It’s been eight years since my mom died, and another five before that when she wasn’t living, if you know what I mean — and I know a lot of people know precisely what I mean, understanding dementia all too well.
Strangely, after all this time, three different mom-related surprises have come to me in the past two weeks.
First, an insurance company wrote me, seeking to "reunite the proper beneficiary with the death claim proceeds" from a policy my mom had. It’s not surprising she listed me as beneficiary — I’m her only kid — but it’s weird I never knew about the policy and that the company couldn’t find me until now. But after a few questions, they were satisfied and the other day I was "reunited" with $6,500.
Second, I’ll be visiting one of her favorite organizations, the United Methodist Women, in a few days. They’ve asked me to speak at their Annual Invitational Luncheon. The invitation to the event describes me as "a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune Opinion Section and daughter of Millie Guy, past member of Christ United Methodist Church and United Methodist Women." I’m so happy Millie is still remembered and I’m honored they want to have me over for lunch.
Then, last Wednesday, a message from an old family friend. His folks and mine had a friendship that started before I was born. Later, we kids knew each other, but our ages were divergent; it was our parents who were the real friends.
I remember falling asleep to their voices, their laughter, their cigarette smoke, the jingling of ice in their cocktail glasses, the spontaneous hoots and howls of their bridge and bowling games, seeing them dressed up and going out.
Well, their son Dave was looking for me because his parents have died and he was cleaning out the family home, figuring out what to do with their lifetime accumulation. (Note to childless couples: Who will do this for us?)
In the sorting, Dave found a painting my mom once did for his mom and he very kindly searched me out to see if I would now like to have it. So today, my mantel holds an autumn landscape by Millie.
Puzzling over why these three bittersweet events came to me in rapid succession so many years after Millie’s passing, I think "reunite" may actually be the right word. Each event connected me with the real Millie.
Rather than recalling the confused lady at the end of her life, these three occurrences gave me the gift of a clear picture of my clear mom: the mom who planned for my future, contributed to a legacy of good works by women of faith and showed her love through her talent.
Using Grumbacher oil paints, whose names and smells I loved as a kid, she painted for her friend Lee Cook a peaceful sky in light cerulean blue, aspens in aureolin yellow and poplars displaying their cadmium-barium orange leaves, while wild thalo green spear grasses with unbleached titanium plumes stand alongside a dark viridian lake that reflects the entire scene.
I see Millie. She smiles at me. She’s wearing a smudged old dress shirt of my dad’s as a smock, holding a paint brush between her teeth, teasing the individual leaves into shape with a palette knife.
Similar to how I wrestle with choosing specific words and shuffling them into formation, she goes round and round, mixing colors, scraping, tweaking shapes, swishing and clinking her brush in a grimy little jar of thinner, dabbing, standing back and reassessing, then painting more, until finally, satisfied, she puts this: M. Guy ’70.
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages. Her previous columns are online at www.barbguy.com