On My Mother’s Island

All of life is a thing marked and used.

This is the island where my mother is still living.

Howard Family 2009

There is not a great deal of the “normal” here. We are just a bunch of hangers on. For those of us here, we are eating off the breadcrumb trail from whence we came.

There is a lot of effort in this house, but it doesn’t look like it. A sliding pile of cards, with all the envelopes recycled. Dying flowers in vases. TVs at too loud volumes. Most of all of the world going about its business as if everything were all right and normal.

All of life is a thing marked and used, coming down, finally to a few days of counter-intuitiveness.

I ask Dad about his job at the funerals with the American Legion. They escort the casket or the urn to the burying place, he says. This is over at the Rock Island arsenal. There’s meant to be seven of them, he says. Then they each fire three rounds.

There isn’t always seven of them, though, he says, for the 21-gun salute. But it is three rounds regardless.

We are through the dry cleaner drive thru, and he says: “Georgia said, ‘Get that your summer uniform shirt dry cleaned!’ and so I did.”

On the way back from the cleaners we take a detour down a street I’ve never been down, and he shows me a couple of nice houses he’s worked in — that lady in there, he says, wanted her furnace filter changed, but “I couldn’t find the furnace. ‘It’s behind some boxes’ she told me. There were boxes everywhere, god! That’s a fire hazard! I said. I said, you have to move those! I don’t know if she ever did.”

In the time it took to get from 23rd street to 14th, it’d gotten gray again, with little change in temperature. We returned to the miss-mash of family that had populated the house since October 16th.

“It’s the 18th!” Dad announced to Karl. “One month since my surgery!”

“You weigh less than me now,” I told him. Kathy admired his camoflauge flannel pants and he said he didn’t think he’d bother to change before the evening’s coming festivities at the Legion.

Mom is still with us. Her sister, Linda, reminds her of the awful wallpaper on their walls growing up– that Granny had bad taste, but at least she tried. We feed dad, and we take turns giving Mom water.

Everyone overstays their welcome these days, and mom doesn’t say a word about it, and this is how we know the world is upside-down.

She prefers to stay home.
She fears overstaying her welcome.
She doesn’t like sweet with her meat.
She made popcorn for us in the evenings after dinner. In a pan that was also our puke pan.
She saved all the pillows we ever had, despite mucus and blood stains.
She hung clothes on the line whenever she could.
She did not much care for that house out on West 46th Street, but she bought it and moved there because Dad did.
She taught math, and had a mathematician’s spirit. She was loving, but not sentimental.
A turtle sundae is her favorite ice cream treat, and she always felt chocolate chip cookies were better with nuts (much to our despair).
She once burned cauliflower in the microwave.
She sings while doing the dishes.
She prefers the windows open in the summer, rather than the A/C on.
She drives fast, and once I said “Sheesh mom! What are you going to do? Drive right up that hill?” when we were turning around on the front street. So she swung around, and drove right up the hill.
She manages money so well, that we afforded a trip to Disney World in 1978, staying at the Polyensian Resort, all eight of us.
She loves Christmas and sings Jingle Bells to wake us up.
She loves gambling.
She made me eat veggies when I was a kid but apparently never liked them much herself.
She grew irises against the garage and stopped to buy corn at the roadside stands.
She played tennis as long as I could remember, with us and with Mrs. Simon, and took up golf after the kids were grown.
She used to be a brunette, but became a blonde when her hair went gray.
There is a recording of her singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” when she was about 7, on a 78 record.
She took me to see “Annie” at the Adler Theatre because she knew it was my most favorite show ever.
She taught us all to play every card game she knew (except pinochle), and never let us win.
She wore white tennis shoes, cheered for the Hawkeyes, and preferred to listen to the Cubs on the radio.

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home.

 

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  7 comments for “On My Mother’s Island

  1. Lisa
    November 18, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    It’s all the little things that make a life- like a quilt of memories made from the scraps we remember sewn together with the stories we tell. There’s less “there” to the fabric, but the scents and tattered edges are as real as anything ever was. Wrap yourselves in that warm lovely quilt.

  2. Pat Schrad
    November 18, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    What a beautiful tribute and yes, I can vouch for many of those plus a few more. What an outstanding woman!

  3. November 18, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    I can’t even say how much I love this. All of life, here.

  4. Chris Dawson
    November 18, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    And THAT is what life is, right there. If I were there I’d give you a long, real hug.

  5. Ann Howard bates
    November 18, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    that says it all. She was all that AND a bag of chips!!!!

  6. AnnVW
    November 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Before a word was even spoken when I would see Georgia, a giant hug would come first….and I looked forward to it anytime I saw her.

  7. November 24, 2014 at 6:08 am

    What a beautifully written piece of art. I cannot express my condolences enough, Elizabeth. Your mom was a wonderful woman. Caring and thoughtful… Always trying to extract the best from her students.

    She will be missed.

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