My sister Kathy spent a month in California moving our father out of his home and into the local convalescent home. Our two brothers helped her clean out the house and sort the “Save” from the “Toss”. Last week, I received two packages from Kathy with galley proofs of a book my mother wrote to honor her own mother. She named it “C’mon, Kid, Let’s Dance”. Family legend had it that this was the line my grandfather, Walter Collins, used to meet my grandmother, Helen Arneberg, at a Grange Hall dance in Miles City, Montana.
Mom was a lifelong optimist. As a testament to her life, the Mariposa Catholic church was packed at her funeral even though she had been out of the community for years with Alzheimer’s disease. (The picture is of my sister Kathy, mom and me in 2007.) Three young nurses, who never knew the “real” Marie, came over from the hospital to the mortuary and wept over her casket. There were over 300 people at the reception after Mass.
Today, we received another package from Kathy with the typed manuscript with a sticky note that said, “Now it’s your turn.” She was referring to my judgmental critique years ago that mom had skipped over a major factor in the book that would have explained a lot about her feelings towards her father. Kathy, who spent several years in the 1990’s living in mom’s hometown, found out that my grandfather had numerous affairs with women in the town. As fate would have it, our grandmother’s roommate in the Montello dementia ward was one of those women.
I no longer have the urge to write a second-hand Tell All book. My mom was honoring her mother, who had an incredible life and was the very spirit of resilience. Mom survived breast cancer, colon cancer, brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and died of old age in her 80’s. She went through chemotherapy in the 1960’s, but lost most of her hair after the brain cancer. She wore a wig with just the right amount of gray in it for decades.
When she died, it was standing room only at her funeral. A reception was held in the church hall, and it was packed with people who remarked how much I look like my mother, and shared terrific stories about her. One couple square-danced with mom and dad, and he told me that he twirled mom and accidentally knocked off her wig. He said he was horrified. Without missing a beat, Mom called out, “Hurry, stomp on it before it gets away!” Then she scooped it up, put it back on her head, and twirled on.
I can honor mom by being a good human being, a loving partner to my husband, a mother with unconditional love for my children, a nonjudgmental grandmother, and an engaged citizen of the world. That is the kind of positive energy I want to have in my life. As soon as I have posted this, I’ll make a cup of tea and read her manuscript with an open heart.