"You'll never change, neither will I
"We'll stay the same till the days that we die
"I'll never win, neither will you
"So what in this world are we gonna do?"
-- Loudon Wainwright III
The diagnosis was terminal lung cancer. The doctor said 30 days. More or less. Straight with no chaser. Some people say they want to know. Just give it to me straight. They don't mean it. My mother meant it. She was old school, so the doctor obliged. More or less. A little longer with chemo, he explained. Slow it down while you have time to wind down is the logic. More or less. My mother said no. She would wind down on her own terms at home. You didn't get to the age of 85 without being tough. So home she went.
The sisters were born two years apart. Both natural beauties. Both natural enemies. The rivalry started at an early age. My mother was the youngest, so her sister had the advantage at first, but not for long. They fought over boyfriends, they fought over clothes. They fought over the affection of their gruff father. He was old school, too. Coming from the rough-and-tumble Oklahoma territory, he felt most comfortable with a shotgun or fishing rod in his hand. Dainty little girls were outside his world view. "The first time my father ever kissed me was on my wedding day," my mom often told me. She would always tell the story with a sense of astonishment. Sometimes with regret. Sometimes with humor. Always with pain.
They would meet with their families usually once a year. Maybe Christmas. Maybe Thanksgiving. Maybe at a funeral or a wedding. My aunt was flamboyant. She would wear bright clothing, revealing clothing, and have outrageous conversations. Punch, smack, attack. My mother took the Zen approach. Passive aggressive. Feint, jab, retreat. Rita Hayworth and Liz Taylor, more than one outsider would observe seeing them, not realizing Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was closer to the truth. One shared Thanksgiving when I was grown, both insisted on making the turkey for the shared meal. Both showed up with a massive 24-pound bird that perched on each end of the long dining table. "Try mine," they sang in unison to anyone asking for a slice of turkey, completely unaware of the dark comedy unfolding before them -- more or less.
Old age brought them back to the same town in Florida. Back to the old rivalries. When my mom got her cancer news, the sisters had not seen each other for several months. The reasons are now obscure. It might have been a look or just a careless word. Or maybe not so careless. They lived 3 miles apart, but it might as well have been an ocean. Hearing the news, my aunt called my sister who lived close by: "Can I come see her?" she asked. In the movies, Rita would see Liz. They would embrace. They would shed tears and say things like "how we could have been so silly?" In times like this, family is what is most important. But this was real life, complete with real wounds and old habits. My mom said no way. Let me die in peace. She was old school. She was a child of her father. More or less.
Most people hate change. They like to win. They don't want to lose. What they fail to realize is that if you must win, then somebody else must lose. We often think about changing the world, our partner, our children, but few ever think about changing themselves, your humble columnist included. "The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking," said Albert Einstein.
My mother died without seeing her sister. In the end, I think perhaps she was more under the influence of her older sister than she was aware. Under the influence of her distant father. Under the influence of unchanged thinking. Did she make the right decision at the end? Sure, for her I think so. More or less.
NAN Our Town on 07/11/2019
Print Headline: Change now, change never, more or less