This is the first time I’ve been to my parents where I can truly see the end. I’ve been coming back to visit them from every city I’ve lived in – whether it was this continent or another – for 30 years. But in all that time I knew this place would be here. The Big Yellow House with the white fence. They would be going nowhere.
My Mother moved around a lot as a child. And when I say a lot – I mean that she went to one school for 2 weeks. She said there were times she would wake up at night growing up and have no idea where the bathroom was. As a result of this domicile roulette, she selected this house where I grew up when they sold their chicken ranch in LA, and never left.
Its why sifting through the lasagna of our family history here is like an archaeological dig in Pompeii. There were plenty of eruptions in our childhood. So it runs deep with shadows of our former selves, and it’s all still here. But up until now I could count on the fact that there would always be a next time. This house and my parents were going no where.
‘They’ll take me out feet first.’ She always said and I knew it was true. I used to tease her for being unadventurous and stuck in her ways. But she didn’t care.
She’ll yell at me for writing this. ‘I’m not dead yet!’ She’ll shout. And then she’ll hand me a Sharpie and tell me to write my name on the back of things I’ll want when the day comes.
But what I guess I have, that others in my family that live nearby don’t, is the benefit of perspective and time. I don’t see my parents as much as they do, and when I do it’s clear that the finish line is closer than I had thought.
Yes, my father is dying. And its a slow process. He’s been ill for awhile, punctuated by some very serious health crises and I see all that in sharp relief. But until now, I hadn’t really understood the impact it was having on my Mom. Sure, we talk all the time from Valencia. I keep up on doctor’s appointments and prognoses. I know about all the tests and the meds and the like. But throughout, it’s always surrounded around my Dad. She never really complains about the toll she’s paying to care for him. But its clearly mounting.
My parents both have big personalities. And they don’t overlap so theirs have collectively taken up a fair bit of available space in our house over the years. I understand it. I expect it. But not so much this time. My Dad sleeps most of the time now. And my tireless Mom is tired. And for the first time in my life she says so, repeatedly, throughout the day.
I’m the youngest in the family. And I live in Spain – the furthest away. I sit here in my old room upstairs and I wonder what it will feel like when this house isn’t ‘Home’ anymore. When the two biggest personalities I know are silent. Will I be an orphan in my 50’s?
A few years ago, my Mom gave us each a book with colored stickers and told us to put them on things we wanted and she’d keep a catalog of who got what. And she’d be the arbiter of any disputes. It didn’t work because we’re all too competitive and there was rampant cheating. But now as I walk around with the Sharpie I can’t seem to write my name on anything but a painting my grandmother did that no one else wanted. How do you choose from the memories that fill your entire life?
When we were little there was a grocery store at ‘The Big Dollar Shopping Center’ near our house. My Mom would tell us to each pick out a piece of fruit (so she’d know we would eat it). We’d run off and come back with our prize. My siblings picked out apples and pears. It will surprise no one who knows me to learn I came back with a pineapple or a melon. We’d all have fruit for a week! She’d always laugh and then she’d let me keep it.
So I know what I’d really like to do. Walk out to the back yard and write my name on the foundation of the Big Yellow House. Not so my siblings can’t have it – not at all. So that we always have a home to come back to. This home. Because suddenly the prospect of a future without it seems unimaginable.
I sit here and wipe my tears. I need to get a grip. But for all the teasing of my Mom over the years, maybe, just maybe I’m more like her than I’d like to admit.