Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Mother the Human Jukebox

I'm lying there half asleep, in and out of REM when the phone rings. It must be 4 a.m. I lurch out of bed and stumble as fast as I can to the phone. A phone call at this ungodly hour will always get your adrenaline pumping but fast. It can only be dire news. It has to involve my elderly mother. I sense this and dread answering the phone. I get to the phone just before the answering machine kicks in, on ring 4. "Hello" I croak, my throat is still constricted from sleep.
The voice on the other end confirms my worst fears. It is the hospital. It is the voice of a woman, a nurse,I didn't catch the name as my mind is racing in anticipation of some tragic news. I hear, "Mr. Swampcritter, this is Emergency Services at PRMC. Your mother was just transported here by ambulance, we are calling to notify you that her condition is at this time critical. Could you come soon?"
I stammer, "Wh-Wh-What happened? What's wrong with her?"
Then I hear the reply, "Well, Mr. Swampcritter, you may not believe this, but your mother has turned into a juke box."
"Oh Okay," I hear myself say. "Just unplug her if she gets too loud." I hang up the phone and go back to bed. It's a dream, it has to be.
It's too true. My mother has become a jukebox. A series of recordings forever locked in the past. Today my wife and I drove her into the hospital to visit my brother. On the trip in all I heard from the backseat was the "Golden Oldies." Finally out of desperation, I turned off my hearing aid.
It could have been Great Aunt Leone's penchant for lonely soldiers, or how about the time she went to nursing School in Baltimore in 1949, and how unsafe the streets are in Glen Burnie now vs. then.
It's maddening listening to the woman. She's turned into such a collection of tape loops that it's impossible to make small talk with her, and I hate small talk too.
I tell her, "Mom, you need some new tunes. I've only heard this one twice today already." I'm trying not to hurt her feelings. Instead I hear"Oh your Grandmother Godfrey was like that, she never talked about anything current, that woman lived in the past. You remember her don't you?" Anything I say is like pushing a button, I can almost hear the pop and hiss as the needle wears into those grooves. Do I hear the theme from Antiques Road Show faintly playing in the background?
"Just like she never left, Mom." I say. Thank the Lord she lives under my brother's roof. I notice I am driving faster, I need to get rid of her sooner rather than later. My wife is laughing at me. She knows what I'm going through.
My Mother, The Human Jukebox.


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