More Mother’s Day Thoughts

After my experience last Sunday I’ve decided I like Mothers Day. I enjoyed sharing vignettes of my old Mum. One of the first that I ever published, appeared in my first book, a memoir which I called “My Father’s Compass”. The vignette, a story about my 92 year old father battling the extinguishment of his great powers, and my mother battling nothing and accepting all, was titled: Falling gums.

“The phone rings at midnight. I walk towards the answering machine and listen for an urgent message. I do not pick up the receiver because it is Friday night, my Sabbath – Shabbat – when my soul visits paradise. When I am in paradise I do not answer the phone. There is no message.

Though puzzled – who would want to speak to me at midnight if it were not an emergency? – I begin to relax, then the phone rings again. Once again my machine offers to take a message, once again the caller is mute. I grab the phone. Dad’s voice says, ‘Mum is on the floor …’

‘I’ll come now,’ I say, and hang up. Dad and I have responded to the situation with the least possible desecration of the Sabbath.

Minutes later I let myself into my parents’ house. There, on the bedroom floor, in a tangle of limbs, is my mother. ‘Hello darling,’ she says. She looks up at me and gives me a grin. Recently, Mum’s front teeth have begun to desert her. Those teeth that remain are a picket fence, stained and in disrepair. Mum’s former serene smile has given way to a seven-year-old’s grin – all mischief and careless abandon.

I peer down at Mum’s legs. They are thin, too thin, except for her ruined knee which is swollen and misshapen. In the half light her skin is ivory. I crouch and put my hand on her leg and feel its cool and its smoothness. I touch my mother’s skin and I am her small child again.

A short time passes. ‘Does any thing hurt, Mum?’

‘No darling.’

‘Can you move your limbs, Mum?’

Dad’s voice breaks in: ‘Mum’s not hurt – she didn’t fall. She was reaching for the commode chair and she pushed it away instead of holding it still … she just slid gently onto the floor … I couldn’t stop her falling …’

Dad’s voice subsides. He sits on his bed and holds his head in his hands.

Mum speaks: ‘I’m quite comfortable, darling. It’s quite a nice floor, really.’ Another grin. I look at my mother. Her limbs are splayed and folded beneath and before her like so many pick-up-sticks. I wonder how I will pick them up.

‘If you like it on the floor, Mum, would you prefer to stay there until the morning?’

‘If you wish, darling.’ She extends a hand and pats my face.

I bend and begin to take her weight, my hands beneath her arms. Dad gets up to help but I knock him back because his heart is worn out and failing.

He recoils, recedes and sits down opposite me, his face wrought of grief and care. I feel a pang for my abruptness.

An in-drawing of breath, a grunt and Mum is aloft, her legs a pair of white flags hanging limply beneath her. Her arms are around my neck and we are locked in our accustomed embrace that has become so familiar since she began to suffer a series of strokes.

We know this moment well; each of us knows the sweetness of this slow dance. Neither of us would readily trade it, not even to make Mum whole again.

A moment later Mum is in her bed, covered up, wheezing, speaking breathily, her voice ravaged by stroke and by time: ‘Thank you, darling, what a treat!’ – and beaming with the simple pleasure of ­being tucked into her bed.

Dad, contrite, distressed, is saying, ‘I am sorry, darling. I hate to disturb you.’ And I am saying how pleased I am to come, and how come he didn’t speak into the machine when he rang. And Dad says, ‘I don’t know.’

‘Shabbat Shalom,’ I say, kiss them both goodnight, and go home.

Back home, but not yet in paradise, I sit a while and recall a conversation my friend Lionel reported to me. While driving with my father in the Flinders Ranges, Lionel asks this indestructible old man a singular question: ‘What are you afraid of in this life, Myer?’

My dreadnought father has fought all his sixty-seven years as a doctor against illness and injury. Of all diseases, I know that cancer and stroke fill him with terror beyond naming. And I recall, too, Dad confiding to me his fears for Mum: ‘I am grateful for every single day that I have her; and I am so frightened of the day that …’ He falls silent, his voice drowning in the grief of his imagining.

When Lionel asks his question, Dad looks up and out and away from inside him, and he sees those silent, massive and beauteous living things, so inviting in the outdoors and so treacherous. He answers, ‘Falling gum trees.’

The day after the ‘fall’ Mum and I are alone in the kitchen when she begins to laugh. The sound has a gasping quality. You have to pay close attention to discover whether she is choking again, or simply amused. She laughs louder then tries to speak at the same time.

Her voice is a concerto for bagpipes and windstorm. I lean close, into the teeth of the storm, and Mum says, ‘When I was on the floor last night, and I couldn’t get up, I started to laugh, and I couldn’t stop … and Daddy was furious!’”

What I Have Been Doing With Your Donated (and Undonated) Monies

Late Training Notes from the Bristol Downs.

I promised to report on your Unusual Investment. (If, as you read this, you don’t know about that Investment, please visit these links http://hopkintonrespite.com or
http://www.youtube.com/user/HopkintonRespiteTV
It is not too late for your dollars to join the nearly-four thousand dollars that preceded yours, whose donor investors will never see them again.)
Since I first wrote to you the grass has not grown beneath my feet. A certain amount of tinea has, but this is inevitable: I have been training hard. The Boston Marathon will be run on Monday 15 April and investors in my little Scheme are helping the Michael Lisson Memorial Respite Centre.
Michael’s mother, who created the Centre, wrote one week ago, reminding me that Michael died on the day of the 100th running. I ran that day, unknowing. Now I know and marathon running feels like a small matter.

They ought to call the Downs the Ups, these vast, everlasting, uptwisting hills. Or the Steeps. From one end of the Downs you can’t see the other for distance. And even if you could, you couldn’t – because of the mists. In spring, season of mists and frosts.

My father, not a lewd man nor crude, told few risqué jokes. However this semi-liquid air brings to mind one of Dad’s one-liners: Did you hear about the man who took his girlfriend out into the night air and mist?

Enough complaining. Hilly Bristol, like coastal Israel, is terrific training ground for Monday’s Boston Marathon. We’ll run up the Newton Hills between miles 18 and 21, hills famous for breaking hearts, but the Bristol Ups, like the long, high dunes of Herzliyah, have toughened mine.

This is my race preview. I have trained long and hard, six days a week, resting only on the Sabbath. Each run feels easier than the last. Gone is the sense of labour in a run of a mere hour’s duration. My legs feel wonderful, muscular and light. There is the little matter of the creaking discomfort in the left knee – my good knee – a new sensation. The knee hurts only when it bears weight. Best ignored.

With the exception of a 3.5 hour run in the Jerusalem Forest all my training runs have been solitary. This is not of my choosing: running with a friend is four times easier than running alone. This is true for all runs, over all distances. I know: I have done the maths. However all my friends have stopped running; they have heard the call and they have gone inside for dinner or for breakfast or to their homework or to dull duty. So I run alone.

In Bristol Alfred Lord Tennyson has kept me company. Some fluke or inadvertence has selected the poems of Tennyson on my i-phone. Useless here in the UK for telephony, my i-phone has become the perfect companion. Deaf and mute to the world outside my earbuds, my Apple sings the songs of my choosing, or in this case, the poems of my non-choosing.

He was keen on death, was Lord Alfred. From ‘Ulysses’, where he found romantic allure in Death, the Adventure; to the dying of King Arthur; to the demise of the Lady of Shallott; through lyric after lyric, the Laureate spoke to me, morning after morning, of death. Last Sunday he spoke to me at great length of the loss of his friend Arthur Hallam.
Endless his grieving, dark his spirits, Tennyson’s mood finds its echoes on these misty Downs.

That day found me running near the railing that kept me from stepping out into air and falling hundreds of feet in near-dark to the river, tirra lira, below. A blaze of red in the gloom, patches of white at shoulder height; what are these? A brief breather is permitted. The patches of white turn out to be cards, handwritten by members of a local junior cricket team and a junior football team, in memoriam to a teammate. The blaze of red is a football club scarf inscribed in black marking pen: Russell Simmons # 14.
Fresh posies of daffodil and another, paler flower, bloom from the railings.

No-one else in sight. No-one to ask or tell. No-one else to lament. My head bends, defeated. A sudden roar, a cry of raw sorrow bursts from my throat. My voice thickens, my eyes are wet.

Running is an easy thing, marathon training now trivial.

Shaking my head, shaking it to shed reality, I look up once more. There are more words to be read on that blood-red scarf: You’ll never walk alone.

Postscript: Afterwards I Googled Russell Simmons, deceased Bristol sportsman, and felt still sadder.

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 10 April, 2013

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