Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In time, the things that once defined us come to mock us.

As many regular SHAMbloggers know, my mother-in-law lived with us for a number of yearsfive, to be exact. Now age 91 and failing, she lives in a nursing home nearby. My wife continues to visit her daily, tending to the "little things" that the nursing home staff, as nice as they are, don't always think of.

Today, after the hurricane inspired me to do some general maintenance and sprucing up, I decided to reclaim my mother-in-law's old closet for general usage. That's when I came across her collection of umbrellasseven of them in assorted colorswhich she coordinated with the rainy-day outfit of the moment. I had known all along that Dream, as we called her (it's a long story), never failed to look "just so." Having not set foot in her closet, however, I didn't know that she actually maintained an inventory of color-themed umbrellas, which hung there in an orderly line, waiting to be deemed appropriate.

To debate whether someone, anyone, really needs seven different shades of umbrella misses the point. The point is that in her day, Dream was a woman of great personal style and fashion sense. (She never wore generic socks, either; she owned dozens of pairs of those, making sure they matched the rest of her attire in color, texture and seasonal feel.) Suffice it to say she had an impeccable, almost courtly presence.

And now this courtly woman is washed and dressed (simply, functionally) by others who also see to her most basic hygiene needs. Dream spends much of her day cuddling and singing to a baby-doll that she appears to think is real. It's touching to watch, in a melancholy sort of way. I was going to include a photo but I realized that it wouldn't come across as touching. It would look as if I were making fun of her, which I most assuredly am not. I love Dream and am proud to be one of the two or three people she beams at with obvious recognition and affection the instant she sees me.

Jim Morrison would famously announce to audiences that "Nobody gets out of here alive." In context it was one of those can't-be-improved-upon lines with multiple layers of meaning. So I would add only that way too few of us get out of here with our dignity intact. Inevitable, I suppose, but no less tragic.

4 comments:

Megan Peterson said...

I don't know if this is what you intended, and forgive me if I misunderstood this (to me) very touching post, but it seems that even in the face of such decline with age, your description of Dream and your memories of her lend dignity and honor to her life, despite everything that has come in these later years. I liked what you wrote. Thank you.

a/good/lysstener said...

Steve, that is simply beautiful, and very touching. These types of personal vignettes are my favorite thing that you write even if they have the least to do with the supposed topic of your blog. You might even say that I found you because of Dr. Phil but I stayed for other reasons.

Thanks for writing this.

Steve Salerno said...

Megan, thank you for dropping by, and for your kind words.

A (possibly/passably) funny story: Every time I would go to a restaurant and pay with a credit card, and the server would come back to the table and say, "You can keep the top copy," it always suggested an amusing visual for me, because I thought the African animal was called a "topkapi" (pronounced as the waiters would say it), not an "okapi." Till one day a more learned acquaintance clued me in.

In my defense, at least I knew there was such an animal and pictured it correctly, even if I had an embarrassingly wrong name for it.

Megan Peterson said...

Steve, that is funny. I think the next time I go to a restaurant and they say that, I'm definitely going to think of that story. :)