closing the circle
Funny how the world comes full circle.
A long time ago, Mom had story time with my brother. When I came along, we had story time, too. As with many families, story time was more than just reading books. Story time encompassed passing down memories, through the telling and re-telling of family lore - the generational transfer of legacy.
Many of the stories I heard from my parents had rich detail of their young lives on the South Side of Chicago. Those stories became my stories, too.
Closing the circle often means that children are the final caregivers for their aging and infirm parents. Now is our time. Mother is getting smaller, physically, by the day. She now weighs less than one hundred pounds. But her mind, oh, that mind, is still there. I wanted to read Dateline: Bronzeville to her. She doesn’t see well enough to read anymore. This is a major, and debilitating, development; a real set back in the life of a woman for whom books, reading, and writing have been hallmarks.
And so, I turned on a recorder and began to read aloud. As she listened, I noticed that her eyes were closed. I asked if she were asleep. With eyes still closed, she smiled. “No, Don. I’m just thinking. Keep reading.” After fifty or so pages, she asked me to stop. The recorder was still running. I’m so glad it was. She looked at me with an oh-so-familiar look. It’s a no nonsense piercing gaze, albeit now through cloudy eyes. She said, “You don’t know what it’s like to have words, that might have been your own, read to you by your child. You have written history in the guise of a mystery in the same way, in the same voice, that I might have said it. The way you slide in and out of paragraphs and interject historical elements so unobtrusively is a gift. I’m gratified if I’ve played any part. I’m satisfied now. I’m done here. I’ve done my job. Now let me take a nap. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And she will, we have more reading to do.
In the moment, however, I said nothing. There was nothing I could say - the import of her words was so heavy. It was as if she had removed a burden from her own spare shoulders and placed it squarely on mine. It’s my turn now. No worries, Ma. I gotchu. If I do nothing else in this life, the little ones, and the ones after that, will hear your voice and know the stories.