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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Home is where your mom is

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Days like Monday--cold, cloudy, crisp--remind me of home.  

Home.  Not the address I reside at now.  The one where I grew up. 

The one were mom was.

That, as my brother in law Al so eliquently put it, is where home is.  Where mom's at.  When you lose your mother, Al said, you lose your home.

How true.

I lost mine 16 years ago today--October 21, 1996.   Irene was a mother first and foremost--firm, fair, but strict.  She was fun--my high school buddies loved to come to our duplex to play sheepshead with "Rene", amazed at her ability to bust chops  with the best of us.  She could also swear like a longshoreman, and I mean that as a compliment.

She had more common sense than any person I'd ever seen who'd only made it through the eighth grade.  Irene grew up on Sheboygan's outskirts and went no further than the occasional trip "up north" with other relatives for a rare vacation.   Later in life, she came along with my wife and I on a trip to Las Vegas.   It was her first time on an airplane and the glam of The Strip left her gob-smacked.  She needed constant care and guidance, which we gave in abundance (my wife's sainthood was confirmed on that adventure).  

Days like this in my youth were full of front-yard football after school followed by hearty, home-cooked meals: no carryout, nothing pre-packaged (canned veggies excluded).  Recipes that didn't come out of cookbooks but rather from between her ears where the ingredients and amounts were stored, without fail.  I remember boiling pots and steamed-over windows.  I can't recall ever seeing leftovers getting tossed in the garbage.  Ever.  Irene grew up in austere times and waste-not was a lesson we learned early on.

The end came on suddenly.  Irene had congestive heart failure and the conditioned worsened one October weekend after she'd had a minor surgical procedure to help her eat.   She was fine when I left her Sheboygan bedside that Sunday night.   She was awful when I came back Monday morning after work, gasping for every breath and unable to talk.  I called my sister, and soon the family was there, wondering what would happen next.   After talking to her doctor, I headed home Monday night planning to return Tuesday morning to hold vigil while others worked normal hours.

I was barely through the front door back in Hales Corners when the phone rang.  You'd better hurry, the voice on the other end told me.

I had another hour to think, to get my head around what was happening.   Mom was fading--she'd be gone by the time I'd get back.  Life without Irene was here.  Part of growing up is watching your parents grow old and eventually leave this mortal coil.  Ready or not.

16 years doesn't seem all that long.  I still hear the voice, still heed the advice.  I try to mimic some of her dishes, but they're pale imitations.  I can still make a bed with square sheet corners, though, a life skill that reminds me of her every time we change out the linens.

When you lose your mom, you lose your home.  Then again, if mom lives on in your heart and head, isn't home there, too?

I like to think so.


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