The Entertainer

On Nov. 20, 2007, Dad and I ate breakfast in the kitchen. Mom couldn’t get out of bed, so he suggested I bring her some toast.

When I entered the master bedroom, she was awake but still in bed. My first sight of her, after I’d arrived late the previous evening, was painful. The bright Florida sun burned through the blinds of the sliding glass door, illuminating her emaciated face.

I struggle with this memory because it’s still fucking painful to remember, and loaded with guilty feelings.

What could I have done to prevent this? When I entered the room did I go to the right or left side of the bed? Did I fall on my knees? Was I openly weeping?

I only recall saying, “Mom, please don’t die…” and her response—echoing her mother Mamie’s Irish stoicism: “Oh, Michael. Shut up.”

“I’m tired,” she said. “Tired of feeling this way, tired of this family, tired of your aunt, tired of your father.”

‘That’s the depression talking,’ I thought, like a horrid demon inhabiting a lost but still beautiful human soul.

In truth, mother was nothing like the person I saw that morning.

***

Mom has a lovely name—Jacqueline.

But everyone called her Jackie.

Dad had all kinds of affectionate names for her—“Jack” and, especially, “Muffy.” Actually he called everyone in the family “Muffy,” which I believe was a corruption of our last name, and a way to verbally solidify us as a clan—the original “Family Project” begun the day I was born.

I used to bristle every time he used it.

Mom was an R.N., worked mostly as a school nurse in Waconia, then later a public health nurse in Bloomington. She loved knitting and sewing, needlework, appreciated music, theater and, like Dad, was a big reader. I’m sure she encouraged Dad to provide me and Brian with musical instruments in the hope that one of us would pick up some musical talent.

I loved the piano but loathed the organ (Mom, at left, enjoying a glass of white wine and playing our new Schmitt Music organ in 1976), so in revolt I used my earnings as busboy at the Lafayette Club to buy an Ibanez bass guitar. Mom encouraged us by making sure we had the resources: sheet music, records, piano lessons at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, whatever it took.

When she learned I’d fallen in love with ragtime (after seeing The Sting in 1973), she was more than happy to buy the complete Scott Joplin songbook just so I could learn to play “The Entertainer.” But for Mom, it was the life of the appreciator, the enthusiast—she was tone deaf and her playing was all in fits and starts. She stuck with it for a couple of years, only because she truly loved music.

Mom’s singular achievement, I think, began around 1972, just after our neighbor friends, the Rogers family, lost their mother to cirrhosis of the liver.

When John Rogers, the widower, started drinking again, Mom made sure the Rogers kids joined us for chili dinners at our house. Later she privately met with the local Catholic parish priest to see about securing a foster family to look in on the kids. When Jim and Carol Carlson, a childless couple, were sent over to help John with running a household of five wayward kids, a bond was formed. To this day, holidays are a joint production of the remaining Rogers family and the Carlsons.

Mom never told anyone she’d done that.

I only learned about it from the Carlsons many years later.

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~ by completelyinthedark on August 14, 2011.

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