“Out there,” one kid with a mouth full of cookies would respond.
“Where’s Mom?” another kid might inevitably ask, when he or she wanted to stay out past curfew, take Mom’s Chevy Caprice or be driven to a sleepover.
Whatever kid was still in the house would answer. “Out there.”
“Out there” meant in the sun. My most vivid memories of Mom are as she was seated outside in the wash of warmth.
Summer days in Amherst, Mom often shooed us all out of the house and my siblings and I would ride our bikes to Maude Neiding pool. If one kid wanted to stay home, Mom demanded to know why. She wasn’t really worried if we were sick or had fought with a friend who also might appear at the pool.
No, Mom wanted us out.
Mom herself had little interest in sunning at the pool. I had once thought her attitude had to do with her modesty, but now I imagine her approach had everything to do with kicking us out of Ridgeland Drive and shipping us off so she could have time in the sun to herself. There, Mom could pull out a frayed vinyl folding chair and dangle her feet in our plastic kiddie pool which sloped in the backyard just enough to create a “deep end” for grass floaters and her toes.
As we grew up and our family moved to Lincoln Street, Mom could still be found outside when the weather warmed and even when it didn’t. When we moved, we had brought a few old folding chairs with vinyl straps shredded to near destruction. Mom took one of those chairs and moved it from the front porches to the back patio like a sundial.
When the sun pushed up the morning in the front of the house, Mom could be found seated in the front yard, presumably telling my father he had planted the geraniums too close together, or that there was a shred of mulch or white rock out of place.
When the sun gradually faded to afternoon, Mom followed the path of its rays and moved the chair to the back of the house, where the truckers driving by on Route 2 would honk and wave. At that point, she wasn’t wearing any sort of bathing suit, just her everyday clothes, but truckers beeped nonetheless.
About five years ago, when Mom came under my care, she and Dad lived at The Lodge apartments in Loveland on the third floor. The balcony overlooked a wooded area which padded the view from a busy Montgomery Road, but the sun always poked through, even if in splinters.
The first afternoon I viewed that apartment, I had thought to myself, “How perfect.” The sun would slice right through for Mom onto the small deck and into an even smaller living space.
So a second set of plastic chairs was transported 210 miles and placed on the deck of their abode at The Lodge.
Later, as I arrived to visit Mom and Dad at The Lodge, and attempted to coax Mom onto that deck, I discovered she had become afraid of heights. That, after her dementia had cozied up alongside her life. And that the plastic chairs hadn’t been used since the transition from Lincoln Street.
Those were the saddest days with my mother. Mom’s new living space had kept her prisoner from relishing in the out of doors in the manner in which she always had. I committed extra visiting hours just to escort Mom to the ground floor outdoor spaces where she could soak up her sun but not wander off.
While Mom had lost her ability to scale new heights, she never wavered in her desire to follow the sun. So when I took to writing and exploring my circuitous journey with Mom and her dementia, Mom’s fervor for warmth and summer came to mind.
When naming my blog, I first started using, Lost to the Summer Wind. Being that I am a purported expert in writing about loss, according to my husband, the name was apropos.
But time elapsed. Mom changed in her disease and so did my outlook. I wanted to write from the vantage point of loving and learning. A viewpoint that really represented our relationship. A perspective that offered a brief interlude from her disease.
Countless lines from Mom’s Sinatra songs had been woven into our partnership, but none stuck in my head more so than these:
I’ll find you in the morning sun / And when the night is new / I’ll be looking at the moon / But I’ll be seeing you.
When the month of March finally arrived and Mom had persevered through another winter, one where she didn’t have to drive or shovel or go outside at all, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I discovered Mom relentlessly pushing on the arm of the secure doors of her care home, being called to go outside.
For a time, the doors remained locked. The cold temperatures still seeped in, snow occasionally fluttered around, and the rains of April and May had turned all the flowers soggy.
But now, when I enter my mother’s care home, I knowingly ask, “Where’s Mom?”
I am met with a familiar nod of the head towards the out of doors, towards the sun. Or, if Mom hasn’t made her way to her personal solar system, then I coax her from inside.
During my last visit, she used a few choice words on me, for no apparent reason (which is typical) yet finally, I led her outside. When she and I approached a bench in the sun, she just sat down and uttered, “Oh there it is.”
Sun has always been a respite for Mom. And now, more so, as a hiatus from her disease. In the sun, Mom can pretend she has shooed those aggravating kids away and dangle her feet in a pool of summer scents. And relish in this reprieve from her mind.