,” I immediately ordered a new pair. “We can’t have you looking like Kurt Rambis,” I told her with a loving laugh. The original version of my mother would have gotten the reference and laughed with me.
My mom was the smartest woman I knew and an Olympian talker. She rarely speaks a full sentence now, though occasionally one will emerge. Usually, it’s “Hi Kate, “ or “Isn’t’ that wonderful,” or “I love you, too.” I have been lucky enough to have my mom for 49 years now and though I deeply miss our real conversations, I don’t spend much time thinking about them. I call her almost daily and hold up a one-sided conversation. I tell her I love her and she tells me she loves me, too. Thankfully, that phrase hasn’t disappeared and when she says it to me, I feel like she does take in the one thing I am desperately trying to convey across the distance. I feel my mom so much inside of me that most of the time, I know what she’d be thinking or saying. The only part of my life where I’d truly like her advice and where I don’t know the answer has to do with my relationships with men. I am divorced. My mom married my dad. Louis “Doc” Meyers at 21 (she knew he was the one when she met him at his going-way to the navy party thrown by my grandmother. She went home that night and announced,” I just met the man I’m going to marry.”)
The summer after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin (she was the first in her family to attend college) they wed in my grandparent’s living room. My Uncle Sam had to come home from summer camp to play the first two bars of “Here Comes the Bride” on the piano and he was pissed. I have a picture from that day on a wall in my living room. To me, my parents look like these gorgeous 1940s movie stars, preserved forever in black and white. Anyway, they loved each other and laughed together until my dad died from bladder cancer at 71, thirteen years ago. When he knew that there was no more fighting the cancer he told my mother “we’ve had a good run,” which was classic Doc Meyers understatement. But she understood his language and took in all the love behind it and they had their own private cry. So it’s hard for her to understand me. I didn’t marry until I was almost 33, divorced ten years later, had my heart ripped to shreds once post divorce by a completely inappropriate guy and now I’m in a five-year relationship with a man who has never lived less than a two-hour plane ride away, and who I keep hoping will move to be with me, but it hasn’t happened. Those kinds of situations weren’t in her realm of thinking. Still, I’d desperately love to hear what her younger, precise mind would have to offer.
This afternoon I brought her a grilled Rachel sandwich for lunch. It’s corned beef, melted Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing. It’s one of her favorites and my brothers and I are always trying to bring her dishes she likes because she hates the nursing home food and she’s getting very frail. And also, because my mother took great joy in food. We sit and share our sandwich on the little table that rolls and slides over her wheelchair. It takes me three minutes to eat my half. It takes her thirty, but I know she’s enjoying it. After the meal I talk a bit and smile and give her play-by-play of what my daughters and I have done since we’ve been in Pittsburgh. My sister-in-law Ann and Emmy and I took a long walk in the snow and then she treated the girls to pedicures. Annie my oldest, will go to the late afternoon Steelers-Packers game with my brother Muzz. My mom listens and smiles but doesn’t say anything. I ask her if she’d like to listen to some music, she nods her head. I put on Diana Krall Live in Paris and we hold hands and listen. Sometimes we close our eyes and sometimes we look at each other and smile, sharing an appreciation of these jazzy tunes. Occasionally, I’ll sing a line. I know a lot of old lyrics because my mother was a jazz connoisseur since she was 15 and played so much of it in the house when my brothers and I were growing up. We stay like that, holding hands and listening closing our eyes and listening and opening them occasionally to smile at each other for an hour and a half. It is a beautiful, heavenly way to be. There is a peace that comes from it—deep and powerful and accepting. And in my heart, I hope that whenever my mother is ready, she can float away on a bright cloud of music.
Footnote: The evening after I posted this blog, my mom, Natalie Roth Meyers, passed away. She was surrounded by love.