In July I went to Santa Cruz, CA to celebrate my mother’s 99th birthday. My mother lives in a mobile home complex, with a lovely clubhouse overlooking the ocean to use for parties. Friends came; relatives drove over or flew in. My sister and her children prepared a vegetarian feast. Everyone chatted with Mom, and the children, even the little ones, all had cameras and snapped pictures of their Gigi (great-grandmother). My daughter and grandson (age 9) couldn’t make it from New York, but they sent these toasts, which give a flavor of my mother’s persona:
“Gigi, you are definitely going to make it to 100, if not 150. Hopefully, Charlie can make it to 100, too. I want to thank you for being an awesome activist and standing up to stuff. Also, without you I would not exist, so thank you. Happy birthday! Love, Oscar”
“Gram, I’ll take your rap sheet over a batch of grandmotherly cookies any day. Love, Jen”
But, as you might imagine, life with and for my mother is not all chocolate cake and toasts. She lives alone (Charlie, her feisty, barky poodle, aside) and needs care, which she resists. Little by little, we have lined up some wonderful women to help out: a dog walker, a house cleaner and then three women who each come for a few hours every single day: the Organizer, the Fixer and the Entertainer. It took awhile, but now mom (mostly) enjoys their company. Still, many days there is no overlap and when that happens, she sneaks out, takes her walker – and Charlie – and manages a few slow blocks on her own, chatting with neighbors and occasionally stealing flowers. She refuses to have anyone stay overnight.
All of which explains why Carol Levine’s “Fruit of the Apple Tree” brought back my family’s journey finding and deciding about caregiving – and how important her piece – and her work – is for so many of us. Other pieces reverberated strongly for me and with each other. “Fertilizer” caught what I fear might be coming; read it and then read Alice Friman’s poem, “How It Is” and you will see what I mean.
Good news: My great friend and former teaching colleague, Linda Boldt, is joining the Editorial Board; go to About Us to read her stellar biography. Less good news: Natalie Levy is moving on from Persimmon Tree; we will miss her sage advice on all matters literary and, especially, artistic.