Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Retelling

The Retelling

I once read that it was important to name the people you love to keep them real. I liked the idea, a sort of invocation. I tried it. Every morning when I awoke, every night as I went to sleep. Saying the names of everyone I wanted to hold in my heart took more and more of my day. I have so many to love. To keep real. Regretfully, I gave it up. Almost. Sometimes, I still name my loved ones. At night, I often wake to realize I was saying those names in my dreams.

Yesterday, my mother gave me a piece of cherry pie that her friend Helen had given her. She didn’t want the pie wasted, but she couldn’t eat it. It wasn’t a real piece of pie made by a person, or even a bakery pie, but a little fake pie full of preservatives. She had been trying to give it to me for a week. Finally, to appease her, I took it.

“I can’t eat it,” she told me, for the twentieth time, plaintively. “There’s something about the cherries. They don’t agree with me.”

“I remember about the cherries,” I tell her, “and I can tell you the story. I don’t know how old you were, but it was a long time ago. You were eating cherries, and you bit one in half. There was a worm inside, so you tossed it away and bit another in half. That one had a worm, too. You cut the rest of the cherries and half and every one had a worm inside. You felt sick, because you had already eaten a number of those cherries. You were never able to eat cherries after that.”

“Yes,” my mother said, “I remember now. There were worms in all the cherries.”

“Extra protein,” I say. Sometimes, she really remembers, but today, I’m not sure. I sit there, holding her hand, remembering another retelling.

My father was moved from the room in the nursing home he shared with another man. After too much pain, he was finally put on morphine. We had all gone to see him, my mother, my daughters, and me. We held each of his hands and each of his feet. He moaned. I said, “Remember the time we skied at Mount Snow, swam in the heated pool and watched the steam rise against the snow?” And I told him the story.

And my mother said, “Remember Margareto’s Lodge, how I always had a warm meal ready for you when you came home from your adventures?” And she told that story. We went around the bed, each of us telling a story. Then we went around again. We were retelling his life, his life and ours. We did not know yet that at the end of the retelling he would die. He did not live through the night.

I turn to my mother. “Remember,” I say, “how you loved to roller skate down the sidewalks to your Grandmother’s house? You kept the key to the metal skates on a ribbon around your neck.”

She nods. “Is the house on Ellsworth Ave still in the family? Are my parents still alive?”
“No, I tell her, “your parents died almost sixty years ago.” I never know if I should ell her this. She looks sad. “The house is sold. Remember the fire you had in the house, when someone dropped a match in the wastebasket?” I tell her the story again.

“Remember when you married Pa, and you didn’t tell anyone at American Locomotive Company, where you both worked? It was April Fool’s Day. You were so pleased to have such a wonderful secret. It was 1944, and you had quit college to work on the war effort, remember?”

“Remember,” I ask, “when you had three babies and sat and watched the trains go by in your back yard? And rode in the old black Ford with the rumble seat?”

She nods. “Remember,” I ask, “when you chopped your fingers off in the lawnmower, packed them in ice, and drove yourself to the hospital? They reattached all your fingers. You can’t even tell.” She holds up her hands and studies the thin gnarled fingers in amazement.

“I don’t remember that,” she says. I will have to tell her again and again, how brave she was, how smart. “You were so brave, so smart.”

Then we say the names: Mary and Wallace Thomas, her parents, John and Wally Thomas, her brothers. Joseph, her husband, my father. Ann, her friend and sister-in-law. We are deep in the retelling, saying the names and making them real. Mary, Robert, Tom, her children. Sara, Erin. Tanya, Jaison, Rosy. Rory, Cory. Her grandchildren. Makenzie, Tharin, Jacob. Her great grandchildren. Graham, my new son, Keith, my fiancé. I have taped all their pictures around the room.

“Margaret. Mom,” I say, “don’t forget yourself. Remember,” I add, “when people called you Maggie?”

“Yes,” she says, “and some called me Margie. My friends. Marjorie Sheffer, Ruth Grenoble, Ruth DeVries. I remember my friends. I remember them now.”



Mary Stebbins
April 3, 2005
Posted by Hello

2 comments:

Gail said...

I liked "The retelling." Since the age of 57, I've been the only one left of the family I grew up in. I hope someone someday tells me what they remember about my life, and what I may have told them about old times they couldn't remember themselves.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Thanks, Gail, for leaving me my first comment! I really appreciate it! I hope so too! It is wonderful to have soemone care about you like that! I hope the same for me when my time comes.