On the day of Christmas Eve

I have been reluctant to post this writing.  Later, I decided I would simply because I feel, you my devoted reader, will understand.  This originally was written on Christmas Eve.


Today is Christmas Eve, a day of magic, a day of happiness. As a little boy I always was anxious for night time to arrive to open the presents. The grown up in me, greeted the day joyously and anticipated the family being together, particularly since it made my Mother the happiest. Out of all the holidays in the year, my Mother loved the Christmas season. All the rooms in the farmhouse were decorated when I was a small child. Then after retirement, when my parents lived in town, the house was equally decorated. In Arizona, I knew that I needed to have the Christmas decorations up early for Momma and they needed to be more spectacular each year. On Christmas eve, Momma always came to my house and stayed through the holidays. There, I also knew I should have the house cheerful and twinkling. And for the past six years in our present house I have decorated the house inside and out. Last year was significant in the amount of decorations I put up and their locations. Momma was so happy. She could see them all from where she stayed in our big Family room.  This year, Momma will not be here. This year I am letting Christmas go by.

And then at night, on Christmas Eve, an unforgettable gift arrived:

The Christmas Gift, The Gift I Need to Remember
Today, quietly the eve of Christmas goes by,
it passes from gray at dawn to brilliant blue and white by noon.
And then this evening the night brings its chilly breath
to rustle through its darkened veil, whose stars glimmer upon my head.

On the eve of this Christmas, a voice whispered in my ear
from a luminescent cloud of red and blue drifting over my head.
To my ears came the same voice, the one locked in my heart
and now it comes to me from far above the blanket’s glow.

With heart beating, I question through a tightened throat,
“Momma, is that you?, are you all right?”
In return I’m asked why I am sad, where is my Christmas cheer?
“To soon when grief is with my heart, as it yearns for a yesteryear!

Momma tells me to look to my tomorrow and not for yesteryear,
“I’m fine,” she says, “Now you be fine, no longer should you worry.”
And then I realize no longer are there the colors of red and blue,
softly lighting the darkness of the room, the place that had just held joy.

To find the spell, to hear the voice I sit so quiet,
and I realize why, for that fleeting moment, why a visit came to me.
Where once tonight we opened presents and loved each other,

Momma came on Christmas Eve with a gift for me: Her voice, Her Love and My Tomorrow.

This isn’t a fictional poem, you may feel that it is, yet this is how it happened. I must now try to allow my gift to become more of a reality. It is a gift that is the most important that my Mother has ever given me. Her voice has eluded me now for weeks and now I remember how she spoke. I also need to move forward in life as my Mother would have. I can not stop the continual waves of memories I have, nor can I ignore the loss I feel. Momma was someone who could forge foward with an exuberant anticipation of tomorrow. I must attempt to do the same.

Facing a Reality

Prelude

Once more I ask you to understand that this post is not about the Crepusculum.   The next post will once again address my feelings on entering my Crepusculum, but for now and for a couple more posts I will share with you my life as it is presently.

You are invited to play “You Are My Sunshine” by clicking the audio button.  This particular accompaniment is a recording by The Gene Autrey Band.  Sing along please.  The lyrics are slightly different than those originally written by Jimmy Davis and Charles Mitchell.  I first sang my version to my Mother four years ago while she was in the Critical Care Unit, following a major stroke.  It has become our anthem.

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You Are My Sunshine

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are grey, or purple, or pink….
You’ll never know dear
How much I love you
Please be be my sunshine for all of my days.

You are the Mother
I am the son–
You always have loved me
as much as I have loved you.
You’ll never know dear
How great you have been
Please be my sunshine for all of my days.

I have taken nearly a lifetime to accept the simple reality that my Mother will die.  Now I question, each day, will it be today, tomorrow or another day, but regardless it draws nearer and nearer.  The daily changes are significant, particularly, when Momma becomes quieter and quieter and less willing to speak or even answer a simple question.  Yesterday was the first day in three weeks that she interacted with me, but now today,  stopped responding this afternoon.  I don’t think that it is always in her power to communicate, even though there are times she can express displeasure very quickly.

It is during her quiet times that a phantom meets me face to face causing  me to be bewildered and  and weak  and  then I  realize how easily my nemesis reigns.

Daily I watch and understand her unhappiness and feel the malcontent within her heart.  I know that I would never be able to withstand the onslaught of degeneration she experiences and now I have begun to respond to that call and pray that I support her own orison that begs a speedy departure from this physical life.

Her beacon shines bright toward heaven and as she waits quietly and serenely, I  will support her appetency.  In so doing, a few weeks, ago  I wrote a poem embracing the idea of her departure.  By writing I hope the words will soothe and strengthen me,  particularly when my nemesis becomes overwhelming……….

You Are My Sunshine

Lately, I also realize I must tell this incorrigible, phantom it will not win.   I will support my Mother’s departure and I will repeatedly, read this poem because it came from deep within my heart and that its’ spirit will continue  to minister a balm that will ease me into change.   I have also begun to believe that Momma will be in a heavenly paradise where her spirit will no longer be plagued by her earthly pain and she will be able to be happy and be with everyone she loves that preceded her in death.  There she will also be able to be my Mother, standing with open arms and a warm smile, as she  welcomes my sister and I at our time.

A friend suggested that I prepare myself now for a new identity,  an updated life plan, where I  will no longer be a caretaker/protector, but one that allows growth in my own life.  I hadn’t really thought of this before because I intentionally blocked it from my thoughts.  Now I can see how important a plan is and how it will form a bridge between here and where I need to go.   As I have written before, my Mother’s wisdom shines yet to this day.  One day, not long ago,  my Mother spoke to my sister.  She repeatedly told my sister that she was worried for her.  Eventually, my sister reasoned that she was not speaking of her, but of me.  She was concerned about my life following her death.  Even so close to the end of her journey she expressed her concern for me.  When my sister told me, I didn’t think much of it until I understood that she knew before me that  I need to make new plans for my life.

I may have acquiesced to Momma’s orison, but in doing so I realize how little time I have left to get ready and to be with her.  And so I shall continue to write as much as I can to help me, but I also will spend as much time each day kneeling at her bedside, head to head so that my voice is directed straight to her ear;  Momma will quietly lie there, I will babble on as usual and then, every once in a while Momma will respond and I will send that moment directly to my heart to be locked away and not forgotten.

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The Journey Back From Babble

So many days (weeks) have passed since I have posted. I have tried to write, especially at night, I sat in the darkened room at the little desk. As always, my Mother’s life support motors continued to whoosh and play in synchro-nized tones as I sat in the dark. The computer screen dimmed to maximum so the darkness wrapped around and cradled me.

Even as I sat in this well-known spot, the words rarely came. Instead, a stream of empty-headed babble floated in and around my head and quickly I began to feel very exhausted which then lead me to give up and go to bed. One more night wasted. Not only did I not write, but also the time sitting uselessly in the chair robbed me of the time I should be sleeping. It felt like a vicious cycle as the wasted hours accumulated and the body’s exhaustion peaked at new levels that take forever to lower. I admit I am sleep deprived and it does take rest for the mind to function. The body is a funny thing and shows you what needs to be done as it takes charge when I attempted to type. Without realizing it, I fell fast asleep. When I awakened only a moment later, I noticed that I needed to delete the letters and characters I had rested my fingers on as the body shut down for the moment.

The lack of sleep may make me continually disagreeable and it may cause my body to eat more than it should, but it is not the only cause for my lack of words. Lack of words, the blank mind, it is a worry to me. In addition, so many times, as I sat trying to write I found the things that bother me the most encroached upon my mind. These worries moved stealthily to the forefront of my thoughts and for a while I felt that it didn’t make any difference what I wrote about, yet I questioned how I could integrate them into my journey to my Crepusculum.

In the short time I have been posting, not all I write is directly related to my queries of the twilight, but I realize everything has the ability to influence my thinking and help me understand how I might react to problems during my time within my twilight. Any interaction I have is a permanent part of my experience and my experience will guide me down the path of exploration.

But then, I wonder, what do you, the reader, think if I continually make detours to salve the mind and let my worries come into your lives. Will you see them as I do or do you expect much more consistency in presenting issues that I face in preparation for the next stage of my life? Now after five paragraphs do you question the validity of my not writing before now? I am sure it seems like writing to you, but to me it has only been a way that I can move from a state of blankness to a state of combining words…. a state slightly less than written text.

Surprisingly now, I need to tell you more. I need to let you know how these past days have been so undirected. I am tired, very tired, but each day I know, I must go on. As I continue on each day (M. says I am not completely aware of what I do) I hope that I can continue giving my mother the same care as I have been, regardless that her care requirements have nearly tripled. I also wish that she is able to enjoy some form of happiness during this time and while these thoughts are active, I stop and remember all of you, as well as the other people who take the time to write me their well wishes.

Then, without hesitation, I take a very long moment to send peace to Shadowlands as she watches over her husband, and I especially hope that her heart gently safeguards her through these trying days as her husband passes into the shadows of his darkness. Of us two, she is the stronger and I read in awe of how she continues each new day, rarely beleaguered before him, yet inwardly being overwhelmed and possibly alone.

Therefore, he and my mother, as everyone does upon leaving their twilight, begin another journey, a final, unidirectional journey into a personal darkness. Some may say a light may guide you through that darkness, but even if it isn’t present often a living person can help by always being by their side. I know Shadowlands will walk with her husband every step of the way and I have promised my mother that I will be with her, regardless how long the journey may be.

The promises, the care, the worries, the tiredness are all a part of my life now. Even though they may be problematic, it is my choice. These are easy for me, as compared to that final moment, the final good bye, that realization that I will never hear her speak, just as Shadowlands will never hear her husband’s voice again. Sure, the voice has been a part of my life; I can listen to it in my head at any time, but never again in the spontaneous conversation that has always been between us. Therefore, I think of a time during my mother’s last hospitalization that becomes very poignant. A respiratory therapist told me quite firmly that I need to grab a hold and deal with my mother’s death, She repeated this even louder and firmer as she left the room…………”Deal with it! NOW!” The words still echo in my head, but particularly that day left me speechless and almost childlike. Now, with time to do its work I can say I may need to “deal with it”, I have tried unsuccessfully for too many years and now I know that there is no way I will ever be prepared!

Maybe now, once again I can write. I made it this far and my mind continues to be a tiny bit open. As I think on what I have written, it only reminds me how important it is for me to settle so much about my care when I reach that final journey, because I probably won’t have anyone I know to make sure everything will be as I want. I will be alone to walk through the darkness on a unidirectional journey.

Baruch Habah

Please click the arrow to play Dayenu, a Jewish Holiday song.

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To Diana, The family’s baleboosteh and Mother, as well as, the one who taught me a tepl is a pot, who smiled when I told her a blintz is a crepe and patiently taught me how to make her special food without a recipe!!

May you always be remembered!

PASSOVER

Passover (Pesach). The major Jewish spring holiday (with agricultural aspects) also known as hag hamatzot (festival of unleavened bread) commemorating the Exodus or deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt (see Exodus 12-13). The festival lasts eight days, during which Jews refrain from eating all leavened foods and products. A special ritual meal called the Seder is prepared, and a traditional narrative called the Haggadah, supplemented by hymns and songs, marks the event.

The name “Passover” refers to the fact that G-d “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt.

Link for Additional Information on Passover

THE HAGGADAH

The Text of the Passover Seder

The text of the Pesach seder is written in a book called the haggadah. The haggadah tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and explains some of the practices and symbols of the holiday. The content of the seder can be summed up by the following Hebrew rhyme:

Kaddesh, Urechatz
Karpas, Yachatz
Maggid, Rachtzah
Maror, Korekh
Shulchan Orekh
Tzafun, Barekh
Hallel, Nirtzah

Kaddesh: the prayer of Sanctification

Urechatz: Washing the Hands

Karpas: Vegetable (parsley) symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people; the salt water symbolizes the tears shed as a result of our slavery. Parsley is a good vegetable to use for this purpose, because when you shake off the salt water, it looks like tears.

Yachatz: Breaking of the Matza

Maggid: The Story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Passover.

Rachtzah: Washing of the Hands

Motzi:
Blessing over Grain Products at the table.

Matzah: Blessing over Matza
A blessing specific to matzah is recited, and a bit of matzah is eaten.

Maror: the blessing recited over Bitter Herbs symbolizing the bitterness of slavery.

Korech: The Sandwich of maror and matzah and a little Charoses.

Shulchan Orech: Dinner

Tzafun: The Afikomen a small piece of matzo set aside for desert for children to finnd.

Barech: Grace after Meals

Hallel: Praises by reciting psalms.

Nirtzah: Closing of Seder to wish that Next Year Passover is in Jerusalem

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During my early years, up until I was seventeen, I lived on a small farming community in Iowa. My worldview did not extend much beyond the barnyard! Our education in school was fine, as far as, read’n, writ’n and rithmetic–but it lacked greatly as a guide in introducing its students into the ‘varied ways of the world”. My parents, on the other hand always wanted us to be curious about people and gave us freedom to express ourselves. We had the opportunity to find out what was unknown, yet as isolated as we were in the 50’s and 60’s, it was difficult for them to immerse us in a broad spectrum of cultures. What was available, in our little community, was an abundance of Germans, who were strongly immersed in their heritage, but closed to any other. Fortunately, we were lucky to be the only family which did not uphold these beliefs and particularly different because our Mother was Italian. It took Momma years to become a part of the community because of her heritage and because she was Catholic. Early on my sister and I learned what bias and ethnocentrism is because of the towns reaction to my mother and any one else who was not born into the community.

At eighteen, I moved to the east coast to further my education. At this point, I knew of only one black person, a small girl who attended our school for two days before her family left upon the request of the town fathers. I remember telling my Mother that when I was talking to her, the school bullies tried to tell me not to talk to her. My mother explained to me what was going on and told me I was correct to speak to her, but others felt unfairly different. The next day I chatted with her again and this time, the bullies were not as kind to the little girl. Their treatment was a warning to me, but I knew in my heart they were wrong.

My new school and its location in New Haven, Connecticut provided me with a plethora of ways to expand my worldview. Soon after arriving, I became employed by a Kosher Caterer. Working in many different synagogues, mostly Conservative, contributed to a journey in understanding Judaism that would last a lifetime and provide me with an endless array of wonderful memories.

Until October of 1973, my journey remained at a tourist level! I was aware of many holidays and understood the dietary restrictions of Conservative Jews, although my perception of what it is to be Jewish as compared to what the canons of religious belief was negligible. Then on that October night, I met M and all of that would change.

Day by day, as they accumulated into the past, I realized I was beginning to understand more and more than I ever thought I would. New doors opened and I became curious about every aspect of Judaism I was shown. Trips to the library and book stores allowed me to get books on the Holocaust, as well as becoming fascinated by the Kabballah, a body of mystical teachings of rabbinical origin, or seeking to understand the difference between a bible and the Torah, a scroll of parchment containing the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, used in a synagogue during services. I soon understood what a yarmulke was (a skullcap worn, esp. during prayer and religious study, by Jewish males, esp. those adhering to Orthodox or Conservative tradition) and that treyf meant that a particular food is unfit for Jews to eat or use, according to religious laws.

At first it was M. that explained everything to me and then Diana, his mother, who enlightened me to the Yiddish language and told me the tales of her coming to Canada from Poland, where she had been born, and how she used her brother’s passport. She wove realistic pictures of life in a shetl and introduced me to the grand repertoire of her cooking.

At times she taught me a single word in Yiddish, like tepl for a pot or surprise me when she made an incredible, yet simple cheesecake, unlike any that I had known. It had a light, airy, cake layer on the top, one running through the middle and one at the bottom of the cake. The cheese filling was far superior to any I had made because the Canadian cheese was unpastuerized making it much more flavorful.

I asked Diana to show me how to make the cake. As she began the cake I realized she was not not measuring the ingredients. Quickly I told her this would never do if she really wanted me to learn how to make the cake. Quickly she grabbed the measuring cups and spoons and began measuring her amounts by placing them in a measuring cup for me to record. Next, Diana showed me how to make her Sponge Cake. I had never wanted to make one, but she said I could make one as good as hers. When she was done with the lesson (incuding recorded amounts for the ingredients) she took the cake from the oven. It was tall, golden brown, light as a feather and oh, it melted in our mouth when we ate it. Afterward, I was successful in making a second sponge cake. She was right, although I felt she had performed a miracle on me!!. I was ready to measure the ingredients for another cake and felt she could teach me many things in the kitchen. We were on our way–

Or, so I thought, but then on a visit to Canada I was to prepare a twenty -fifth anniversary party for M’s sister and husband. Diana and I agreed to make the food at her apartment and that she would share in the items to make, but wanted me to write the menu. I was intrigued with Montreal, particularly, the markets with fresh cheeses, fruits and vegetables. I decided we should have an assortment of crepes, some savory and some sweet at the party. I knew from the past Diana made very thin blintz. When I told her what to do I said I wanted her to make the crepes, rather than calling them Blintz. Suddenly Diana became excited and worried because she said she had never made a crepe. I laughed and then realized why she was worried and explained to her that a crepe was a blintz. She responded with a big smile as she said, “Whaaaaa—-t-t-t-t!—–no kidding!!”

Next another obstacle formed when I asked Diana if she had any measuring cups and spoons. I had forgotten mine in the states and I needed them to measure the ingredients for the tiered cake. She smiled and said she would be back…………the minutes passed became an one hour, then two and we began to worry. Just then, Diana opened the door swinging a 1/3 of a cup measure and a tablespoon measure. She had gone through the entire building of residents to see if she could borrow a measuring cup and spoon set! Regardless, we made the cake with the 1/3-cup measure and the measuring spoon!!

As the years passed, Diana developed Alzheimer’s and came to live with us. Family visits, including those for Passover, made the next three years happy for Diana. As the first Seder approached, I wanted to make Gefilte Fish just like Diana’s. Hers, unlike so many other recipes, were extremely light, slightly sweet and were made from a blend of pike, carp and whitefish. Diana offered to show me how to make it and once again, we had our lesson. Diana took a pinch and I put the spoon under her hand to measure it until all the ingredients were ready for mixing in the bowl. Before we had measured, we ground and chopped the fish. I was amazed that she was able to remember how to make them. Later that day, Diana, M. and I enjoyed the first of the warm, Gefilte Fish that would be part of our Seder. They melted in our mouths!

I tried many new recipes for Seder that year and Diana was able to remember more of her dishes. In the end, the Seder was spectacular and I know she enjoyed having all of her family there. The next two years I prepared the Seders myself. I am a very good cook, but without Diana’s tutelage, the Seders that I prepare could not be as good as they are if she had not shown me how to do so much.

In the years following Diana’s death there hasn’t been very many family dinners. Occasionally I will make her wonderful cheesecake, or prepare another of her dishes for M. I do this to please M and to continue to make her recipes so that Diana remains well and happy within our kitchen and in our hearts.

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Our First Seder Dinner

Eggs in Salt Water

Gefilte Fish with Beet and Plain Horseradish

Matzo Ball Chicken Soup garnished with allumettes of Red Pepper and Scallion

Roast Brisket of Beef with Onions and Red Wine

Reduced Aus JusSauce

Savory Scallion tied, Bundles of Haricot Verte with Lemon Sauce

Matzo Farfel Tsimmes

Matzos

Carrot Sponge Cake–Pineapple Orange Frosting

Gan Eden Torte glazed with Dark Chocolate

Passover Brownies

Imberlach

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(If you should like a copy of a recipe please leave your name and email address in a comment to me and I will forward a copy to you.)

The Cat that Ate the Cake

 

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Each year when our birthdays rolled around Momma started making plans. Rarely did her plans only include the immediately family because there was a grand array of extended family and friends to invite. To not have Uncles or cousins and friends at our house for special occasions would have been strange.

It would have been even stranger if Momma only served Coffee, Cake and Ice Cream. This was her stage and she often became the queen of the festivities when one of her new dishes became the hit of the party. Finally, she would say to herself that their approval was enough to prove that the time spent clipping recipes from the newspaper was necessary. I also think Momma liked the rumble of noise and activity rising from the people seated around the large dining room table.

In the fifties boutique foods were not known, nor did you need to decide between organic or regular. Most people that lived in our little community were “meat and taters” folk and they never attempted to buy or make anything new. I don’t think too many women collected cookbooks or considered subscribing to a home and food magazine. Their basic recipes were all they needed, although some women had the most delicious, one of a kind creations.

My paternal grandmother was one of those women, but she also loved to experiment with food preparation. She required guests and family to be willing to accept a variety of taste treats at her table. Any one who shunned a dish didn’t get by with it! Grandma’s precedent allowed my mother to continue the same philosophy and it worked because she was a good cook.

My grandmother and the community had a hard time accepting my mother since she was not from the same little town. In fact, my mother was from Illinois and to make it even worse she was Italian. The citizens of the little town and the surrounding farmers never accepted someone new. Unknowingly my grandmother helped my mother to become part of the family and welcomed in town. If she ever knew how she helped my mother, I am sure she would have been upset and even angry!

Since my sister was twelve Momma thought that a tiered cake was appropriate. The cake needed to look impressive and pretty, but above all else; it needed to serve many people. First there was to be a dinner for family and some chosen young guests of my sister and then an open house for classmates and their families was held’

The guests at the open house and at dinner enjoyed a tasty yellow cake layered with three filling including fudge and walnut. As children, we looked forward when my mother made a birthday cake, because there were always plenty of trimmings from the tops of the cake layers ate. I always dipped a spatula into the butter cream frosting to spread some on my piece. My sister ate hers plain and if my mother had a small piece, she would slather it with soft, country butter,

The day before the birthday party Momma was up early. First she needed to take care of her daily chores on the farm, then make breakfast for my sister and I, take some time to sit with us as we ate, (which she always did regardless of her schedule) and afterward she began making the cakes. Since she wanted a tiered cake Momma needed to bake a large round cake for the bottom tier. Because any thing larger than an eight or 9-inch cake pan available Momma became creative. Whenever she wanted this big size, she used a 16″ round white, glazed dishpan with a bright red stripe around the perimeter of the pan. We always teased her about making the cake in a dishpan.

Within a short time, Momma had the batter made for one of the layers in the bottom tier. She always prepared the right amount of cake batter for each pan size. The cake went into the oven; the timer set and then Momma continued making more cake batter for the rest of the cake. I have always been amazed that all of this (the enlarging of recipes, the knowledge to know how much batter to make, the knowledge of how to set a tiered cake together and how to decorate a cake) came to Momma naturally. After I had grown, I looked at pictures of the many cakes that she had made. I asked her how she knew how to do all this and answered by saying: “Well, I just did it because I wanted to!” I think that if Momma had pondered the problems of building a tiered cake she would have never succeeded!

While the cake was baking and Momma was making more batter my sister had to get ready to leave for piano lessons and I became entranced, sitting on a chair at the kitchen table-watching Momma make the batter. I also was anxious in anticipation of seeing the big round cake come from the oven. Half way through the baking time a neighbor stopped in to see us. He lived on the farm next to ours. Momma gave him coffee and a homemade cinnamon roll while they chatted. Leon teased my mother and told her he smelled the cake burning. Momma knew how he teased and was ready not to over react. The timer sounded just before Leon was going to leave. Momma checked the cake, first with the finger test and then if the results were questionable she would use a toothpick to test the cake for doneness. She decided it needed a little more time and reset the timer. Leon, in the meantime was preparing to leave, but before he put his glove on he stuck his finger into the cake batter Momma had just made. SMAAAACK, Momma asked if he wanted another smack on his hand. Leon left with a smile on his face and cake batter smeared on his cheek.

The timer sounded again and this time Momma took the cake from the oven and set it on the cooling rack. The warm scents of butter, vanilla and egg rose from the cake making me hungry. Soon, enough time had passed so Momma could remove the cake from the pan. Deftly and quickly, Momma turned the cake out onto a cooling rack and then placed another rack onto the cake so she could turn it over to cool with the raised center up. To cool the cake a little quicker Momma carried the cake outside to a hand-washing stand just outside of the door where she often cooled her cakes and pies. While the cake cooled Momma placed another big round cake in the oven and then continued making more batter. Soon it was time for Momma to bring the cake in because the one in the oven would be ready to cool. The bake, cool, trim and wrap routine began.

Momma first removed the cake from the oven and then set it to cool on the cake rack. Next, she placed some smaller size cakes in the oven and then headed outside for the original large tier. Within just a moment I heard a loud scream and then a fearless order-

“You mangy cat, get-go away-GD how dare you eat my cake!”

Next, I heard the swishing sound of a broom flying overhead and brushing against the wooden post of the washstand. I quickly looked out the window as I saw Momma with broom in hand chasing one of thirty cats that lived in our barn. As the cat, a very well groomed tabby passed the gate leading into the lane that gave the cat a quick get-a-way to the barn.

This cat, as well as, the others lived in the barn. They controlled the mice population on the farm. Each night my mother made their dinner, a large pot of Oatmeal mixed with the day’s table scraps. After Momma prepared their supper she set it aside to cool before she took it to the barn to feed the cats. At feeding time, the felines came tumbling in from their homes in the haymow or in the bins of oats and scampered around her legs until she would divide the food in three different containers. .

As Momma arrived at the gate that allowed the cat a speedy get-a-way, she stopped and leaned onto the gate for just a moment. Head down, broom dragging, she turned and headed back to the house grumbling.

Upon her arrival into the kitchen with the cake I quickly questioned: “Momma, what are you going to do?” Then I looked at the cake and realized the cat had eaten the whole area in the center of the cake that had mounded as it had baked. Momma set the cake down on the table, went to the cupboard for a cup and poured herself a cup of coffee.

She asked me to be quiet and then drank her coffee one tiny sip at a time. Her right foot wrapped around her left foot and somehow she was able to tap the floor; tapping steadily and quietly matched the intense look on her face and how she swallowed each cup. When she finished her coffee, she took the cup to the sink and washed it. As she returned to the table where I was sitting, she picked up her long serrated knife and trimmed a thin layer from the entire cake. Then she smiled at me and said, “Honey, Momma doesn’t have time to make this cake over so we are going to use it! A little cat nibble isn’t going to hurt anything. Help Momma wrap it and then throw these crumbs out! ” Remember little man, we have lots more cake to bake, cool and wrap!”

The morning passed quickly as we continued to bake and wrap the cakes. When the batter was all made Momma told me I was in charge of watching them bake, cooling and then wrapping them. Momma began making the fillings and her special butter cream frosting. When we were all done Momma told me to take a little break and go play. As I reached the door she stopped me and said,

“Buzzie, this is our little secret-No One Needs to Know.”

That afternoon Momma frosted and decorated my sister’s birthday. In the evening, she began cooking for the birthday dinner. During supper, I never said a word. Occasionally Momma would touch me and give me a secret little smile.

At the dinner and then the reception, the cake sat regally in the center of the table, decorated with garlands of white butter cream, pale pink roses and light green leaves. Oh, it was so pretty and I knew it would taste equally as good. Momma was right; there was no need to tell any one. If Momma had decided to throw the cake away, my sister would probably have had a much smaller, less elegant cake. In the end, we were all happy and my Mother was smiling. The guests raved over how great the cake was and how wonderful my mother was at entertaining!

I Shall Never Say Good Bye

Presently, the night isn’t far from tomorrow. I can’t sleep and so I pace back and forth in the darkened room where my Mother sleeps. The only thing you hear, in the quiet of the house, is the swooshing sound of the oxygen concentrator and the cycle of pressured air headed toward the ventilator. In between those sounds, is the poof of blocked expiratory air by a peep valve that helps my Mother’s lungs remain open after she exhales.

The sounds of the machines, the glow of the numbers on the oximeter and the sight of her rising and falling chest calm me as I run from the reality of her death. I can’t imagine not being able to speak to her, be with her, listen to her voice and learn from what she says. So often she worries that no one who is around her will talk to her. She sits waiting or trying to talk to anyone, to whoever is here and then feels they never hear her. Oh yes, anyone can hear her, but I don’t think they realize she has something to say. It is difficult for them to grasp that Momma lives in two worlds. There is the one that is here in my home, the one within the terms of our reality, as we understand it. The second world is from her addled memories that concoct a world filled with her childhood family, still run by her mother, even though my mother is now eighty-six. Everyone tells me it does no good to explain to her that all this has happened because of her big stroke three years ago. Its not her fault at all and now after a month of explaining this to her I see a beginning to remember that it is important to trust me when I help her through these frightening times when there isn’t a way for her to recognize the right world.

Currently, not only is Momma frightened of her tomorrows but, I feel the same. I have been her son for sixty years and I feel I have just begun to find out all she knows, or especially all that is troubling her. We often laugh that we don’t have a problem communicating. I talk for hours and she tells me what is on her mind. No one understands just how much she thinks. I told her yesterday, that I believe they have no idea how alive with thought she is, even though it is inevitable that she slips farther and farther toward her darkest hour.

Occasionally she looks at me with a woeful face. I see her right hand frantically moving her warmer and I ask why is there such sadness and her response is: “I’m going to die.” Regardless of how many times she says this, even though usually it is used as an opener to share a thought, my immediate reaction is for my stomach to flip. I answer her by telling her I don’t have time for death at that particular moment. I ask if she can wait until I no longer am busy! However, she and I know what has just happened. Momma warns me, I hear her statement and I instantly ignore it.

Presently, Momma doesn’t even understand how I feel. Now every word, every utterance, every movement must be recorded in my memory. Often I look at her with eyes that truly are a camera because I need to memorize her face as she is now. I have her faces and voice recorded from the past, although there are times when my eyes are closed that I think my image lens must be broken because I can’t see or hear her. I panic because I need those thoughts and images to be available when I call for them in the future.

Possibly, it isn’t good that she and I are close. Momma was always there as I grew up during my first seventeenn years. She wiped up my childhood spills, encouraged my adolescent dreams and applauded my teen successes. When I moved from home to further my education she beamed with pride, yet during the first months following my draft she successfully hid her fears, only to have them reappear even more poignantly when I left for Vietnam. Each day held her in a paralyzing, embrace; an unrecognized panic by the people closest to her. When I returned I looked into her eyes and knew that she had suffered even more than I had.

Our inescapable bond continued during the intervening years before my father’s death, strengthened while we lived in Arizona and continued into our move to Illinois. Beginning before our last move, I became her consul, then Power of Attorney and now caretaker, confidante and companion. Inevitably, our bond continues and is maintained and allowed to grow.

Now, it is nearly impossible for her to travel beyond her doctor’s office. Some days to move from the bed to the sofa is too strenuous, while on other days her breathing can be sustained easily with the oxygen.

Tonight, the tenebrous room intensifies my mother’s own darkness. Standing by her I yearn for her twilight to return. I know that isn’t possible and I have promised to accompany her along her path of darkness; but continually I ask myself how I will ever face that ineluctable moment when I see two golden wings guiding her spirit to eternity. I know at that moment I shall bid her my heart filled with love, but I shall never say good Bye.