Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Remains

In a previous post, I mentioned that Mom and I end every conversation with "I love you," as my father and I also did, and that Gary's mother commented that love's always the last thing to go.

But other things are slow to fade, too. For my father, it was politics; at his most demented -- a condition we later determined to be due to medications and low O2 sats -- he was trying to ram his wheelchair through furniture so he could get to Congress to work on the energy bill.

For my mother, it's shopping, especially for jewelry.

Palwick women love jewelry, and it's a major source of bonding among us, playing the role that camping or sports play in other families. My mother and sister and I, in various combination, have spent many happy hours in jewelry and craft stores. We don't generally go for "fine" jewelry, but for the handcrafted, the one-of-a-kind, the ethnic. We much prefer turquoise or agate to diamonds. My sister and I shopped our way through the galleries of Flagstaff during a road trip a few years back; my mother and sister, for many years, enjoyed beading together, and I have many pieces made by both of them.

My mother's always had a taste for silver jewelry, Mexican or Native American. When I was growing up, we lived in walking distance of a wonderful shop called La Puerta Del Sol that featured Mexican handicrafts, really gorgeous stuff. This was before the price of silver (or pottery or wooden carvings) went through the roof, so many of the pieces were surprisingly affordable. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of Christmas shopping there for my mother with my carefully saved allowance money. I still remember how excited I was about many of the gifts I got her: a silver brooch/pendant with intricate, serpentine cutouts, a pair of wooden candlesticks for our dining-room table, a brass basket in the shape of a fish. I could never wait to see if she loved these things as much as I did, and she almost always did. As far as I know, she still has all the gifts I've mentioned, and probably many others, and her jewelry collection includes many stunning pieces she bought at La Puerta. None of us could afford them today.

She gave me and my sister a lot of jewelry as gifts, too: in our Christmas stockings, for birthdays, in care packages. Other moms sent their kids food or socks: my mother sent earrings and hand-knit sweaters. (She was a brilliant knitter, and one reason I took to knitting so late is that her skill intimidated me when I was younger.) For the past few years, she's generally sent checks for holidays, because she hardly ever gets out to shop, and even catalog shopping is too difficult for her now. But for my birthday last September, she and my sister went to the Southwest Trading Post in Skippack, PA, where they both bought me stunning bracelets. After I'd gotten them in the mail, my mother called me every day for a week to find out if I still loved the bracelet she'd chosen, signed by the artist, and if I loved it as much as she did. Of course the answers were yes. Her excitement reminded me of mine when I was a child, waiting to give her whatever Christmas gift I'd bought at La Puerta. For many months now, I've suspected that that bracelet will be the last gift she'll ever pick out by hand for me.

Today I called my sister, and we talked about the schedule for my visit there next week. The school where my sister teaches isn't out for the summer yet, so she'll only have evenings and two weekend days to spend with me. "Saturday we're going to Southwest Trading Post," she told me. "Mom wants to go."

"Well, I'm happy to do that, but if she's not up to it, we don't have to."

"It's the only thing she wants to do. She's really looking forward to it. I wouldn't make the trip, except that she wants to. So I hope she'll be up to it."

This is the woman who can barely walk, who sleeps most of the day, who needs a lot of care from family or healthcare aides, and who can't reliably remember how to use the telephone. But to shop for handmade silver jewelry with her daughters, she'll put out heroic effort.

God bless you, Mom.


  1. I think that you might enjoy "Tell me who I am again" by Linda Grant. You can read an extract here:

    Her Mother maintained her interest in clothes shopping more or less to the end of her life, despite having dementia.

    The book is both hilarious and very sad in places.

    I'm sure your Mom will pull out all the stops to make this shopping trip! I hope you all have a wonderful time and come away from it with lovely new jewelry.

    Best wishes from rather grey Liverpool,


  2. Just wanted to pop in and say "Thank you from Southwest Trading Post in Skippack!" We always like to hear stories such as these. Please introduce yourself next time you find yourself in the area again! Have a great day!


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