Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
My mom came to town last week for her 80th birthday. She’s anxious on planes these days, so my sister, Judy, came with her, like always, and we lined up a few things to do that we thought they’d like. It’s not easy to entertain an 80-year-old lady with a portable oxygen concentrator (she’s had emphysema for the last few years), but we did our best.
On her birthday Sunday, we piled her into the car along with a wheelchair we had rented, and took her on one of our favorite local hikes. Three and a half miles along the middle fork of the American River.
Foolhardy? It seemed like it at first, as I tried to keep her from careering downhill from the parking lot on the rough, rocky drive. I suppose the gate at the trail head would have stopped her, but you never know. Managed, somehow, but then the trail leveled out and the four of us eased into a steady pace on the crushed gravel. It wasn’t hard to push the chair on that stuff, luckily, though Mom’s ride seemed a little jarring now and then. She was a good sport about it, fiddling sometimes with her smartphone to snap a picture of the gorgeously sunlit canyon with the river swimming along below. She kept showing her photos to Judy and asking if she got the picture, and Judy said if you meant to take a picture of your knees you did. Judy got some good shots for her instead.
At the picnic tables almost a couple of miles in, we had blueberry muffins from a local bakery and washed them down with Capri Suns from our backpack. The dog sat under the table and got his share from my wife, who was talking about the longevity of some of the great movie actresses from the past, like Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall. (Sue’s a real movie buff.) You’re doing as well as them, she said to my mom, who recounted again the time she packed all us kids up into the car when my dad hadn’t come home for dinner and took us to the drive-in to see Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte. She wanted to stick it to Dad, and it worked. He was stunned to ramble in around nine to find nobody home.
On the way back, people were giving us the most tender looks — a middle-aged man pushing an elderly lady with an oxygen concentrator in her lap in a wheelchair on a just-traversable trail. Everyone said hi. Some people were almost too eager to engage, and I chalk it up to a little bit of anxiety over their own aging parents, or how fast time goes in life. But it doesn’t go so fast that you can’t plan a few nice things and try something out of the ordinary to make a loved one happy for a while.
Monday, we took Mom on a Lake Tahoe cruise, hoisted her up to the top deck and wrapped her in a thick wool blanket so she’d be comfortable in the breeze. We had to be up there, because only there could you see the lake and the mountains and the sky in their entirety, and it was all so blue and crisp and expansive and magnificent that we all agreed it was worth being just a little chilly.
Mom fiddled with her smartphone and took some pictures of the table legs.