About the time my son was born, 10 years ago now, I succumbed to family pressure to do something about my mother. That something was to move her out of her home in Fresno, where she had lived since coming to America 42 years before, and bring her to live here in the Bay Area. I’ll never know whether it was the right thing to do. There probably is no fact of the matter that would make it right or wrong. It was just one possible thread rather than another.
Four years ago, we moved mother again. This time, from independence in her apartment to dependence and supervision in a board and care home.
During the subsequent dissolving of an internally coherent jumble of artifacts and ephemera, I endeavored to document each particle, every trivial item, every talisman of personal narrative, before casting it into nothingness.
Occasionally, some string is needed to secure a package, or truss a chicken, or tie the current moment to a memory. And to another. And another still. But for some, there is no need anymore. Not now. Untied, memories spill to the floor and are lost. Those that remain come and go as they wish, masquerading as experiences, unstuck in time.
White Front closed its doors in 1975.
Just two generations apart, my mother and my son are also 84 years apart. That’s what happens when the generations have children in their 40s. Of course, my father would have been 113 this year, so that would put him and Theo a mere 104 years apart.
My mother turned 93 or so, Monday, or so. We’re not really sure about any of it, but that’s what her US passport says. Of course, I had to work yesterday, so I brought her to my house on Sunday. We didn’t really do anything special to celebrate per se. We just hung out for a while in the late morning, had some vasilopita (Greek new year’s bread) and Greek coffee. We talked about the same things over and over; I told her it was her birthday and how old she is, how old I am. I tried to clarify again how long I’ve been married, how old her grandson is, and so on. Then, after a while, the familiar cadence of alertness and fatigue progressed and she was ready to go home to the facility.
There was never much emphasis on anyone’s birthday in my family. I suppose this is because Greeks celebrate name days more so than birthdays, but in America that seemed only to happen as a brief mention during or after church. Consequently, I never had a real sense of either of my parents as celebrated or as celebratory. They just plugged away, day after day. (I, of course, had birthday parties, but they were typically muted affairs. Three or four friends would come over for cake and we’d run around in the back yard for a couple of hours.) Once I was older, I tried to celebrate both of my parents birthdays. I wanted to show my love for them, but in my American grown-up way. Neither ever seemed very comfortable with it. Maybe it was because they were already quite old and didn’t really want to be reminded, I don’t know.
Anyway, she seemed pretty sturdy and in good shape, all things considered–especially in the flannel shirt. I’d never seen it before, so I suspect it was a holiday gift to one of the other residents. They don’t seem to worry much about whose article of clothing is whose at her place. The glasses aren’t hers either. That’s probably just as well; hers have the thickest lenses I’ve ever seen and resulted from, I think, communication problems and confusion at her last eye exam a couple of years ago. She can’t tell how far away anything, like the next step or the handrail, is when she wears them.
But she did pretty good on this day.
So, happy birthday, ma. Here’s to another year.
(click images below to view slide show)
A holiday get-together this evening brought us together with my late cousin’s best friend and his family. I overheard Gina talking about one of the neighborhoods in which she lived as a child. I butted in, and upon further investigation we discovered that we lived near each other and even attended the same elementary school, Del Mar, for a few years until her family moved on. She lived in the apartments right behind the school on Glenn Ave, Casa del Mar. I spent many childhood and teenage years roaming and playing in these streets. A couple of years ago I was in the area and drove by on a whim just to see what it looked like these days, and I took a few quick shots while I was at it. I know it shouldn’t anymore, but that small-world-thing still pleasantly surprises me when it happens.
Santa listens patiently while someone recites the entire Lego catalog, and then lists all the different Pokémon cards he needs and explains why for each one, delving into mind-numbing detail about the various types and their powers and defenses, and then…
Just over two and half years ago, I moved my mom out of her apartment nearby, and into a board and care facility. As I prepared to move everything out of the apartment, I decided I would photograph everything in it. Every thing. I did. The aim was to document all the objects which held some significance before casting anything to oblivion. Actually, it was to document everything and figure out later what has significance. The truth of the matter is that every single thing did. That’s just how I am.
There were just a few things I missed because they were not in the apartment at the time. A sugar bowl had been in use at my house for a couple years. It was my parents’, probably my father’s from before his marriage to my mother, and I remember it from early childhood. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned what depression glass is, or that it is somewhat collectible.
A month or two after I had completed the documentation project, I decided to photograph the few things that were scattered around my house. The sugar bowl was in heavy use near the stove. I thought to wash it before photographing it. That’s when I dropped it in the sink and broke it, and my heart. Though broken, I decided I would still photograph it, but I didn’t do it then. I was too disappointed at the time. I finished washing it and put it up on the shelf above the stove for later. Two and half years later, I’ve finally got it over with so that I can now,… cast it into oblivion.
(click to view large)
I was half-way to work on my bike the other morning when my cell phone rang. It is unusual for me to get calls at that time. Occasionally, Sarah might call to say that Theo was too sick to go to school. But I had dropped Theo off at camp myself, so it was not likely to be her. In fact, it was the director at Shady Lane, my mother’s board and care facility. Usually, when they call me, I know it is not going to be good news.It wasn’t this time either. Effie woke up with a new mysterious pain and swelling in her left shoulder. She needs go to the emergency room and get some x-rays.
I turned the bike around and headed home. First, I called my boss and had some files uploaded to an ftp server so I could slave a little during the interminable emergency wait. Then I called Kaiser to see if it was possible to get an urgent care appointment. After some two-fisted phoning with the advice nurse on the land-line, and the facility director on the cell, we got an urgent care appointment with her regular doctor. I downloaded the files onto the laptop, got myself together and headed to Shady Lane to get mom.
At the appointment, her doctor sent us straight to radiology for x-rays. It seemed to be a slow morning and so we didn’t have to wait long at radiology. The tech was in his 50’s and sort of animated in a, for want of a better term, New Yorker kind of way. He took a picture. He commented, “yeah, fractured humerus. Nah, they won’t do surgery for that. Don’t quote me.” He seemed knowledgable and competent. Then the fun began.
He wanted to get some more shots from other angles, of course. He went over to her and sort of barked, “She just needs to relax and let me move her. People make it a bigger move than it needs to be.” She was perched on a stool in front of the imaging screen. He grabbed the stool and sort of twisted it a couple inches. She, taken by surprise, yelled out. She’s short, feet barely touch the ground, and on her third set of hips. And she’s sitting there with a broken upper arm. She doesn’t like to have her stability taken away like that. I tried to calm her.
The tech repeated the stuff about staying calm and not making a bigger thing out of it, sort of getting louder in the process. I was sort irked but keeping my deferential attitude. I tried to help move her, but he waived me off. After some wrangling, he got her repositioned where he wanted and took another shot.
Then he moved her again in the same sudden way, and again she yelled out, “Ohh!” I tried to calm her down. Meanwhile the tech started his spiel again about how “people make this a big thing and it isn’t. Just get her to relax and hold still where I put her.” I tried to suggest I could help move her. I also had a sense that we should stand her up, let her shuffle once and sit back down. The tech practically shouted, “No, I don’t need that much. I just need an inch. Tell her to relax!” I reassured her, although I myself was feeling confused and disoriented. This guy’s manner was like nothing I’d ever experienced in a hospital. The more he told us to relax, the more worked up he got himself. It was bizarre and a bit frightening. I think he managed to get another shot.
He wanted to reposition her again, and again he sort of yelled about staying calm and twisted the stool. She yelled and moved the other way. I said, “Maybe I can move her. ” He said, “Well, if you were a radiologist, maybe you could. But you’re not. This is incredibly complex bone structure.” Then he said, “Fine, you stay in here with her,” and he grabbed a big lead apron and actually put it on me. I stood there, I’m sure, with my mouth agape. Then he said something else, but I don’t know what. Once he said it, I nearly blacked out with rage. The next thing I heard was someone shouting, “NOW YOU ARE FUCKING PISSING ME OFF, MOTHER FUCKER!” and realized the voice was mine as I took the lead apron and threw it on the ground in front of him.
He took a step back, “ok, ok, let’s just hold on a minute, let’s have the supervisor help.” He turned and pivoted out of the lab and down the hall. Unfortunately, the supervisor was not around at the moment. It gave me time to calm down. So, he came back and we agreed to start over. Not saying much, we got my mom positioned and he took a final shot.
As we left the lab he came up and in the same slightly manic way, sort of apologized and shook my hand and almost tried to hug me. I felt bad about losing my temper, but I wasn’t in a kiss-and-make-up mood. We wheeled our way way back down to the doctor’s office to find out what the prognosis would be.
The WordPress prodders suggested this photo topic to me (and millions of others). It makes me think of one thing.
About three years ago my late cousin Tommy and his wife Maia were hosting Thanksgiving at the compound in Orinda. He insisted that our family come over the day before to hang out and spend the night, and just leisurely cook and drink and relax. We did. We had a lovely time all around. And it was one of the last times I’d spend an extended amount of time with him in good spirits.
I brought my camera and tripod along to play around with some night shots. Then, since the room we were in had gigantic east facing windows, we were roused by the lovely dawn. I got up, grabbed the camera and tried to figure out how to expose for these solar edge events.
On second thought, there is one other thing that comes to mind when I hear “sunrise”: The Who playing “See me, feel me” at Woodstock.
It really is true. Parenting takes time. We’ve had a lot on our parenting plate lately, and that’s another reason, perhaps, why I’ve missed some days posting. But today was the culmination of much of that effort with the execution of the dreaded piano recital. I say “dreaded” because we all came to dread what might happen. Theo was not practicing as much as a tiger mother would have him. The pieces were not there. We would put our foot down. He would pout. We would yell. He would frown. Then he’d play for a few minutes. Then jump up to reenact a Clone Wars battle scene. Occasionally, a real practice session would ensue.
And so it went until the day was upon us. Boy was he nervous. Frankly, I was nervous too, like I was the one going on stage. In the end, he did reasonably fine (Crappy compressed video here.) Better than he thought he would. Indeed, all the kids did really well, so much so that the whole thing was thoroughly enjoyable. Theo’s reward was going out to dinner to his favorite restaurant, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe in Emeryville for a cheeseburger and a root beer float. And of course, along the way I found the opportunity to get my daily photo and even daily post out of it.
Can’t Fail. It all seemed fitting somehow.