Summer, Tigger, and an Alternate History for My Mother

It is a lovely summer night, as cool as autumn, and I sat looking at the moon.

The 17-year locusts have come and gone. We heard them on the bike trail, but they didn’t make it to our neighborhood.  All summer it was silent, but now the cicadas are chirping.

I didn’t stay out too long, because it is very dark without a garage light.  Obviously there can’t be a garage light when there is no garage.

Tigger on the porch.

Tigger on the porch.

It has been a difficult summer.  A storm destroyed our garage, family members have been ill, and our lovely 18-year-old cat Tigger died.

I am trying to think of things to be thankful for.

We’re very lucky to live in a beautiful small city.  As I biked around doing errands today, I realized how fortunate we are to be able to bicycle everywhere.  The tree-lined streets and boulevards, Arts-and-Crafts houses in huge yards, stores within a few blocks of where we live, the garden, the fresh sweet corn at the markets, and our plants thriving in the humidity.

But it is also the anniversary of my mother’s death this week.  Anniversaries stir up emotions.  A few weeks ago I felt tired, stressed, and a bit angry that she wasn’t around.  Whom am I supposed to talk to?  I wondered.  Gone with the Wind, her favorite book and movie, provided answers to everything.

“Fight for him, Kat,” she said years back when I was having marital problems.  (That’s pure Scarlett, don’t you think?)  And she confided that she had not wanted the divorce from my dad.

Mom. the college graduate.

Mom. the college graduate.

The remembrance of my mother’s pragmatism and the stress of Tigger’s death have changed my perspective. I need to learn acceptance.  Perhaps there is an afterlife.  Who am I to say there isn’t, though I have said that.   A little bit of religious philosophy wouldn’t hurt. I hope my mother and Tigger got to walk, or in Tigger’s case, race down the tunnel of white light before they passed on.  I love the idea of an afterlife where my mom and Tigger get to hang out.

Thinking of my mother’s love of her dogs, a Scottie, a poodle, and a Pekingese, also helped me out of my panic yesterday.  She grew up on a farm and understood the cycle of life.

The truth?  I lived with Tigger longer than I lived with my mother. Cats are people, too.

My mother compensated for her dogs’ deaths by putting little china figures of dogs all over her house.  I DO have some cat mugs.

Thinking of my mother as the anniversary of her death draws near, I wish her a happy afterlife, and I also wish I could give her an alternate life, as Doris Lessing gave her parents in the novel Alfred and Emily.

She told me many times that she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, but she stayed home and majored in political science because the education program was at another university.

I wish she had been a teacher.  She was a gifted woman, and I’m sure she would have been good in the classroom.  It would also have given her something to do after the divorce.   At the very least, it would have helped if my grandfather and uncle had given her a job in the family  business, but it never occurred to them.   She worked as a clerk in an office, and later, after health problems developed, got a small allowance from the family.

I think she was contented, but I wish she had not had to be alone so much.

She met Tigger and liked her, as well as a dog person can like a cat person.

A  link between Tigger and my mom:  Tigger liked to sit on a box of childhood memorabilia my mom gave me a few years ago.  I am going to put it away now that Tigger is gone.  In it  are my troll dolls, my Tammy and Pepper dolls (Tammy was a more wholesome Barbie, and Pepper her little sister), my first communion dress, a beaded purse I’ll never carry, a Barbie watch, and…)

Goodness, did a girl ever have so much!

How I wish I had brought home more of my mom’s things.  I have her yearbooks and some photographs, but perhaps I should have hung on to her china dogs.  These things become a little clearer as time goes on.

Mom’s Grave

Mom, in her fifties or sixties?  (I'm not a good judge of age.)

Mom, possibly in her fifties.

I am very much against war, and resist holidays that celebrate the Military.  The Fourth of July isn’t quite about the military, thank God, though it borders on it and could be turned into one at a moment’s notice.

They would co-opt all the holidays for the military if they could.

For instance, we have always celebrated Memorial Day by decorating family graves.  Neither my husband nor I realized until recently that it is intended to honor dead vets.

We didn’t make it to Iowa City this year till after Memorial Day.  The day we  finally saw Mom’s new gravestone, which was installed a few months ago, I thought furiously,  Mom, where are you?

I have cried, I have mourned, I have suddenly cried out, “Oh, Mommy” (though she hasn’t been Mommy since I was nine ), and most recently I am irritated by her absence.

There is utter, utter silence from beyond the grave.

My heart was wrenched by the gravestone.  It is flat, and mown brown grass was scattered on top of it. Behind the stone was a big dirt clump with long unmown grass.

All around her are neat graves with flowers.

“Oh my God, oh my God.  Why isn’t that mown?  Is there some maintenance fee the family’s not paying?”  I swept the grass off the stone, picked up the candy bar wrapper, and looked at all the memorials on sticks in the cemetery.

At  the Hy-Vee garden center, we bought a stick with plastic flowers on it.  (This is called a “memorial.”)  The flowers were blue, not her favorite, orange.  Well, they would have to do.

I planted it on the north side of the grave.  Why north?  I don’t know.  Although I longed to use the f— word, because the memorial was so paltry, I couldn’t say it there.  I should have bought several memorials and stuck them around the grave.

Then I felt her there, wanting me to cut the grass around the stone with scissors.  Yes, she once had me do that in her yard.  Scissors!

None of us lives in Iowa City anymore.

Her friends are here.  Her best friend is dying of cancer.

One dies, they all die.

“The next time you see me, I’ll be in my grave,” her friend said at the funeral.

Her husband rudely said to me, “Glad you could make it to the funeral, Kat.”

That was mean.  We couldn’t find the church, even with Google map  (a tornado destroyed the old church and the new one was on the edge of town), but we still got there five minutes early.   I didn’t react to or care about his words.  I had other things on my mind.

My mother had strong feelings about church, family, and cemeteries.  She made a point of visiting her parents’ grave often until she became too old to do so.  It was always decorated with flowers.

I was frantic.  I needed to buy a memorial for my grandparents’ graves, too.  They are next to hers.

Next time, next time.

Nobody visits these graves.

If only I never left Iowa City.  I could have been a spinster, you know.  Then I could have taken care of the graves.

Well, work, love, and the late 20th century took us away.

Not Much of a Crier

Mom, age 30, and I.

Mom, age 30, with me.

I’m not much of a crier.

I sat in the back yard listening to R.E.M. after my mother died.

Crying has never done me any good.

Better to rock.

Jumping around to rock helps, too.

I learned not to cry.

I was sitting at a coffeehouse today when my eyes filled with tears.  I went out on the patio and wept. I had a sudden memory of the day before my mother’s death, when she rocked herself back and forth in pain, muttering: “I’m sorry” (after a certain age your parents WILL vaguely apologize to you), “I might die,” (“You might but you might not!”), and  “Help me.”

I helped her.

I asked the nurse if Ativan or Ambien might help her sleep.

She explained the morphine, instead of tranquilizing my mother, had made her hyper.  That happens sometimes with old people.

So they took her off the morphine, which had kept her awake and in pain.

And then the next day she slept.

“I love you, Mom!” Crying as I went out the door.

Two hours later she was dead.

She is the only person close to me who has died.

But the crying thing…

Perhaps if I’d cried more at the time…

I wouldn’t have become temporarily cyberaddicted…

If you cry when it’s appropriate…

The not-crying thing started at the funeral when I had an epiphany that there is no life after death. Perhaps the epiphany was because of the bad behavior at the funeral, relatives not speaking to relatives, etc.  I had another epiphany today:  there’s a 50/50 chance.

I couldn’t cry at the funeral because I hadn’t saved her. I arrived at the nursing home too late (I had been sick) to insist they send her to the hospital across the street.  Two years ago I saved her at an assisted living facility from someone who had ignored, or not been informed of, a doctor’s recommendation of hospitalization.

Strange how you can NOT know someone and miss her so much. Mom, the mother of me, the adult, and I had little in common.  She belonged in a Dickens novel (Miss Flyte, only with knickknacks and no canaries) and I am a contemporary novel by…  well, Frederick Exley plus Muriel Spark plus War and Peace = ?

But Mommy–when did she become Mom?– was ALWAYS in my corner, to the extent that, all evidence to the contrary, I believe I AM the best at everything (except sports!).  Yes, the best!

Thanks, Mom!

AND NOW ON TO MARY WEBB’S GONE TO EARTHA couple of bloggers (is it a male thing?) mocked Mary Webb last year.

But Precious Bane, her masterpiece, which won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse Prize,is powerful and lyrical: her heroine, Prue Sarn, has a harelip but a very good figure, and when she is accused of murder, she prevails through her intelligence and friendships.  Webb’s style is reminiscent of Thomas Hardy’s, though three notches down in style.  Precious Bane is a romance.

GonetoEarth mary webbI read Gone to Earth a few weeks ago and have meant  to write about it, but what to say?  It’s a pageturner, not a good book, but an entertaining book, and it’s really just for women.

You see, Hazel Woodus loves her fox, Foxy.  She “had found Foxy half dead outside her deserted earth…. Hounds symbolized everything she hated, everything that was not young, wild, and happy.  She identified herself with Foxy, and so with all things hunted and snared and destroyed.”

I love Foxy!  I want a pet fox, too.

Anyway, men are hunting Hazel, one good man, Edward, a minister, who marries her but does not have sex with her (a mistake), and Jack Reddin, the squire, a guy who crudely rapes her in the woods, but she goes to live with him because she needs sex.

Instinctively she felt that she belonged to Reddin now, though spiritually she was still Edward’s.”

And then it is back and forth between the men.

Hazel is like Tess in Tess of the D’urbervilles, only blatantly sexy and much less conventional  Edward is Angel and Reddin is Alec.  Threesomes never work.

And Hazel is also a bit like Marty in  Hardy’s The Woodlanders, the poorly educated minor character who is far more interesting than the well-educated heroine, Grace. Both Hazel and Marty are working girls:  they do”bark-stripping”:

What is bark-stripping?  Hazel explains,

“It’s fetching the bark off’n the felled trees ready for lugging.”

This is Hardy for girls.

Actually, I could write a long defense of this novel, but I am not in the mood tonight.

Webb is obsessed with nature, sex, and symbolism.

The structure of Gone to Earth is perfect, though the style is a bit clumsy.

Trust me.  It’s not good, but it’s entertaining.  FOR WOMEN ONLY.