Sunday, March 25, 2018

it's mom's birthday

my mom turns 79 today. my sister went to her assisted living yesterday and did a whole shebang. mom's sister was there, there was music, there was cake - it was a celebration. reports suggest that mom enjoyed herself thoroughly, which warms my heart in these times when i wonder what her quality of life is through the fog of her alzheimer's. and i feel very far away. mostly because i am very far away. and i have some ambivalence about that - it can be good and bad, sometimes at the same time.

these photos of mom are from the late 1950s. she was a member of the class of 1957 (of musical fame) and these must have been shortly after her graduation, when she was working at the sioux falls argus leader. her father had been an editor there for 30+ years, so she got a job there as well, even though he died when she was 16. she was a typesetter, but i think in these photos, she was a markets reporter. there must have been several photoshoots, since she's not wearing the same clothes in all the photos, nor is her hair quite the same. i suspect she trimmed it herself. and she never really stopped doing that.

i look at these and i wonder who she was? i'm not sure we ever really know our parents, they are kind of strangers to us. what goes on their heads? what life did they have before we came along? what dreams did she have? what did she like to do? what did she think of her job? did she like it? it seems obvious she laughed at work and enjoyed it, and i'd like to believe it wasn't just for the camera. i think the cameraman was wilmer. i don't remember his last name, but i remember visiting his smoked-filled house frequently as a child. he made the most amazing photographic new year's cards every year. they weren't christmas cards, as i recall him not believing in god, which was pretty out there for someone from sioux falls in the 1970s (probably even more so today). he was a real photographer - i remember his small house in sioux falls - his wife helen's fish pond in a very eclectic back yard and stacks of photos balanced precariously on card tables in the living room. even in my childish memories, he was a real character and probably one of the first intellectuals i was exposed to. in my memory, those new year's cards were a bit surreal and dali-esque. always with a clock on them, to signify time passing. i hope there are some in a box somewhere in the house, i'd like to see them again, to see if they match my memories.

it seems appropriate to stroll through my own memories as hers fade away. i am struck by the sorrow of her becoming even more of a stranger, that who she was and who she is are ever more unreachable by me. in this last photo, i look at her hands and i see my own hands, but otherwise, i don't find myself in her. maybe i see a hint of myself in that collar bone and in the freckles on her arm. but otherwise, she is and will undoubtedly remain, a mystery to me.

happy 79th birthday mom. you are your own, to the very end.


Molly said...

A strange, fuzzy-edged, grief - mourning someone who is still alive. But a grief none the less.
Lovely pictures, love to you.

julochka said...

@molly, it is really strange, this long, protracted mourning. i find alzheimer's to be the cruelest disease...while her mind goes, she's actually strangely healthier in body than she had been in years. so unfair.

ulfur grai said...

Dear Julochka,
I am following your blog for quiet a while now and enjoyed many of your entries for your consideration, almost wise thoughtfulness I dare say. Significantly, your sad memories of your mother as a younger (and still healthy) woman do not stop at your personal grief but continue to more general considerations and questions: Do we ever know our parents? What was going on in their heads...?
Reading this, I remembered two novels that deal with exactly the same questions. Do you happen to know the Icelandic author Jón Kalman Stefánsson? If not, I would like to recommend his two last books to you. They have been translated both to English and Danish, too.
The first one is titled "Fish have no feet" ( ). Similar in Danish: "Fisk har ingen fødder" ( ).
The follow-up novel from 2017 is called "About the Size of the Universe" in English, "Nogenlunde på størrelse med universet" in Danish. I guess you might like them.
Kind regards

julochka said...

@ulfur grai - thank you so much for these recommendations! i'll definitely check them out! i'm not familiar with this author, so it's a very welcome recommendation. <3