By Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
January 17, 2010
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In 2002, I went to Florida for the auditions for one of my mother's musical theater productions. Here is part of what I wrote afterwards: "And then there was Red Gershon, 80, handsome, white-haired, a former mailman who lives to dance with my mother. He had such serious back problems that it was widely understood he couldn't be in the show. But only a few days after major back surgery, Red came to rehearsal 'just to watch.'"
My mother put on a recording of "Ann on My Arm" from "La Cage Aux Folles" - a musical number they had often done together.
"They gravitated toward each other... He took her in his arms. They gazed deeply into each other's eyes and floated around the rehearsal room as if they were alone in a ballroom. When the music ended, the rest of the cast applauded and Red made a quick grab for his three-footed cane."
Romantic, right? But this was a love affair conducted entirely on the stage in full view of their spouses and an audience - a love affair with performance and music and dance. A love affair with a spotlight and applause. But it was a love affair, none the less.
Fast-forward to 2009.
Red is a widower now. Pushing 90, he's so crippled that he can barely walk. When I saw him in a show last year, two people had to help him onstage during a blackout, and he performed from a chair.
My mother, who has been widowed twice, is 92. She's been ill for most of the year.
Yet a few months ago, out of the blue, Red called and asked my mother to go with him to the condo clubhouse for the traditional New Year's Eve party.
Throughout my mother's long illness, then, she's been aiming in one direction: New Year's Eve with Red.
I spent most of December in Florida taking care of her. I moved her from the hospital into rehab, took over her financial affairs, moved her out of rehab, and hired a live-in aide to keep her safe at home. Then, with great trepidation, I left her with a lively Jamaican live-in aide named Cindy and came back to Vermont to reclaim my life.
Mom and Cindy were a good match, but there were often power struggles as they defined their relationship. I found myself in the middle - long distance. This led to anxiety, helplessness and many sleepless nights on my part. My husband accused me of trying to micromanage my mother's life from a thousand miles away; he was right.
Finally, I more or less ordered them to find a way to accommodate each other and leave me out of it. This hurt my mother, sad to say, and for a while she became distant on the phone. But she and Cindy finally figured out how to become friends - they even play Scrabble together.
As New Year's Eve approached, I worried about the big date with Red. My predictions for disaster were many: Red, whose memory is failing, would forget to pick her up; Mom wouldn't have the energy to go; she would fall; Cindy would take the car, go to a party and not come back. I could go on, but you get the point.
They say that as a caretaker, the child becomes the parent of the parent. With my incessant worrying, I was behaving like the mother of a teenager on prom night who has been known to get slightly wild.
New Year's Eve was quiet at my house; I was in bed by eleven. The next day, I called Florida for a report.
Cindy, Mom said, had done her party makeup.
"I looked like an actress," Mom said. "I wore an elegant pantsuit. I looked good."
Red picked her up exactly at eight. Cindy helped her to the car, tucked her in and put her walker in the back - next to Red's.
Did they dance again, whirling around the floor, their feet barely touching the ground? Not at all. They both used walkers to make an entrance. For the most part, they stayed in their seats.
"People came up to talk to us, and we watched the dancers," Mom said. "I was afraid I would be jealous that they can dance and I can't, but it was all right. We all talked about how amazing it was that we were here for this. We wondered if we would be here next year, too."
Red got her home after 1 a.m. Was this the start of something new?
"No," said my mother. "But we've known each other a long time. Red and I are comfortable with each other."
It may be enough. These days, hardly anyone looks forward to a new year with hope and expectation. But these two, who have been through so much - spouses with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer; the deaths of children; the deaths of so many friends; money problems; their bodies failing them - were able to look forward to New Year's Eve with hope and expectation and raise a glass together to Auld Lang Syne.
Who says romance is dead?
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.