Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 6, 2016
When I walk into her house, I expect to find Mom with the TV blaring, watching the news or "Wheel of Fortune" in her recliner - or paying bills and writing birthday notes at her dining room table. Since her death in February, it still startles me to think I won't ever see her again or share a cup of cappuccino with her. That feeling will be especially acute this Sunday - Mother's Day.
I miss her telling me, "You look so professional" when I walked in the door on the way to or from work and her calling me her "popcorn girl" since I popped in and out so often. I miss her asking me if I might like to have an Eggo waffle and urging me to "watch out for deer" on the way home. I was to call when I got home - even though our homes were only a few miles apart.
But I can't help but smile when I think of Mom because she was always so engaged in life. She kept up with current events, including the presidential campaign. She told me several times what she thought of Donald Trump: "Trump is a rump," she said. She also told me she wanted Hillary Clinton to be our next president.
A few days before she died, I gave her a copy of the local paper that had a story about Alzheimer's disease. She looked at me intently with her twinkling blue eyes and said, "At least I don't have that!" I laughed and said, "No, you certainly do not!"
Despite being afflicted with arthritis that left her fingers twisted, she continued to draw until just a few days before she died.
Going through her home, I've been amused by some of the things I've found - "free" knickknacks from various magazine subscription offers, kitchen gadgets she never used, VHS tapes of "Johnny Carson" and "I Love Lucy" and blurry slides of unknown people and places.
But I've also discovered what I consider to be real treasures: a photo album of barn pictures Mom took when she and Dad still lived in Marion County; a 2005 colored-pencil drawing of flowers in a relative's garden in Sweden; black and white sketches of our barn, our farms and Mom's house in Manhattan; sketches of my sister Gaila's home and garden in Bolivia; and a book, "Of Swedish Ways", that late husband Jerome and I gave Mom in December 1985.
I also found a list of all the things, big and small, that her companion Stan did for her over the years. Among items on the list were: " ... takes me shopping at various stores at least once a week, put in new toilet seat with bumpers, put up two bedroom shelves, took me to prom dance and made beautiful corsage, took me to [sister] Edith's, dug dandelions, took me to Burns reunion, took me to Bozeman, Montana, washed out air conditioner, helps me with memoirs on computer ..."
Her memoir project was ongoing as Stan was always encouraging her to keep it current. Pages of her children's and grandchildren's recent accomplishments were stapled to her printed version to be added to the computer file later.
Just last weekend, I found an envelope that had notes from members of the Burns Junior Study Club, written Nov. 24, 1947, three days after brother David's birth. Among the comments:
- So it's a boy: gee, that's swell! I know you are going to be one of the nicest mothers ever - what a lucky little baby to draw you...
- I am so happy to hear you have a sweet baby boy, Edla... I thought you gave him a sweet name, too. I know you both will make fine parents...
- We're missing you tonight. Hope you're able to be here next time, let papa get in practice of keeping the 'wee one'...
When I went through the magazines, maps and telephone books that Mom kept near her recliner, I didn't expect to find anything unusual. But then I saw a 1949 "Fieldbook of Natural History" with oak, maple and elm leaves pressed inside. The leaves looked as supple and green as if she'd placed them there yesterday. Mom loved birds, flowers, rocks and other things of nature so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.
I'm sure over the next weeks and months, we'll unearth more such treasures.
Because I knew my siblings and I faced many decisions about Mom's home and its contents, I decided to read "Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go." Author Marni Jameson, who had to go through her parents' belongings when they went into assisted living, said, "I wanted to be respectful of my parents' belongings, honor their lives, be a good steward of their assets, and preserve their past and mine. At the same time, I didn't want to be weighed down by more stuff, even if it meant something - and it almost all did."
Chapter 10 of Jameson's book - "The Treasure Hunt" - had some good tips from her friend Peter:
Imagine that your parents have deliberately left you five treasures. Your job is to find the items that have the strongest, happiest memories for you. Go through not in sadness, but in loving memory. So look with joy for the few, best items to keep. Let the rest go ... Then display them with honor and respect in your home so that every time you walk past them, your heart sings.
Husband Art says that when someone he loves dies, he keeps them in his head. I told him I prefer to think of keeping them in my heart. If my siblings and I keep those things that cause us to remember in our hearts how Mom lived, our job will be much easier because how she lived is the real treasure she gave us.
Left: Edla in 2005 drawing flower parts from a relative's garden in Gävle, Sweden; middle: Edla in the assisted living facility holding one of her favorite flowers, a Christmas cactus, while the newspaper with the Alzheimer's disease article rests on her lap; right: one of the two end pieces of Edla's "pig" paper roll holder. We kidded her regularly about its cheap appearance in an attempt to shame her into throwing it out. Now daughter Mariya has claimed it as a keepsake of her grandmother.