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March 2007, vol 3 no 1

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Richard Straw

Perennials

I used to call the nursing center so my kids could get on the line to say, "Hi, Grandma!!! We love you!!!" They'd only met her once or twice. I showed them family photos of her when she was young. They'd tell her what they'd been doing in school and with their friends. They'd talk briefly so she wouldn't become wearied. "Sounds like fun!" she'd reply or would parrot their words in a tired voice. Sometimes, before I hung up, she'd tell me that she and dad were doing fine. But he had died in hospice care less than a week after they'd moved into the center.

After 50 years with multiple sclerosis, every nerve she has is scarred. And since dad's death, premature senility has taken her mind.

Mom belonged to a mystery of the month book club when I was a boy, so I sent her some used detective novels to read. They're still in their shipping box in her armoire though. I don't send her anything to read now, not even letters, unless I have school photos of the kids to share. And those I mail in a greeting card to a cousin who drives to the nursing center, opens the envelope, reads the message aloud for her, and shows her the photos before putting them in an album in her night table.

My kids and I don't call her anymore either, not even on her birthday, Mother's Day, or Christmas. She no longer can hold the receiver of a phone to her ear or carry on the simplest of conversations. The nursing staff spoon feed her and tell me that she's very quiet: "Just sleeps, eats, and stares ahead."

During her first winter there, mom told me she'd been studying "a large menacing goldfish" in the front lobby's aquarium. She said that most of the other fish in the tank had disappeared, except for one or two hiding in corners. She whispered, "I've always been a small fish watching and staying out of the way of larger fish."

long winter
in an untended flowerbed
tulip bulbs