It’s 1960 something. The windows in the tiny second floor apartment above the office are wide open. Sheets and undergarments dangle from the clothesline in the parking lot below.
The hi-fi blares. A cigarette burns in an ashtray.
“Mother never really smoked a cigarette. She just lit it and let it burn,” my aunt recalls.
The ash grows and curls precariously. We watch and wait for the ash snake to drop so the next act can begin.
Grandpa flies across the room with an ashtray. Catches it in the nick of time, saving the carpet from another burn mark.
“Mark my words, this is how we’re gonna go,” he’d say.
Mark my words, that’s not how she went.
The hi-fi blares. Her highball is gettin low.
But she keeps going — and going — and going.
It’s May 2, 2008.
The hard brown candy shells on the buds are about to burst. Tiny rivers of green are visible in the crackles. I know spring is coming, but I can’t tell you when.
I sit and wait. And I hear that snow is on the way. Again.
My beautiful grandma lays awake, eyes shut, body transparent and breaking down with every breath. “What part of me is disappearing?” she asks.
The part that doesn’t matter, I want to say. And it’s what I believe. But as long as she’s physically present, I will cling to her vine — however diminished.
“Ramblin rose, ramblin rose/
why you ramble, no one knows/
wild and wind blown/
that’s how you’ve grown/
who can cling to/
a ramblin rose?”
Oh, you bet I can. Because she planted herself inside me. Inside of all of us.
The hi-fi blares. Her patience flares.
She struggles, but does not give up. We keep watch and remember her feisty ways —
“Hi Tony, is your mother there?”
“No grandma, she’s not home. I’ll tell her to call you when she gets in.”
Click. Grandma hangs up. And then redials.
Tony picks up the phone. For the third time in 10 minutes.
This time Grandma is silent.
“Grandma, I know it’s you. I can hear your music.”
“Ok, ” she admits, “it’s me! Have her call me when she gets home.”
It’s May 8, 2008.
The rhythm of Mother Angelica reciting the rosary controls our breathing. She is turned on her side facing me in the bed next to her. My head is on her pillow touching hers. She holds one of my hands. Her other hand is draped over my back.
I drift off.
She sits up in my dream. Gets up to walk.
I startle awake. Hold her closer.
“Help me,” she says.
“How can I help you? Please tell me.”
“Stay close to me.”
“I’m here. I won’t leave you.”
It’s May 11, 2008.
The clock in my parents’ living room where I am sleeping on the sofa strikes twelve times. It’s Mother’s Day Grandma. You made it. I get up to kiss her.
The buds on the trees are about to burst. But I still can’t tell you when.
It’s two o’clock in the morning on May 11.
The hi-fi blares. She raises her hand to let us know.
We stay close to her and hold her hands when she goes.
Yes, Grandma I know —
I will always know it’s you —
I can hear your music.