How Mom Quelled the Great Panic
Mom was a Hoot
My mom, Helen Lucille Cadore Maher, was a hoot. She didn't intend to be funny, which made her even funnier. And from early on in her life she tended to say what she thought, without first running it through her logic or etiquette filters. On one occasion in the late 1970s, she and my youngest brother and I were attending the national Drum and Bugle Corps competition, held at then-named San Jose State College in California. After each corps had performed, the top 10 were announced, beginning with #10 and proceeding to the winning corps. That year one of the most famous corps, the Troopers, from Casper, Wyoming, placed third. For whatever reason, Mom thought they'd placed too high. Her voice rang out loud and clear, "That corps has an unfair advantage--they have all that flat ground to practice on!" Dozens of heads in the audience turned to see who had said it, and Mom tried to look innocent, but my brother and I, seated on either side of her, were bawling with laughter and gave her away. "You're laughing," she said haughtily. "You're laughing at your old, gray-haired mother." "That's right, Mom!" we agreed.
A Hoot Knows No Fear
At age 81, frail and no longer very active, Mom had a stroke. She was unaffected physically, but lost some of her reality filter; she often confused TV shows with the real world, and needed more care than I could provide at home. My sister came out from California; she and I moved Mom to a wonderful assisted-living facility, the best we could find. It looked like an English country house and was beautifully decorated, with lots of activities and entertainment. I visited her every other day, and witnessed many Hoot moments, but I missed the best one of all, when Mom unintentionally saved the day during a real crisis.
Mom was in her room watching TV one morning (in a wheelchair, which she found more convenient than a regular chair), and after her requested program ended, the French Open tennis tournament came on. Outside a thunderstorm was brewing and, most unusually for this area, a tornado warning sounded. By state law, all of the residents had to be moved out of their rooms in into a central area away from the windows for safety. Accomplishing this quickly with 83 slow-moving elderly people, many using walkers or in wheelchairs, was not easy, and they were upset and confused by this sudden, unexplained interruption of their activities.
The residents in wheelchairs were brought in last, and by the time Mom arrived the thunderstorm had darkened the sky to twilight; thunder boomed, lightning flashed, and rained pounded down. The residents were becoming frightened, and despite the caregivers' soothing reassurances, their voices rose in panic over the roar of the storm. "What's happening?" "Why is it so dark outside?" "Why are we all in the sitting room?" "Make the noise stop!" Mom, hard of hearing and not really understanding what was happening, took one look around and exclaimed, "Isn't this amazing--you know, people come from hundreds of miles to see the French Open!"
Her voice cut clearly across the room and the other residents immediately fell silent as they processed this new information. Then the babel of voices began again: "We're going to see tennis?" "But honey, I can't sit out in the sun; I get hives!" "Where's the bus?" "Do I have time to go get my sweater?" "Who has the tickets?" In one moment Mom had unwittingly quelled the panic and changed the mood to one of cheerful anticipation. The thunderstorm was forgotten as everyone happily discussed the surprise outing, and the caregivers were still giggling about it when I arrived later that day.
When thunderstorms roll off the Rockies and over my house, I remember Mom, and I always smile when I see that the French Open is coming up.