Losses, Memories, Joys, Tears, and a Japanese Maple

I introduced my mom, Velma Augusta Hatch Brisson to my readers in July because we were getting ready to help her celebrate her 100th birthday. She was born in 1917. This kind of milestone is not considered as great a thing as it used to be since many people live beyond the age of 100 these days, but it is not really a contest or an accomplishment. It is just a fact.

We were a lucky family. Who gets to enjoy their mom’s company well into their own senior years? It has its down sides because mom needed more care and she was still bossy. She would still look over your outfit and say, “are you wearing that?” But we were not orphans like most of our friends. Now we are. In November of 2017 mom died and it has now been six months since she passed. We, her children, have spent the last six months getting the family home ready to sell. It is a poignant labor of love to sift through all the memories collected in each possession, each room, each corner of the yard that surrounds the house.

Yesterday I sat out on mom’s back deck for lunch with two of my sisters, perhaps the last time we will meet, as we did so many times, on that back deck. You can almost see the family coming and going as we sit around that patio table. Sometimes, in the pictures in my mind, the family members who live in Florida come by and the level of talk gets loud and tangled with lots of individual conversations ebbing and flowing throughout a sunny afternoon. Sometimes the great grandchildren are there, visiting, playing on the back lawn, hauling out all the toys and games stored in the shed. Sometimes it is just the few sisters who live near mom, and mom, hanging out on a rare warm, dry day.

For me the years passed before me as I sat looking at the lovely Japanese maple tree that we all bought for mom. It will now belong to some other family, or perhaps, because the house is old and in bad condition, it will all belong to some flipper, who might even rip out that tree. You can’t have something and not have it. Does that fit the Schrödinger conundrum? I don’t know. You can’t have the tree and not have the tree. But you can have the memories. You can have the firefly evenings, the homework around the dining table, the brother shimmying down his sheets from the upstairs bedroom window only to be faced with a table full of his family (and dad) sitting down to dinner. You can have the ice skating rink in the backyard, and the ball games and the games of Tag and Red Rover. You can have the memory of mom having to stuff a crying child on to a school bus, and mom putting together a countertop full of sandwiches for all our school lunches (8 of us).

You can have all the day old bread, and the trips to the dairy to buy milk, all the tar-heeled walks to church in our high heels to sing in the choir or meet with the Youth fellowship. All the shopping trips with dad to the Midstate, the movies for 50 cents at the Hollywood Theater. Elvis had us dancing in the aisles. All the school days and instruments rented and discarded and all the books read. (People gave us boxes and boxes of books.) All the second-hand boxes of clothes we sorted through to find outfits that were suitably stylish. It all seems so wonderful now. But our feelings at the time were all over the place.

You can keep all the Christmases and the Easters, even the one when everyone had measles (awful). You can have all the graduations, the birthday cakes, the smiles, the songs, the friends, the broken hearts, the tears, the grief (my sister was killed in car accident at 29),the joy, the weddings, the babies, the toddlers, the tweens and the teens. You can keep them all because they are imbedded in your mind.

So why is it so hard to let go of that well-used house. I don’t want to buy it. It needs too many repairs. But I think the grief over the house gets magnified by the loss of our mom and the end of it all, the end of our childhood, even though we are ridiculously old. Our lives have lost their center.

These memories barely scratch the surface of a life lived in a simpler era which is probably gone forever. So I’ll throw that loss on the pile and mourn it too, because while it was happening I did not realize that these things would not be the memories of everyone. Now that I know the ravages of human hate, now that I know how poor we were and why that poverty has been difficult to leave behind, even knowing all I know, I still treasure those memories from our days of innocence and ignorance. I still am grateful for  how earnest my parents were, and how everyone around us pitched in to lift us up. I am sad right now, but we have all been there, all felt the sadness of loss. My mom’s life was a life well lived. You are missed.

A Sentimental Oscar Sunday

It’s Sunday, the same Sunday as the 2012 Oscars and my sister, my 94 year old mom and I are going to the Manlius Art Cinema to see The Artist which will probably win almost every prize at the Oscar presentations tonight. First of all, I don’t think I have ever gone to see an Oscar nominated film on the day of the Oscar ceremonies so, goofy me, it intensifies my enjoyment of the outing. Second of all, my sister has talked my mom into going with us. She doesn’t go out a lot lately, especially since it is winter and she is too vain to wear her boots (like us when we were teenagers). We are happy to have her with us. Third of all, The Artist is a silent movie and our mom remembers silent movies from the twenties when they were actually the only kind of movies there were. She wanted to know if someone was going to play the piano. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy a silent movie, but I was sure I would enjoy mom’s reactions to it.
We saw this silent movie at a small local theater called the Manlius Art Cinema. This theater was built in the 1920’s and also experienced first-hand the silent movie era. We were basically in a time machine shuttling back and forth between the early years of two different centuries. The Manlius Art Cinema sounds far grander than it is. It has fallen on hard times, as have the rest of us and has not been refurbished in many years. Jerk Magazine wrote about the cinema.
[It] is a tiny historical movie theater built in the 1920’s. It screens foreign films, independent films and a lot of limited release films. It is owned by a super nice old couple, Nat Tobin and Eileen Lowell. They personally hand-pick all the films scheduled to screen.
I’m not kidding when I say that this is a tiny, old, historical movie theater. I felt like I was walking into a trailer. There’s only one screen. Ghetto fabulous. But here’s the thing: without the tight space, the low seats, the old-fashion persona of the place, there would be no sense of history or old-school cinema feel. From the moment I stepped into the cinema, I felt like I walked into another time zone. It was all very twilight zone except without all the science fiction and horror sequences.
The owner of the theater, still Nat Tobin, always speaks to his film audiences before the viewing. He welcomes us, tells some history of the theater and of the movie , and he announces what he and Eileen will be screening next. I am sitting at the very edge of the theater next to the wall. In front of me is a little dry ditch cut into the concrete floor and a mesh bag of those drying crystals we use in basements, which suggest the theater is not always dry. Ghetto fabulous, I guess, but although it is not glamorous, I am not freaked out by this either. It’s sort of endearing and we are lucky to have this couple who spend their lives showing us movies that other theaters do not find it profitable to screen.
The lights go down and we are swept away into the world of George (Dad’s name) Valentin and his sweet dog and Peppy Miller and it is far sadder than I thought it would be. When my mom and my sister start going for their tissues I know it is a success. They always cry together at movies. I do not cry at movies very often these days, but my eyes feel suspiciously wet. These two, George and Peppy, had megawatt smiles. When they were not sad and they smiled it seemed as if the lights went on all over the world. And Peppy, who seemed a light-weight at first, ended up being someone who really stood by her man. We thoroughly enjoyed this timely adventure in timelessness. Afterwards we eschewed the minimalist confines of the Chipotle Grill for an old timber and oak, classic, meat-and-potatoes restaurant (Scotch and Sirloin) with lots of handsome waiters dressed, oddly enough, in  long white butcher’s coats. We were seated a bit too close to the service bar, but we enjoyed our post theater supper very much and we were home in time to see the Oscars. Lovely!