As I read what I wrote to Betty on March 23, I am stunned. Not for any scholarly reason—or for any daffiness about anything I wrote (and believe me, there have been numerous times, reading through this correspondence, that I’ve thought: You, Dyer, are an idiot!)—but because I mentioned something so completely offhand, something that surprises me even now.
I said that I was actually going to start writing the Mary Shelley biography. I’d like to have a few pages, I wrote to Betty, to show my mother (who always asks about my progress—i.e., my lack of it) when she arrives for a visit next week.
My mother, coming for a visit …
As I write these words in early October 2014, I am touched to tears by that. When I wrote that about Mom, she was 81 years old. And she was still traveling around, visiting her son and daughter-in-law in Ohio. I take a look in my journal for March 2000, and I see that Mom flew into Cleveland on the 27th. We visited together a lot—and then on the 29th, we drove her all over the Hiram and Garrettsville area, about forty minutes away. We had lived in Hiram from 1956–1966. Dad was teaching at Hiram College; Mom, at James A. Garfield High School in Garrettsville. My older brother, Richard, and I both graduated from Hiram High School and Hiram College; younger brother, Dave, from Garfield and from Harvard.
So … we saw all the old sights and sites—our two former Hiram homes, the site of old Hiram High School (now razed), the Hiram Christian Church, the former homes of my parents’ best friends (Ed and Ruth Rosser), the college, the Hiram “downtown” (a couple of small buildings), Garrettsville (three miles away), James A. Garfield High School.
We had dinners, visits with our son, Steve, who, at the time, was beginning his journalism career with the Akron Beacon-Journal, and enjoyed a few days of a great visit. On Friday the thirty-first I drove her to the airport in the morning, helped her check in, and home I went.
I did not (could not?) realize at the time that this would be my mother’s final visit to Ohio. And as I type these words right now, she is 95 years old, residing in an assisted living unit in Lenox, Massachusetts. She is barely hanging on—struggling hard to avoid the next step, the nursing home, a place every sane and sentient person dreads. Mom spends most of her time in a wheelchair now, and the aides at the facility have to help her do virtually everything. But—for now—she has her own apartment. On the walls are a few of her favorite things—family pictures, photographs of Cannon Beach, Oregon, where she and Dad lived immediately after their retirement. It was their favorite spot on earth. Mom can no longer use email or even write letters. She sits and waits for calls and visits and letters from her three sons.
And on April 2, 2000—just two days after she left Ohio—I finally began writing the text of what would eventually become The Mother of the Monster: The Life and Times of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I see now—reading my journal, my notes to Betty—that Mom’s presence—her inspirational presence—had ignited me, once again. It wasn’t always so—her positive effect on me—but that’s another story for another time.
I have no record of writing to Betty until nearly three weeks later.