Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Musings of an 81-year-old woman

These are her figurines
on the back porch.
Musings may not be the right word. It implies thoughtfulness, introspection, and silence. Most likely even a little wisdom. This established woman should be someone who is refined and after living all those years fully understands the purpose of pantyhose. In fact, that title is all wrong in describing the messages gleaned from boarding with Rosemary for 6 months, but it sounds appropriate on the surface and it seems like the correct type of summation given to the facts that will be shared here. As you read these, I believe you will begin to understand how incongruous those words really are all the while appreciating that was the best I could muster. Rosemary is a kind person who always told me she loved me, and we kept each other's spirits up. I don't mean to belittle her lifestyle. I use this title because I want to give her the dignity that should be awarded to someone so passionate and welcoming to a young stranger. So here I share with you her principals and mantras.

1. Sometimes, you need a good margarita. Plain and simple. If she were British and wore an ascot she might have stressed that there was nothing a good cup of tea couldn't fix. Rosemary was an American from the Midwest and of the generation where all Latin and South American people blended to be come "immigrants" and they all made delicious margaritas. Although I recognize the danger in indulging regularly, Rosemary and I spent many Sunday afternoons with one burrito and one small margarita each.

My favorite Margarita memory was the day her beau Bill was getting her down. She sat at her kitchen table with her shoulders slumped as she chewed on a hot roll, waving her crooked fingers in front of her chest and complaining because he didn't want to come over for a visit. Crumbs collected in the corners of her mouth, and her eyes focused on the wall. "I'm sick of driving all the way across town to see him, " she sniffled. "He should be giving me gas money! It's just too cold to drive that far." I sat across the kitchen table but I didn't know how to console her. What the hell could a 23-year-old girl offer someone more than three times her age? I certainly didn't have a handle on my love life. When Rosemary had exhausted every frustrated one-liner, I suggested we go for a margarita and her shoulders turned towards me. "Today?" she squeaked out. I nodded. With the support of a new found friend, she dabbed her eyes and wiped away the crumbs from her face. "It's best I don't worry about Bill anyway. We're on the outs." It was then that I noticed that her shirt was inside out.

2. Pronunciation isn't important. When I would tell Rosemary the name of an acquaintance or family member, she would squint her eyes as if minimizing one sense would maximize another. "Whatsis last name? Chase?" For the first week of knowing her, she referred to our mutual friend (her neighbor of 15 years) as Sherie. Her name is Sheryl. Not a bad offense, I recognize. I grew up in a house where I was Katie-Maggie. However, for the first 4 months of knowing her, I thought her great-grandson's name was Talon (yes, like on birds of prey). At Easter I met Rosemary's daughter, two granddaughters and the first great-grandson--whose name is Tylan.

Most commonly she would walk around the house in her nightgown, usually with a wedgie, and say, "Where's my cellar phone?" CELLAR PHONE. No, she wasn't searching for her phone kept in the basement. Her ranch-style house had no sub-levels.
Those darn geese. This is Rosmary's
neighborhood, and as you can see,
the geese are shitting everywhere.

3. Dogs do understand, even if they pretend not to. Rosemary had a senile dog named Corky, who was some sort of terrier, and he had a very round belly. For breakfast she would enjoy a few pieces of bacon, homemade applesauce and a sticky bun. As she sat at the table, she'd watch to ensure Corky stayed in the kitchen with his dog food. When he would slink out and make his way to my door, she'd shout, "Corky! Eat your dinner!" After his third attempt of evasion, I'd hear Rosemary threaten, "Here have a piece of bacon. Now get over here or I'll spank you!"

Rosemary's house was in a development surrounding a man-made pond. Every spring those darn geese would trample her lawn and shit everywhere. For an hour after breakfast she'd wander around the small yard and collect the excrement. When the geese would be back after lunch, Rosemary would stand in the doorway and Corky would cower on the porch. "You stupid geese! I just cleaned up after you! Corky, get those geese! Chase them away!" Of course, Corky could hardly see due to his cataracts and didn't move a muscle.

4. Travel is important. Rosemary hadn't been outside the U.S. but she had been to Alaska to visit her niece. When I'd tell her of the time I dissected a snake in South Africa, her eyes would get big and she'd shake her head in disbelief. Then she'd tell me about the boat trip her and her niece took to explore the creatures of the sea. She lean forward and say, "I saw some sort of thing with two tentacles 20 feet long! What's that type of animal? Yeah, a squib. It disappeared under the boat. Never did figure out what it was." Then I'd tell her about the aquarium in Okinawa, Japan, and how incredibly beautiful it was. "Las Vegas is beautiful!" If I ever go to Vegas, I hope it's with Rosemary. Her second marriage happened there and her form of entertainment was just walking up and down the strip looking at all the ridiculous hotels and crazy costumes. I think we would have a ball.

5. You have a great mom. You should love her. There is no arguing that and I don't have a witty anecdote to go with this. I recall when the two women met, and my mom pursed her lips out and raised her eyebrows listening to Rosemary. That was her listening or entertained face. Once a week Rosemary would ask me how my mom was doing and in every subsequent phone call since I moved out, Rosemary's first question was about her.

I had a great mom. I still love her. When I moved in with Rosemary, I did so because I needed a cheap place to stay that was near my new job. My mother told me she was proud of me and I thought she was nuts. She was proud that I was starting my career and making good decisions. Last month, when I quit my job I had dream she was yelling at me for not wearing a bar. She was always silently stifling my need to feel free and embrace my feminism by doing things like stuff my stocking with make-up. At my cousin Jesse's wedding in Wisconsin a few years ago, I was required to go to a luncheon while all the men went hiking. She wasn't making this an option and I blurted out, "Don't define me by my vagina!" Needless to say, it was awkward for everyone on the elevator. In the end, I went to the luncheon and had a really great time.

I don't think she would have approved wholeheartedly of the career decisions that I've made recently. I do think, however, that she would appreciate that I need to make decisions to be in control of my life. I will certainly (and do so every day) incorporate the lessons she taught me but I have to re-learn how it is to be an adult and honor someone you have lost without losing yourself.


  1. Fantastic post Maggie. I think I'd like to meet Rosemary. For the record, I LOL'd many times :)

  2. Those stories are amazing! :] Even better the second time ;] Hope all is well!

  3. Your mom is still be proud of you. Changing directions, trying new things, creating new relationships is all about being 20 something. When you talk about Rosemary, I hear incredible kindness.