Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Favorite Columnist: Jane Fishman

My hometown paper (the best newspaper in the country, as far as I'm concerned), The Savannah Morning News, has made the best move in their long and illustrious history by getting Jane Fishman to come back and write bi-weekly columns for them.

Jane is a touchstone for me. She is who I would like to be when I grow up (along with Ms. Moon, who I idol worship).

I posted the whole column, instead of the link, because I know some of you motherfuckers are too damn shiftless and lazy to click on the link. And you know who you are!

I hope you enjoy (even you shiftless motherfuckers).

Jane Fishman: Remembering what's important
Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 12:30 am

Ask anyone about memory lapses and expect a groan. Face it: We're all losing it. "It only gets worse," I delight in saying. Still, it's interesting.

The other night, flipping around TV, looking for something that might be worth the distraction, anything to justify the $9.95 a month I pay for cable, I landed on some stupid spy/comedy show and see a guy with a dimple in his chin, a goofy look in his eyes, an ironic twist to his lips and I think, "I know this man; who is he?"

It's killing me so I break down and Google the show, just like I did last week when I was trying to remember George McGovern's running mate in 1972. Last name starts with "E." (Answer: Thomas Eagleton).

For the record, the TV show is "Chuck." But a half-second before the actor's name pops up on the screen I remember, all by myself: Chevy Chase. Hardly anything I needed to beat myself up about remembering.

Mother still knows me

The whole memory thing takes a different twist when I visit my mother. She's 95 and lives in an assisted-living facility. She needs help getting in and out of bed and lately to eat. She's confined to a wheelchair. Her eyes are sharp, her mind is cloudy, her hearing shot. She pays no attention to the racket from the fly caught in the Venetian blinds in her apartment or the insistent squawk of the aide's walkie-talkie.

But when I visit, my mother still knows me. Her mouth drops open in surprise. She grins. She's happy. The next morning when she wakes up, she's surprised and happy all over again. At first I was embarrassed at her memory lapse. Now I'm happy we get to re-experience the greeting one more time.

While I might have once looked to her to fill in the gaps of my life and her past, now I see I'm too late. I've waited too long. She can no longer answer any of my questions. So in the last year I've lowered my expectations. Now when I visit, I no longer probe about the past. I've moved into the present. We sit and look at the sky, at the Canadian geese, at other people, at one another. I tickle her. She laughs. I make a face. She makes one back.

We sink into the pink sofa, where she spends most of her days. When I remember, I lift the cushions and fish out cookie crumbs, weekly menus and Valentine cards from two years ago. Like everything else in the room, the cushions carry a slightly acidic smell. We sit close. Our thighs touch. I find some body cream and work it into my mother's dry, thin arms, the backs of her hands, then into each of her fingers. The papery skin pulls away. I have to remember to work gently. She has so little muscle tone I could easily leave a bruise. After that I drop to the floor, peel off the socks that have left marks on her calves, roll up her pants and rub some cream into her scaly legs. Then she's reached her limit. "That's enough," she says, unaccustomed to the attention. "Stop." But I don't. I keep going.

"You're face looks nice," she reports, looking at me from 6 inches away. "I just love looking at you."

"Remember the time you told me my ears were my best quality?" I ask.

"No," she says. "Did I ever say that?"

"Yes, you did."

"They are small and nicely proportioned."

"That's exactly what you said then."

We sit some more. The sun floods in. She rubs my bare arm. Then Charlie, my dog, jumps between us and starts to lick the cream off her arms. "She likes me," my mother says, smiling. "She does," I agree.

"Do you write to your mother?" she asked once out of the blue.

"You're my mother," I said.

"Oh. Is my father living?"

"No.

"Was I a good mother?'"

"The best."

"That's nice," she said.

A new phase

Just when I think she'll never be able to have another rational thought or even hear my question, she surprises me. Like the time I asked her what it was like to get old. "Not much fun," she answered without missing a beat. Or when I told her a certain relative she never got along with was moving into her same facility. Again, without stopping to think she said, "Then I'm going to have to move out."

Each time I visit she makes a point to introduce me to all the aides and the other residents I've met a hundred times before. "This is my daughter," she says. "I forget where she lives."

We have moved into a new phase, she and I. The filters are gone. The pretense is gone. There is no longer anyone or anything to impress. I realize this the night I was tucking her into bed, the way she used to tuck me in, and I was saying, "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite," the way she would say to me.

Then, fully present, smiling, looking straight at me, my mother, once so critical, once so judgmental and disapproving, gave me the highest compliment of all when she said, "This is the best day of my life. If only Jane were here."

I didn't bother correcting her.

20 comments:

wisteria said...

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Sarcastic Bastard said...

Hi, Wisteria. Thanks for joining us and for checking out my blog. I will return the favor.

Best regards & love,

SB

Ms. Moon said...

Ms. Bastard- You have given me the woman I want to be when I grow up. How lovely that was! What a writer she is! Oh my. I need to read her every day.
Thank-you so much!

Love...Ms. Moon

Sarcastic Bastard said...

My Dear Ms. Moon,
I knew you'd get it. There is a reason you are my idol.

Love ya,

SB

Syd said...

SB, this is a wonderful tribute. The mother has become the child and the child is now the mother. Roles reversed. Yet, it is a sweet place to be. She is a great writer. Thanks so much for sharing it. I had similar experiences with my mother who started a major decline within the last two months of her 95 years on earth.

Sasha (Malchik Gai) said...

Mom always has worked in nursing homes. Now taking care of Gramps I sorta "get it" a lot better than ever before. This is one of the best articles I've ever read. Something to remind myself of when I get irritated and less than patient in the future.
Thanks S.B.
Hugz
S

All This Trouble... said...

Ahhhhhh....

I didn't know you were from Georgia! I thought you just had a weird obsession with the Dawgs. How delightful!

Jane Fishman is delightful, too. And her dear mom.

As a nurse who worked many years in long term care, I've seen this over and over again. The folks who were so grating and overbearing in their early years, go out like lambs and the preacher's wives seem to be trying to bust the gates of hell wide open with their bawdy behavior and cursing. It's all very moving and gives the introspective soul something to ponder.

afk4life said...

SB
Very poignant article, reminds me of when I took care of my grandfather for a time. Thanks for sharing.
Doug

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Syd,
You are such a good person. It was good of you to take care of mum. I admire you very much for so many things.

Love,

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Malchik,
You are a sweetheart, and I adore grandpa the sink-pisser. Is he doing okay?

When I am old, I am taking up heroin addiction and perhaps sink-pissing, as well. And also golf. The sink-pissing will be a bit more difficult for a chick though.

All my love,

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

All This Trouble,
I do have a weird obsession with the Dawgs and also a Mississippi bloodline. But I love Georgia MORE. If there was another Civil War tomorrow, I'd stand with Georgia. Did you know at one point during the Civil War, Georgia wanted to secede from the succession? I love that rebel shit. Also, GA was the last state to reenter the union after the war.

Love you. Thanks for commenting, as always.

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Doug,
You are a dear to take care of your grandfather, but then I knew you were a dear. All my grandparents are gone now, and I miss hell out of them.

I was the only girl on both sides (except for a cousin who came along when I was already an adult). They all spoiled the shit out of me. I miss seeing old, gnarled hands a lot. Isn't that weird?

Much love to you dear friend,

SB

Lady Lemon said...

SB - This totally made me cry. Great writer indeed. Reading this reminded me a lot of my grandmother who is losing her own memory. It's hard shit to deal with.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Lady Lemon,
I'm so sorry about your grandmother. I sure miss both of mine.

Love to you. Thanks for reading, as always.

Your pal,

SB

Findon said...

I think you showed us your heart there. Thank you for that and for introducing me the Jane Fishman. If the paper is online I will follow her.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Findon,
You know SB loves you. Thanks for reading, and yes, Jane's column is available online at The Savannah Morning News Web site. Just type Jane Fishman in the search box.

Have a terrific weekend!

SB

Ms. Moon said...

Ms. Bastard, I was just reading comments here and loved the one where you said you planned to take up heroin and sink-pissing when you're old. Mr. Moon and I have always told our children that when we hit eighty (or so) we're going to become junkies and so don't count on any money coming to them when we die. From an overdose, of course.
I sort of hope we don't start peeing in the sink, though.

nan said...

OK SB, I'm late in reading this. But dammit!!! You made me cry!

Nice job...I'll have to follow her from now on. :)

Love and hugs...
~nan

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Ms. Moon,
We have so much in common! We are going to have to hang out when we are elders and shoot up together! There's nothing sorrier than a person getting stoned alone.

Ah, it's good to have something to look forward to in the golden years.

Love,

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Nan,
SB loves ya. Jane's writing is so lovely, it makes me cry, too!

Hope you had a great holiday weekend.

Love,

SB