When Mom and I took a short walk to the grocery store and back, she was hesitant about where we were walking. She literally recognized nothing. Instead, she watched the people walking past us. As a social individual, Mom tried to connect to almost everyone who was on the sidewalk with us. She’d say hello or smile and nod. Quite a few people, either because they recognize her or because she’s a friendly old bird, reacted. This was so important to her, that she actually commented on one woman who walked by without responding.
“It is such a shame when people who have eyes don’t use them.” she said.
At first I was confused by her comment. Then I realized what it meant in the wider context of our walk. Someone concentrating on walking straight ahead would be oblivious to Mom’s social niceties.
The next day, due to rain, we went to the mall that is adjacent to where my grandmother used to live. We’re still sorting out all the bureaucratic aspects of a death here in Israel.
While we were having coffee, Daddy and I took turns going to my grandmother's apartment to check one last time for anything that we might like to save. The good thing for Mom about forgetting that her mother has died is that she doesn’t have to experience that sharp sense of loss and intake of breath as I did when I walked into my grandmother’s empty room.
There were tons of photo albums that we bagged up and have yet to sort through. Then, in a cupboard behind the bed, I found a grungy bag with her wooden cheat-sheet for Scrabble, all the two-letter words you can think of written in large marker. It brought back a lot of memories. I’m saving that for my brother Simon.
This is what it comes down to, the odds and ends of a life well lived, the tins of stuff that we’ve collected along the way and carefully label, the pots and pans that helped sustain us with hearty, wholesome meals, the clothes we wore, the art we placed on our walls.
The intangibles are not there to see. Hugs and kisses and loving embraces, smiles and tears, fights and confessions.
The connection Mom has with “things” is very tangential. She will tell you she can’t put that coat on because it’s not hers. Or she can’t sleep in that room because her bed is somewhere else. Her connection to precious objects is severed. All she has are those elusive moments that make up a day.
When she insisted on getting in the car with my dad rather than walking home with me (and with her lovely caregiver Sahlee), we followed her lead. We all got in the car as if we were all running errands together, and by the time Daddy let us off at the side of the road, it was a little easier to separate her from him. She still yelled like crazy as we left the car, cursing Daddy for abandoning her, but we managed to walk in the weak sunshine both to give ourselves some exercise and to give my father a break.
When we arrived back to her apartment, she was thrilled to find my dad there.
“I didn’t know you’d be here,” she gushed. Her world was now complete.
What is a laugh worth? How much does a smile cost? Or a short giggle? A word of praise, a compliment? What are these compared to the silver candlesticks that my grandmother left us?
When Mom came out of her bedroom, she told me she had been straightening herself.
“Why?” I asked. “Were you crooked?”
“I was brushing my hair,” she laughed, my silly joke having found its mark.
These cold winter evenings make me want to hunker down and find warm things to eat. Winter vegetables are especially colorful. Combine the white of cauliflower, the bright orange of carrots and light green squash to create a satisfyingly filling vegetable dish. Serve this piping hot.
Cauliflower, Carrot and Squash Medley
This is one dish that is not only easy to prepare but all my kids enjoy eating, though my daughter always seems to put the squash that lands on her plate onto mine. More vegetables for me!
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2-3 carrots, cut in chunks
2 large squash, cut in chunks
1 onion, quartered
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
Sauté garlic and onions in a large pan. When onion layers begin to separate, add carrots. Cook for five minutes. Add cauliflower and cook another five minutes. Add squash, salt and pepper. Stir well. Cover and simmer until vegetables are soft.