Monday, September 22, 2014

The Roosevelts and Us

"You'll see," she muttered, frowning as she cleaned her glasses with characteristic ferocity, "It all goes to hell in a handbasket. Your eyes, your teeth..." Here she trailed off, waiting for me to take up her thread and carry it forward, a stitch or two, maybe three.

Instead I parried. "It doesn't have to be like that. You can recast your lot. Be grateful for what you do have, the love of family, your ability to walk on your own two feet, your wisdom, however hard-won."

She snorted, unconvinced, as I had known she would be. Later she died, still uncompromising in her belief that life had failed her, never considering that she might have failed it.


And now here I am, cleaning my own reading glasses, running my tongue over ever more fragile teeth. Older now I think than when she instructed me on how awful it is, this growing old business.

Facing my own mortality as she faced hers. But no, not at all as she faced hers. My poor mother.


History is wasted on the young, they say, although not on my sixteen-year-old son, who inhales it as he does the promise of food. But that is another story.

At night my husband and I clasp hands and watch The Roosevelts on PBS. It is not anything close to a fast-paced show, but we are riveted, more by the photos than by the commentary. All those frank faces, unsoftened by color, staring out at the unknown, at us.

Yes, he and I clasp hands and wonder about the biopsy results that are forthcoming and in what ways our narrative will be directed by those results. What will our history show, the black and white of us? What will my cellular history show, the black and white of me?

I try to memorize Eleanor Roosevelt's gaze, her strength and candor all bound up in her eyes, and the way she holds her neck, proud and defiant and strong. If I mimic her posture and her direct, even challenging, look, perhaps I can too feel proud, defiant, strong.

Because I am certain of this: I want to be Eleanor, shaping history instead of letting it shape me.

My bloodline be damned. Eleanor can be my guide. Under her tutelage I will take nothing for granted, disparage nothing, neither my aging teeth nor my aging eyes nor any damn part of this beautiful life. 


alejna said...

I love this.

I haven't watched the Roosevelts, but it does sound fascinating. Eleanor sounds like an excellent guide.

(This is a total tangent, but I had a dream that my great grandmother wrote trashy romance novels under a pseudonym--first name Eleanor. I can't now remember the last name that my dream provided...)

alejna said...

Also, I am thinking of you and eagerly awaiting the results. You've had to do so much waiting...

Mary Gilmour said...

At 72 and counting, most of my teeth are being replaced and reinforced, one by one, and all my joints (and maybe my head) are in the process of being calcified.
When I consider the alternative, however, calcium migration seems minor.
Hoping and hoping that your results come back benign. And that you and Eleanor get along.
I don't get up in the morning feeling enthusiastic, but through the day, every day, things improve.
Hugs. Bug them!!!!!!!!!!!

jess said...

You are so unlike your mother. It's sad that that should be a good thing, but you've taken what she never gave you and made a wonderful life out of it. That is something to be proud of indeed.

Hoping your results come back soon and you can be done with this waiting and that the news is the best that you can hear. But even if it's not, I know you will be okay. Because you're so unlike your mother.

Alexandra Rosas said...

I have loved watching this, and have grown even more admiring in Eleanor and all that she overcame. She is my inspiration these days with so many changes. Love to you, friend. Thank you for this post.