I lose track of time while I’m cleaning and sorting and before I know it it’s ten o’clock. I’m afraid I’ve missed the window of opportunity where Mom will know who we are if I’m not there by ten.
We arrive at the home around ten-thirty a.m. which turns out to be a mistake. Mom is sitting in a chair by the entrance. A few of the other residents, including her friend Joan are playing dominoes at a nearby table. I can tell Mom doesn’t recognize us but I don’t know if that’s because she can’t really see us. I hug her and remind her who we are. Joan looks over and says it’s good that we are here.
Mom recovers from her surprise, if that’s what it is and pretends that she recalls who we are. Or maybe she does. At any rate she seems pleased to have visitors. We have mistimed our visit, however, because lunch isn’t served until noon. What will we do for an hour and a half? We wander the halls with her for a bit. Bill suggests going and seeing the birds again. In one of the sitting rooms ten or twelve finches flit about in an aviary built just for them. Mom taps on the glass to startle them and get them to fly. She points out Millie’s room, although we know from Maxine that Millie died earlier this year. We end up back in Mom’s room trying to think of things to talk to her about and failing miserably. Finally, mercifully, one of the staff tells us we can visit the salad bar. They will set us up for lunch in Mom’s room where there is a table and chairs.
We rearrange the furniture a bit and visit the small salad bar. Mom takes a tiny bit of fruit, some shredded cheese and maybe some lettuce. Back in her room, she doesn’t seem to know where she is. She says, “I’ve never eaten here before. Is the waitress going to bring our food or do we have to go get it? Do I need to pay her or will they put it on my bill?” She’s in her room, but not used to taking her meals there and she’s completely disoriented.
There is a lull between salad and the main course and Mom is fretful, asking the same questions and saying the same things repeatedly. Finally lunch arrives. Although it’s billed as Italian sausage casserole and California vegetables, what it appears to be is sliced kielbasa, potatos and cheese along with steamed cauliflower, broccoli and carrots. Mom says they always give her too much food. She picks at it once and pushes the plate away. “I’m not going to eat this. Here, Bill, do you want it?” Bill has his own plate to contend with and he doesn’t look any more enthused about it than she does.
Mom reaches for the Jell-o cake which is quite tasty. I would even like the recipe for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a recipe for it somewhere at home. She polishes off her cake and says she’s full. I am the only one who doesn’t seem to mind the meal. Potatos and cheese? What’s not to like. It’s bland as are the vegetables, but I’m hungry so I eat mine and part of Bill’s. And most of my cake.
When we get up from the table Mom realizes she’s actually in her room. Bill and I make our escape. Outside the rain has mostly cleared up. Bill has discovered that Lamar is just a few miles north of Carthage and Harry Truman’s birthplace is listed as an historic site. We’re not really sure how far it is and it seems like we’ve been driving a long time before we see a sign. Another six miles. The house is tiny. We take the guided tour. It begins to rain again. We circle Lamar’s square and head back to Sarcoxie.
It is nap time. I’m sick of cleaning and sorting and packing and visiting and driving.
Tonight is the one event I’ve been looking forward to since before I got on the plane: dinner at my aunt Lenore’s house. We stop to buy beer for my cousins because I’ve decided beer is the international sign of peace in this corner of Missouri and I bring my half bottle of wine left over from the previous evening.
We stop at the cemetery. I can’t believe it’s been five years since my Dad passed away. I clean off the crabgrass that is encroaching on his military service plaque. Near my brother’s grave, the grass is spongy and muddy from all the rain which makes it impossible to get too close. I circle his headstone because for the life of me I can’t remember what year he died. 2010. I look out across the field next to the cemetery. Cows are contentedly grazing in the distance. There’s a breeze blowing across the prairie as there always seems to be. Once again I think, as I did at his funeral, Kevin is finally at peace. We couldn’t have found a more peaceful place for him.
As we make our way back to the car, stopping here and there to read the headstones, I tell Bill he can bury me here. He can have me cremated and transport me to this cemetery. I wouldn’t mind being in this lovely, peaceful spot forever.
We’re early to Lenore’s, but I know she won’t mind. She also doesn’t mind if I start drinking before anyone else shows up. I tell her I’ve had a hard day. She gives me a “fancy” glass for my wine. My cousins and their wives trickle in. Joe and Stacy, bringing strawberries and cake; Ron and Maria and their daughter Amber, toting their contributions to the meal; Pat, the youngest arrives alone. Well, not quite alone. He’s got a 12-pack of Coors Light with him.
We talk and catch up. I’ve known my cousins my whole life but in some ways I hardly know them at all. Years have passed and I’ve not seen them or stayed in touch with them. When my parents were living nearby I heard all the family happenings through them, but now I’m trying to cram years of news into one evening. Still, it’s a warm and delightful evening filled with interesting conversation and delicious food. I am fascinated by Ron’s story of his stolen cattle. Evidently this is quite a problem for farmers in the area. I had no idea. “Do you have cow insurance?” I ask. He does and there’s an interesting story about that. I learn that even though cows have ear tags to identify them (and their owners?) the tags are easily removed. Once the cows are stolen (and in this case probably transported in a trailer stolen from a neighbor) you can’t prove they are your cows even if you caught the perpetrators with them! Cows are big money. The thieves crammed twenty-two of Ron’s newly weaned cows into a trailer which he says is what it would hold. Each was worth a thousand dollars.
There must be a better way to track your cows I think. Branding seems to be the solution, but it’s an involved process. I wonder why they can’t put those identifier pellets in them like they do dogs. Joe says that would add about a hundred dollars a head and require everyone involved in the process to be on the same page and have uniform technology in place.
Tattoos? A purple streak down the cows’ backs? Later on I think of nanny-cams for cow pens. Something easily checked from your phone. I’m also thinking…there’s a story here. That’s what I’m always thinking when I learn something that I find fascinating. I think of the cattle rustling as a subject in old westerns, but perhaps it’s always been a problem. This is the modern-day version that someone like me didn’t even know about.
Ron’s story is here: http://magissues.farmprogress.com/MOR/MR05May13/mor004.pdf
I relay Janet’s story of going through her in-laws things after their deaths and finding a packet of envelopes neatly tied with leather string. Thinking it some sort of treasure, she carefully untied it only to discover that the envelopes were from the local electric company. Not the bills, just the envelopes saved and tied together.
I’ve begun to think maybe my mother’s just messing with me. That she left this accumulation of items (the plastic bags and cardboard labels from pantyhose, used toothbrushes and numerous containers of dental floss) just so as I went through it I’d be shaking my head and wondering why she kept it or why there are so many duplicates of the same things? I think I may do this myself and suggest Lenore do the same. Start a collection of something odd or semi-useless so that when you die and your kids go through your stuff, they will wonder why you kept it. Joe suggests putting your useless collection in a safe. We laugh about it, but I think I may be on to something.
I get some more group photos. Bill has become the official photographer on this trip. I try to convey how much it means to me that so many of my relatives have made the effort to see me, but I’m not sure they understand. They grew up here, around each other. They can see each other any time they want. I, on the other hand, left Missouri the year I turned five and now rarely see any of them.