My dad passed away in 1990, after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. His early symptoms were almost humorous; lapses of memory and simple mistakes that could be laughed away. The disease, however, is a relentless downward spiral that, in the end, erased the person I knew as “Dad,” and removed his loved ones from his conscious mind.
My mother was his caregiver over the entire course of Dad’s ordeal, except for the final six months of his life, as my brothers and I insisted that she have him placed in a care facility.
About the time Dad went into the nursing home, Mom sold their house in the country and purchased a small house in town. They’d lived in the old house more than 40 years, remodeling one area at a time, as funds were available, and making a great home for their kids. Mom was pragmatic about leaving the house she’d loved so well.
When she moved into the little house in town, her neighbors were quick to greet her, make friends and offer assistance if needed. She was grateful for their offers, but mostly turned them down because she enjoyed yard work, and work in general.
A number of her neighbors told Mom that the only bad thing about the neighborhood was that Joe lived there. Joe’s house was across the street and to the east of Mom’s. Joe had created a reputation for himself since his school days, where he was difficult in class, surly to most people, and generally troubled.
He’d had skirmishes with the law in his younger years, so some branded him an “outlaw.” They felt their doors had to be locked at all times. Mom told me she felt sorry for Joe.
Sharing a piece of the pie
At a family gathering at Mom’s home — after she’d become established in the neighborhood — we were helping her with the dishes and cleanup.
Mom was well known around town for her homemade pies, and apple pie had been part of our feast that day. As we were putting things away, she cut a generous slice of pie, plated it, and covered it with plastic wrap.
“What are you going to do with that piece of pie?” I asked. She replied, “I’m going to give it to Joe.”
My older brother, who lived close to Mom’s place, heard her and warned her not to get too close to him. “Joe is trouble with a capital T,” he told her. “You shouldn’t have anything to do with him.”
“Oh, they all say that,” she shot back. “I’d be hard to get along with too, if people treated me the way they treat him.” She went on to say that she brings him a slice of pie every once in a while. “He came over to shovel my sidewalk a couple of weeks ago,” she said, “and I didn’t ask him. He just showed up.”
From 1995 until 2004, I had to drive, at least monthly, to Duluth for work-related meetings. Those most often required an overnight stay, so I would get a hotel room in Duluth, but go to Two Harbors for supper with Mom.
I usually had to wash her windows (“they’re the eyes of your home,” according to her), or see to some other item of maintenance before we could play cribbage. On one of those occasions, she fried up some speckled trout fillets. They were so delicious, and I asked, “Where did you get this fish?” “Joe brings fish all the time,” she said with a smile.
Mom died last year, a few weeks before her 96th birthday. At the funeral, her church was packed with people of all ages. People I’d never met came to me with stories of how she had touched their lives. She did it in the simplest way. She treated them like she would want to be treated.
My mom, the good steward.
Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud