It was one of the final days before I left St Louis to move to Charleston, mere weeks after graduating St Louis University School of Nursing, and mere months after the sudden death of my father. Friends were sending me off, doing what my friends tend to do well: fill a space with life, laughter, good food, music, and a helluva lot of love.
She was still heart-broken, and I was heart-torn-- how could I leave her, so newly widowed, and so fragile physically? How could I start off anew, as I had intended to do in those days before my father's heart gave out? I told her I would stay; she told me I must go. She said it was the life I'd been planning, that we'd talked about, in those months before I finished nursing school. It was the life that gave my father a lot of pleasure, thinking of his daughter heading back to that city by the sea. The two of them had talked about it, when I wasn't around, which only made me slightly twitchy to think about. He had dreams of joining me in practice after I became a Nurse Practitioner, hanging out a shingle that said DOD (though instead of the "Dear Old Dad" nickname it stood for in our family, it would be "Daughter or Dad").
I listened, and remembered; all the talking and plans, the futures he, she, and I had anticipated. It hurt to leave; it was the death of a dream to stay. I looked at the face of my mother, a curious combination of strength and vulnerability, alone for the first time in her life. My heart cried, but I listened to what she said, told me what she wished. "We'll both be starting new lives. It will be fine. And there are telephones, " she said. She paused, and with a twinkle in her eye, added, "and airplanes."
Tomorrow she would have been 93. In the photo I look at, found in a box tucked away, the tangible memory of our conversation, I am roughly the age of my son, she is roughly the age I'll be in a few days. When I look now, I see the echoes of the face I see in the mirror each day, in both her image, and mine of 33 years ago. There are no planes for visiting now, or telephones, but the journey to remembering is never far.