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Yesterday keys exchanged hands and now someone else calls the place his own. As I surveyed the property of my childhood home — the home my mother lived in for more than 55 years — one last time it was surprising to feel not so much sadness and loss but rather relief. Weeds were everywhere and trees so overgrown as to block out views of the house and other buildings from the road. The house itself, badly in need of some tender loving care, looked tired and forlorn. Over the years it has just gotten too much for Mom to keep up. She said the work was more than she could handle. Knowing she couldn’t do the work herself and seeing how much needed to be done was bringing her down. Mom loves to tinker, to keep busy. She took pride in her gardens and her many bird feeders. These past few years, due to recent health problems and getting older, she was able to devote less and less time to her passions and now the new owner, a retired single gentlemen in his fifties, has his work cut out for him. Hopefully curb appeal is as important to him as it was to my mother and he’ll restore the place to its former glory.

For Mom there was also the expense of keeping the old homestead running – the electric and heating bills for both her house and the apartments was astronomical compared to what they’ll run in the new place. She had to hire out to help with the mowing and repairs and snow removal and that only added to her expenses. Property taxes were another consideration. There was also the isolation she felt at times being out there alone, especially in the winter months when an ill-timed blizzard could make her a prisoner in her own home for days on end. Yes. The time had come for her to leave. Once she made that decision the other pieces quickly fell into place.

The new house is smaller and newer and yet it has five bedrooms, two of which are actually quite small. Three bedrooms are on the main level and two are in the finished basement. There is also a full bath in the basement and plenty of room for staging family get-togethers at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Four of us girls live out of town and the other two girls live not too far from Mom so the bedrooms will work quite well for our needs.   She has a nice open kitchen with a breakfast bar, a place to set up her sewing room, a nice-sized patio and best of all closer proximity to all her friends. She is very excited about her new digs and all of us girls are thrilled for her. My mother is a busy woman. Not only does she have a new house now to settle in to but she leaves for Ireland in a week! You’re doing it right Mom. You’re doing it right!

My mother called me today.   A week from tomorrow the movers will come to start packing it all up — fifty-five plus years of living in the same house, walking the same grounds, tending the same gardens, greeting the same morning sun each day and watching the same sun set each night.  She’ll be leaving the house where she and dad raised the six of us girls, the house where we faced down hardships and rough times and celebrated many happy occasions:  birthdays, holidays, parties, milestones, graduations and weddings.  And the arrival of eleven beautiful grandchildren.

A final send-off is planned for the night before she closes on the new house.  If the weather cooperates we’re hoping to sit around the fire pit one last time.  Contemplating this celebration of sorts today gave me pause.  I didn’t choke up — not yet.  Because I’ve been sick the entire month of July I have not been able to help with the packing so when I go up there to help for the final move I know it’s going to hit me hard.  It’s going to be a difficult time for all of us for that matter.  We need to steel ourselves for Mom’s sake.  Put on a happy, optimistic, just-think-about-what-you-have-to-look-forward-to face. Full speed ahead!

We can’t or shouldn’t deny the sense of loss and finality — it’s going to be all too real for that — but we’ll strive instead to look forward.  Mom’s moving into a house in town where there will be less upkeep, less maintenance and she’ll be closer to friends, church, appointments.  She’s excited and we’re happy for her.  But she knows and accepts that it will be hard to say goodbye.

Since my dad died seven years ago her life has been a roller-coaster ride.  Ups and downs, many changes, health issues, family drama — adjustments to a totally foreign way of life.  Mom and Dad were married for more than fifty years.  My mother is not an out-going woman.  She doesn’t like to draw attention to herself.  Not in a withdrawn, wallflower sort of way but she’s just not one to put herself out there.  She likes her alone time and yet again since Dad’s been gone being alone has been extremely difficult for her as well.

As mothers tend to do she can cause some frustration and annoyance for us, her daughters.  Sometimes its a real challenge dealing with her and her ways.  I would guess we’re not alone in that based on conversations with others and things you read and hear about!  Mom will be 79 this year.  She’s not going to change and well, none of us is perfect.  We all — yes, even you Julie! — possess that innate human ability to drive others closest to us (those we love and who love us) absolutely bonkers.  So we accept her for who she is and do what we can to make these last years as comfortable and comforting for her as we can.

So.  Here’s to you Mom.  To yet another transition and best wishes for a happy, rewarding and enjoyable life change.  Good luck, good cheer and good health — may you have all three in abundance!

 

My dad died in 2007 after an eight year battle with prostate cancer. Mom struggled those first few years after his death dealing with the inevitable loneliness and grief and trying to find, as a friend described it, her ‘niche’ in life. Along the way she’s also had to deal with some serious health issues. Certainly it’s been very difficult for her and for the six of us girls as well. Mom chose to stay on at the homestead, a place she’s called home for more than 55 years. She sold a couple of sections of land a few years ago but has been reluctant to leave and start a new life living in town.

Until now.

She listed both her house, our childhood home and the adjacent apartment buildings this spring. The apartment buildings, by the way, were originally built when I was in middle school — another one of my dad’s many ‘ideas’ — as a dance hall slash tavern. He called it, appropriately, the Timber Inn. You’ll recall that my dad owned and operated a sawmill so the name was quite fitting indeed. Later my dad sold the Timber Inn to someone who wanted to convert them into apartments. Then a few years later my dad accepted the offer to buy back the property and it served as another source of income for my parents for many, many years. Ultimately the upkeep and expense for my mother to maintain both the apartments and the homestead convinced her that now was the time to sell and buy something more manageable in town where she could be closer to friends and to church.

The apartments were sold first and then a buyer materialized for the house. Mom had to move quickly and was able to find a place in town. The closing date on both homes takes place the first of August and there’s much yet to do. Happily she’s excited about this but I know it will be emotionally wrenching for her — for all of us — when the day comes to actually leave.

As for me I haven’t yet been able to get up there to help pack and otherwise prepare for the move but I plan to be there to help come moving day. And when that day arrives, in the not too distant future, I’m sure it will be fraught with anguish and sadness. I’m not sure how to prepare for it or what to expect. I do know that I’m not alone and that countless others have had to face similar circumstances with their aging parents.

I’d be interested and grateful for any insight and recommendations my readers might be able to provide as my mother and all my sisters and I prepare for Mom to move out of the home she’s known for so many years and to move on with this new chapter of her life.

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People often express surprise and a bit of wonder when I tell them I come from a family of six girls. The most common response is akin to expressions of sympathy for my dad. It’s true. He was certainly outnumbered but trust me when I say he gave as good as he got! He may have had, however, some inkling of what he was getting himself into when he married our mother since she herself comes from a family of eight girls. Not a male child in sight. Mom’s maiden name evokes an Irish heritage and St. Patrick’s Day is always celebrated with an exchange of feisty, funny cards and often a gathering in one of the sister’s homes. Irish décor can be found in every one of their houses and it goes without saying that green is a favorite color.

My maternal grandmother was a little bit of a thing. Short and petite (lucky if she weighed 90 pounds dripping wet) she was blessed with a beautiful head of auburn hair. My dad loved to tease her and its amusing to me that one of his nicknames for her was the Old Battle Ax. (“Oh Richard” she’d say). My Grandma Monnahan did not have an easy life. Grandpa Monnahan struggled to support his family and often fell on hard times (he was a sawyer too and was instrumental in directing Dad toward that occupation – something my father did for fifty years and dearly loved). He died in at the tender age of 52, leaving Grandma to raise five daughters still at home, the three youngest under the age of ten. Sadness would strike a few years later when Grandma died in her mid-fifties as well.

Despite these hardships, this clan of eight — dubbed the Monnahan Mafia by my Uncle Ole (most certainly not Irish!) – was and are a joyful bunch (the eldest, Geri, died a few years ago). Holiday parties, weddings and family reunions are a mix of crazy, zany, silly fun, fun, fun. Laughter — always laughter! These women love to cook and garden and some of them enjoy knitting and quilting. Music was an important part of their lives as well. Rosie plays the accordion, piano and organ. Nancy, the guitar. Linda played the trumpet and Randi, the French horn. A special memory is the eight of them singing Irish Eyes are Shining as they gathered around the piano for Mom and Dad’s 35th wedding anniversary.

In August Mom and three of her sisters will travel to Ireland for the first time. I’m thrilled for them and can only imagine the mischief they’ll get themselves into.   Mom and Rosie are in their seventies and the two youngest ‘girls’ are in their late 50’s / early 60’s. I am so glad they are planning this trip. It’s sad that they couldn’t have all gone earlier. In any case, these ladies are wicked fun and it will be an adventure of the highest order. The Emerald Isle may never be the same again!

There are six girls in our family of which I happen to be the eldest. (Cue the snare drum — I also like to joke that while I’m the shortest of the bunch I also happen to be the cutest, smartest and most modest but I digress).

To say that we’ve been close would be a bit of an stretch. Our familial ties have been strained over the years due to the usual sibling rivalries, petty fighting and misunderstandings. Add to the mix that each of us is so incredibly different from the others and it’s no wonder tension is sometimes in the air at holiday and other family gatherings. For many years I felt jealousy, resentment and not a little confusion whenever I observed sisters from other families who were close knit or who proclaimed to be ‘best friends’. What on earth was wrong with US I’ve often wondered.

Over the last several years I’ve come to understand why the tension and distrust is there. And while I won’t delve into the reasons for our discord (let’s just call it family dynamics and leave it at that!) I am happy to report that our relationships have steadily gotten better over time. Not ideal but definitely improved.

Two of my sisters and I spent a pleasant afternoon at a local winery today, joined by one of my sister’s friends. As we discussed some of our family history and the evolution of our sisterly bonds it was fascinating to learn that this woman’s family (and its underlying dynamics) weren’t all that different from ours. I recently chatted with another friend who reported similar disharmony between her and her sister. While it is sad to consider siblings not being each other’s greatest champions and defenders it’s also somewhat reassuring to know that my family — our family — is not so different from many others. Perhaps those Hallmark moments I’ve observed outside my own family circle that I yearned for all these years don’t tell the whole story. Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

It’s gratifying now to reestablish our relationships with each other discovering mutual interests while respectfully acknowledging those areas where we otherwise part ways. We have that joint history together — rainbows, laughter, warts and all — good times and bad — that only us girls gets or understands. And in the process I like to think we’re making some new Hallmark moments to hold on to and cherish that will sustain us going forward.

Me and my little man back in the day!

Wesley and I enjoyed exploring many of Iowa’s parks and recreation areas when he was a little boy. Our weekends were spent camping, hiking and spelunking in northeast Iowa. This photo was taken at Pilot Knob near Forest City.