March 14th, 2005


Passing Thoughts

We drove down to Mother Mary's early Sunday afternoon; Ruthie planned on staying overnight at least, possibly two nights. Then she's to return to the ranch driving Mother Mary's mini-van. We need it because the old ranch pickup truck is not particularly up to repeated long highway jaunts, long defined as two plus hours at speed. So we'll be taking over payments and ownership on a vehicle Mary isn't using any more.

She was sleeping when we arrived, and we didn't wake her. In repose, it's much easier to see the changes over the past two weeks. Yet at the same time, it's as easy to see the discomfort is not affecting her, her breathing coming easier during her slumber.

We visited with Ruthie's youngest sister for a bit, me watching the clock and not wanting to rush things before I left to return to the ranch. Nor did I want to leave without the opportunity to share some time with Mary. The dichotomy struck me as ironic. Let her rest and conserve her strength, visit with her and give her strength.

Eighteen years ago, when it came time to dance with my bride, we took our turn around the floor before other guests could join us. Then for the second song, Ruthie's Dad and my Mom came out onto the floor to join us. While Mom and I started our tour about the boards, Clyde placed an apron over Ruthie's head, one with a huge pocket in it. I'd seen this in Polish weddings and learned that day it's a European custom overall; comes out of Portugal in Ruthie's family's case. After Clyde danced with his daughter, any other gentlemen who wanted to dance with the bride needed first to put something of value into that pocket. It's all the bride's, everything that goes in there.

Not to be outdone, to be modern, Mary came up to me next and placed a folded bill into the pocket of the vest I wore. We took our turns around, and I could see the ladies starting to line up, all of them following Mary's cue, all of them with folded money ready in their hands. In a move which now astounds my police officer brother-in-law (I'm usually slipping gasoline money into his wallet or hat when he drops me off at the airport and he's always trying to catch me so he can refuse it), I slipped that bill from Mary into another pocket, so I could tell which one came from her.

Benjamin's portrait is larger these days.

Mary woke up around eight. Her mouth dry from sleep dehydration slurred her speech slightly, but not so much to make understanding her impossible. Part of the routine is to get her water to sip, to get those old tongue and cheeks moist again. I helped her sit up, then sat next to her on the edge of the bed.

"Where'd you come from?" she asked. The ranch, of course. I'm just here to drop Ruthie off, then I'm heading home to go to work tomorrow. "Oh, you poor dear."

I took her left hand in mine and put my right arm around her shoulder's lightly, started swaying gently, very slightly to and fro. One two three. One two three.

"What are you doing?" she says, looking at me.

"I just want to make sure you got your money's worth out of that dance, Mary." We've been doing this for 18 years now, at some point during every visit, taking her in my arms and dancing with or without music. She pulls her hand out of mine, and gifts me the Mary Glare... with the usual underlying smile glint as we continue to sway slightly. One two three. One two three.

"Coufiado," she says, Portugese dialect from her childhood. Crazy Man. "I can't believe you haven't spent that yet!"

"Mom, he's told you," says Ruthie, "it's emergency money until you tell him you got your money's worth." Mary shakes her head, gifting us both the Glare. One two three. One two three.

"Coufiado, the both of you!" We're still swaying slightly, to, fro.

When you meet a woman you think you're serious about, my Dad told me, make sure you meet her mother. Study her. She will show you what your lady will be like when she grows old with you.

Mary pushes my arm around her away. "I'm an old woman and I need to pee. All men out."

"Mom, he's a nurse, he's seen this before," says Ruthie. I kiss her hand, and stand up as Gina brings the porta-commode over.

"Yes, I'm a nurse, and Mary has spoken," I reply, bowing as I step backwards through the bedroom door.

Yes, Mary, you are an old woman. Your hair is silvered, and, well, there's less of it. Your eye sockets are sunken and cheekbones more prominent as your face joins the rest of you, slowly being consumed by the cancer. Your shriveled legs no longer support you to make our turns, your arms are too weak to hold and follow well, and your ribs palpable through your nightshirt. We both know we've just danced our last dance together.

And Dad, she's beautiful. Definitely beautiful.