I’m not talking to my mother this Mother’s Day. We have one of those tough relationships that would make for an excellent episode on the Dr. Phil show. The audience would love it, but I’m not sure even he’d know what to do. The woman is impossible to please, and I’d nearly given up trying until I hit upon a brilliant idea last Mother’s Day.
I remembered seeing a report about an experiment conducted in Amsterdam where elderly patients with dementia were taken to a park setting with tableau of items and scenes reminiscent of their younger days. Old cars were parked along lover’s lane, a soda fountain juke box played tunes that they would have danced to well into the night, and there were sights and sounds all around that drew them gently back in time. The effects on their minds was remarkable. Many who ordinarily sat mute came to life and bopped about to the snappy beat of big band hits. Bobby sox and poodle skirts sent floods of memories into their minds and brought smiles to their faces, and a few tears to their eyes.
What would happen if I could do the same for my mom, I wandered. As a drama teacher in the small town where we live, I had access to lots of set pieces. What I didn’t have, I knew I could build. I had a great relationship with the folks at Loews. I shopped there often enough to know my way around the store. I used a loews coupon every time I placed an order online, to save money and stretch my meager production budget. When I told my class what I had in mind, they jumped at the chance to get involved. My mom had taught many of their parents and was still a respected figure in town, even though her faculties were getting dim.
For inspiration, we searched through the school archives and found the yearbook from the year she met my dad. They were seniors in high school at the time. After college, she remained at home while he did a stint in the Army. As I was growing up, she loved to recount how she dazzled him the night he came to pick her up for the senior prom. The photo of the two of them remained on her dressing table for most of their 56 years of marriage. I hate what dementia has done to her. Where once she was a likeable, engaging social trend setter, she now spent most days fussing about in her gown. She blames me for missing items that turn up in the most unlikely places; several times, I’ve found her wallet in the freezer, after being told repeatedly someone came into the house and stole her doll.
So last year, in time for Mother’s Day, with the help of material and supplies from Loews, we built a set in the backyard. A local seamstress donated the time it took to recreate the dress mom wore, and we had music playing and refreshments on China from her wedding set. The local antique car club drove up to the house, and we escorted her around town for a little while in a car just like the one they bought when they got married. She absolutely loved it. When she returned, there was a barbershop quartet ready to serenade her, and we played all the hits from the American Top 40 that were surely played at their prom. We even invited a couple of residents from a nearby senior center, including her sister, my Aunt Louise, to help her reminisce.
So I won’t be speaking to my mom this Mother’s Day. But I also have a feeling that after she sees the video of all the footage I put together of her and my dad in happier times, she won’t have words for me either.