The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

A Moving Day

Today I take the plunge and write in response to a challenge hosted by Writing Essential Group. You might want to drop by and see what they are up to. I learned of this blog through a very fine writer from Almost Iowa. You might want to check him out, too!

Now, as you know the muses often have a mind of their own, and this time is no different. The prompt suggests that I write a short-story about the confusion of life, about losing track of something or someone. I thought, “I know, I’ll tell ’em about the time mom moved from the semi into her new raised ranch and lost track of anything that was powdered. Both the skim milk powder AND dad’s ashes went missing. Funny, no?  Yeah, I guess you had to be there.

A Moving Day

The house that grandad built

The house that grandad built

My mother’s dad built the house in which I lived for the first twenty years of my life. After that point, like a pinball I bounced around in pursuit of jobs, hobbies, and relation-ships. Mom, however, lived in that house for about 55 years before she moved.

Grandfather died when mom was a young teen. Sometime not long afterward, her older brother was killed while fighting in World War II. Whether it was the stress of raising the nine remaining children on her own, the loss of her husband and oldest boy, or latent tendencies, Grandmother fell ill to a mental disorder. Grandma lived the rest of her years in psychiatric facilities and nursing homes. Meanwhile, Mother cared for her younger siblings at home, and the public trustee managed the estate.

Money was always tight, for a few years it was non-existent and the bailiff threatened eviction. Now, however, with the kids grown and on their own, with Mom earning good wages at the school board, and with Dad working part-time, now was the time to stop renting and start owning a house.

At that time, I was married to my first husband The Cowboy and lived nearby. On moving day, I took time off work to help out where I could. It turned out to be a good thing. Mom was a fine organizer, multi-tasker, and administrator. That was her job, after all, at the high school just up the street. But when it came to leaving her childhood and long-time family home, she was overwhelmed by the prospect.

This was something new for me: to see her confused and unable to make a decision. I took charge, and she was grateful to hand over the reins. We actually had fun, once the responsibility of boss-lady was lifted from her shoulders. I’d holler directions like a drill sergeant and she’d “aye captain” me in return. (You will forgive the mixed military metaphor!)

Mom and Dad lived in their new home, a semi-detached unit, for a half-dozen years or so.  It might have been the best time of their marriage. Dad stopped smoking and mom learned to drive. They’d walk to the Dairy Queen after dinner for Peanut Buster Parfaits. Dad’s waistline proved it. One summer evening, when I was visiting from Owen Sound, I helped Dad wash the car. I scrubbed and he rinsed with the garden hose. In a moment of playfulness he soaked me from head to toe. This was Howard? He of “Eat your peas!” and “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” I hardly knew how to react. Momentarily. He got a soapy sponge in the backside for his prank.

Howard

Howard

A few years later, Mom called to tell me that he fell and dislocated his shoulder. After the medics patched him up she and my youngest brother Jim brought him home. He was in so much pain, or so doped up by the Tylenol 3’s, they had to carry him into the house. Jim helped set up a bed in the living room because Dad couldn’t or wouldn’t climb the stairs to the second floor bedroom.

That evening, he had a massive stroke. He died, but was revived in the ambulance on the way to hospital. He never recovered, and died two days later.

After dinner that night, I sat with mom in the living room. The makeshift sick-bed was still downstairs. We talked about the doctor’s post mortem.  Apparently Dad had had several mini-strokes over the years. The fall that dislocated his shoulder was no doubt triggered by one. That would explain his immobility. We thought he was playing the sucky baby card. Hoo boy.

She was quiet for a moment, then she said, “I shouldn’t have waited.”

“What?”

“I waited too long.”

“Mom, what are you talking about?” I thought she was confused again. That the stress of the last few days had addled her thinking.

“I was sitting here, he was in bed, not sleeping, but not really awake. Then he shouts. He complains about blinding pain. Then he passed out.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.” She took a deep breath. “I waited fifteen minutes before I called the ambulance.”

It turns out life with dad hadn’t really changed all that dramatically after all.

I wish I could say that I was able to change roles with mom again, to take charge, to offer comfort. I was struck dumb by her disclosure. I understood with all of my being why she delayed calling the ambulance. But I was at a complete loss as to how to tell her that. I wish I had been able to overcome the confusion of that moment. I wish she knew that I did not condemn her for delaying the 911 call.

I said nothing.

We never spoke of it again.

 

 

 

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Categories: Mom and Dad

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49 replies

  1. I hate that your stories are real because that means your suffering was real. Those were hard times for so many who were orphaned too young, put into back-breaking labor too young, and suffered mistreatment from parents who must have grown up in a hell of their own. Outstanding writing in this one, Maggie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, Sammy, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This comment brings tears to my eyes. Thank you. ❤

      Like

      • In my case, my Mother dominated with her emotional and verbal abuse, and Dad suffered right along with us kids. Years later, I understand more, and I’ve forgiven and accepted, but the hurt and longing for the missing unconditional love never ceases. I still need to “prepare myself” for visits to keep from getting sucked into unhealthy stuff with her. We take our love where we can find it: from aunts, female elders and friends who become extended family. And happily from my beloved Father.

        Humans are remarkably resilient, and despite my hardships, I’m grateful I was born into my family.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh wow, Sammy. I feel a tightness in my heart when you describe your relationship with your mom.

          We humans are resilient. Some of us are “bouncier” and recover more easily than others. Some are dealt a very difficult burden to carry and cannot rebound as easily, if at all.

          I am pleased for you that you have found a way to navigate your relationship with your mom and that you have surrounded yourself with love and support from other members of your tribe.

          Thank you so much for telling me your story.

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          • Thank YOU! Families are complicated from birth to death. Add ” getting to know and love ourselves” to the mix and that’s a Bucket Zlist all by itself!

            The good news is I DO love myself. Once I learned to do that, some of the complications no longer matter as much.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. whew. No words, Maggie. No words. Your mom’s strength was outstanding.

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    • Thank you Lois! You are, of course, correct. I hate to confess, from my immature POV during my childhood and adolescence I saw her as weak. That POV changed, though after she died and I had a few more clicks on the navigating life odometer. I truly did not appreciate who she was or what she dealt with until long after she was gone.

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  3. You led an amazing life full of fun and sadness. Somewhere in there, you learned to be a great writer.

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  4. And the modern young think they have it tough!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Maggie, What a powerful and moving account of your poignant life story. I felt like crying at the end, when you were unable to tell your Mum that you understood. I’m sure she’s aware/ or even was then, that you did understand. Lot of love and a big hug Maggie. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A truly moving account of a very difficult time. People had to be much tougher in those days. We take a lot for granted. Nobody should judge harshly what your mother did or did not do. Times were so different. Beautifully written.

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  7. Powerful! I felt like I was in the living room with you. That deadly silence says so much … Well done, Maggie.

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  8. Thank you for having the courage to speak your truth.

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  9. It is too easy to forget what that generation went through. Great story, Maggie.

    Of course, reading a great story always gets me in a story-telling mood, so here is one of my own. When you mentioned the sick-bed downstairs, it reminded me of my Uncle Bill’s last days. He was a classic stereotype for his generation – big guy with a big family who always wore a flat-top hair-cut.

    One Sunday, when he lay dying with cancer, his sons, grand-sons and great-grandson’s all marched down to the barber shop where he went every week for half a century. The barber had opened the shop on Sunday to give each of his male heirs the same Uncle Bill signature flat-top hair-cut.

    It made the evening news.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Maggie – remember when you said that you look for the one line in my posts that connects us? Well, I do too – and today it was “I waited too long”. Similar scenario with my mom and dad. Dad died on the way to the hospital. Your stories always touch me.
    Like Sammy D. said in her comment, this story is very poignant and the suffering is so obviously real.

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  11. Maggie, just wow. You are an amazing writer. I really hope you decide to put all your stories together and publish a memoir. Your writing is just too good. I feel really lucky to have discovered your blog. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  12. When my Dad toppled over in his garden, I wish my stepmother had delayed the call to 911. They resuscitated him and he lived a few more years to undergo multiple operations on his heart and to die an agonizing death from bone cancer.

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    • Aye, that’s the boundary point, the grey area… the contentious area. When do you stop being heroic and let life and death play out as they need to?

      thanks for joining the conversation. I appreciate it.

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  13. This is so powerful! Wonderful writing, but l I hate that you had to go through this! And at such a young age. I agree so much with everything that Sammy D. said, and Sammy said it better than I could have. Your post was gripping and powerful and touched everyone’s emotions deeply!

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  14. Wow. So much loss and so much heartbreak. You are so brave to face it all straight on. It is weird getting older and connecting with parents as equal adults or helping them break through to drop the awkwardness/pretense and let them reveal themselves even if just for a moment as the fragile delicate beings they are under the mask of parenthood. Thanks for this.

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  15. Hey, Debra – thanks for your thoughtful comment. You are SO right about how weird it is to connect with parents as adult-to-adult. It is unsettling to see them vulnerable and lost.

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  16. Thanks for a lovely read. I’m helping my mum sort out stuff at the moment. I know just what you mean about helping a normally really sorted person, who is suddenly mired in indecisiveness.

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    • The experience gives you a mixed sense of feelings, doesn’t it? You feel good to be able to help, to offer support, share some of the load. On the other hand, it’s more than a little off-putting when the one you consider to be invincible suddenly shows some cracks.

      Best wishes with you and your mum. And thanks for reading and commenting!

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  17. Maggie – I always am amazed by your posts —- there is an energy that I feel that runs as a current in all of your writing – and it speaks and sparks to the testament of your honesty, even if it means being openly vulnerable and self-questioning, wondering, perhaps, how others will react or “judge.”

    I am touched by your strength, resolve and willingness to share your memories in all their forms – and I’m also amazed by your ability to share – openly – that it’s okay and necessary to grow, change, examine our lives, and let our discoveries of this, as they have shaped up, be open and free.

    Well done and you are one awesome person Maggie. 🙂

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    • Hello Pat – I thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am touched, pleased, flattered… these are all wonderful things to hear, because that is my goal – to be real and to be vulnerable.

      It is exactly as you say: while writing out the stories, or “the tapes” of my life, I have epiphanies – those moments of clarity where I realize, “huh. So THAT’s what was really going on. He wasn’t a jerk or she was doing the best she could.

      I couldn’t do this without you and all of the others who have taken the time to read and comment and support and encourage. This blogging thing has been an eye-opener for me.

      I thank YOU. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  18. That was profound. The complexity of families is intricate and delicate, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing.

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  19. Your comment prompt asks “Your thoughts?” My thoughts on this post cannot jibe with those of others.

    I always admire your writing, Maggie. And I recognize, and sympathize deeply with, your shock at the time, and the pain of being unable to discuss what happened with your Mom.

    But I don’t have the feelings toward any adult relatives that others do–and (due to a combination of Asperger’s plus abuse) possibly not the emotional depth to feel to the same degree, even had there been anyone.

    I feel like a goldfish on the OUTside of its bowl, separated by glass from the school of other fish swimming and turning together.

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  20. This was a poignant moment and maybe she just froze up. We make strange choices and not sure why. I am sure glad you got to see your Dad’s playful side. We always miss the ones we lose. My mom is not sure what she did with dad’s ashes. Lol
    S

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    • I always love it when someone reads an old post of mine and comments. It give me a chance to re-read my work, for one, but in this case, I think you are on to something. That is, she simply froze. She was probably exhausted from the past couple of days, anxious, too. Maybe he’d rally, right? As simple as that.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Like

Trackbacks

  1. WEMon: June 30 – Befuddled | Writing Essential Group
  2. WEMon: July 7, 2014 – Sweetness With an Edge | Writing Essential Group
  3. Smells Like Smoke: Writing 101 Free-Write | The Zombies Ate My Brains

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