Going through some old albums today, I found this picture of my mom, Prudence Dyer. On the back of the photo is the date: August 1958.
We were living at the time in Hiram, Ohio (my dad was teaching at Hiram College), and Mom is reclining on her beloved piece of porch furniture which she called her "chaise longue," which, of course, it wasn't. But it was a family joke--we called it, affectionately, the "chaise." Ours was yellow.
Mom is reclining on our porch at 11917 Garfield Road in Hiram, a home we'd just recently bought. In 1966, when Mom and Dad left Hiram to go teach at Drake University, we sold the place to Hiram professor David Fratus and his wife; they are still living there--though, when I see them, I occasionally refer to it as "our house," although the Fratuses have lived there now for fifty years. (I swore to David, when he retired a few years ago, that I would no longer call the place "ours," but I can't help it.)
In August 1958 Mom was already preparing to return to teach high school English at nearby James A. Garfield High School in Garrettsville (three miles away). I can't see what she's reading, but I know it was probably something she was going to teach and/or use in her classes. She was like that, my mom. Her professional life and her private life were intertwined. She loved the Ancient Greeks and--later--would conduct tours for educators. She taught herself Modern Greek.
In the photo--August 1958--Mom is thirty-eight years old; she would turn thirty-nine on September 9. Born in 1919, she'd gone through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War (Dad had served in the latter two), had brought three sons into the world.
I, the middle child (don't get me started!), was thirteen when I took that picture (you can tell I'd surprised her?), about to enter ninth grade. High school. Latin I. Algebra I. I was kinda scared: I had basically shut down my scholarly self (not that there had ever been too much of that self) in seventh and eighth grade, but now I was in the "college prep" years at Hiram High (go, Huskies!), and I figured I would probably have to do a little school work. Here's the way I looked about that time ... you literally "get the picture," I'm sure.
A little schoolwork? Little is the operative word there. My intellectual ignition took a little while to kick in when I was a boy, a teen.
By August 1958, Mom was already beginning to think she'd like to do ... more. She would return to graduate school, earn her master's and Ph.D., begin her university life at Drake, where, in the 1980s, she would retire. And the folks would move out to Cannon Beach, Ore. (Dad, an Oregonian, adored his home state, felt he was not ever really home unless he was there).
Dad declined over a long period of years--Mom attending to him for much of it--and died in November 1999.
She had some good years right after that, living in her own place in Lenox, Mass., a state where they'd moved when Dad became very dependent on her, on others. My two brothers live near Boston, but they share a summer house only a few miles from Mom and Dad. They both were out there all the time. It's harder for us--we're nearly 600 miles away.
But then her decline began, too, exacerbated by a bad car accident that put her in a neck brace. Soon, she could no longer live on her own, and for some years now she's been residing in a stages-of-care place in Lenox. A few years ago she moved--very reluctantly--from independent to assisted living, though she confesses she now loves the arrangement. She is hanging on--will turn 97 next month. My brothers and I do not want her to have to go to the nursing wing ... but ...
Among the saddest things: Her words are leaving her. This woman--this career English teacher who loved words (and insisted I use them, pronounce them correctly)--now must struggle to say the simplest things. Her brain simply refuses to cooperate with her mouth--her lips, her tongue--and it's often hard to understand what she's saying when I talk with her on the phone.
The most astonishing thing? She laughs about it, says, "You know what I mean." (Often I do.) I picture myself in that situation--I would be hurling things around the room, shoving other residents down the stairs in their walkers ... Which is probably why, when my time comes, they'll be quickly medicating/sedating me. Heavily.
Last week, our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons were out there to visit her. And Steve (our son) set up this picture of them all outside her residence. Her "chaise" has become a wheelchair. But Mom is smiling. And that, my friends, requires the sort of courage displayed by those doughty defenders of Troy.