Bedtime Stories with Mom

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IMG_3619We are home from the doctor’s appointment, so now it is Mom’s bedtime.  If it’s not mealtime or bathroom time or appointment time, it is bedtime.  I help her change into her comfy pajamas, ones that are soft and stretchy, but not so slippery that she’ll slide out of bed. I roll Biofreeze onto her  shoulder and rub Voltaren liniment on her knees, then a dab of ointment on the pressure sore we’ve been tending for five years.  I lift her right leg (by the foot because her legs hurt), and her left, and then swaddle her in a sheet, a blanket, and a spread because the temperature’s only 78.  “You good, Mom?” I ask her.  “Oh, yes,” she says as if she were settling into a spa day.

She is not really my mom, but I have been calling her “Mom” since I was a teenager.  “You’re the daughter I never had,” she told me 48 years ago, three years before I married her son.  When my own mother died in 2013, she said, “I’ll be your mother now.”  And now it seems natural and absolutely right.

Once Mom is all cozied up, I try to get comfortable for the hour-long storytime.  I kick off my shoes and go lie down on the other side of the full bed.   The bed creaks with my weight, and it sounds just like Mom’s knees and shoulders.  The bed isn’t as old as Mom—97—but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s 50. “Maybe you should buy a new bed, one of those fancy Craftmatic ones, the kind that can incline your head or your feet or your bottom with just a press of a button.

“That would be a waste of money at my age.”

“Well, how about a hospital bed.  I think Medicare would pay for it.”

“Not a hospital bed!”  She is appalled, as if I suggested we install a ramp or convert her bathtub to a walk-in shower, all things you do for really old people.

I try to fluff up her smushy pillows to cushion my back, to no great effect.  I finally just sit up, resting my back on the headboard. More creaking.

I pick up the book I’ve been reading to her for a month, Before Oprah:  Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who book coverCreated Talk TV, and ask, “Now where did we leave off?” because I don’t remember, but I know she will.  Her mind is so sharp, her memory so good, I ask her for phone numbers and recipes and addresses that she knows by heart.

“Ruth just had a stroke and she was in Holmes Hospital.  They told everyone she was suffering from exhaustion.  At a photo shoot, the photographer noticed her smile was crooked,” she says.

“Oh, yes.  Okay.”  And I open the book where it’s marked with a store coupon and begin reading.

castLet me take a minute to explain to you who Ruth Lyons was.  If you are between 50 and 100 years old and you lived in Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana in the 50s and 60s, you can skip this paragraph.  Everyone in that demographic knows that Ruth Lyons was a talk show host, maybe the first to engage her audience. She was a talented song writer and a less talented singer, but sing she did.  Mostly she talked about whatever came to her mind--her husband, recipes, her beloved Reds, racial discrimination.  She did all her own commercials, only endorsing products she used and liked, and she refused to read the ad men’s scripts.  Businesses advertised on her show flourished, and companies had to wait in a two-year line to be sponsors. Most American stars —Bob Hope, Herb Alpert, Sid bob hopeCaeser, Pearl Bailey, Peter Nero, Edie Gorme, Arthur Godfrey —–appeared on her show.  Both Dave Letterman and Phil Donahue were guests, and they both credit Ruth for how her innovative approach influenced them.  When Ruth revealed that she wore Chantilly perfume, every bottle in the tri state area was sold.  If an author appeared on Ruth Lyons’s program, his or her book sold out at Shillito’s that day.  Her show was called Ruth Lyon’s 50 Club, because they hosted a 50-person audience for lunch and the broadcast.  Then the show became the 50-50 Club when they made room for 100 people.birthday

On Mom’s 97tth  birthday, I gave her this book.  When she unwrapped it, she looked confused.  Due to macular degeneration, she has not been able to read for at least a decade.  I explained, “Mom, I am going to read this book to you.  That’s part of the gift.”  She gave a look that said “That’s nice,” or “That’s weird.”  I admit that the thought of reading to another adult seemed a little awkward, and I wondered how it would go.

The next time I brought lunch to her, a Frisch’s fish on rye bread, I said, “So, do you want to start the book today?”

“I guess so.  If you want to.”

And that day, we launched bedtime stories with Mom.  For just a couple of minutes it felt a little peculiar, but then it got fun, for both of us.  I had happened upon the perfect book for us to read.  We had shared history, but also unique experiences, related to Ruth Lyons.  Mom could relate to Ruth’s early life:  a baseball field in the East End; the ’37 flood; tent revivals; the coming of television. She recalled getting a coveted ticket for Ruth’s show and wearing white gloves and hat so she would look nice for the camera during the “Waving Song.”  I remembered my mom rushing to get her housework done so she could sit down and watch Ruth from noon to 1:30, and how one time I sat so quietly during the show that my mother didn’t make me take a nap. Our talk around the book became as important to the reading experience as the text.  It was so refreshing, after 48 years of knowing each other, to talk about something different, to learn new lessons from Mom, to pass our time in a meaningful way.

The effect of the book didn’t end there.  Mom told everyone she knew about the book, and now her caregivers, friends, and family all want to read it.  When my husband or I read the book to Mom while waiting for medical appointments (there are lots of them), normally rushed docs and nurses stop and engage with Mom, asking her questions and reminiscing about their own childhoods. One particularly acerbic doctor, who normally engages only with his computer screen, waxed on about his teenage crush on Doris Day, and during the next visit he talked about Elvis Presley.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the positive impact this book has had on so many people.  I was a teacher and a librarian, and I am a voracious reader and writer.  I know the power of words to inspire, connect, teach, entertain, fortify, and harken back.51sB+CtnEkL._SY491_BO1,204,203,200_ 51wD43EotNL._SX353_BO1,204,203,200_

And so I have two more books waiting on Mom’s dresser about other Cincinnati entertainers:  Here’s Bob, Bob Braun’s autobiography, and Letters to Paul Baby,  about Paul Dixon, the “Mayor of Kneesville,” who officiated the famous chicken wedding (you will just have to see  this to believe it).

As I finished today’s bedtime story, I pinched the remaining twenty pages between my fingers and said, “Look, Mom, this is all we have left.”

“Oh, no,” she said.   I am also sad that there is more behind us than in front of us.

I hope we’ll have many more bedtime stories.

My beautiful mother-in-law with my daughters

My beautiful mother-in-law with my daughters

When I’d ask my own mother what she wanted for Mother’s Day, she’d said, “Nothing!  I don’t need anything!”  After cleaning out my parents’ house, I realize now that she was telling the truth.  How I wish I had bought her a book for us to share, even though she had no vision problems preventing her from reading on her own.   Why not buy a book to share with your mother? Here are a few books I’ve read that would make good readalouds:

The Residence:  Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower

Anything by Erma Bombeck, like If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business:  A Memoir, by Dick Van Dyke

This Time Together:  Laughter and Reflection, by Carol Burnett

If You Ask Me (and of course you won’t) by Betty White

 

 

43 Comments

  1. Great piece! Enjoyable to read and imagine the two of you laughing over Ruthisms. Fun!!

  2. Beautiful…it is the gift of time together that is so precious! You are undoubtedly the kindest, giving person I know. “Mom” is blessed to have you as her “daughter.” Absolutely delightful to read!

  3. Oh, Sandy! What a wonderful story! At 88, my mother loves to play bridge and is still an avid reader. I know I’m so lucky she remains active and sharp. But this is the kind of gift we’d both enjoy. I may just pick up one of your suggested books to put in her Mother’s Day goodie bag this year.

  4. You are the best! What a great gift you are giving your Mom and now inspiring others to do the same. Some of my favorite conversations with my mom are about books we’ve read and shows we’ve watched. Sometimes we talk about the characters like they are part of our daily lives and we personally know them.
    This article makes me want to ask my mom about Ruth Lyons and I’m lucky enough that I still have her in my life and can ask.

  5. So touching, Sandy. What a gift you are giving to your Mom (I know, she’s your mother in law). As I age I realize more and more how it all comes full-circle. Thank you! Kathy

  6. Beautiful! I love the images in this.

    I still read to Mom, convinced I’m connecting a neuron or two. Lots of People mags about the Royal Family, since she can’t follow a story for too long. But, I read. There’s a poetry group at Mom’s place too, which I love. But that comes from the activities director, who loves to read and write.

    • Well, you spoke to a lot of daughters on this one. I read to a friend here at Foulkeways once a week. We talk for the first hour and then we read for the next half hour. We laugh and I lie on the fly to get the sun coming in the door, and we are both nurtured. Mary Virginia does not see well, and we like the same kinds of books so it works out beautifully. Right now we are finishing Elaine Prevallet’s Making the Shift: Seeing Faith Through a New Lens. Those who know Knob Haven know Elaine Prevallet. I will read this blog post to Mary Virginia next week. Thanks, Sandy! Erma Bombeck is next!

      • What a gift. My mom has passed but I have several friends that will appreciate this story and the suggested oils. Thank you Sandy. As always you inspire me❤️

        • Can’t wait to see you, Carol! Thank you for reading and responding.

      • Oh, Jenny! How thrilled I was to see your name and read your nice message. I hope you are well.

  7. This gift is one that works for your m-in-law and for you, too, I’m guessing. I’ve had successful “reading to adult” experiences in the car on vacations — instead of CDs. It feels wonderfully engaging. Your husband’s mother is a very fortunate woman.

    Love seeing the photos of your beautiful daughters. Happy Mother’s Day to you!

    • You reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about for years. I used to read out loud in the car when we were on vacation. Reading HELLO, GOD. IT’S ME, MARGARET. We all loved it, especially my husband, who didn’t have sisters. It was eye-opening to him–the bras, the period–and my girls thought he was hilarious.

  8. Another great story, Sandy, and another reminder of what a creative, caring, giving person you are.

    • Thank you, Jane. Your praise means so much to me . . . it always did.

  9. This is beautiful post and you are a special person to think of this gift. I want to send this to Rob Braun but I can’t figure out how.
    I was so excited to see this come to my email as I always am when you post a new one.

  10. Yes, giving that book and gift of reading to my mom for Mothers Day too! Thanks for the idea and the blog which I always enjoy reading!

    • I hope you both enjoy the reading. Thanks for reading and responding.

  11. I love this, Sandy! I remember Ruth Lyons. Never got to see her show that often (I was at school) but it was part of growing up in Cincinnati. Remember the bouquet that always concealed her microphone? And yes – The Waving Song. You and Mom might like “Lost Tearooms of Downtown Cincinnati.” You can find it at most bookstores (I found it at Tischbein’s in Hyde Park)

    • Thanks for the book rec–I will look it up. In the Ruth Lyons book we read, they said as soon as Ruth started cover his mic with flowers, all the florists in the city sent her bouquets to use. The producer always tried to coordinate her outfit and her bouquet.

  12. I so loved this, you always leave me thinking of life, love and with you always kindness. Thank you much for the memories, it was a wonderful piece.

    • Your words touch me and make me want to keep writing.

  13. You are fortunate to have such a loving relationship with your mother-in-law. So many good books to read!

    • I am lucky to have such a sweet and smart mother-in-law . . . and sometimes she takes my side instead of Rick’s!

  14. What a wonderful idea. What a wonderful daughter. It is so touching.

    • Thank you so much for letting me know you read and enjoyed my post. It means a lot to me.

  15. This was a wonderful slice of your life piece. They broke the mold when they made you-such a truly loving daughter and daughter in law. This is a precious token for Mother’s Day, and every day.

    • How nice to hear from you! I’ve been missing you. Will you be writing in the circle this summer?

  16. You just gave me the best Mother’s Day gift – beautiful memories of my mom. This piece touched me and made me smile. You have a gift, Sandy. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Mary Beth, thank you for keeping me writing.

  17. What a great idea that appears to be working wonders for everyone, even me just by reading your post and imagining!!! Thank you!! Betty White writes good stuff that I think could be added to this mix, very enjoyable and honest fun! Enjoy!

    • What a great suggestion! I’m going to add it right now!

    • That was a great suggestion, Sue. I just added one of the Betty White books I read.

  18. I so enjoyed reading this, Sandy! It’s tremendously touching, the relationship you have with your “Mom.” And a really interesting way to go back in time and remember, share and learn. What a gift you and she are to each other!

    • Mary, as always, your feedback makes me feel like a rock star! Thank you for reading and responding.

  19. I was touched by your post. My mother has been gone for 18 years and I never had a mother-in-law. (She died when my husband was an infant.) But I can feel the beautiful spirit between the two of you, and I remember sitting at the 50-50 Club after Ruth Lyons had passed and Bob Braun took it over. He signed a copy of Here’s Bob to my then 3-month-old daughter. Ruth’s show was an original.

    • Thank you so much for reading and responding. Your words are precious to me.

  20. Sandy, your writing is beautiful..I count my blessing that you and your family are part of my life.
    Maryanne

    • Love you, Maryanne, my bonus mom. Maybe we should read a book together.

  21. My mother and I read some books together. She was always reading something. She had a life list of books. I have read some of them. Shared reading can give you something to talk about-a great idea

    • What precious memories you must have. Thank you for reading and responding.

  22. I love this story! I learned so much about Ruth Lyons and the way she connected Cincinnatians (not a native, so I didn’t feel the connection until I read your story).

    What a blessing for each of you to be reading a book together. Such an inspired idea!

  23. Sandy Lingo, you’re an excellent writer and I am so enjoying your blog. What a wonderful thing you are doing with “your mom.” She loves it and you will never forget the experience you’re having.

  24. Sandy, This was such a delightful story. I am in awe of your incredible memory!! You can recall even the tiniest details! This brings back so many childhood memories. BTW Your daughters and mother-in-law are stunning!

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Sandy Lingo

Life itself is the proper binge.  - Julia Child

A writing friend said that when she reads my writing, she always wants a second helping.

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