Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mom and The Pack

I’m in Richfield, Wisconsin, staying at my sister’s house. Our mother lives with her and her husband, Thomas. Mom is 89 and getting frail. Her mind is clear, most of the time. Now and again she has hallucinations: a boy with sharp features is looking out of the ceiling at her, one of the dogs has thrown up in a corner, an old friend visits, she sees one of us as a child, there is water running in a flood down a wall. Most of them are benign, very few are scary, some are bizarre. When she’s feeling good, which is most of the time, she is sharp and funny. Thomas teases her, and she gives back measure for measure, both laughing. Her vision isn’t good and her fingers are no longer clever, so she’s had to give up needlework. But she still works word puzzles and peruses every catalog that comes to the house, looking for bargains. She loves sports, especially football, baseball and golf. She’s been a Packers fan since as far back as I can remember; and though I’m not a football fan, when I do pay any attention, it’s to the Pack.

Here’s a challenge to those of us sixty and older: Somewhere between forty and fifty years ago there was a football game on television. The Packers versus . . . somebody. Those were the days of Vince Lombardi. There was a short film someone put together of quick shots of the players from many games. The film was probably played at halftime. It was set to the words of “If” by Rudyard Kipling. The poem begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you,” and there were a quick series of players colliding so hard their helmets were knocked off. It continues, “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you . . .” and there was a referee with his arms folded, grimly ignoring the screams and waving arms of outraged coach and players. And so on, until the final verse, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run,” and there’s the clock counting down the final seconds while the players battle it out on the field. “Yours is the earth, and everything that’s in it” (trophy held high), “and which is more, you’ll be a man, my son!” And there’s a grinning player, standing against the sun on the sidelines, proud and tall, while someone throws one of those old-fashioned heavy winter cloaks around his shoulders. It was wonderful, it made me appreciate the fun and glory of the game – and started me on a lifelong appreciation of Rudyard Kipling’s poetry. Question: Am I the only person in the world who remembers this short film? I only saw it that one time. My Mom doesn’t remember it. No one remembers it – but me. I even asked the people at Lambeau Field in Green Bay (home of the Packers), who have archival film of every game, I think, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. Did I dream it?

The book is changing shape as it comes into the later chapters – interesting the way a book will do that. Books tell their own stories, of course, if you let them. And you have to let them, otherwise the book doesn’t work. But I wonder if some of this shape-changing isn’t because I’m in a very different environment. Having to pay attention to Mom yanks me out of the writing mode: time for a bathroom break? Time for another pill? Is she too warm, too cool? Snack time, meal time, bed time. She loves to sit by the big front window and watch the birds coming to the feeders Therese has out there. I sit with her and we talk about everything. Great stuff sometimes, unimportant stuff, valedictory stuff. Night falls and she goes into her room to watch sports. She sleeps a lot. I’m blessed to have this time with her. Then the book calls, and I write easily, rapidly – then she calls me. She wants the visitor by her chair to go away. She is alone in the room and I say so. She looks at me with clear blue eyes, unafraid, unapologetic. “I’m having a hallucination,” she explains.


Deb Baker said...

Can't help with the Packer thing, but keep hanging out with your mom. The writing, as you say, will come. I love to sit down and see where the story goes.

Monica Ferris said...

I wonder if, when it's finished, there will be a distinct shift in focus at that part. I know I needed a shift, from adventure to sleuthing, but it seems a little abrupt to me right now. But I'm standing in the middle of a thick grove of trees, so I can't see the forest.