Mom in Full Bloom

I held on to her small hand as we made our way along the path. About 20 feet ahead of us, a giant spider was walking with Scheherazade. “See, you’re not the only one who got dressed up,” I said. “Good thing,” she replied. “But I hope I’m the only wicked witch.”

This exchange took place on October 31, not with a grandchild, but with my 85-year-old mother as I helped her to the clubhouse where the Halloween party was about to begin.

This was Mom’s first social event at the center. Having moved only three weeks earlier from New Jersey, she was slowly adjusting to “cluster life” (each group of cottages is called a cluster) at the independent living community close to me and my family. Once upon a time, Mom was a policewoman. Then she was a mayor. Then she sat on a state planning commission. There were parties, speaking engagements, press. But over the past few years, since my father died, we’d seen Mom growing more and more isolated as her friends either moved to be closer to their children or, sadly, passed. Her afternoon catnaps turned into slumberfests, causing her to often miss dinner altogether, sleeping clear through to noon the next day. Most of our conversations were about the last movie she saw on TCM. And she was often “just not myself today.” My brothers and I presented reasonable arguments until she finally agreed it was time.

The morning of the move from our longtime family home, she was doing laundry, unwilling – we all believed – to watch what was remaining carried out of the house. Because during the two months before, she and I had excavated every inch of space and evaluated every item in closets, on shelves, in storage bins, throwing out what was of no use to anyone, like 3 bags of faded Mexican flag cocktail picks for a Cinco de Mayo party, and donating what she couldn’t use anymore, like the gown she wore to my first wedding in 1988 – along with the matching satin shoes. She did insist on keeping 4 of the 13 cheese plates I uncovered “just in case,” and bravely watched as I wrapped up beloved family heirlooms, too numerous to display in her new 3-room unit, for the older grandchildren.

But what, we wondered, would become of Miss G?

Miss G is an August Beauty gardenia, blooming its fragrant linen-white flowers, which will yellow to the softest touch, in late spring/early summer. Dad brought Miss G home in a pot in the early ‘70s, and year after year, from late March to the first frost, she lived outdoors until moving into the basement under a grow light – the suggestion for a gardenia’s winter care in the Northeast.

At 5-feet tall and 4-feet wide, there would certainly be no room for Miss G on Mom’s small patio at the cluster, but there would be plenty of space at our house in the country. In early September my brother and husband gingerly loaded and secured Miss G in our company’s work truck and headed for the highway, her journey ending under mottled sunlight on our backyard patio from where she could survey the dale and hilltop beyond. But after more than 40 years in one spot, we were all afraid she would not survive her move.

Well, of course Mom wasn’t the only witch at the Halloween party; however, she was the only blue one because I’d waited too long to get green face paint, a commodity at Halloween time.

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Since then, she’s developed a circle of friends she dines with nightly, has attended a number of Wednesday night musical events, is on back-to-back telephone conversations with her neighbors who are on the community expansion committee, and is considering an audition with the drama troupe. Whenever I ask her if she wants to come to our house, she replies, “Let me check my calendar.”

As for Miss G, she took an immediate liking to our yard, thickening and filling in her voids, until moving her indoors till next spring. And while we’ve been warned that as a result of the move she may not bud this year, we believe the flowers will come.

And then there’s Mom, who is already blooming this winter….

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