99 years

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — It is nearly 13 years since I went on my first date with the person who has since become my main squeeze. I was not young even then (at least at 39, I didn’t think so) and with a full generation on me, he was even less so.

So I was surprised when he said, “I have a mother; as you can imagine she is quite ancient.”

I couldn’t imagine, and didn’t try, as I assumed I wouldn’t get a chance to get to know her very well.

But I did get to know her, enough to be impressed, as much as she annoyed, exasperated and, at times, oppressed me in the years that followed. And while she already steadied herself with a cane — a special plexiglass one with blue flowers twined inside that required  mulitple attempts to cut down to her diminutive size, she really wasn’t quite ancient then.

Instead, for all the anachronistic prejudices that clung to her like her Scarlett O’Hara accent, she was quite relevant. Although she didn’t vote by the time I met her, her preferences invariably did, and had, forecast the winner of each presidential election. If she had been feeling better and hadn’t moved to an assisted living facility near her other son up north, she could have spared me a lot of anxiety during this last election.

She went for good looks and optimism, both traits she had possessed in abundance.

She died today — or yesterday (with the time difference it is hard to  tell) and I imagine she would be as surprised as I am.

We thought she was immortal.

As it is, she absorbed and adapted to an epic amount for one not very adventurous lifetime.

She was born in the north but became permanently southern when her mother died and she was sent to live with relatives in Alabama. She was an accepting person by nature, and perhaps that led her to accept the segregated world around her as the natural order of things.

But in her 99 years, during which her enjoyment of life — of bridge, of a good laugh, of the carefully selected antiques that surrounded her — probably helped her outlive both of her sisters, she found herself with a diverse set of descendants — a grandson as well as nieces and nephews with heritage from races other than her own, and adjusted — and adulated her half-Asian grandson.

I probably deceive myself when I say she came to accept me more than I accepted her, but that is testimony to her generally good-natured manners. My own mother — more eccentric, more intellectually curious, more liberal,  was in awe of her social expertise, and liked her very much.

I am glad her long life is over, because it had become unenjoyable at the end, but I am glad I knew her. She set a good example, on the whole.


One Response

  1. Wilma died? Wow. I am actually surprised. How is Ken?

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