When Mom the colorist/artist still had all her faculties, she was also a handyman and smart businesswoman. She kept the books on Dad’s house-painting business for years, doing the taxes and composing all correspondence. She earned her real estate license and helped sell the 3 inner-city properties they had bought. She learned real estate law on her own, managed tenant issues, and picked up a number of fix-it skills while helping care for the physical buildings.
I was no-more-inspired by her skillset than in 2002, when, at age 78, Mom installed a new toilet-tank ballcock in the house I’d just purchased in Kingston, NY. Then she installed balance friction springs in the old wooden windows’ sashes to stop the windows from slamming down. Lastly, she cut, fitted, and hung window shades in each room.
Those memories from the summer of 2002—working on an old 1900 bungalow with both my parents (who drove out to New York to help so I could have income to put the kid through college) are more precious with time. Each day we listened to public radio and worked. It was a hot, crisp, and clear-skied upstate New York summer, and in the early evenings we drove to the local outdoor pool to swim before returning to eat take-out food while sitting on plastic chairs. There was little furniture in the house besides those chairs–an Aero-bed downstairs and a double bed upstairs–but the appliances worked and there was real cutlery. The neighbor, Harmony, was an antiques restorer who pitched in by lending tools and helping now and then.
We were a tribe—smooth, in sync, and focused on the task at hand. We trimmed back wild trees, cleaned smudge from gutters, laid an oak floor, painted rooms, put up a sheetrock ceiling, patched the chimney, and planted fresh grass in the back. It all got done. We did it. Mom, Dad, and me.
Now that Dad has died and Mom’s loss of reality is nearing complete, I feel lonely. I realize that memories are saviors of sanity, and couriers of love.