Sunday, March 11, 2007

Recuerdos De Mi Madre y Padre, Vol. II (Revised)

Over at the Eschaton Crack-den today, with stories about the family values of potential GOPuke candidates, talk turned to marital fidelity, and I was stimulated again to recall my folks, whom I returned home to help through their terminal days:

My Pop was almost pathologically in love with his wife, my mother. She was beautiful--people compared her to Gene Tierney--and intelligent and funny, accomplished and well-bred. Privately, he called her his 'lassie.'

Mother had been a skilled equestrienne in her youth in both jumping and dressage. But a horse fell on her when she was just into puberty, I believe, and the physical complications of that event echoed throughout their married life. They had five children--four who lived; and one which was fatally damaged by rubella in utero--and each one of us was extremely difficult for her. She had kids because, as a Catholic, that's what Mother believed one did. Mother did "what one did," through her whole life pretty much.

Anyway she was ill, in one way or another, for almost the whole time they were married: she was on (and probably became addicted to) prednisone for nearly 40 years, from the late '50s onward almost until her death.

These factors combined to make her extremely uncomfortable with intimacy. I sometimes wonder whether they had sex more than a dozen times in 57 years of marriage, as much as she held him off, berated and belittled him.

As an example: they both happened to have health crises around X-mas, '99, that landed both of them in the same hospital. The nurses thought it would be 'nice' if they brought them together in their individual hospital beds for X-Mas eve. But when they appeared at the door of her room with Dad in his bed, she shrieked "Get him out of here!", and demanded they return him to his own room. She was unrelenting. It might have been funny, except that it wasn't.

Mother had been fanatically frugal (but also astonishingly profligate in strange ways, too: at her death she had 20, identical Brooks Brothers' khaki skirts). After she was gone, Pop decided to throw over the traces a little, and replace his old, slow computer with a newer, fancier machine. But the residual weight of a life-time of frugality persuaded him to scrimp on it, even though there was no longer any reason to be cautious. So I went to town and brought him back his new machine, the lower-priced of the new IMac machines of the period. He tried it, and was not happy, so he sent me to return the cheaper machine and bring him the more expensive one, which I did.

Wwhen I brought it home and set up the new machine for him, he actually seemed excited, for the first time in the several weeks since mother had died. Upon making his careful way to the desk, he turned on his new box. And just as it booted up, virtually in that very instant, the lights all over northern New Mexico went out.

Though we didn't know it at the time, a truck had hit a power pole and had taken out a crucial transmission line up in wilds of the Navajo country. Then, in the sudden, pitch dark, I heard Pop chuckling; I asked him he source of is amusement.

He said that, although there was probably a perfectly good explanation for it, he himself knew that the cause of the outage was Joan's (his recently deceased wife's) "chindi" --the Dineh word for 'spirit"--making him regret his extravagance. "She's out there, and she's howling," he said. When the power came back up the next day, we kept the newer, better machine anyway.

He was, as far as anyone knew or said, completely faithful to her for the entire duration of their marriage--they wed in '43 as he was on his way to the Pacific; she died in '00. He lived another year. And he loved her til he died.


ntodd said...

she was on (and probably became addicted to) prednisone for nearly 40 years

Same with NTodd's Pa's Wife. Heh, she even shared her pills with her cat, Sunshine, because it was cheaper than buying them from the vet.

She lived with constant pain and immune problems, and NTodd's Pa stuck by her for 37 years. Dirty fucking hippies.

cardamom said...

My mom stuck by my dad through his two bouts of cancer, with the second bout a 2+ year long slow descent into hell. This, despite the fact that for years she told him, a pack-a-day smoker, that if he didn't quit she wouldn't be there to take care of him.

He didn't and, despite the threats, she cleaned up the puke, and the shit, and the mucous and, as he died, wiped the sweat from his brow.

And in doing so, she provided him his humanity.

w/thanks for the unsung grace in the world that your fathers, my mother, and countless others offer us, if we only remember where to look.

kelley b. said...

You are three very lucky people.

charley said...

ya know, it's the little anecdotes like this that make life what it is. not good, not bad, just what it is.

spirit trumps politics, everytime.