In her 70s, my mother began to call some women “Marge.”
The real Marge, a kind, caring neighbor, visited my parents with homemade cookies and condominium gossip. She enjoyed my mother’s company. She and my mother had great rapport. Mostly, Marge appreciated my quirky, unconventional mother. Mom felt safe with Marge.
The first new Marge was my parents’ regular waitress at the Florida deli where they ate breakfast. She greeted them each morning with a warm hello and a basket of rolls, and then conversed as she brought their usual egg order along with a white paper bag for the uneaten rolls. When I counted eight bags in the freezer, Mom said, “Marge at the restaurant doesn’t want us to run out.”
Other Marges included her longtime hairdresser and a doting home aide. On one of the aide’s days off, my mother fell, broke her pelvis, spent three weeks in the hospital, and then another three in the rehab unit of a nursing home. During that time, my father got pneumonia and died.In my mother’s absence, the doting aide found a new job. I explored other homecare options. None felt right. With enormous guilt, but little choice, I moved my mother in a nursing home in Buffalo, our hometown.
In time, Mom blossomed. Her sass and wit returned. She looked and sounded happier and more relaxed than she had been as shut-in the condo when my father was alive. Except for a scowling night aide, she called “Lasagna” the staff showered her with attention and found her fun to be around.
“Let’s leave this dump, Marge,” she told her favorite aide one day while I was there. “My daughter’s crazy and I’m missing something important.”
“What?” the aide asked.
“What’ll you do with a man, Esther?”
Mom said, “Neck around.”
Another Marge polished her nails with wild colors. A kitchen Marge gave her lots of attention and bags of rolls to go.
I was grateful my mother found Marges. Then one by one, they left. Mom began to complain. About the food, her stomach, bedtime, and Lasagna.
One afternoon, when we were sitting together in the living area and Lasagna was sitting there by herself, my mother, fidgeting and glancing from her to me, said, “Lasagna doesn’t like me.”
“Lasagna doesn’t seem to like anyone, Mom.”
“She’s mean at bedtime. Why can’t I come with you?”
Ouch! I spoke to the social worker before leaving. In the car, I thought about 8-year-old me many moons before, stuck in the children’s dining room at a Catskills resort. “Why can’t I eat with you?” I pleaded with my parents after only one uncomfortable meal. For the rest of that vacation, I sat in the main dining room between my mom and dad.
I was not as good a parent to my 85-year-old mom.
Later that month, my mother died. The doctor wrote ‘heart attack’ on the death certificate. He told me she’d been asleep. When I picked up her belongings, Lasagna was on duty. “Sorry about your mother,” she said.
I thanked her. “Was she okay at bedtime?”
“Fine.” Lasagna walked away.
I pray my mother died without harm or fear. I pray she found bags of rolls in heaven and angels she calls Marge.
Nancy Davidoff Kelton is the author of 6 books. Her essays have appeared in several sections of The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Buffalo News, More, and Redbook among numerous other publications. She blogs over at LOVE 'N STUFF. Nancy teaches writing at the New School, NYU, and Hunter College.