My Blog

September 6, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Family Reunions

It would confuse a dedicated genealogist. Two sons. Two daughters. Four spouses. Two grandsons. Each with a spouse. Three great grandsons in their teens. Another grandson and wife on Skype with another grandson on the way. All the hubbub swirling around Mom left her bewildered and confused, but happy, as she sat in the activity room @CarriageInnHuntsville.

We hadn’t gotten together for a family reunion in two years. The last get-together had been for the wedding of Grandson number 3 in North Dakota. We had taken Mom and, at the time, she had been slower-moving, but her mind was still mostly there. A few memory slips—who was he? Who was that? What was happening? But no inkling of the slippage to come.

Now, however, two years along, and safely tucked away in the residential facility, the marbles were rattling around loose, some having slipped away. Startling for family members who hadn’t seen her in those two years. Often, we don’t notice the slippage while we are with her.

For Mom, it wasn’t a lucid day. On good days she can remember who is coming to visit or what is happening. Sunday, however, with all the people milling around, all she could do was smile a vacant smile and laugh when people spoke. She wasn’t sure what they said or who they were. But she seemed to be enjoying herself. It was, after all, a party, and parties, she could remember.

Mom and Dad used to have parties all the time when they lived in Mexico. As part of the American community, everyone was expected to host parties and Mom and Dad were famous for it. Dad was the flare that got everyone going and Mom the organizer who helped to create the ambience.

Two of our birthdays are in October. What better reason to celebrate Halloween parties? My father owned a company that produced everything from window displays to parade floats. He could certainly build the sets. The story-line for the first October party was to save the beautiful princess from the wicked witch and her dragon.

Using all his company’s employees and resources, Daddy remade the out-buildings on our property into a witch’s lair from which we were supposed to save the princess. He produced a wonderful six-foot tall, wooden cut-out of a fire-breathing dragon with real fire from a blow torch. It’s a wonder he didn’t light us all on fire.

The neighborhood parents all gathered to take part. A Fairy Godmother ( I think it was Jan Lundahl) told us the tale. One mother (the beautiful Martha Gottfried) played the princess and another the witch (Mary Ann Hendrix made up to look awful). The Godmother gave each of us kids magic (candy) rocks to hold for protection. When one 4 year-old lost hers, she dissolved into tears of terror. Fortunately, Fairy Godmother had another.

We were led through the maze, holding off dragons and demons, smoky (dry ice) cauldrons and oozing (grape) eyeballs in evil slime (jelllo). When we at last found the beautiful princess lying bewitched on the bed, Fairy Godmother was supposed to throw a pinch of gunpowder into the candle to wake the princess. The accidental handful and the explosion that followed, brought the princess leaping to her feet to drag us all, screaming in real terror, from the witch’s chamber. No one was hurt but it was a memorable Halloween.   Parties of all sorts followed every year thereafter.

So it was not surprising that Mom had faint glimmerings of those parties. Mom, lucid or not, was quick to play hostess when half a dozen fellow residents joined us to listen to the two sons playing guitars and singing. They enjoyed being introduced to family members and sharing in the largesse on the grill—even if they had already eaten and even if it was only hotdogs and hamburgers, French fries, potato salad and vegetable kebobs. “It’s real food,” one said, “not the slop they feed us.” (That’s not true, by the way. They provide very good food here.)

Some things remain, even in the midst (or mist) of confusion. Platitudes are the easiest to remember. “You look so good!” “My how handsome you are.” “It’s so wonderful that you came.” “Everything is just wonderful.” “Help yourself to food.” “Do you have something to drink?” “Have some more.”

Mom may not have known to whom she was talking most of the time, but she seemed to enjoy herself. Parties, whether we know what is going on or not, are always good for the soul. It’s the downtime afterward that is hard.

“Where is everyone?” she asked the next day. Well, sorry. Now, it’s just me. Not much consolation! If only the memories had lasted, but they too are gone with the guests.


About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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