My mother Selma (left) and my Aunt Lucille
in their younger days
My mom was relatively infamous in our family for her conversations which she uttered more like pronouncements than regular chit-chat. You know, the kind of awkward things that made everyone uncomfortable, and I do mean everyone because her speaking voice was louder than most. She had no indoor voice.
For example, “I wish all those gay people would go back in the closet. I’d slam the door on them myself,” was a personal favorite she occasionally pulled out of abstract thin air with absolutely no relevance to what anyone else was saying. Since all my family members recognized I was a lesbian except her, that tended to be a real deal-breaker for further small talk. People coughed or mumbled something inane as they melted away from her at family gatherings. My dad’s sister Lucille could handle my mother better than anyone with just a quiet, “Now, Selma…”
As the years went by, my mother developed more mantras that became her touchstones which I now realize she needed in her life of quiet desperation as she slipped away from herself behind the barricade of dementia that must have made her so afraid.
“I don’t want another dog or another husband,” was one of her select quotes in the years after her second husband died of leukemia. She did have many dogs in her 85 years – but she had been no Elizabeth Taylor husband collector – only two for her.
Mom and her last dog Alex
Perhaps the mantra that affected me most – even more than her preference for gay people in the closet – was, “I am never lonely, and I am never bored.” This was truly an alternative fact for her because, of course, she was both.
My maternal grandmother had been plagued with depression in the 1960s, and my mom had been responsible for managing her treatment options. I was a teenager at the time, but I have vivid memories of my mother’s carrying my grandmother to an array of doctors, clinics and hospitals before finally bringing her home to live with my parents. Mental illness in the 1960s wasn’t pretty or easy to deal with.
Apparently some doctor somewhere told Mom her mother needed more to do since she wasn’t working anymore. Mom tried to interest her in countless books, recipes, puzzles and finally gave her a needlepoint sewing kit to make an elaborate tablecloth and 8 napkins which, as I recall, she ended up finishing herself when my grandmother was unable to concentrate on it.
“I am never lonely, and I am never bored,” was Mom’s final defense against an enemy she didn’t know she had and one which may or may not have had any connection to the enemy which stalked my grandmother. I’ll never know for sure because she forgot all of her mantras in the last four years I was with her – even the one about where the gay people belonged.