Sunday, August 14, 2016


By late January 2014 the city of Flint, Michigan, an hour’s drive north of my home, was in the news, another financially strapped municipality under emergency state control.  I sat stranded, recovering from surgery to repair chronic Achilles tendonitis, a condition inherited from my father.  By late February, foot immobilized in a boot, I traveled with my brother to our mother’s Tennessee hometown, the place she had chosen to live after our father’s death seventeen years earlier.  She was content living in her small condo across the river from the old county court house, happy, it seemed to me, as she had ever been, perhaps even happier.  Mother had fallen several times in the past two months, every tumble requiring EMS rescue.  None fortunately, resulting in serious injury.  She had grown frail overnight or so it seemed, helpless to care for herself, no longer able to drive.  She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and a dog’s breakfast of lesser ailments.  A friend had been staying with her off and on.  The woman hinted she could provide around the clock care in her own home several miles away.  It was time for a short, impromptu trip south.  Time to assess mother’s condition, persuade her to leave her condominium, negotiate financial details, make all the necessary arrangements.  Two days.  Time enough to sort things out, tidy up, then return home to our respective lives.  I was eager to play the role of the dutiful son, but something else roiled unseen just below the surface.  Looking back, my obliviousness stark in hindsight, I had another reason for being there.  I yearned to bear witness to the tragic opening scene of my mother’s slow decline and eventual death.  Everything else was busy work.  Jokes buoyed us through Ohio; glib self-deprecation, cynical takes on world events.  Kentucky granted us license to crack wise about family, irreverent and profane.  Crossing the state line triggered a bout of sober pragmatism, rehearsing euphemisms for loss that would roll off our tongues with greater ease the more we said them.  Dusk blanketed the Appalachian foothills.  We exited the freeway, drew closer whistling past the graveyard of the inevitable.  Our mother, all her possessions, a condominium and its contents, a car that embodied the revered essence of her late husband, our father, awaited our arrival, poised for final disposition over the coming months.  

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