By Rosalie Tirella
She was my happy girl! Even though she had those happy woman blues! That is what I’m thinking today, Mother’s Day. About my mom, gone almost four years now. The distance between her death and my life today one of those minnow-filled ponds Ma loved to wade in when she visited her cousin in the country. She’d walk into the pond – only up to her knees because she couldn’t swim. I see her in one of my favorite photos: She’s at water’s edge. She is wearing her seersucker dress and matching beach cap – smiling broadly, full of her self, her young prettiness! The sun is glinting off the water …
Her last heart-breaking weeks in the nursing home are less painful to me now. The day when Nurse Lois literally stuck a needle into Ma’s heart!! – without asking me, her health care proxy. Killing Ma – her heart now broken by the “pic” Lois inserted and all the drugs it delivered. Nurse Lois had quieted Ma down all right! And how I sobbed at the sight! and how I wanted to grind down Lois’ phoney smiles into the tapioca pudding her patients were not eating because they were so over-medicated by Nurse Lois. Nurse Lois, old-school-over-medicate-the-patients-so-they-are-quiet-and-tractable Devil Nurse Lois, head of the nursing home’s Alzheimers unit. There, all her drug-addled patients, including my mom at the end, sat around Head Nurse Lois in their wheel chairs as she stood at her station parceling out more drugs for them – into the most innocuous looking little white plastic cups! Ancient children, many unloved, without family to fight for them in this lethal, permanent place for the old! Sometimes their drug-addled heads would hang down so low they would be on their food trays! But quiet the old folks – mostly ladies – were! Not a peep from any old person, just the blaring of some “reality” TV show in their “community room.” The patients not “busy,” as Nurse Lois put it to me when I told her to cut my mom’s med dosage – or else. Your mother was “too busy,” Nurse Lois explained to me.
I don’t care! I cried. Lower the fucking dosage!!!
Nurse Lois lowered the fucking dosage.
I wanted Ma busy! I loved Ma busy! She had been busy – too busy! – her whole life!
So when her med dosage was cut, she was her old self again, but with her moderate dementia making her anxious and forgetful around the edges. “Roll me back into my nook, Rosalie!” she’d command, laughing, as my daily visit with her ended, and she had to be rolled, in her wheel chair, back to the space next to her little single hospital bed where her roommate – silent with dementia or some trauma for years and years, unable to speak – sat in HER wheel chair on the other side of the room next to HER little single hospital bed.
I believe Ma and roommate Marcy liked each other. I believe they were friends who didn’t need words to express their affection. Every day, when I visited Ma, I’d bring her and Marcy a sundae from McDonald’s. They loved the treats! I got hugs from both ladies!
I’ll never forget Marcy’s animal cries the day after Ma died and I went to sign the paperwork and get Ma’s stuff and, heart aching, went to Marcy for a hug. Agitated – Marcy pulled away – and bellowed animal sounds. Moans. Gutteral. Primal. No words. She, wordless Marcy, had been Ma’s only witness – saw the loving or haphazard or cruel way the nursing home staffers dealt with Ma in her final hours and in her death. Only silent Marcy was there in their bedroom, when my mom, at around 4 a.m. , was up and talking with a nurse’s aide and died in mid-chatter. Marcy heard and/or saw Ma dying … She saw the nurses, the coronor, the removal of the body … All of it. She was in the background, like furniture. But she wasn’t furniture. She was MARCY – A PERSON! Ma’s pal. Why was she so angry when I went to hug her hello that day? …Trauma around every corner…
Now faded …
Only good things remembered. Today I am thinking of those killer birthday parties my mom threw for us kids – her three girls, me and my two kid sisters – when we were young. Those great cold cut-, potato chip-, Coca-Cola-laden parties in our Lafayette Street flat in Green Island. Me in a multi-tiered purple taffata party dress with gay ribbons woven into the bodice! Me smiling so happily I am nearly falling off my seat! Ma serving potato chips to me, my two kid sisters, my Aunt Mark’s four kids and my Aunt Jenny’s two kids – all my silly, happy cousins who are sitting in our old beat-up green painted kitchen chairs and a couple of the old big black wooden chairs off our front porch – the ones Bapy and Granddad used to sit on. They’re too weather beaten , with their paint peeling off to be indoor chairs. But they’re indoors today because my mother has invited so many people to my fourth birthday party! There aren’t enough chairs in our Green Island appartment to accommodate everyone! In fact, the grown ups – my Aunt Jenny, my Aunt Mary and my Uncle Mark and Ma are standing off to the side, leaning against the kitchen wall laughing too as they eat their sandwiches! It’s standing room only at my fourth birthday party!
And Ma has bought a pin the tail on the donkey game from White’s Five and Ten on Millbury Street and thumb-tacked it onto our painted kitchen wall. We kids will be playing pin the tail on the donkey soon! And bouncing the balloons off each other – and everything else in our flat!
And then the finale! My happy birthday cake that I watched Ma bake yesterday: Duncan Hines Cherry Supreme! With the homemade boxed chocolate frosting Ma also whipped up and then Ma’s signature touch – bright red balloon maraschino cherries, cut in half, trimming all 4 sides of my square cake. And at the top, too, where Ma has stuck the candleholders that will hold my 4 birthday candles! The night before I had watched my mother ever so carefully dip her fingers into the clear jar filled with pink liquid and a million maraschino happy bright red sweet cherries (my favorite special treat!) and pull out one cherry at a time and then carefully cut it in half and then place each half ever so gently on my Duncan Hines chocolate frosted Cherry Supreme Cake!
Ma knew I loved those cherries! But they were for my cake! Double layer! Big! Wow! So I stayed mum and watched Mum who would always slip me two cherries on the q.t. but let me lick the bowl with abandon once it was empty of that delicious pink batter with red flecks!
Now today, my birthday, we enjoy the masterpiece! Off go the kitchen lights that are flanked by the Jesus pictures nailed clumsily into the beige wall. Quiet now as everyone gets ready to sing happy birthday! Giddy crazy we kids are now, filled with wild anticipation as Uncle Mark, a grammar school principal who got a kick out of little kids and called me and my two kid sisters The Peanuts! cuz we were so much smaller than his big healthy surburban kids, lights the birthday candles!
EVERYBODY SINGS happy birthday to Rosie with Uncle Mark, the son of Polish immigrants, also a son of Green Island (Washington Street) leading.
Then he sings in Polish to me: ” Sto lat ” “100 Years” as in MAY YOU LIVE TO STO LOT – 100 YEARS! Rosie” sto lat, sto lat may you see 100 years!! A drinking song really when sung with gusto! Everyone joins him! Everyone is singing! Especially Ma, who is smiling that beautiful smile of hers. “Perfect teeth,” my father used to say – “That’s why I married her!” But today, my birthday, Daddy is nowhere in sight. No matter! I can’t wait to blow out my candles!
There is Ma leaning against the kitchen wall, by the pin the tail on the donkey game, eating her slice of cake and joking with my Aunt Jenny. Ma, mermaid girl, by the edge of the water, long black hair wet against your white neck and back . Ma, working class girl, housekeeper to the Bishop of Springfield, listening to your beloved Red Sox games by the Bishop’s radio in the kitchen. He bought the radio and put it there special for you so you could cook his roast beef dinners and make his shrimp cocktails and still listen to the games.
You knew all the ball players and their batting averages!