You Can’t Beat that with a Stick
Our family matriarch, my mother Pauline, passed November 15, and though unexpected in the sense that she was still ambulatory and mentally alert for the most part, we had been advised by Pauline’s primary health care provider, that Mama’s heart was experiencing an ongoing spiral downward, and that we should be prepared for her impending demise.
Knowing objectively that what cousin Mary said was true, and that Mama’s heart was weakening, was only one of many signs that the recently-celebrated, ninety-second birthday, would be her last. Honestly, she started a more subtle transition towards her passing, the minute she moved off of the mountain, and down to Willits, a move precipitated primarily by me, in the summer of 2011.
I was concerned about her being isolated on the mountain, during times of severe weather, when I wrote “Swan Song,” (http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/2011/10/swan-song.html) and I used that concern as justification when I asked my siblings to rally together, to urge Mama to relocate.
Pauline had been experiencing mild symptoms of confusion in her thinking, but she was adamant that continuing to drive her little Ford Escort was non-negotiable. This prompted me to chronicle a humorous account of her triumphant acquisition of her California Driver’s License, on the occasion of her 89th birthday, in “Born to Drive.” (http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/search?q=Born+to+Drive)
Whereas, this fierce independence precipitated, on the one hand, a concern for her health and safety, on the other hand, it fostered an admiration for her spirit and determination to not allow circumstances to prevent her from getting what she wanted. Mama was still a child when the stock market crash of 1929 signaled the onset of the Great Depression, a time when she grew up, first helping, and then ultimately substituting for her own mother, who passed prematurely of complications from heart failure.
When I was in eighth grade, and JT in seventh, in September of 1965, Papa took the two of us aside, early on in Mama’s pregnancy with brother Kevin, and told us quite bluntly that Mama’s doctor had warned him that if she did not slow down, she would die from the same disease that killed her own mother.
JT and I were seriously frightened, and it produced an unparalleled time of cooperation and helpfulness from both of us, as we made lunches for ourselves and three younger sibs, and found time to do the breakfast dishes every morning, before leaving for school. That was 49 years ago.
Mama resisted moving up to Bell Springs in the first place in 1977, recognizing that to do so, was to say good-bye to all of the friends she had made in SoCal, over a twenty-five year period of time. And when she first got up here, it was hard, because there was no extended family in place, the way there was when Annie and I first came up, in 1982.
The closest neighbors were incredibly welcoming and were able to provide many answers to the hard questions, but these same neighbors were almost all young enough to be Pauline’s daughters, with babies and toddlers occupying their attention. So the notion of new friends kind of fell alongside the wayside, much the way her ability to communicate with old friends, also fell off, with trips to town being few and far between, and the internet still twenty-some years away.
Isolated on the mountain with only immediate family, Pauline began to write, chronicling the story of her upbringing in Wilmar, what life was like during WWII, and then life on Fellowship Street, down in La Puente. The fourth in her series was the story of her experiences up here on the ridge.
I know of only the copies that she had printed and given to immediate family members, and none beyond that. The time may come when it is deemed appropriate to pursue the matter further, especially through cyber means, but for now the novellas remain very near and dear to the hearts of those who have read them.
I focus on the writing in particular, because it was a source of immense pride to her, that she was able to produce those four pieces of invaluable family history, forevermore to remain as treasured memoirs of an extraordinary woman.
Mama’s passion for writing was reinforced through a little exchange that JT shared, between Mama and Stephanie, the liaison between Pauline the facility at which Mama resided. Stephanie shared that Mama had made it clear when she first moved in that if she ever stopped writing, she would die.
Well, Stephanie went on, whereas Pauline did not keep writing, she actually ended up doing something far more surprising: She found a friend, Sister Maura, a gentle woman with whom Pauline made a tight bond, in as short of a period of time that it might have been.
The last several times that Annie and I visited, the two could be found together, sometimes hand in hand, and my impression was that there was a deep sense of acceptance and camaraderie between the two, something I had not seen Mama experience since she moved up on the ridge.
Being in Windsor may not have been the way Mama might have envisioned her last ten months of her life, but I would venture to guess that if she could have written out a plan for her final chapter, and included in it, her most wistful idea of existence outside of being with her children, what actually unfolded in this comfortable assisted-living facility in Windsor, might just have been the exact outline that she would have penned.
As she might have said herself, “Well, all right! You can’t beat that with a stick.”