It had been brutally hot that summer. And throughout the state, towns and cities baked in the sun’s punishing rays. My mother’s half acre, bordering the West Warwick/Coventry line, was parched and arid but that didn’t stop her from hiring two sketchy-looking individuals to prune the forsythia bushes on her property. Why? She intended to keep the property meticulously, just as Dad and she always did… even in a summer of no growth.
When I pulled into the driveway, the two men stopped drinking water from the hose and looked at each other as if to say: “The gig’s up,” while I went into the house, asking “Mom, what are those men doing in the yard?” She answered: “I hired them to prune,” whereby I went out, gave them both $20.00 for their trouble and explained my husband and I were moving in that day to help Mom (we weren’t); I just wanted them to think that.
I had great cause for alarm. It had been the summer when an older woman in Little Compton had been murdered, following her hiring of a stranger to paint her home. She worked in a nursery, was loved by many, but that didn’t stop the cruelty that befell her when the man she trusted savaged her. She was easy prey because she was older and lived alone.
I’d already encountered signs of Mom’s diminished capacity.
She’d open her purse, directing clerks to “take out what I owe you, dear“ from a billfold stuffed with money.
I found an envelope holding two twenty-dollar bills she intended to send to the electric company.
My brother hired one of those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” companies. A representative came to her home, explained how it worked (she was to wear a device around her neck to press if she needed help, a device that would send a signal to the phone and if no answer, the company would send in the life-saving team.) What happened in real time? She doubtless forgot the reason for the pendant (might have thought it a Catholic scapula), pressed it inadvertently, and left to come to my home.
Back at her residence, all Hell broke loose, with fire trucks, ambulance, and police cars converging.
When police called to ask if I knew where my mother was, I said “Sure…she’s coming into my driveway,” they sheepishly told me they’d barreled through her locked door, thinking to save a senior who was down. It took me two weeks to repair the wreckage.
I took her car away, after she uprooted a fire hydrant, when she swung too wide, collided with it, and dragged it in watery trail.
She’d been lost on occasion, ending up in neighborhoods far afield from hers.
So, with great anguish, two siblings and I removed Mom from her home of fifty years and moved her into a retirement home. Mom was furious…wouldn’t speak to me (the only one of her four children still living in Rhode Island) for two whole weeks.
I stayed away through the hoped-for adjustment period.
When I finally ventured to visit her, I found her socializing with others. More importantly, she’d put a wreath on her door—a sure sign she was acclimating. She enjoyed the varied hot meals the facility provided. She had friends—folks raised in the same era who all shared a similar frame of reference.
It was then I realized: Mom had been lonely in the ten years since Dad died. Oh, she tried mightily to continue on in their tradition. She had the house painted every few years; she continued cultivating her peonies and rosebushes; she filled the bird feeders.
The neighborhood (much younger now) knew her as “that lovely Mrs. Kelly, wife of the former principal of West Warwick High School.”
But she was merely holding her place in life. ..going through the motions.
Now among her own, she flourished and her community appreciated her, so much so that in the following spring, they voted her “Sweetheart of Greenwich Bay Manor.”
We’d given Mom permission to enter another stage in life.
Colleen Kelly Mellor (email@example.com), a monthly contributor, taught all levels, from kindergarten through grade 12, for 30 years.