I’ve been bad.
I don’t mean that I’ve been ‘bad’ bad, only that in the nine months or so that I have had this blog I haven’t really achieved what I set out to do, and that is to enlighten people about what it is like to home care for an ailing parent or loved one. I have learned so much in the past five years, and I really feel as though I have a lot of ‘down in the trenches’ wisdom to impart to others who may be traveling down this same road.
So, I’ll start at the beginning, and pretend that you, Dear Reader, are sitting right here and have never met me or my mother.
Mom and I probably talked to one another several times a week, sometimes daily and sometimes many times a day, all through my life. She lived in a house about three miles from mine, and we shared (almost) everything, but especially insights and learning, and what others would call ‘metaphysical’ or philosophical topics. She, being a Christian Scientist as well as a voracious reader, and me, being somewhat of an ‘egghead’ myself, in our case meant that we didn’t talk about movie stars, real life soap operas, politics or even problems that we were personally working through. We never had such animated conversations as when I was attending college classes. Repeating what I learned not only entertained her, but helped me to study/formulate my own thoughts on everything from Virgil to 20th century writers and history. I was an English major, and she read all my papers and gave me substantive comments. When I graduated, Rutgers awarded her an honorary degree as well.
But when I began to work in Manhattan after my father passed in 1986, our relationship took a different tack. Instead of being Mom’s best friend, I took over the role of… for lack of a better word…care-taker. By this I mean that I helped with chores that my father had traditionally done: putting storms up and down, raking the lawn, heavy cleaning, carting and carrying, as well as driving her to the market, dentist and eyeglass appointments, friend’s homes, etc. She walked everywhere. She didn’t like imposing on me, but after she gave up her car because the insurance was too expensive and it just “beckoned her to go out and shop” as she put it, I became the designated chauffeur, too. All things considered, she really did become quite self-sufficient and learned to handle all the things Dad used to take care of: finances, household maintenance, government agencies, banking and investments.
Investing was a subject that she didn’t know about, and found that she didn’t really want to learn about either – although she tried. I remember seeing her reading, “The Teenager’s Guide to the Stock Market.” (Oh my gosh, today that book is selling for $148 on Amazon!) In fact, it frightened her. It frightened her enough to compel her to drive alone in the early morning hours to Mid-town Manhattan on Friday, October 13, 1987 to personally sign papers to sell all her stocks. She was at the PaineWebber building when the doors opened, and despite her account manager telling her all was well, she stuck to her guns because she felt in her gut that’s what she should do. Mom was always one to ‘listen to the angel messages’ that come to you. I’m sure that she remembered vividly what happened after the Great Crash when her family’s finances took a turn for the worse, and she was taking NO chances. (I think she sold her car just after that.)
It turned out that day was the last business day before “Black Monday,” when the Dow suffered it’s greatest loss in a single day since 1929. Mom was so proud that she had prevented a huge loss to her account. It didn’t matter to her that the market went up again over the next few days, and regained all it lost by 1989. She didn’t know anything about stocks and bonds; all she knew was that she wasn’t going to play. Instead, she played the frugality game.
And she played it really well. For someone who was forced into taking a lesser amount of Social Security at 62, she truly made sound choices, starting with the decision to pay off the mortgage on her home with the insurance money Dad left her. Account gurus told her she was foolish, she should invest and use the money to enjoy herself. But she came from the generation which believed that if you owned your home free and clear, no one could put you out. That was security. That was what mattered. And so for almost thirty years, Mom scrimped and saved to stay in her beautiful home.
That home appreciated in value quite substantially, but none of that mattered to her. Home was a place where you could sit under a tree in a luxuriously green backyard and be part of nature, where you could snuggle down on a soft couch with a good book, where you could practice shorthand, calligraphy, public speaking, gourmet cooking, or sew curtains and pillows or dresses. She had so many, many interests and no need to roam. Mom had done her traveling and entertaining with my father, so she had no desire to go on a cruise, eat at restaurants or go to the theater. She flew to see her brother and sister in California, and visited her daughter when she lived in Germany, New Mexico and Oregon, and that was enough. She was a ‘hausfrau’ from the get-go, and was proud to admit it!
I still marvel to this day at how she was able to manage on her Survivor’s Social Security alone in one of the most expensive counties in the country! She never seemed to lack for anything, and always bought the best she could afford, whether it be fine shoes, clothing, food or books. Each month, she would proudly show me her bank account and how she was able to save a few quid. It didn’t matter how small an amount, she was relentless about “taking care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves,” as she used to say. She was a purveyor of wonderful sayings and little plaques were dotted around the house as well as quoted by her, and many of them are noteworthy as they exemplify her approach to money:
“Always go First Class.”
“If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”
“If you’re smart, you can make two dollars do the work of twenty.”
One that amused me was a little sign on her fridge. Desiderius Erasmus said, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” And that’s what she did. When we moved her into my home, she had close to 5,000 books – of every sort from Art History to Biography to Religion to Fiction and Philosophy. The scope of my mother’s curiosity was boundless. And I am still working through the boxes!
But for of all of her brainiac sayings, my favorite, and the one I try to rely on exclusively is: “God is my supply.” This mantra helps me to navigate the choppy seas I am swimming in now – to always remember as she did, that my supply – not only of money, but of physical and mental strength, innovation, peace, intelligence and assistance ultimately does come from Him.
I’ll end there for today. I hope I have given you a small glimpse of the bright, intelligent, caring person that was (is) my mother. Sometimes when I look at her now, I am reminded that that woman still exists, somewhere…inside…hidden from view, but there just the same.