What was the name of that author? The one who wrote lengthy, wordy novels? You know, the one who wrote about the South Pacific. I ran down the stairs to ask mom. Then half way down I stopped abruptly, mom wasn’t there. We buried her just a month before after she succumbed to complications of surgery for an aortic aneurism.
The cardio-vascular surgeon told me that she probably wouldn’t make it through the surgery…but she did. Then he said she’d never make it out of the ICU…but she did. Then he said she’d never leave the hospital…wrong again. But two weeks later she was back in the hospital. On her second day there I received a call from her surgeon and internist. She was much better, completely lucid and very cheerful. Mike and I planned to visit after Nicky (our grandson) had his nap.
I was rocking my lovey in our favorite rocking chair (a lovely antique rocker) when the phone rang. Somewhere in the depths of my soul I knew. Mom was gone. Mike came to the door of Nicky’s room and said “we need to get to the hospital.” Why? They hadn’t said but I knew. Mom had been lucid and cheerful because after the years of deterioration and destruction caused by rheumatoid arthritis she had had enough. She knew the decades of steroid use (the only treatment for RA when she was diagnosed) would prohibit her from healing from the intensely invasive surgery. She knew she would never be able to get out of bed again and spend what was left of her life fighting continuous infections. So after all the doctors and nurses did their thing she closed her eyes and left us.
They both closed their eyes and stayed that way for several minutes. Mike was sure they were communing somehow and he was probably right. My mother was exceedingly calm afterwards and Nicky was quiet.
Slowly I made my way down the stairs and into her room and sat in the only chair. It felt so empty. On the bedside table was one of Mike’s books. She was thrilled he was an author and was reading ‘The Poison Tree’ when she got sick the last time. My mother was an avid reader.
She had been somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t a reader. I was a true tom boy, hanging by my knees from the swing set, climbing trees, playing ball, riding bikes. Sitting around reading seemed such a waste of time. But on my thirteenth birthday mom and dad gave me a stereo for my room and records (all of which were at the top of the Billboard charts, which is how they picked them, I suspect). But along with what they knew I wanted, mom gave me a mass market paperback book as well, ‘Forever Amber’ by Kathleen Winsor. She said I would probably like it because I enjoyed history. Set in Restoration England the book covered politics and fashion as well as the black plague and the Great London Fire.
I did read it and the story of a poor servant girl who sleeps and marries her way into the British nobility kept me hooked. It had been a great choice for my mom to give me because it did make me want to read more. On my fourteenth birthday she gave me a beautifully bound copy of ‘Gone with the Wind’. On my fifteenth birthday she gave me ‘Pride and Prejudice’. And so it began.
One by one mom gave me each of Jane Austen’s novels. If I didn’t read anything else she wanted me to the classics, particularly Austen. My high school teachers had opted for Dickens and Bronte and my mother felt that they tended to the darker side of life. My mother was an eternal optimist so preferred Austen’s quirky, playful take on the Regency middle class and aristocracy.
Would I ever have become a reader ( of not just of required books) had mother not given me ‘Forever Amber’? Likely not. One of the last gifts I got from her was a set of special edition Jane Austen novels, all six. I smile now knowing how proud she’d be that I have become not just a reader but a writer.
Thank you mom.
Austenticity.com, the website where Eliza first discovers that Fitzwilliam Darcy is real (even if she doesn’t believe it at first) is now also real. I’ve owned the domain since we wrote the book and have now created ‘the everything Austen’ site. Come, visit and spend a bit of time with the inimitable and much beloved author.