Saying Good-bye

COPYRIGHT 2000, All Rights Reserved, James E. Rivard

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Although I had a twin brother, and twin siblings thirteen months younger than myself, I suppose because siblings were independent of me, I felt that my Teddy bear was very special. It was totally dependent upon me, and I liked caring for it. Maybe I was starting to put into practice what I had learned about nurturing just a few short years before.

I was about to enter kindergarten, and I still carried Teddy around with me. My paternal grandmother was over visiting, and noticed that I was "getting too big to carry my Teddy bear."

"Ma" tried to be very gentle and understanding, speaking in a soft voice, and bending down close to me. I knew she had my best interests at heart. She was a very loving and attentive person, and let us sit with her, and monopolize her attention, at least for snatches of time. She was not fawning, just interested.

When she made the suggestion that I should consider not carrying around my Teddy bear, I was at first surprised. It had never occurred to me that we would ever be permanently separated. I was not possessive of it, or afraid to be without it, I just enjoyed the company. It made me feel good to be caring.

We children had been the fulfillment of my mother's nature. She wanted a big family, and before her second wedding anniversary she was taking care of two sets of twins. She was industrious, determined, and organized. She would line us up in our highchairs at mealtime, and just start with whoever seemed the hungriest. She would end up just going from one to the next, assembly-line fashion, till each of us had finished the bowl in front of us.

Some would say that the oldest get more attention, some would say that the oldest resent the shift of attention to the new, younger siblings. I do not remember any feelings of superiority or inferiority, of too much or too little of anything. She was able to keep us placated, and we grew up almost as a unit, an army of munchkins. We wandered the apartment, and a few years later the house, with free reign to create our own worlds. My world included my Teddy bear.

Now we are grown. Now we are learning to adapt to our mother's Alzheimer's disease. She is still at home with my father, and all eleven children celebrated my parents' fiftieth anniversary last summer. We are now an extended (and extensive) family of about forty persons -- from newborns, to our one-hundred year old paternal grandmother, "Ma".

My grandmother was about fifty-five when she made that gentle suggestion to start living without having a Teddy bear to care for. Now, since moving back to my hometown, every Wednesday I take a day off from work to let my father play bridge, and to give back some of the love and attention I received from our mother. I feel fortunate that I can reorganize my life and routine. My mother went from a house with a live-in maid, to a home where she was the maid for a new household full of children.

I remember her expressive ways, her multifaceted personality, her boisterous sense of humor, her ability to focus on a chore and get it finished. Sometimes, as a realist, she knew that she could not do a perfect job, and had to just "take care of the big chunks."

She had perfect musical pitch, and as a conductor, she would have been great. She took piano lessons, but always wanted to play the saxophone. It was jazzy and expressive, like her. Recently she would endlessly repeat her introduction to the music world. -- Growing up she spent the entire summer at the family summer home overlooking Long Beach on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. Her father could commute to his law office in about one hour. During the day she could wander over to the dance hall about 100 yards away and amaze and amuse the musicians who were practicing for the evening shows.

One particular band took a liking to her and would exclaim "Here's Annie" when they saw her sneaking into the hall to listen. A few times they even let her sing a few songs with the group when they practiced. It must have made quite an impression, to be accepted for her musical knowledge. I suppose at her wake we should have a real "New Orleans" style party and parade to the beach where she spent so many summers. As her brother Jim said at their mother's wake, "Mom is really missing a great party."

I'll miss a great mom, but for now we are spending many exquisite afternoons listening to old big band tunes. I can get used to leaving another Teddy bear behind. But I will remember them, and the love they evoke.

Mom went into a nursing home in the Spring of 2001, but I still spend Wednesday afternoons visiting her.