Sunday in the Park
The cherry blossoms brought me to tears. The fluffy pink and white flowers so elegant, fragile, outside her window. Whispering …"soon."
I had been away for a week for the first time in a year. At a conference I look forward to, with members of my geeky, nerdy tribe to share ideas. We were outside most nights for dinners in the desert, with the blackest skies and brightest stars, far away from city lights.
I listened to new ideas from smart people who spoke on stage and smart people who shared seats on the bus to dinners. We stayed cocooned away from cell phones and computers most of every day. It was thrilling to be unplugged, to have the ability to mono-task with guilty pleasure. The days flew until we left Southern California sunshine, hugged hard like summer campers and went our separate ways.
My separate way included a stop first. I flew up to the Bay Area to visit my mother, known to regular readers as Mean Jean (for a variety of offenses) in her home for dementia, before I headed back here, to my home.
They were serving dinner when I arrived and walked into the dining room to find Jean sitting in a wheelchair, slumped over, asleep. She was no longer fierce but fragile. I sat next to her for a while, gently touched her arm and softly explained to her who I was. She did not respond to my voice or my touch. The male caregiver came over, touched her arm and said, "Jeanie, time to eat." She opened her eyes briefly, let him feed her a few bites of food, closed her eyes and slipped back to sleep.
We repeated the cycle for over an hour.
During one of the last rounds of this recital, I looked out the large windows to the beautiful gardens at the facility. There was a cherry tree, in bloom, right outside the window. Beautiful, elegant, wistful. Can a tree be wistful? And I remembered a time with Jean, before I moved to Park City, 33 years ago this week.
I was visiting San Francisco in the spring, from my snowy home in Tahoe. There was an exhibit with the Book of Kells at the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park. I was fascinated by all things Irish at that point in my life. Jean was of the generation that you lied about having Irish ancestors, still. I wanted to go to the exhibit. Jean found the idea pretentious. We were not museum people. She knew of a bar owned by some Irish brothers, off Van Ness Street, that we could go to, to connect with my Irish side. I said perhaps we didn’t need to spend the day together before I moved states away. I was going to the exhibit.
Jean decided to come.
The exhibit was stunning with all things gilded, illustrated and illuminated. Fancy scrolled letters. Stories about monks and gold chalices and all the things Jean grew up hating about her Catholic mother and the religion she called "mumbo jumbo." She raced through each room. I lingered.
After the tour, I suggested visiting the adjoining Japanese tea gardens. We sat outside on wooden benches and enjoyed tea service with tiny almond cookies. Jasmine tea with delicate flowers floating on top. Jean admitted she enjoyed seeing the religious nonsense in the museum. Said it explained some things her mother had held dear.
Then she started telling me how miserable I was going to be in Utah. How I was a fifth-generation Californian and didn’t belong in a state where I didn’t know anyone. Said I’d be back after six months. Later, I would see this, possibly, as her awkward way of saying she didn’t want me to go. But what I heard was the refrain she used all my life: "You’re dumb and you’re wrong."
I looked away. And while she kept talking and talking I focused on the beauty of the cherry tree blooming next to the teahouse. She had tried to not be herself for a few hours. But it was impossible. Her toeless, backless, sling heels clicked on the sidewalk as we left. Her tight skirt and too-tight top stretched over her Jayne Mansfield chest. We did not hug or kiss. We did not display emotions. Ever. I drove back to my hotel. I suspect she went to Van Ness.
When I boarded the plane in San Francisco this Sunday, I did so thinking about the woman in the wheelchair with the cherry tree outside her window she does not see. And my voice she no longer hears. And my touch she does not feel. It is no different than it ever was. The soft blossoms seemed fragile and wistful. I kissed her on the forehead and said goodbye this time. She did not know. And then I came home, where I have lived more than half of my entire life. Welcomed by twinkling stars against dark clear skies on another Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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