A visit with Mom is sobering, but also fun [Column]

This is the kind of son I am. I skipped the first half of the Redskins game on TV in order to visit Mom in the assisted-living place off Route 198, not far from Laurel. The way things played out, it was far more entertaining — and contemplative — than watching my team fumble in the red zone. The place is nestled deep in the woods, down a pothole-laden gravel path. I feel like I'm visiting Abe Lincoln, spying on him through the window as he pores over his law books by candlelight. Inside, I always uncover a rich palette of dialogue, monologue and, concurrently, complete and utter silence. Take your pick.

On this sun-splashed afternoon, I saw four women seated around the dining room table. One was reading Bible verses. Another one was staring off into space. Yet another had her head down on the table. Mom, though, was polishing off a coffee and, if you can believe it, reading a book by comic-actor Billy Crystal. Immediately, like always, I grabbed her left hand and began rubbing it, as I planted a kiss on her forehead. She was overjoyed at seeing anyone — even me.


"Oh, hello Dean," (my brother) she began, sitting up in her wheelchair, only a little startled. "How are you, Mikey?" (my nephew) Are you behaving, Jack?" (my brother-in-law.)  This goes on during the introductory moments of every visit. Eventually, though, she always brings me into focus. Mothers aims to please.

I replied, "I'm your son, Tony, Mom, and I'm fine. How are you?"

"I feel fine," she reported. "How is Mary?" she pressed on, referring to my wife. "She's such a lovely girl! When are you going to leave her?"

"Mom, why should I leave her? I thought you liked her."

There are a few things that resonate with my mother, as, I'm sure, with your own mom.

• When I was 10, she got so mad, she heaved a bar of soap at me. She missed.

• She could be a tough taskmaster, bringing any carpenter or plumber to their knees with her demands. Then, when she got her way, she would shower them with coffee and confections. All was forgiven.

• After my dad's restaurant would close for the day, she would sneak into the kitchen and proceed to make a pile of roast beef sandwiches for our school lunches. On fresh sesame seed buns, slathered with mayo and a side of pickles.  And my father, who always watched the bottom line like a hawk, would always blurt out the same line: "Vicki, you're driving me straight into the poor house!"

• Mom has never worn glasses for an extended time. When she's watching the Skins she can do so from 30 feet away with the naked eye. "A force of nature," my brother the eye surgeon says, unable to sort out the science behind this phenomena.

• When she was 80, she drove to CVS, but missed the mark by two miles. She found herself instead at a Korean eatery. In predictable fashion, she went in and picked and chose her way through the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet while waiting to be rescued. Mom never drove again. Good for her, good for everyone.

It was time to indulge in a mid-afternoon treat. One of the nurses, Vivian, waltzed into the room with a glass container of bite-size Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I broke each piece into smaller bites, and carefully slipped them into her mouth one at a time. When I turned away for a minute to answer someone else's question, I came back only to find Mom had popped the candy into her mouth with the wrapper still on.

When I offered to peel the paper away, she insisted on doing it herself. And she succeeded.

An hour came and went and I said my goodbye. On the way out, just as I kissed her on the cheek, I handed her an old snapshot of my father, whose been gone for 18 months.  "Do you know who that guy is?" I asked.

"That's ... John," she answered correctly, bedazzled by his appearance. She wouldn't take her eye off it. Finally, removing some leftover wrapping from her gums, she said something that will always hold deep meaning: "You're on your own now. I miss you. Where are you?"


Seeing Mom in this condition, in this setting, can be both fun and sobering. Fun because, as you can plainly see, there are no filters there. You're 92 and, by golly, you're going to speak your mind. I also wonder if this is how I'll wind up. I would say the moral of the story is while so much of life is out of our control,  if you have the resources, go ahead and plan that oft-delayed vacation to Mt. Rushmore. Take that cruise to Alaska. Be transformed by the art and architecture of the Vatican. Yes, Mom's right: From cradle to grave, we are on our own. At the same time, celebrate those people you cross paths with. We're part of a vast, mysterious spiritual web, where each of us has a voice. Life will take care of the rest.

Mother's orders.