Lately I have been rereading my stories about Mom. There is always something I have forgotten—things she said or did that make me laugh and leave me in awe at her enduring good sense and good humor. 14 years of living with Alzheimer’s and her character remained essentially intact—generous, funny and wise.
First let it be said that she was raised in a Scottish Calvinist family—the McFees. They were fiercely close-knit, very funny, competitive, opinionated and tremendously loving albeit in their singularly emotionally tucked-in way.
Death for example. For a McFee, death was like an old but disliked family friend, who drops by unexpectedly and is encouraged to leave as quickly as possible. When it did manage to get in the door, it was ignored. Sorrow to be private and brief. Tears forbidden. No funerals. No memorial services.
“It’s showy,” explained Mom.
She was dubious about heaven but like all Scottish Calvinists, she was pretty sure she was among the elect who were predetermined to enter.
“What do you think Seattle will be like in 50 years?” she would ask. “I won’t be here, so you will have to tell me.”
“Where will you be—heaven?”
Once, several years after Dad died, she asked me if I believed in heaven.
“Well, I’m not sure.”
“Me neither,” said Mom
“But if there is a heaven, Dad is up there building you a boat and when you get there he is going to take you on a cruise.”
“Now you’re talking!!”
She adamently resisted praise. Tell her she was pretty, and she would make a hideous face to prove you wrong. Tell her that her paintings were good, and she would declare that she did not and would not paint.
“Childish,” she would scoff. “A waste of time.”
Tell her again that her paintings were wonderful—that people loved them.
“My parents would be laughing.”
“I must have gotten this from your father’s side of family.”
Sometimes something completely unexpected. We were marching down the hall, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” when Mom switched to the Valkyrie theme. Wagner? Really? OK, Wagner it is.
And then out of the blue, some good, solid advice.
“If you are always nice to one person, you should be nice to yourself.”
Distilled to her essence.