Sunday in the Park
I still love snail mail. I do. I love opening my post-office box and wondering what surprises might be inside. On the best days, there will be something handwritten that lets me know someone took the time to spell out my name and address rather than stick on a label. Inside, hand-addressed covers often include greeting cards or invitations to share a celebration with friends.
Since November, when I placed my mother in a home for dementia in California and became responsible for her affairs, I have been receiving more mail than ever before in my life. All of my mail, of course, and now all of hers.
It is entirely another way of learning about a life.
My mother has always loved pretty things. She is also Scotch, by birth, really. That means she loves pretty things to be given to her but never really paid for them. As we all know, nearly any company will send you a catalog, even the finest stores you never spent a dime in. The volume of those catalogs has been spectacular.
Mother is nearly 86 and she must have signed up years ago, in some magazine-for-life deal, for subscriptions to both Vogue and Elle. She would read these cover to cover and tell me what the latest styles were and be horrified at the price of a pair of heels displayed in those pages. Mother assumed everyone but her was foolish enough to shop that way. It was her job to tell her daughters about the deals she found at dollar stores and in second-class catalogs. And then send those unwearable things along to us.
I have now seen the very catalogs those items were purchased from and I hope the women at the Peace House have been able to use those unworn items.
Jean’s political beliefs are radically different from my own. I always said that being raised by Republicans is a bit like being raised by wolves. I am a fairly liberal person but I don’t subscribe to too many liberal publications or join too many liberal causes that would place me on too many liberal mailing lists. Jean, somehow, ended up on every conservative list that must exist in the free world. I am fascinated and slightly horrified at the constant volume of appeals to send money to stop something that is isn’t actually happening. Yesterday I opened an envelope with both a free tote bag and a T-shirt screaming some over tired faux patriotic slogan and an eagle looking down on it all. Poor eagles. If they had a union I suspect they would have objected to the misuse of their image.
Many of the letters from these organizations come in SCREAMING CAPITAL LETTERS. They talk about whatever fearful campaign is topical and URGE IMMEDIATE ACTION! I imagine such a diet of mail could contribute to anyone’s lack of peace of mind.
All the magazines are either radically political or women’s fashion. There is nothing thoughtful or scholarly or even general news-ish. There is no intended humor. There is no art or beauty or nature or even religion. It is mail from life painted in monotones and with a heavy brush.
Like most children of the Depression, Jean never trusted banks or financial institutions or even her own family, when it came to money matters. Which was her own business, of course, until it became my business. Unraveling accounts and documents, finding cash tucked in the house as we packed things up, has been a crazy kind of treasure hunt, critical to being able to continue to pay for her extensive, round-the-clock, secured facility, ineligible-for-Medicare care. I am grateful to folks here, like Joe at Edward Jones and Debbi at Frontier Bank, who have helped me make sense of a world of transactions that I never thought I would need to understand.
Communication from the lovely place where my mother now lives shows her working at a desk surrounded by books on flowers. Her days are busy with arranging flowers for the dining room. She, of the 24-hour Fox News cycle, now watches no television. We have arranged for her to have her hair done each week and her nails as well. She still thinks she is being held hostage, mind you, but she has decided (after modifications of her medication) that she rather likes the new regime. She doesn’t remember some of her illnesses and so they faded from her body, in the strange way doctors say can happen to dementia patients. Because her diet is now monitored, she is, in many ways as healthy and happy as she has been in her adult life. And every week, either my sister or I sends her a card., handwritten, with a happy message and sometimes photos inside. One of things worth keeping was our learned love of mail.
This weekend I plan to try and sort through yet another bag of statements and catalogs that are stacked up needing attention. But I will do it outside, at the home I have created far from my childhood, perhaps this very Sunday in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.
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