So you’re probably wondering, who is that woman? Well, that woman is my mother. And as of last month, she is still my mother, but just not in that body anymore. All the systems that had kept her alive for 92 years conspired together to decide it was time to call it quits. And she was ready for that; well, as much as anyone feels prepared. As she lay in her hospital bed I sensed her fear, but also her knowledge that this was going to be an exit. It never is quite like you imagine it, I’m sure of that.
One thing I remember so vividly about my mother as she progressed through being a young, middle-aged, and older person was that she had this uncanny quality of being able to find anything that might have been misplaced or lost. Just mention the fact that you couldn’t find an errant sock or your favorite pen and she was on the case. You had no choice in the matter, it was now completely in her capable hands and she was going to find that thing, even if she had to use every last bit of life force in her body to do it. As God was her witness, this was now her mission in life, she was dropping everything to find that thing you lost.
Sometimes I hesitated to tell her, “Mom, I can’t find my Nancy Drew book, you know the one about the hidden staircase?...” because her normal life would then come to a screeching halt and she would doggedly begin scouring the house for that damn book. It didn’t matter that I had already read it countless times, she was going to find it for me, and there was absolutely no time like the present to start the painstaking quest. She would unfailingly produce the lost item; the woman had a knack like a drug-sniffing dog.
So you get the picture, I don’t need to tell you anymore how obsessed she would become with lost objects. But what I do need to tell you is that my sister and I are afflicted with that same obsession. So please don’t come to me and complain that you can’t put your hands on something that you just saw on your bookshelf or in your jewelry box yesterday, because I will not let it go until I’ve explored every nook and cranny and found it. Is it genetics? Or are we just frustrated people who should have become detectives for the local police department; and probably developing a drinking problem in the process when the cases go south and things or people just can’t seem to be located.
Let’s go back to five years ago. I was trying to get my mom something unusual and pretty for Christmas. It’s not easy buying for an 87-year-old who really doesn’t want anything anyway. But it was Christmas, for chrissakes, you have to come up with a present. My mother loved pink. Thirty years earlier, when she finally was able to move into her dream home, damn if every countertop, cupboard and window treatment in that house was some glorious shade of pink. As my husband and son and I perused items in a local mom-and-pop jewelry store in Portland, Oregon where we lived at the time, I found what I thought would be perfect for her. A pink tourmaline pendant. It was just the right shade of almost a Fuschia, and I had learned that in her later years she had grown fond of jewelry.
Confident that I had found the right thing, I packed the little box into my carry-on and we flew out to Michigan where she lived in that cherished pink-outfitted house in the corner of a cul de sac.
When Christmas Day arrived, my siblings and I surrounded my mom with all the brightly wrapped packages. I was hoping that she would be tickled by the little sparkly pink stone. Finally, she opened my box and just had a blank look on her face. “What do I do with this?” She picked it up and examined it. ”Where is the chain?... Is this for a necklace?” My sister said, “Mom, that’s a pendant, you have lots of chains that will look beautiful with it. Lynn got you a pink tourmaline, your favorite color!” I was thankful that Gail had jumped in, she was good at comforting my mom when she got confused. Mom still looked thoroughly unconvinced, and a small, almost inaudible thank you crept out of the side of her mouth.
So you’re probably wondering where all of this is leading? Time wore on. There were other Christmases. On one visit I did see my mom sporting the tourmaline, so maybe I had gotten a good gift for her after all? After a few more years went by it became apparent that mom could no longer sustain a life in that house of her dreams. We wondered if the new owners would share her love of all things pink, but that couldn’t be our worry. She was moving to Kansas. She would be 4 minutes away from Gail, 2 hours from my brother, and my husband, son and I were leaving Portland after 18 years to join her in the prairie lands. As we packed up her house in Michigan suddenly I wondered, “where is the pink tourmaline?” I hadn’t seen her wearing it in quite a while. As we put away her jewelry, ready for its new home in Kansas, I said “Mom, where is your tourmaline?” Again, the blank look. “What tourmaline?” she said. After a brief conversation, it was clear that she had no recollection of the little trinket I had given her so many Christmases ago. As we all did our jobs cleaning out the odds and ends and decades of memories from mom’s house, the tourmaline never turned up. I called Gail from Portland one time when it was her “shift” at mom’s house before the big move. “Maybe check in the couch cushions?” I said. I don’t know why it was so important to me, but it was the one gift I thought would really tickle her; now it seemed it was actually forgotten and probably lost forever. What had she done with it?
After Mom was settled in Kansas that little gift was not a subject of conversation anymore; except Gail and I would laugh about how much we had done our own style of scouring a place to find it. Mom no longer had that urge to search all the little crevices to find a lost item. Maybe she had even forgotten about the fact that she had had this crazy talent for finding things in the most unlikely places. I often wondered if her being a product of the Depression made her so committed to finding lost items, because if you lost something precious in those days there was probably little chance of replacing it; money was tight and those items were held dear. But I had never met anyone else who quite had that knack for unearthing missing things.
So now I go back to the beginning of the story, and my sister and I are tasked with cleaning out our mom’s apartment. It is a sad job. One of the last times I visited her I asked her if she still had a letter that her favorite cousin had written her at Christmas. She was hunched in her usual corner of the couch and didn’t respond at first. I was waiting for her to tell me where to go in the little study room to find it. All of a sudden she pulled herself up, grabbed her walker, and headed toward the study, her legs moving in a way I hadn’t seen for a long time. Vital. It took her a while, but she emerged triumphant, grasping the Christmas newsletter in her gnarled hand, a gleam in her eye.
Now as Gail and I got the last boxes out the door we barely paused. The apartment, mostly empty, had no hint of her, it had never had the pink touches. On the last day of clearing things out of her dresser drawers I actually looked in the dark corners to see if there was a chance I’d see a pink sparkle. Everything was gone now, the apartment would soon be prepared for the next aging tenant.
Time moves inexorably on, and the somber brown tones of the Kansas winter have slowly transitioned to pale greens and faint purples as I look out at the landscape of a place we now call home. I am still living in an apartment with unpacked boxes; and now things that were mom’s are scattered about, needing to be figured out. Material things are so important at first, and then later we question their purpose in our lives. We become philosophical, but at times things feel achingly poignant. How to sort through all the emotions…
One morning, two months after mom passed away, I emerged blurry-eyed and groggy from my bed to find that my husband Chris had thankfully made coffee. I notice that my phone on the coffee table is lit up with a text. It is from Gail. When I look a little closer I see that it is actually a picture. It is a picture of a car seat, and as I pick up my phone I see that in the middle of the seat sits my mom’s pink tourmaline. Gail writes “Is this what we’ve been looking for??” It has been so long since I’ve seen it that I’m not sure at first, but it is undeniably the little lost treasure. Gail immediately calls me and says “This was meant to be found!” She then tells me how she had a fabric grocery bag in her house that had been mom’s and somehow it had made it in the move to Kansas. Originally it had held a few of mom’s sweaters that Gail was going to wash for her. Now Gail was using the bag for recyclable bottles, but somehow they had fallen over in her car, and a few of them had broken. She started to pick up the pieces of shattered glass and there in the middle of the mess on the floor she saw the tourmaline, its bright pinkness making her look twice. As she told me, I could hardly believe it. All these years and it was found. But how did it turn up like that? Call me crazy but my first thought of course was mom. From somewhere in the universe she had found it for us and directed Gail to its whereabouts. I know I will believe that this is the way it happened for the rest of my days. I guess some people would call it a miracle, but oh mama, you are truly the woman who can find anything.