The morning after my parents' arrival to Atlanta began with turmoil. My father awoke and was disoriented by his new surroundings. Since our bedroom is directly below my parents' bedroom, I heard the footfalls around 5:15 AM and immediately ran upstairs to the kitchen. My dad was standing in the foyer crying like a child about not wanting to be here and saying he was worthless. This was devastating to me for several reasons. My father was the type of man who remained calm through most situations during his life. He could get riled about politics on occasion, but he was raised to be a gentleman in Memphis, Tennessee during the 20's and 30's and his Southern approach to life, I suspect, was sometimes interpreted as shyness or meekness. But he had a quiet strength that was strangely reassuring to his children as they grew. He was also raised to be a typical man, not showing emotion when upset or hurt. So when I discovered my 85 year old father weeping in my house that morning, I was crushed to think I had done something wrong to hurt this gentle man. That bringing him here to live was not what he wanted. What I realized was that the man standing before me was NOT the man who raised me. I would soon learn that the aging process changes more than one's appearance. Eccentricities aside, I would find myself in a battle of wills that I never expected. I have compared it to being in a house with grown toddlers who constantly test their boundaries and push the limits of gravity and physics on a daily basis.
My father was my hero when I was growing up and as he stood before me in pain I didn't know what to do, so I hugged him and told him it would be alright. That he would be okay. And at that moment I became the mother to the weeping child and my first thought was , "What the hell have I done?" I had no idea how much that phrase would permeate my life in the next 3 years.
My mother never had any trouble adjusting to life in the South, but that doesn't surprise me. Mary Beth thrives on being resilient...like Scarlett. My mother lives to be perfect and to live in a perfect world. She will flee any situation that she deems unpleasant and will stop any conversation that even hints at being unpleasant. She simply does not want to be reminded of the world outside of the one she lives in. Many times she will be reminded of a continuing news story from the day before that is tragic or gruesome and her response is one of, " Why are they still talking about that, it's unpleasant!" You know, like Scarlett said, "I will think about that tomorrow!" Her preferred view of the world is Polly-Anna-ish, to say the least and the family is well aware of her ability to re-write history to accommodate her Polly-Anna world. For instance, when someone gets sick her usual approach is to ask them the next day if they were feeling better and then before getting a response, following up the question with a statement that "You feel all better now, don't you?" She simply can't handle bad news. At any given moment I almost expect her to say, "Gee whiz, let's put on a show!" I'm used to that, though, she's always been one to thrive in the spotlight. I can remember growing up and hearing her sigh and say, "Wouldn't you just love to be famous?" And then she'd launch into some dialogue from somewhere. Years later when I saw Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" I understood the character completely. Hell, I grew up with her! The one positive from that all that optimism is that as a child I always felt I had a personal cheerleader in my corner and it was re-assuring to know that what ever happened to me, I would find solace at home. So goes life with Bill & Mary.