My mom is devoted…to her four sons, her eight grandchildren, her husband (my dad), and to her many nieces and nephews.
But before this, she was devoted to her mother. I asked her recently to tell me about where and why she chose her first college. She chose a junior college at Edgewood Park, Briarcliff Manor, NY, not too far away, just up and across the Hudson River from Piermont, NY. She was still young, completing high school a year early and started college at not quite age 17.
I asked her why Edgewood Park? “I was only 16 and my parents had just divorced, I wanted to be near home, near my mother, I was concerned about her, I saw her about one weekend a month, she would pick me up in Nyack where the boat would bring us across the Hudson, I would often bring friends with me from college,” she shared.
Her mother was a lively soul; my mom’s college friends remember her well and enjoyed these weekend escapes from college. A seemingly good time was had by all and my mom knew her mom was ok.
At age 18, for her junior year, my mom transferred to a four-year college outside of Baltimore, MD, perhaps thinking enough time had passed, that her mom would be ok, she was working as a nurse, and seemed to have made the adjustment to living alone. I am sure she wrote to her often and of course spent the summer at home with her mom.
During her senior year Mom met my Dad who was also graduating and entering the Army. While he headed off to spend time in Korea, Mom went back home, started working and lived with her mom, and confirmed that she was ok.
After she married and started having kids we would make regular visits to Grandma’s house. My mom was still regularly checking in though it was too far to visit once a month, we would go up or her mom would come down a few times a year. We loved visiting Grandma in her big house with the mysterious rooms, old TV, and the forbidden overgrown “orchard” next door. As we were leaving one day Grandma told me at about age 65, that it was a bit lonely when we were not there, since her friends were getting older and dying.
Later, Grandma moved to our home town, it was great to have her nearby; she would stay with my brothers and me when my parents were away at a convention or at an overnight function. My mom could still keep an eye on her and visit, but a bit more regularly, to see if her mom was ok.
She seemingly was, but she was also getting older, various ailments were starting to slow her down. After a few years Grandma moved in with us. For a while she still was able to “look after us boys” but gradually my mom, my dad and “the boys” started looking after her.
It was hard on my mom, she was fixing special food for Grandma, but sometimes she had an appetite and sometimes not, nothing tasted like anything. This was hard on my mom; she remembered the lively soul who picked her up at the boat landing during college and entertained her friends.
Grandma got into a routine, she had her room, her things, her TV, the run of the house, and she had my mom when she wanted to talk or needed someone to drive her to on an errand or to the hairdresser or to play cards. This lasted for several years, “the boys” finished high school, then college; her health, her energy, and her appetite continued to slowly ebb but my mom’s devotion continued rock solid.
After college I headed off to the Peace Corps suspecting that I was saying goodbye to Grandma, two years seemed like it would be a long time for her, but I know my mom, supported by my dad, would make sure she would be ok. While I was away she entered a nursing home. They could better take care of Grandma’s physical needs, nutrition, medicine and the hair dressing shop was just down the hall and around the corner. My mom visited her every day. Grandma’s health was somewhat precarious, so my mom hesitated about going away even on a short trip for a couple of days.
Some days Grandma struggled, she seemed to be fading. My mom continued to visit every day. Then they would figure out a better dose of medicines and Grandma would rally. I extended for a third year of Peace Corps service and was very pleasantly surprised that Grandma was still with us when I arrived back home. My mom continued her daily visits, bringing comfort and conversation and being there for her mom.
About ten months after my return Grandma died while I was away at a three-week professional training course. I flew back directly to New York for Grandma’s funeral service and burial. At the funeral in my mom’s home town I sat next to my mom and held her hand. It was a sad day, but Grandma was at peace after a long but well fought struggle, eased greatly by my mom’s love and devotion to her mother.
I ponder how I will measure up as my parents continue to age slowly but with relative good health. My mom set a pretty high standard. Thanks Mom for the love, care, concern and devotion that you have modeled and for the values you demonstrated every day.
I hope you have an excellent Mother’s Day and many more.
Footnote: As a Personal Historian I continue to collect stories from Mom and Dad whenever I see them. It’s important to get this transfer of knowledge and values… how my mom helped Grandma, how my Grandma visited her mother every Sunday, how my father stopped by to see his mother on the way home for lunch. I will continue to collect and ponder these life lessons.
Bruce W. Summers