Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published July 6, 2005

Seeing through My Daughter’s Eyes


After my daughter Keely was born in the spring I took my visiting mother-in-law Shirley out to a sandwich shop for lunch. It was the only time in the eight years I knew her that we got to talk, just the two of us. Shirley was a sharp spirited and saucy woman. That fall Shirley was killed when her small plane crashed while flying to Duluth to witness Keely’s baptism. It was a time of many tears.


As a consequence of the tragedy Keely’s baptism was delayed some years but she was a regular at “children’s time” during church services. On one such occasion our pastor asked the children to tell him what foods were eaten by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians at the first Thanksgiving. The children volunteered the predictable fare; turkey, corn, potatoes and then Keely loudly and confidently suggested “bacon.” The Church burst out in a congregational guffaw at this unexpected reply. Keely stood and looked out at the congregation with injury in her eyes. “They laughed at me!” she cried out reducing the congregation from mirth to shame as she fled from the pastor. With a mixture of sympathy and embarrassment we scooped her up and took her to the hallway so that she wouldn’t disrupt the service. “When I grow up,” she sobbed, “I’m going to wreck this church!”  Keely was and remains spirited much like her lost Grandmother. She has yet to make good on her threat.


When Keely was about ten we settled down to watch the musical “West Side Story.” Keely was sitting on my lap as the opera’s young hero was felled in a street fight. Keely began trembling as her body was wracked by sobs. In sympathy I too began to cry. The darned thing about crying is that its convulsions are almost indistinguishable from those of laughter. Sensing that I was responding to her dismay with mirth Keely fled from my lap. Just as with the Thanksgiving bacon Keely did not want anyone to find amusement in her sorrow.


Keely grew up with a single grandmother, my Mother, Georganne. As Shirley was spirited my Mother was gracious and this too has been one of my daughter’s attributes.


For several years My Mother has been overtaken by Alzheimer's disease and recently her children had to find other accommodations for her. Last week when I told Keely that I would be visiting town to help repaint my Mother’s old apartment she announced that she had two days off and that she would come over to help me.


Keely is two-years married now and no longer a part of our daily life so it was a special treat for me to spend two days working side by side with her. She is a hard worker and better yet a cheerful one. Keely’s grandmother was an artist and we took great care in removing Mom’s paintings from the walls as we prepared to paint them. Prepping the wall was rather like the preparations my Mother made for the many art projects she set up for her grandchildren.


After our first day’s work I planned to look in on my Mother at her new residence. I have visited Mom regularly for the past several months and witnessed her precipitous decline. I expected to find that the new and unfamiliar environment of a residential treatment center had intensified  her confusion. I knew I would have to carry the “conversation” as even before our visit my Mother had been reduced to asking her guests repeatedly, “What city is this?” and “Where are we?”


Keely sat on a rumpled bed, in the Spartan room, that is the final residence of the only Grandmother she has ever known. I sat opposite them on Mom’s “ Lincoln rocker” which was brought to the room to lend it some semblance of familiarity. I told Mom how much I liked the chair. She narrowed her eyes and told me it wasn’t the Lincoln Rocker. I remained upbeat and didn’t disagree. I prattled on mentioning the names of relatives trying to rekindle Mom’s memories while keeping awkward silence at bay. For minutes I blathered as though oblivious to my own mother’s vacuity.


Soon I noticed that my normally ebullient daughter was silent. I glanced over and saw her bravely trying to join the conversation as tears welled up in her eyes. She could not speak. Her Grandmother, my Mother, had altogether disappeared such was the brutality of her illness. The frail, confused soul who had given us both life and unqualified love no longer knew us. My steady voice began to catch as tears welled up in my eyes too. I looked at the floor to prevent them from spilling down my cheek. I saw that Mom’s shoes were on the wrong feet and gratefully knelt down to switch them around and so hide my unwelcome emotion. My voice cracked as I tried to tease Mom about her shoes. Seeing her Father cry only made Keely’s tears fall more freely. We were a mess. 


When I was a young man I trained myself, as was the fashion, to be stoic. I would not let sentiment dampen my eyes. Through the years my daughter has helped save me from this false bravado by teaching me that it is as pointless as a palette of black and white.


Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com