Places That I Have Loved
“The town was paper, but the memories were not.” John Green
A fortune-teller told my mother that she would die at 87. At 85 she began to get her life in order. By the time she died at 91, everything was in boxes and labeled with notes. There was one box that had a note pasted on it which said,“These are places that I have loved. Perhaps you will like looking at them”. There were postcards, pictures, menus and a few photos from various travels around the world. I wanted to ask why she had saved them. What were the memories in this box that she wanted us to know?
There were photos from Japan. My mother loved her trip to Japan. They had gone with a group that matched senior citizens with Japanese families who wanted to practice their English. My friend Reiko and her father took my mom out for sushi when she was there. She talked for a long time about how expensive that dinner was. There was a picture of her in a kimono smiling with her Japanese family.
There were some postcards from Brazil. The tour group was going down to the beach and casinos in Rio. My mother had been invited to a friend’s cousin for the afternoon and dinner. Everyone told her not to take public transportation because she could get robbed. She and her friend went on the public bus. Everyone on the bus helped them, shared their food and wanted to talk. They had to change buses and the bus driver got out and took them to the next bus. They had a wonderful dinner with their new friends and drank caipirinhas (cachaca or rum sugar and lime juice). When they returned, they heard that most of their group had been robbed at the tourist locations.
She enjoyed Australia and Israel. I don’t remember her talking about Paris or Italy. I don’t know if she ever got there. She had wanted to see the Great Wall of China.
Travel wasn’t my mother’s passion. Theatre, Opera, Ballet and Classical Music were. I wasn’t surprised to see fifty years of playbills and programs and favorite opera tickets, but I was surprised to see this box. Travel is about pictures and stories and I didn’t know all the stories.
My mother was legally blind from the time that she was seventeen years old. The doctors said it was from looking at an eclipse. I’m not sure exactly what she saw but it wasn’t what we did. When she was young, she made the decision to have the best life she could and not let it affect her. She studied at the Lighthouse For The Blind and knew everything that was available to her to make her life easier. The only difference I noticed growing up was that my mother did not read. She told us the stories of every opera, operetta, ballet, Broadway show and Shakespeare play. She is most famous with her children and grandchildren for her original Bunny and Squirrel stories. (who were suspiciously a lot like us.)
She developed her other senses to compensate for her lack of vision. My mother knew the location of every seat in every theatre in NY. She knew by memory the address and phone number of everyone in her life. She took the subways and had certain markers on the stations so she could tell where to get off. She went with the crowd at traffic lights. She would walk down the street smiling so people would think she saw them when she couldn’t. She never wanted anyone to know that she couldn’t see.
As my mother got older, she was probably almost totally blind but she never complained and asked for help when she needed it. She had many, many friends who were always willing to go somewhere fun with her. The alternative of staying home was unthinkable. One day when she was in her seventies she asked a bus driver if it was the 21 bus and he said ” What are you? blind?” and for the first time she said yes. She was proud of that story.
I also found color-coded envelopes with separated bills in them. I think we are the only country where all our paper money is the same size. I never thought about that. Whenever I asked her for money or small bills, she gave it to me. I always assumed that she could see it.
One day she said that she wasn’t going to travel anymore because of her worsening eyesight. She was in her sixties. I felt really sad. She said “Don’t ever feel sorry for me because I have the capacity for happiness and most people don’t. I understand that happiness comes in moments and I have had many happy moments in my life. I love NY and have a lot to explore here.”
She went swimming and took dance classes. (She had been a dance teacher) She went to the theatre, ballet, symphony or opera seven days a week. She went to all the museums in NY and loved discovering new ones and sharing them with us when we came to visit. She joined a hiking group on the weekends and started going to Atlantic City for a little gambling. She was always coming to visit her children and take care of her grandchildren. My mother slowed down to three to five times a week for the theatre after age eighty-seven because her arthritis was affecting her legs. But even at that age, her phone rang more than mine did and she had friends of all ages. For her ninetieth birthday, she went to the opera with everyone in her family who could make it to NY and then her favorite Chinese restaurant. Her friends gave her a huge friend party as well a week later (Her friends ranged from ages 40-100).
She never talked about traveling again after she stopped. I looked at the memories of a life that wasn’t mine and wished that I had paid more attention. I wondered about those fragmented, arbitrary glimpses into her life. My mother left a very important legacy to me and anyone who knew her. You always have the choice to live the best life you can, or sit in the dark.