I don’t know’s on third

It took her over 55 years, but my mother finally forgot my name the other day. I don’t blame her. She is almost 94 and has a lot of children. And I’m used to it, because my father has been calling me by the wrong name ever since I can remember. My father’s problem wasn’t memory, however, it was lack of confidence. I was the seventh of eight kids — six of us were boys — and he almost always got it right on the first try, but then self-doubt would creep in and he’d blow it.

“Hey Craig… no, George, I mean David, Michael, Peter… Ahh, nuts!”

My mother, however, always got us right on the first try. This seemed fitting, considering the lopsided division of labor involved in each child’s conception and gestation. Of course she would remember when my father couldn’t; she had a lot more time and effort invested.

“J” names

I never forget my children’s names, because they were both conveniently given names that start with “J.”

“Hey James ... No, Jeffry, I mean Joshua, Gerald, Jimmy ... Ahh, nuts!”

Irony

I think it’s ironic that the first time my mother couldn’t remember my name was at a memorial.

We used to call them funerals, and there would be a casket and pall bearers and black veils and lots of hydrangeas. But that was all too sad and depressing so we changed the name to “memorial” and added wall-sized video screens and live music and made it a happier time where it is okay to wear Bermuda shorts if it’s expected to be warm.

It’s ironic that my mother forgot my name at a memorial, but it wasn’t surprising because, as I’ve already said, she’s close to 94 and we were there to remember her first-born child. I think she was a little overwhelmed.

My sister was born 13 years before me, and died on July 11 at the age of 68 from metastatic breast cancer. She was christened Ruth, but when she was in her thirties she changed her first name to Molly, mostly just to frustrate my father.

Happy hippy

Molly was a hybrid free-spirit. She was a ‘60s hippy who liked to keep a job. She was a woman who wrote computer programs on punch-cards when women didn’t do that kind of thing. She was a feminist who loved Laura Ashley and spent long hours hand-making new clothes for rescued Barbie dolls. When I was six years old, I thought she was absolutely the most beautiful woman in the entire universe. Her face was perfect. As an adult, I didn’t spend much time with her, as she was fond of expressing her opinion and had found religion, which is a difficult combination sometimes.

But, as I said, she was a beautiful woman. At the memorial I remembered a story she’d once told me. This happened in the ‘70s, in the early years of Nixon’s War on Drugs. Her first husband, the hippy, was out one evening when she came home from work. She knew he wasn’t home, but heard something moving in the basement and got scared. She called the police, who sent an officer, who searched the basement, including the brightly-lit room with the 40 healthy marijuana plants her hippy-husband was growing. When the officer came up from the basement, he told her there was nobody there and nothing to worry about, wished her a good-evening and left. Her unusual mix of intelligence, innocence, beauty and stupidity had made her impossible to arrest.

A perfect world

In a perfect world, all children would get to see their parents die, peacefully and painlessly at a time in their lives when they are ready to depart and their children are grown. It is not a perfect world, so it didn’t surprise me when I went to greet my mother at her oldest daughter’s memorial service. I was worried about her, wondering how she would cope with the death of her first child. My sister was well loved, and there were a lot of people milling about. The service had not yet begun and Mom was seated in the front row next to my dad. I knelt down in front of her, hoping to give my mother a hug, but when I looked into her face I saw a beaming smile with a wide, blank expression in her eyes.

“So, who do we have here?” she asked.

And I realized then, for some, the best thing to do at a memorial is to forget.

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