I received a call from my older brother, Mark on Monday night. Our mother, Barbara Jean Botts succumbed to the disease that had been plaguing her for several years. It was a call that I both dreaded and almost welcomed. She's spent the last two and a half years in the memory care unit at the Kingston assisted living facility in Marion Ohio suffering with Alzheimer's Disease. I think most people are familiar with the disease and how it robs those afflicted with it of their minds and bodies over time. Towards the end she was sleeping 20-22 hours a day so that even the possibility of calling and carrying on a conversation was almost impossible. I don't want to dwell on her last days though. For the past few days I've gone over memories from my past. The struggle to get us kids zipped up in our snow suits, and searching for gloves and hats in an overstuffed closet so we could go out in the snow and play, and ten minutes later having to deal with the whole zipper thing again because someone forgot to go pee before they left the house. The carefully wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree. It always surprised me that Santa and Mom had the same hand writing. The wonderful meals she cooked; never anything too fancy, just good home cooking. The backyard barbeque's with friends and neighbors on a warm summer evening. Getting us ready for a night of Trick or Treating on Halloween. It seems like I was always a tramp, though I may have dressed like a woman once. It's funny what you remember.
She was always Mom to me. The only time I ever called her Mommy was on a family excursion in Mohican State forest one fall day.We were on a hike and Dad thought it would be quicker if we left the trail and tried climbing a rather steep hill. We were slowly making our way to the top when Mom stepped on a piece of loose debris and started sliding down the hill. In a split second I had visions of her lifeless body at the bottom and a future without her. Thankfully, after about fifty feet she stopped sliding and was able to stand up. We found the trail again and made it back to the car before sundown. She was scratched and bruised, and we were all shaken up, but other than that she was fine.
Mom was pretty low key. She seldom got dressed before noon, and spent long sessions on the phone talking to her neighbors. As was common when I grew up, Dad went to work and Mom stayed home with us kids. She always kept a neat house and more importantly, she was there when we came home, whether from school or playing in the neighborhood. I don't doubt that I caused her grief and more than a little heartache or heartburn growing up, but she never dwelt on that.
Mom didn't learn to drive until her and Dad and my two younger brothers moved out into the country to a new house. I guess she didn't have much choice if she wanted to buy groceries or visit her friends. I think she was darn near fifty when she got her license. Dad bought her a big red Pontiac, about half the size of a school bus and it amused me to see this little woman in such a big car.
She had a few odd habits. Mom would make four or five cups of hot tea each day, and then leave the cups half empty, scattered around the house. For reasons I never understood, she would occasionally get a desire for some crushed ice, so she would grab out a few ice cubes, hold them in her hand and smack them with the back of a butter knife so she could chew the shattered pieces. Whenever she was using ground beef for a meal she would break off a little bit and eat it raw. To the best of my knowledge she never got sick because of it. She loved playing Scrabble, and if you entered her home, it was almost certain you wouldn't be able to leave without playing a game or two. In all my years growing up at home I think I only observed her with her hair down three or four times. She always wore it up in a bun. I never asked why, it's just the way it was. One of the last times I visited her she had bought a wig that she wore. I'm not sure if it was because of thinning hair or because she didn't want to look older because of her hair turning white.
If you were to search for her name in a book of Who's Who in America, you wouldn't find it there. She never held public office or cured a disease or ran a corporation. What she did do was to be a good wife and mother and friend and citizen. Things that really matter.
I miss her, and I suspect I will miss her for the rest of my life. Not the person who was stricken with Alzheimer's, but the Mom I grew up with. I'm glad that she's free from the confusion and fear that she experienced in her final years and that she's finally at rest. She's earned it.