I backpacked across Europe for six months in my 20’s and jumped out of a plane for my 50th birthday. I was my daughter’s Girl Scout leader for 13 years and taught them how to hail a cab in NYC and how to appreciate art in Italy. So as I start my 59th year, I closed the show with my mom’s stories for the inaugural performance of Listen to Your Mother in New Orleans. Once again she was center stage.
The Wild Woman
My Mom would say, “I don’t drink or smoke…but I lie.” She certainly never let the truth get in the way of a good story. She passed away last year at the age of 86, and I have a few true stories that couldn’t be told at her funeral.
What makes Mom’s stories so wild to me is that I watched her grow into her wildness. She got feisty in her senior years. She could always read her audience like a book and knew just how outrageously she could push it. She had that sweet, little ole lady thing going for her. Think a southern, genteel, frail Betty White. I could never deny that she was a drama queen, and when she had an audience, she liked to perform.
I’m wearing a piece of jewelry that was hers (it’s the one she’s wearing in the photo). One of my guilty pleasures is “Long Island Medium,” and part of me believes the sparkle I’m wearing helps me channel her stories. While she was a diva, she was also known for her style. We were a little surprised at the home jewelry party when she went for the “big country music star,” blingy cross. And it wasn’t because she was that devout. When asked why she wanted it, she said, “Well, you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl.”
We traveled to her Texas family roots for a holiday a few years back. As we gathered round the table, Mom tells everyone about her new boyfriend at the nursing home, Dick. She tells us one night she carried her boom box down to Dick’s room, very late, when everyone was asleep. She slipped quietly into his room, turned the sexy music on and she proceeded to do a strip tease for him. She then picked up her boom box, put her robe back on and went back to her room. The next day, Dick tells her that he had the strangest dream. She never tells him it wasn’t a dream.
Not long after this, Dick and Mom move into the same room. She tells us all that she can’t get any sleep. “The night shift, she says, keeps coming in our room all night trying to catch us doing it!”
Only that’s not really what she said. Instead of the genteel phrase “doing it” she went for top shock value and used…another term.
Her last year involved a few trips to the hospital as she became frailer.
She had a young doctor whom she called Doogie Howser. I appreciated the time Doogie spent with her, especially when her answers were long and had nothing to do with the question. I knew he was about to ask her about Do Not Resuscitate orders when he said he had a final important question to ask her.
That’s when she said, “You want to know if I still have sex?!”
He actually blushed.
I am an only child and so is my daughter. The three of us had a very special connection. We knew when she told us that her 90-year-old boyfriend was building something with wires and batteries that she thought was a bomb—it was his hearing aid—that something had fundamentally changed in her mental state.
In those last weeks as she slipped away from us, either my daughter or I went by daily to check on her. She had the most amazing hallucinations. In them she was a strong, powerful woman. After one visit, my daughter called me.
“Nana was sitting in her wheelchair by the nurse’s station,” she said. “Nodding toward the wall, she asked if I saw that big hole in the wall.
“I did that,’ Nana said. ‘There was a gas leak last night, and I punched through the wall and saved everybody here.”
At her funeral, my daughter delivered a beautiful eulogy full of Nana stories that could be told in church. A few months later, my baby girl moved to Chicago to pursue her dream of becoming a comedy writer.
I told my daughter about Listen to your Mother, pointing out that Chicago had a big production, that she should try out, and that we’d both have the same Nana stories. To which she replied, “What makes you think I don’t have stories about you?”
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