You can’t live forever but my mom certainly gave it a good try. Maxine H. Walther, my mom, passed away on Jan 23, 2014, after living 103 years plus. She was born Oct. 30, 1910 in Modesto, Ca.
Although toward the end she had trouble collecting her thoughts at times, she was alert and still sharp (sounds like a contradiction I know, but don’t we all have that problem from time to time or all of the time?). It was only a couple of months ago, if that long, that I did a short video of her telling some of her memories of her children growing up, and her eyes lit up as she told them.
Until quite recently, she even could be seen riding her adult-size tricycle around the outside of assisted living place at which she lived (for a time she rode it on the inside, but it made folks nervous). She had been using a walker and wheel chair to get around for some time.
For a person her age she was quite healthy, except for various nagging ailments (I know, another contradiction — I’m having trouble with this — I’m sick myself with a virus right now as I am writing this). She was not bedridden.
And then a few weeks ago now — it seems like yesterday — I was visiting her — my last visit — and she was perplexed and bewildered: “I can’t do anything. I guess it’s all right if I don’t do anything,” is what she plaintively told me. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” is the only lame remark I could come up with.
And I think that spelled the end. Once she could not get around and do anything there was no point.
As I understand it, she died peacefully.
Who was mom? Well like most of us she was just a person on this earth who few, aside from her family, will ever remember. She was not famous. But to me she was mom. She was a housewife. She was a “stay at home mom” (except for some seasonal work in fruit processing for a limited time). That designation has become a pejorative in some circles. But I’m the baby of my family, having three siblings, including one of two brothers who is 20 years older than I. I mention that because I want to set the time frame. I can only speak for my own life. But I was born in 1949. I pretty much lived the “Leave it to Beaver” style of life in the ’50s and ’60s as I as growing up. Mom could have been June Cleaver. She cooked and cleaned and sewed and nursed us when we were sick and took care of the much-neglected family dog, baked cookies and put together potluck dishes for PTA meetings and back-to-school nights and read Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle (along with some weird and somewhat racy novels I would sneak a peek at). Along with that Leave it to Beaver theme, my dad usually wore a coat and tie, but unlike Ward Cleaver he did not hang around the house. He actually had a job to go to.
Okay I could go on forever with my childhood memories but let’s cut to the chase here:
Mom was a good citizen. She kept informed. She was always up to date on the news. She always voted. She was not an activist but if you asked her she did not hesitate to tell you her politics. “I’m a bleeding heart liberal” she would tell you, in a way that you knew she was noting the irony of the fact that many people throw that tag around as an expression of derision.
(A note here: I am my mother’s son but I don’t call myself a liberal. I prefer middle of the road. But sometimes one has to go with what works at the time. A blend of liberal and conservative seems to work — hard and fast ideologies can be so constraining — the only thing not to waver on is “personal freedom” to the fullest extent possible.)
But I don’t care what your political persuasion is, it would be good if everyone, regardless of their own political persuasion, just kept informed (reading and listening to objective reports and weighing both sides of an argument) and realize one has to use one’s own judgment — so much of what is put out these days is bogus, incorrect, slanted or at best incomplete. But if everyone just used his or her own judgment and voted accordingly the people could be in control. But the politicians depend upon us all being ignorant and indifferent. What I am so awkwardly trying to say here is that those of the old school, like my mom, who say little to the broader public, but just vote, wield the potential power — a potential that could be reached if more people participated — no marching or demonstrations required, just vote.
Mom saw the Great Depression and did not like it. I think some of the people in her assisted living home would wax nostalgic over those dark days when although so many people were poor, they enjoyed what they had and the family around them, and the little things they could do, as in when you have nothing, little things mean a lot. Mom expressed disgust to me over such talk. You don’t have to agree with her, that was just what she felt.
The Depression was all a decade before I was born, but as far as I know, although mom and dad had a rough time of it, already bringing up one son, born in 1929, the year the Great Depression began, they never went hungry or were destitute. For at least part of the time they lived on my dad’s family farm and/or another farm just across the road. But the income was low in those days. I think mom saw how bleak things looked. Maybe that is part of why dad went to college and got out of farming (he was always a good student; he was the first kid in his country neighborhood to go to high school). Ironically many of the neighbors expanded their operations during World War II and after and did quite well with a booming economy.
I think mom’s concern was not so much for herself as much as for others. She was if anything compassionate. She did not think that it was wrong to take tax dollars from all of us to help those in need. As for abuse of the system, she felt it was much exaggerated by the likes of Ronald Reagan, who used it as political hay.
(Personally I have witnessed some pretty outrageous abuse, but I would not throw out the baby with the bath water. All government programs, including those that support business, are abused.)
I’m really feeling too ill to go much farther with all of this, but maybe I can close by saying one thing I learned from mom that has had lasting impact:
I never really had to worry about mom being tricked by hucksters who prey upon older folks. She was just too skeptical. I mean she seldom believed anything I ever told her.
I miss her so much…
I was under the weather when I first wrote this and did not immediately publish it, but for the record I’m much better now.