Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
It was a little over a year ago, when I last headed back to St. Louis to help my mom through cataract surgery, that she confessed to me one of her few bucket-list items to cross off before she shuffles along to whatever’s next.
“You know what I’d really like to do before I go?” she asked.
Looking a little sheepish, she tittered a bit, then said, “I hope I get a chance to swing on a swing set one more time.”
We happened to be in a park with a swing set at the time. I looked over at it and said, “Why not now? There’s your chariot right over there.”
The park was a little crowded, though, and she didn’t like the idea of a bunch of people watching a then 81-year-old woman wobble back and forth on a kiddie machine. She demurred.
“Well,” I said. “It’s a pretty simple Make-A-Wish thing. I bet we can get you on a swing set one of these days.”
Calendar pages fly by, as more than one of my characters like to say (my wife too).
Last week I was back in St. Louis for Mom’s 83rd birthday, and aside from dependence on her portable oxygen concentrator she’s still as energetic and witty and fun as ever. My sister, Judy, took us to the zoo on Mom’s birthday—it’s all happenin’ at the zoo, you know—then we joined Judy’s husband and my brother, Steve, and his wife at Texas Roadhouse for the birthday dinner. Mom put away a five-ounce filet, while I vowed never to set foot in a Texas Roadhouse again if I could avoid it. We headed back to Mom’s place for some Baskin Robbins ice cream cake. Mom blew out a few candles, with Judy’s help.
The next day we took a trolley tour of St. Louis (starting at Union Station, above). The bell captain at the Union Station Hotel was just a little younger than me and happened to live in the area where I went to high school. Lived close to my old girlfriend, as a matter of fact, and we talked about how much things had changed out that way. I imagine my old girlfriend has changed too. I know I have (above). Randy fixed a tour snafu for us, saving the day for Mom. We all had big smiles as we piled onto the trolley. The driver was a true-blue St. Louis boy, who said things like “warsh” for wash and “the-A-ter” for theater. He declared all the sights on the tour, which passed through many of my old stomping grounds, “kind of a cool thing.”
Over the weekend, I made a pot of chili for Mom so she could have leftovers for a few days. The recipe calls for, among other things, beer, tequila, and chocolate, and I was happy to see her go through her bowl lickety-split and pronounce it the best chili she’d ever had. (Naturally—it was made with love, right?)
On our last full day together, we got the idea to drive over to the park where we had scattered my brother’s ashes twelve years ago. She hadn’t been there in a couple of years. Used to go every day, but as her emphysema worsened she had to cut back. I carried her oxygen concentrator as we walked the trail to a spot that looked like the spot in the shallow creek where we’d left Joe. We sat on a bench and talked about him. In the vein of “you’re not really dead until the last person who remembers you is dead,” we walked back feeling wistful but happy, remembering good things about him.
As we emerged from the sparse woods, Mom said, “You know what I’d like to do now?”
“Tell me,” I said.
“Nobody’s here. I think I want to swing on the swing set.”
We made a beeline for the empty swings, and before I could give her a hand, Mom swept off her oxygen tube, handed me the machine, and dashed to one of the U-shaped seats. In a few seconds she was pumping away like it was 1942 and she was seven years old, shouting all the while, “This is so much fun!”
I wished for a split second that I had a phone with me so I could record the moment. But in the next split second I knew that it was better to watch this happen in front of me with no filter, no distraction. It would stay more real that way.
Mom finally came to a stop and dismounted a little unsteadily. I helped her to a bench so she could catch her breath, but on every exhale, she said again and again, “That was so much fun!”
So she got to scratch this one off her bucket list. And she gave me a memory I’ll pull up every time I think of her for the rest of my days.