My 89-year-old mother stayed with me this winter. She arrived the day after Christmas to get out of the bitter cold winter of northern Michigan for a bit. She bought an open-ended ticket, and so her one-month plan turned into a three-month plan, with her return flight the last day of March.
I feel so lucky and blest to have had this time with her. She is so easy to have around, always pleasant, never grouchy. She would sleep until 9:00 or so, then make her way into the kitchen for her first cup of coffee, the “nectar of the gods!” She would sit at the table and read one of her many Danielle Steele books and perhaps have a piece of toast. She may enjoy that for an hour before she would get herself moving to get ready for the day. And I was so happy that finally, after how many years raising 11 kids and constantly doing for others, her day would consist of reading, playing bridge on her laptop, doing crossword puzzles, or knitting, with the occasional stroll around the cul de sac in the afternoon. For months she would exclaim how guilty she felt about how lazy she was until I finally insisted that had to stop. There is no guilt in Florida! At night she would watch and re-watch her all-time favorite TV show, Downton Abbey, and if she remembered, there was always the DVD of Phantom of the Opera that she watched – last count, eight times – without ever tiring of it.
In the past several months we saw the full moon rise over the ocean, we ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ soaring in an open cockpit biplane over St. Augustine and the Atlantic; the site of her smiling face so close to mine is forever etched in my memory. We have enjoyed the on-stage Broadway musical productions of Phantom and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; we would have the songs constantly playing round in our heads, and we would spontaneously start humming one of the melodies, then start singing together, one of us remembering the lines the other didn’t. We spotted the slow moving manatees at Blue Spring and enjoyed the giant kites flying over Flagler Beach. We watched in amazement as six kite surfers joined forces with Mother Nature on the ocean and in the air. We took drives through “Old Florida,” where I loved hearing her exclamations of the beauty of this area and how very glad she was that I found this ‘well-kept secret.’ She would tell me daily how happy she was for me, how much she loved it here.
Her hearing is going. She’s quite forgetful. But she loved to tell stories of the old days, and I have to admit I’d heard several I’d not heard before. My friends who had lost their own moms wanted to visit with her; perhaps she gave them a little of their own for a brief moment. I knew when I came home from work I would hear, “Here comes Tilly the toiler,” and when she’d say goodnight, she’d always add, “God bless you,” just as she did every night when we were kids. I tuck all these things away in my memory knowing I will need to pull them out one day in the not too distant future.
I never was able to get her to Marineland to feed the dolphins; the weather did not cooperate. She said she wanted to see a sunrise, even though I reminded her that it wouldn’t wait until 10:00 to come up. But I so loved seeing her sit happily at the end of my couch, engrossed in Ms. Steele’s latest book or one of her many crossword puzzles, looking lovely and comfortable, while I felt like the luckiest girl alive.