Saturday, May 21, 2005

Column for the Bay City Times: May, Mabel, Doug and Me

I spent a good part of Mother’s Day at the Bay City Players for the second weekend of “Meet Me in St. Louis”. Susan Meade was there - lovely as ever – in her crinkly gold silk blouse, distressed-and-deconstructed-pearl-and-lace-encrusted jeans, and unfaltering smile.
We sat behind a Queen-Anne-Legged offering season tickets to anyone who glanced our way and chatting with a rather formidable older lady who knew both Susan and me but whom I could not remember.

Into our triangle drifted an apricot-coated Little lady with white hair being led past by her daughter.

They paused in their passing and Little said to Formidable in the slightly tremulous voice that is proof of a full life, “Did you know me?”

Without waiting for any reply beyond our politely interested facial expressions, Little answered herself with a slow and quietly certain smile and, “You knew me,” directed at Formidable. Formidable said looking into Little’s eyes with a similar smile, “Yes.”

As the daughter led her away, Little said with an urgency that made me listen very carefully: “My name is May.”

Then she was gone, but my day was altered and I was minded of other little ladies. Other mothers. Other children. Other urgencies. And Mabel.

Mabel was a ninety-something-year-old woman who lived at the same nursing home as my Great Uncle Sol (a cousin, actually) in South Dakota. The main difference between she and he was that, while my family were there to visit him, no one came to visit Mabel.

I passed her in the hall as I set out on a passing-the-time exploration and – for some reason known only to her Alzheimer’s and herself – I was recognized as, and assumed to be, a boy named Doug.

I never found out if Doug was a nephew, son or grandson, but I did learn a great deal about him as Mabel reminded me of things any self-respecting Doug should have known.

Doug and I apparently had the same ready laugh. Doug played baseball and the piano. Doug loved chasing fireflies and climbing trees. But, most of all, Doug was deeply, wholly unforgettably, unreasonably and lastingly loved of a woman named Mabel who seemed to remember very little beyond that love. For some reason not to be found, I was where he should’ve been, and – for a while – I was alright being a boy named Doug.

I stopped to chew on this for a bit backstage and realized that May, Mabel, Doug and me were linked by time, sympathy, empathy and humanity.

Everything that lives will age, fade, falter and eventually be forgotten, but old is not dead. We cheat ourselves as well as our aging loved ones when we forget this.

Our old are touchstones to the past, proof of continuity, and a source of hope because they have gone through life before us and survived. I am inclined to think that a general disconnect between the rising and passing generations may have something to do with the bewilderment and lack of focus now common among the twenty-somethings of today.

When I am paused between choices in my life, I am grateful for the aged voices in my head reminding me that I am not the first in such a quandary. I go on grateful that my life was overlapped by others, and am soberly aware that my life just might - in turn - overlap those that follow me. So, don’t forget the old; you might be lucky enough to be one of them someday. They are the keepers of our stories and it is their hands that are most suited to guide the next generation; they made and survived our mistakes before us, after all.

(Originally published in the Bay City Times, 2005, SPM)

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