My mother is silent, and her system is breaking down now. She is more or less a shell of her old self. A beautiful hollow shell. Her blond head resting on a mound of pillows, her curls renewed by Mr. Eivind earlier yesterday in a home visit. The beauty salon will see her no more. He nails need a new coat of bright pink polish, and that will be done tomorrow. My heart is breaking.

She told us so many stories of her 101 years. They go on and on melding into each other, bringing laughter and tears. We need each now in these last few days or weeks. We don’t know how long…

Helen Dow & William J. Hale

She was born in 1918, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her father William J. Hale was a chemistry professor. Her mother, Helen Dow, graduated from The University of Michigan in 1916 and married her professor in 1917. When my mother was eight months old, her mother, Helen died of the flu epidemic of 1918. Shocking and lifechanging that early death brought her grandmother into her life. She moved in with her son and new baby granddaughter to help raise little Ruth Elizabeth Hale.

The story about her grandmother’s death is a legend. The poor lady had creeping paralysis, which was possibly MS., and she became more and more incapacitated and longed for release. Mother was 17 when her grandmother died. She was called away from a party at the country club to sit with her beloved Gramma while she died. Mother was not sure what to do next. Her father urged her to go back to the New Year’s Eve party. And she did. That is Mother in a nutshell. The party was paramount and yet everyone knew she adored her Gramma. She told people “It is what she would want me to do.” when anyone looked askance at her for being at such a festive event only minutes after watching her grandmothers’ spirit leave her body.

Her grandmother trained her so well that Mother was still quoting her into her hundredth year. From “Don’t go out with wet hair, you will catch a cold” to all sorts of fashion dos and don’ts her “Gramma” shaped mother’s life. “A place for everything and everything in its’ place,” she said at least 1,000,000 times in my hearing. Eating correctly, brushing teeth after meals, wearing matching jewelry and bright colored clothes, always washing her hands after coming home, these things were inviolate. She has rigid habits or rituals for arising or going to bed. These do not vary. And they cannot be hurried.

Dancing up a storm

My mother’s story is unusually happy in so many ways. Her two marriages were happy ones, and she had several love affairs and flirtations in between marriages. These were men whom she did not marry. She had a ball! What an inspiration she has been. People love her and admire her personality and lifestyle. Her life has been one long party. And now at 101, she is nearing the end.

Her beautiful bone structure shines through, and she is lovelier than most women who are a lot younger. Her house is full of visitors who want to pay their respects and see her one last time. We cherish this show of goodwill and affection.

Copyright©. 2019 Bonnie B. Matheson

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