Mom at Harvest
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
September 1, 2020
It will always be a bittersweet memory, the days my mother came to spend time with Steven and me at our home during harvest. She was dying from esophageal cancer, about a month away from her death and she was still filled with piss and vinegar. Of course, she didn't want to die, was hopeful, holding out the chance that they'd find a cure in time to save her - those ways in which we play with magical thinking - who wouldn't struggle, faced with such a conscious death?
I also look back in awe, wondering how I juggled care for her, helping with all aspects of the harvest, including cooking dinner for everyone, sometimes 8 to 10 people who had stayed with us throughout the day. I especially remember evenings, putting mom to bed in our guest room, blocking the nearby staircase with an overturned chair, imploring her not to wander in the dark.
I'd help her get into her nightgown, stand nearby as she brushed her teeth in the bathroom, something which could take up to ten minutes. She was so meticulous with the bridges in her mouth, one consisting of her real teeth, the other removable and placed in a glass for the evening. She was endlessly aware of her appearance, mercurially obsessed with her teeth. She was still beautiful at 90 years of age, a chain smoker her entire life, no less.
As I pulled the sheets down to her bed and helped her climb in she'd ask, "Where are Jeff and Kay," my brother-in-law and his wife. "They're upstairs mom." I could hear them settling into the open loft above and Steven next door in our bedroom jostling the dogs, each vying for their own spots on our king size bed.
"Oh," she'd say succinctly, as if taking inventory, ticking off a list. "Where's Pete," my brother. "He's at his house. He'll be here tomorrow." "Oh," she said again.
I'd pull the blanks up around her neck, give her a kiss on her forehead. "Good night mom." "Goodnight sweetie."
She would always ask more questions, as I steeled my patience, exhausted, rallying to answer. "Who's coming tomorrow to help? When can I go home? How many more grapes are there to pick?" It was her way to keep me there a little longer.
(The photo here was taken right around her 90th birthday party. She's pictured with me and some of her good friends, Chris and Dort. Chris (far left) travelled all the way from Minnesota to celebrate.)