(My Door County Advocate column for June 11.)
It’s odd to have let eight years go by. My mother passed away on June 6, 2006, and with all of the writing I have done since then, I have never written about her death. Not directly, at least.
Hilda Elwell was born Dec. 14, 1923, youngest of three children. Her brother Henry Jr. was a ham radio enthusiast, interested in the new technology that was growing up with them.
One day she encountered one of her brother’s radio friends, a handsome, lanky young man her age named Dick Bluhm. They began to see each other; actually, she was a bit of a looker herself, and several young men were interested.
But, she would tell her three sons, one day she heard that you should marry someone you can’t live without. She thought about these young men who sought her and realized one by one that they were all people she could live without if she had to – all except one.
“I thought oh, if I had to live without Richard, I don’t think I could do that,” she told us. They were married Dec. 3, 1944, and moved the next year to California, where the Army transferred him in those waning days of the war.
Anyone asked to raise three sons is a saint. We were a handful, the three of us fussing and watching the world from the back seat of the 1954 Studebaker Commander.
I remember someone who loved to laugh, who tried to be cheerful and optimistic in all things, countering angry or discouraging words with a chorus from “South Pacific”: “Happy talk, keep talking happy talk …”
I remember peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a generous additional dab of butter, and at Christmastime I remember magic bars, those marvelous treats layered with chocolate, coconut and condensed milk with a graham-cracker-crumb base.
Her mind began to fail her in later years. In every phone call to New Jersey, I would tell her we had seven cats, and she was amazed and surprised every time.
I remember once she responded to one of my comments with a sly remark like she used to, and it was my turn to be surprised. She was still in there after all, at least from time to time. It was comforting, but I mourned for the lady she was.
On the morning of June 5, 2006, she woke up and told my dad she had a terrible headache, and she stayed in bed for a while. When he came back to check on her a little while later, she wouldn’t wake up.
I was called that night and asked to come right away. I drove through the night and all day, and the three of us gathered with Dad around the hospital bed. They took her off life support, and Dad held her hand.
She didn’t move the whole time. Only the monitors told us when she was gone. Her heart kept beating longer than I expected. I remember saying, “She always did have a good heart.”
Then I collapsed from exhaustion. That was damn embarrassing. After the doctors made sure I was OK, Dad and my younger brother and I went out for a pizza. Long her caregiver, Dad hadn’t left her side much that last day.
These words seem inadequate. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written about it for eight years: How do you properly explain my mom? How does anyone?
I had a good talk on the phone with my dad on Friday, June 6; we didn’t mention the reason I decided to call that particular day. Not directly, at least.
Sunday afternoon I made magic bars. After they came out of the oven, I took a bite and thought, “Hi, Mom. Merry Christmas.”