It was a trip faced with a mix of trepidation and sadness. I managed to get a cheap flight out of Burlington through Reagan National and on to Sarasota in part because the Burlington flight left at 6:00 a.m. which meant transporting Ethel to the kennel for boarding the day before. Also found a cab service that would make the hour long drive from the airport to her door for $50 less than the regular Limo drivers I’d used in the past.
The sky was still dark and the air touched with a cool hint of fall when I left my house, with the biggest suitcase I owned in tow. It was nearly empty, just in case my mom had stuff, mostly family photos is what I imagined, that I would want to keep, along with the engraved Bibles from my grandmother and perhaps other memorabilia that mom may have overlooked. I brought my newest reading assignment for my next book review coming up at the end of the month for DOCUMENTARY MAGAZINE to read on the plane. On the way to the airport I realized this is the first flight I’ve taken out of Burlington. It’s a tiny little airport, but the biggest in Vermont. Check in and security were a breeze, very neighborly, very small crowd of fellow travelers.
The flight was uneventful. I’d forgotten just how unpleasant that wall of hot, humid air can be that assaults you upon leaving the plane in that brief interval before you enter the air conditioned comfort of the Sarasota/Bradenton airport terminal. Another reminder of why I could never in a million years live here in south Florida. Surely as global warming brings increasingly hot summers, as well as less predictable winters, it will not gain in its appeal for hot blooded folks like me who embrace the drama of seasonal change.
I stare out the window at a familiar, dull landscape of half empty strip malls, interspersed with flat scrub pine and occasional palm trees. I remark to the cab driver how generally green, at least for end of summer most of the open, undeveloped areas appear. He said it’s been a wet year. We pull into my moms drive. The house looks the same as always, neat, well manicured lawn and shrubs, a house that will soon have new owners and a new life. The front door is open and I walk inside. The cool white tiles in the entry way are spotless. I see a tiny bent over form in the kitchen. She lifts her head and shouts “Who is it? Whose there?” Then incredulous, as though in a state of shock, “Cynthia, is that you?” She does not seem to recognize me at first. I walk towards her as she hobbles over to me with her cane. I can not believe how frail she appears, but I sense the driving will-power within her that forces her to put one foot in front of the other. We hug each other and she starts to cry. She feels like a small bag of bones in my arms. I am touched. She says how grateful she is that I have come, and how much there is to do and how she can no longer manage alone.
I reassure her that she seems to have everything quite under control and whatever remains to prepare her house and herself for her move into the assisted living place I was sure I could manage in the few days I would be with her. In looking around, I was amazed at how much she had already accomplished on her own. She had piles of things, loosely organized in each room. After being with her for a few hours I realized what the problem was. She kept forgetting what was in the piles and had to constantly repeat tasks that she had already done which exhausted her.
While I was there I cooked her meals, but she still wanted to set the table for us and clear the dishes. It pained me to watch her, she was so bent over and in obvious pain most of the time. It worried me when she fumbled with the large array of medications set out on the counter in their brown plastic containers. She claimed she remembered what she had taken and when, but nothing was written down and I doubted that she was capable of keeping track. When she would ease herself into the well padded kitchen chair it was usually to light up a cigarette. Still smoking at 88 years old and it obviously soothed her agitated soul.