18 September 2006

The Passing of the Ages

A family medical emergency brought me 3000 miles back to my old hometown. Back to my boyhood house, that I sometimes visit in my dreams.

In my dreams, the apple tree that I used to climb is still standing. So are the twin maples just outside the window of what we still call "Grandma's Room." The grass grows thick. In my dreams, my old dogs are still alive. And the air is fresh and sweet.

In reality, the house reflects the energy of its owner. The bathrooms need to be remodeled up from the 1950's and the kitchen needs to be redone. The lawn is threadbare, and the daffodils and the lilies-of-the-valley haven't been replanted in years. The roses are wild vines. The back porch is listing badly, as if about to capsize. And I am allergic to something in this region that has now become too humid for me.

I walk the streets of my boyhood, ticking off the houses of the other kids I used to know. Red-haired, freckled Joan and her brother Joe, who had built some kind of radio in his basement. Jim, who at our first swimming lesson tore the water as if he were fighting bees. Bill, who toasted me so badly at our only tennis match that it was embarrassing, and whose sister had a smile that would make my mind go blank.

I wonder if any of their parents still live in these houses. Mostly not. The houses are too well kept up. The door with the knob in the middle has been replaced. The bushes are trimmed neatly, and the luxurious lawns are well mowed. New owners, with new energy to lavish on their new nests. The old folks are gone.

Except Larry, Butch's dad, sitting on his front porch. With a little prompting, he remembers me. He remembers my father, who died back in the '60s. What he doesn't remember is the beginning of our conversation. A few more turns of talk, and I leave as the same anonymous stranger I was when we first said, "Hello."

Even though it's all still there, it's all gone somehow, this land of my childhood and youth. What once was has died to make way for what is. The community we formed as kids and teens has been erased, like Larry's memory.

And then there is old age's inexorable ruin of one's parent. Butch must endure and care for what is left of his father, and I my mother, whom I have come to rescue. Again. My sister and I search the possibilities for in-home care, without sufficient result. We calculate the costs. The cold hard logic yields only one solution. Take her out of her home and even her state for intensive rehab. Do the experiment, and see if she can, with good enough healthcare, work her way back.

I hate to do this. Will she be able to adjust to her new situation? Will she be able to re-adjust if she becomes otherwise able to make it back home? Or will the daily poisons she must take to stay alive take away the last of her strength to adapt to change?

I also hate to do this to her circle of friends. Because her community of elders is being erased more finally than my community of kids. Even if she makes it back, who will have passed, and how many, during her absence?

This is my prayer: Please, Lord, let me do right by her. Please, sweet Jesus, help me see her safely to the shore.