It’s the Moments

We do not remember days, we remember moments (Cesare Pavese, Italian writer).

My mother was passionate about her rice bags. Each evening—and afternoon when she began napping in her bed—regardless of the season, she’d microwave-heat one for her feet in spite of wearing socks, one for her knees, and one for her right arm on the window side of the bed. At eighty pounds, she was always cold. At least that’s the reason she gave, or that I assumed.

A few years ago, my daughter-in-law made fancy rice bags for Christmas gifts. The past two winters—Covid winters—I’ve become attached to mine. Yes, the foot of the bed is cold (and I do not wear socks), but it’s warm after about a minute and I move the bag up to hug in my arms. It’s not the cold, it’s the comfort. It’s like my tight-fitting fingerless gloves, the weight of the yoga blanket across my mid-section during savasana, the electric fireplace near my desk in the pre-dawn morning, the heated seat in my car, my hand knit throw across my legs on the sofa in the evening, my cat Lena snuggled close to my legs at night. It’s not about cold. It’s comforting. I don’t think my mother would have articulated that’s what the rice bags were for her, but now I wonder.

How she must have missed my father all those years. Never a pet person, she had nothing after he was gone. I suppose she had gotten used it—alone is not lonely, living with someone who is distant is. And I expect she was more lonely after I arrived on the scene. I find myself wishing I could have laid down beside her in bed, rather than impatiently waiting to get her settled in bed so I could retire to my quarters in the downstairs suite for the evening. I wish I could have provided the intimacy of my presence in a way I had not since I was a child. And now I’m wondering about rice bag comfort.

Notice I say I wish I “could” have, not I wish I “would” have. Subtle difference, but I am not so far removed from the reality of the years with her that I have forgotten what I was and was not capable of. Even had I thought to climb into bed her—had she even wanted me to—I could not have. If I could have, I would have, but we were not emotionally close enough. I did not have enough love. There, I said it.

This is why my memoir does not include the perspective of the look back. It would not be an accurate depiction of the days in the trenches, it would be too easy to change the story. My mother changed the story of the years she cared for her mother . . . but that’s another story. We do the best we can—and even with all the knowing that someday we will look back and grieve, it’s impossible to apply the future to the present. When we are so tired it’s impossible to really understand the surety, even, that some day this parent or this partner will be gone forever.

What we can do, though, is notice the moments: right now I am holding her hand, right now she is saying she loves me, right now I am describing the sunrise to her, right now she is telling me a story of my infancy. Right now there is a moment to cling to. Right now I am her rice bag. When I’m bashing myself for all I did not/could not do, the words I wrote then remind me: there were many moments; I was not a terrible daughter.

The Typewriter and the Blog

My mother’s Remington Rand manual typewriter sits on a cabinet near my desk. She made her living with a typewriter as a young woman, and then as she waited out WWII for her husband of six weeks to return from Europe. The old typewriter represents a connection to my mother that the electric one I learned on did not, and the laptop I use now can’t begin to. I picture her typing dictation at her desk on Air Force bases during World War II, waiting for the war to end and her new husband to return. She tried an electric typewriter in later years, and a word processor that my father learned to use, but the touch on both was too sensitive. And so she stuck with an enormous manual machine that replaced the small one (and is also still in the house). I still hear the clickity clacking as she typed her own letters to the newspaper editor and complaints of grammatical errors to Time magazine for my father. The Remington Rand is the header on my Facebook writer page and is the photo behind the blog link on this website’s home page. It grounds me. It brings her back to me.

I learned to type in a six-week summer course in high school—missing two weeks to go to a Girl Scout event. I typed college papers on an electric Smith Corona with an erase ribbon and, a few years later, my husband’s master’s thesis (twice) on a rented IBM Selectric. When it came time, in the early 1980s, to type his doctoral dissertation, I entered the first draft on a keyboard on campus where it went to a room-sized “computer” in another building. When my family finally got a home computer around 1986, I fell in love with typing for the first time.

The turning point in my writing life was the first writing class I took, in mid-life. It was a six-session adult learning course at a local college. Near the end of the course, the teacher casually mentioned blogging. It was 2010; I had never read anyone’s blog, nor considered that I might have something to say in one. But the comment changed my life. I didn’t have to have a tower room, write books, or aspire to finding a publisher to be a public writer. I almost immediately stopped keeping a hand-written private journal and switched to—hopefully—more inspired writing. When I moved “home,” across the country to care for my mother in my childhood home, I switched from writing about the garden to writing about being a family caregiver. When my mother died, I started another new blog about my adventures in the Pacific Northwest; and I turned my Daughter on Duty blog into a book, Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver, typed on a MacBook Air.

A casual mention of blogging. It changed everything.

You can read my very first blog post here.