The Last 1/3 of Mom

Class ValedictorianMom’s been on the library shelf looking over my shoulder for several years now.  She’s even taunted me with postcards from the edge (more on that in a bit) but now it’s time to bring the saga of her life to a fitting close and in doing so, deal with the last 1/3 of mom.

A bit of history.  Miriam, mom, died almost 4 years ago now while we were all still living in California.  She had not, in all honesty, intended to end up in California.  Although an inveterate traveler in life, I do believe that she had wanted to be firmly planted in death in one place. She had picked and paid for that place, in fact, a cemetery literally in the backyard of the house she had lived in for over 50 years.

Somehow, though, her last years were spent in a series of increasingly fractious and jolting moves through southern states of no return to convalescent facilities better left unmentioned and finally to her two room studio apartment in an assisted living complex on a hill overlooking Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz Harbor.  Not a bad place to end, really, if one had to choose.

And there she died.

Disconnected from her roots, her home of a lifetime, her family (except for Dave and I) she has languished, in part, on the bookshelf beside me for these last 4 years….waiting for completion. The last 1/3 of Mom.

You may be wondering where the first 2/3 of her are.  Some do, others are just concerned that there is a seemingly disjointed portion of what once was Mom in a plain plastic canister with a sterile looking label ingloriously stuck between the ash memorials of the many cats who have preceded her and the dusty volumes of bird books and Anne Rive novels.

The first 1/3 of Mom was carefully laid to rest with appropriate memorialization, speeches, parties and dignity afforded a 94 yo in death.  Her remaining sibling were there, many family and friends, though the absence of her daughter and all her grand and great-grandchildren was a glaring spectacle but again, more on that later, maybe.

We interred this first 1/3 in the plot beside my father in the cemetery that now occupies the fields where I played as a child.  The cemetery is called Gates of Heaven and it seems the ultimate in ironies to me that both my parents, my father the anti-Semitic, racist southerner that he was, and my mother, the latter day Lutheran and extremely lapsed Episcopalian that she ended up to be, are both buried in a half Jewish, half non sectarian cemetery. Their world now and welcome to it.

As an aside, I was told years ago that they had purchased a plot between them for me, the assumption being that my gay self was going to remain a “confirmed bachelor” for life and would need someplace to call home in the afterlife. I demurred. After spending an entire formative childhood being triangulated between the likes of my two equally stubborn and equally vociferous parents I had no intention of spending my eternity there as well. Besides, I managed to find myself a fella and after almost 20 years together we are, ourselves, beginning the discussions of where we would like our own cremains to be left on this earth. And I really think that the extra space between Mom and Dad will be a good buffer for them, one they never seemed to find in life, they may yet achieve in death.

The second 1/3 of Mom is a bit more complicated, if that’s possible. Mom had loved to travel, anywhere.  The last couple years of her life living in the paradise of Northern California she continued to pine after road trips untaken and sights unseen. Chief among these unseen landmarks was the drive-through redwood tree in Liggett, CA. But a 16hr round trip road trip with an incontinent 94yo seemed ill advised and not something either Dave or I wanted to undertake.  So we stalled. I actually “invented” a hip replacement that prohibited me from car travel (needed but still a good excuse) and even Bella the Rottweiler had her own hip replacement to add to the excuse pile of not wanting to leave home for long periods.

And then she died.

Now free from so many of the daily obligations that caring for elderly parents entails, we decided to take a long delayed road trip through the Northwest to see what was there.  And what should be on the way there but the drive through redwood tree in Liggett, CA.  And there lies, flung from the back of the pickup as Dave drove literally through the giant tree, the second 1/3 of Mom.

Fast forward a couple of years.  I am home alone while Dave if off on a motorcycle adventure when a postcard arrives.  In block print, childlike, on the back of a card picturing the Giant Drive-Through Redwood tree, is a missive: “Rob, when are you going to deliver the rest of me home?  I feel incomplete.  Love,  Mom.”  Funny, well I suppose.  Eerie, definitely.  Who to blame? We shall see.

And so, the last 1/3 of Mom.

In looking at her amazing journey through almost the entire 20th Century, I was really trying to give some thought as to how to wrap up her journey in the most appropriate and yet simple package.  From her roots in rural Wisconsin at the start of the last century to her death at the start of this new century on the far edge of a world almost unexplored at the time of her birth, she covered a lot of ground.

So I looked to her roots and it seemed only fitting that the last 1/3 of Mom should go home to Wisconsin.  I was not at all sure of exactly what that would look like or entail, hence the intervening years of solitude on the shelf (unless you count the cat cremainatorium company as I certainly do) but I knew that it would come to me and it would come to pass.

Now my cousin, Claire, was also raised in Wisconsin, Mom’s hometown of La Crosse to be exact and she, too, migrated west and has lived in beautiful Mendocino County for many decades.  Aside from our birthdays being 3 days apart (yes, she is the older) Claire and I seem to have also developed the same quirky personalities while not seeing each other for 30 odd in between years.  She is really the sister that I don’t have in real life (again….we don’t get to choose our siblings, only delete their profiles later in life as they misbehave).

In talking about the last 1/3 of Mom and La Crosse and what, exactly to do, it became clear that Claire and I would set out together on this final undertaking and have ourselves a real family adventure. We had both wanted to take a train trip and lo and behold the Amtrak Empire Builder leaves Union Station in Portland and will deliver us to downtown La Crosse in just under 48hrs.

Roomette booked, gloves and hats packed, fresh deck of vintage cards to be opened, iDevices at the ready, we shall embark on our own version of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint going East by NorthEast, sipping martinis in the lounge car and dining our way across country.

As the fates (and family) will have it, another cousin in Wisconsin actually knows the people who live in the very farmhouse Mom was born in and is contacting them for us so that we can go and spread the last 1/3 of Mom on the farm where she was born in 1912.

To make this even more of a family event, two of our other Maryland cousins are coming to join us and we will actually have a cousin gathering for the first time in about 40 years!  Amazing! Talk about feeling old.  We can only give thanks to the gods of photoshop before posting any lasting images of ourselves.

So friends and readers, stay tuned. As departure day approaches I will go “live” and blog along the route as we journey east to deliver the Last 1/3 of Mom home again, at last.

2 thoughts on “The Last 1/3 of Mom

  1. Robbie,
    Thank you so much. I have been working on “The Los Gatos Files” of my mom. Reading your blog has stirred up so much of what happened in the Los Gatos Mountians while taking care of my 94 year old. Leave it to the gay sons of mothers to a superb send off. Thank you to you and Dave for being a fun spot during an overwhelming time. I could say you have no idea what you did for me but you do. You are priceless.

    1. Humor, the balm for savage wounds. If I were to really get going and unleash the beast of my childhood there’s no telling what would emerge. Who knows? I may yet get the courage to look behind that closet door as well . Thanks for the comment!

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