Tuesday, November 29, 2011


"I hope I'm not leaning on you too heavily." my mother said, taking my arm as we slowly made our way through the bustling streets of New York City.

I had just brought my Mom to the doctor for an injection to ease the ache of her arthritic knees. "Of course not," I said "I'm a big, strong woman."

But inside I felt her weight; light on my body, heavy on my soul.

She leans more and more these days. And that's all right, I can bear it; am just weighed down by what it presages, that she is moving farther from independence, closer towards an ending.

We were on our way to the hot chocolate shop just around the corner from her doctor's office, a block, a block and a half away. A short stroll. But for my mother now, taxing.

She has been limited for so long it's easy to forget the energetic middle-aged mother of my youth, the athletic young woman I have heard she once was.

I was just reminded of that this weekend. We were all gathered at her brother, my uncle's house for the holidays, and my cousin Jessie had unearthed my uncle's journal from 1941.

Jess had gone down to the basement storeroom, looking for a bottle of seltzer and instead found an artifact from 70 years ago, from Uncle Walter's 8th grade year, from when he was on the man-boy cusp of 14. (I'm going to blink and my boys will be there, too.)

He hadn't written in it much. Noting the significant year, we went to look up December 7th, the day that will live in infamy, and found... nothing. Entries filled January, trickled into February, and then petered out, an undertaking abandoned.

But in those few short entries at the beginning of the book, there lay a treasure trove.

He wrote of his joy at having walked a pretty girl home after school; musings on the nature of love, sports, and friendship.

And then these two entries about my mother, his beloved big sister:

"I feel lost with out my big sister around. I wait in the store every day just to see and speak to her"

(At this time my mother was 19, had graduated high school and was busy working, but she still came back to her parents' candy store in the evenings.)

"My older sister is a swell gal. My ideal. I wish she was born a boy then we could have some real fun."

As we read these journal entries aloud my mother teared up, as did my uncle. He reminded her of how athletic she had been in her youth. What an influence she had had on him.

"I looked up to you." Walter said. "And whatever you did. I did too: ice skating, tennis, track, basketball, volleyball...  I did all that because you did, I followed in your footsteps. I wanted to be like you."  His ideal.

My Mom & her "little brother" Walter last spring
It's so hard to picture my frail, slow-moving 89 year-old mother as an athletic teenage girl, but I know she was.

And wasn't she lovely as a young woman?

My mom, Sylvia, at about 20
Since my mother did not have me until she was 38, I never knew her like this. Thank goodness for old photographs.

And journals, left laying around in basement storerooms near soda bottles, waiting to be rediscovered, words reaching out across decades. Words of love, family, friendship.

As I write this post, my son Ethan is reading over my shoulder. "Let me see those diary pages again, Mom" he says. "Is that really something your Uncle Walter wrote about Grandma, so many years ago? She's really his big sister?"

And he reads them again, laughs out loud at the line: "I wish she was born a boy then we could have some real fun."

The past reaching out towards the future. Words traveling across decades, generations.

Words of love, family, friendship.

My son, reading, leans on my shoulder.

I will probably (hopefully) someday lean on him.

Hopefully, not too heavily.

Just Write

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