Even now, I always am startled a bit when the phone rings and my sweet Aunt Elise Gifford is calling from Shreveport. For there on the phone, through some Jobsian Apple magic, the caller ID says, simply, "Mom."
I know it's Elise because she now has Giffy Marshall's old phone number, the phone number I grew up with in our family's homes on Atlantic Street and Audubon Place. Once I even went into my contact files in an attempt to make it say "Elise" whenever she called. But I didn't try too hard, because I really didn't want to delete "Mom" at all. Not that I could if I tried.
|Siblings: Giffy, Alec and Elise|
So now it's just Elise from that group, affectionately known to each other as Mother, Yvonette, Elise, Brother, and Glo.
Whenever Elise and I visit, our conversation inevitably is highlighted by various memories of the times this and that happened, or of something particularly memorable that someone said long ago. I used to think dwelling on such things was only for old folks. But I can't possibly be old, can I? So maybe reminiscing like that -- particularly when we laugh together over something funny -- is useful after all. Because the warm embrace I feel when we talk about Mom cannot be just my imagination.
Elise is still in Shreveport, having moved there in 2008 to help Giffy (and to have Giffy help her) as they both slowed down physically and as the Alzheimer's that eventually would take her life was beginning to cloud Giffy's mind.
|Giffy and Elise in the chairs Larry Cobb and I bought for them.|
Over the next few years, before it was necessary for Mom to move into a 24-hour care facility, every time I'd visit her on Audubon, at some point I'd say, "Do you want to go sit out back for a few minutes?" And no matter how she felt that day, her face would brighten as she said, "Yes!"
So I'd hold her hand and we'd walk carefully together across the threshold and lawn to those chairs, waiting for us under the wide branches of a now tall and mighty oak tree Mom had planted and Mere had nurtured soon after we moved into that house in 1963. If it was warm enough, sometimes we'd even take off our shoes and nestle our feet in the cool, soft Saint Augustine grass that Jack Marshall planted there by hand nearly 50 years before.
|The House, shortly after it was built in 1962. One small tree had been planted in front, and The Mighty Oak was planted in the back yard a short time later.|
My niece Maureen remembers a day when, even though Giffy's memory was almost completely gone, she still wanted nothing more than to sit under that tree. And how, out of the blue that day, while enjoying the shade of the great oak, Mom recited for her in a clear, strong voice a poem she had learned as a girl:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
(Trees, by Joyce Kilmer, 1913)
|Today, The Mighty Oak towers over the center of the roof. (Google Earth)|
So the next time my phone rings and the caller ID reads "Mom," I'll smile to myself and know Elise's call also brings me a greeting from heaven. Happy Mother's Day to Giffy Marshall, and to all of our mothers!
–Tom Marshall, New York City