A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Anne L. Gunther

It would sound cruel if I began a tribute to my mother who passed away one week ago today with a sense that I’m glad she’s gone. No, phrasing is everything. Instead, my feelings that I am grateful her suffering is over is closer to the truth. And it sounds more civilized.

Watching arthritis slowly overcome her body during the last few years was heart breaking. I have realized that perhaps there is a definite place in our lives for end of life suffering. The memories of those last months are definitely making it easier to let her go.

And the other memories leading up to these last years have crept up to the front of my mind in recent weeks when my brother and I and our families knew that the end was near. Memories such as…

The time when we were still living in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, and Mom would sometimes meet us at our school, H.R. Edmunds (now a charter school specializing in music education). We had an hour for lunch, which allowed us time to walk the five blocks home, eat, and walk back for the afternoon classes. One time, she made tuna salad sandwiches and in those days Mom would take the extra step by cutting the crusts off. This made the meal seem more like a high tea rather than an elementary school lunch.

So this one day she left the sandwiches resting on paper towels on our kitchen table and left the house to meet us. We returned home, Mom announced that lunch was on the table and we went to the kitchen, finding not sandwiches, but vacant paper towels. It seems that Mom had not counted on Champ, our Belgium Shepherd, detecting that something delectable was on 
the kitchen table and helping himself. I’m sure she had some choice words for dad that night when she told him what “his” dog had done.

Another elementary school story, hitherto unknown to everyone beyond my Mom and me, since I have never discussed it since the day it happened. My friend Teddy Wolf and I were walking through the schoolyard at lunchtime (Mom didn’t meet us this day) when we saw a group of kids bent over in what appeared to be a football huddle. I said, “Hey, let’s see what they’re doing.”   Teddy had some premonition and said something that we probably shouldn’t bother them, but I proceeded undeterred.

I said, “Whatcha doing?” One kid grabbed me, pulled me inside the huddle and said, “This is what we’re doing.” The problem was that the kid grabbed me by the neck and tightened his grip around my throat until I started screaming and crying. He let me go and I cried the rest of the way home.  (BTW, the kids were lighting matches using a magnifying glass. Big whoop!)

I told Mom what happened and, after lunch and calming me down, we walked together back to school and the principal’s office. She told him what had happened and all three of us went to one of the classrooms on the third floor where the upperclassmen (sixth graders) were learning or otherwise being indoctrinated into the post nuclear age way of American life. The principal told the teacher what had happened and I was given the chance to see if I could identify who had grabbed me. There was one problem: I hadn’t seen the faces of any of the kids in the huddle. Also given my height at that time I could not see any faces because I could, at best, see only the bottoms of the polished wood desk tops.

Every once in awhile, the memory of that day comes back to me and I have since concluded that the kid didn’t mean to harm me, but perhaps didn’t know the strength of his grip. Whatever, I’ve made it a point to avoid crowds (from more than three people to 100 people) ever since.

Mom was one of five daughters born to Jack and Bonnie Cathers (there were also two boys) and she was the last of the daughters to get married. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any photographs of my parent’s nuptials, probably because none exist. Just as well, as it is may have been the happiest day of her life, but a few incidents that day probably dampened her enthusiasm.  

For one thing, there were religious differences: Dad was Catholic and Mom was Protestant. Grandmom, thinking that there must be a good reason why her only son was marrying a Protestant girl, assumed that they had to get married. She asked Mom bluntly if she was pregnant. Mom was not expecting, and the incident set the tone of their strained relationship forever after.

Then there was the more dramatic reaction from Dad’s sisters. They cried,  not for the usual reason that weddings are a happy event that evokes tears,  but  they were convinced that their baby brother was going to burn in Hell because he was a marrying a Protestant. This reaction has baffled every Catholic person I told this story to, but all I can figure out is this is how people believed in 1957.

My parents got married for reasons that were more economic than starting a family. Dad reported for active duty in the Navy two days after the ceremony, and the marriage allowed Mom to receive whatever benefits would be available to anyone married to a person serving in the armed forces. Mom and Dad remained married, happily as far as I know, despite their different religious upbringings. There were also political differences: Dad was conservative, while Mom was more progressive thinking, being a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. I’ll never forget my discomfort the day after the ERA ratification deadline had expired and Mom yelled at me, “I’m still a second class citizen.”  

Okay, Mom, gee, sorry about that.

Both of my parents served on the Catawissa town council, at different times and from different political parties. Mom felt comfortable being a Democrat because she believed they looked out for the little guy. Due to their political allegiances, they were known as the Odd Couple of Catawissa Politics. So naturally everyone probably believes that over the years my brother and I witnessed many spirited discussions at the dinner table. The truth is disappointing: politics was never discussed at dinner time, save for the activities of the other people on the council.

As far as I know, Mom was a lifelong Christian Scientist. My brother and I were both raised in this religion, but, despite my Mom’s best efforts, we have both drifted away from it. Of the two of us, she realized that I had a better understanding of it, which is probably why she confided to me in one of our final phone conversations that she wanted to use prayer to work through her situation. We talked the day before she was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. No doubt she probably found all this medical attention with feeding tubes, IV tubes, and talk of intubating her to facilitate clearing her lungs annoying.
The last few weeks I have found myself thinking about Mom’s religious beliefs and – apologies for this left turn in my narrative — something Michael Nesmith said when his fellow Monkee Davey Jones passed away a few years ago. Nesmith is also the offspring of a Christian Scientist, and he reacted to Jones’ death with a description of death as transition. He alluded to it as part of a journey in our existences. So when we, family and friends of Anne Gunther, gather this weekend for her service, I don’t believe we are saying goodbye. Rather we are seeing her off on the next stage of her existence.

I did not say goodbye to Mom when I saw her for the last time at the hospital. I just said, “I’ll talk to you later.”  

And that’s how this will end: Mom, I’ll talk to you later.

(Thank you for reading.)


Blogger Amanda said...

That was a very proper goodbye Todd!

March 26, 2015 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

What great memories you have, and can share with us, and with your Mom when you talk later.

March 26, 2015 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger Ur-spo said...

thank you for sharing this.

March 26, 2015 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Thank you all for you thoughts and condolences.

April 1, 2015 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger slugmama said...

I enjoyed this post about you and your mother's relationship. She sounds like she was a good mom but also a good person.

The reincarnation-ists believe that we come back and if we have unresolved issues with someone in our past life they and we are reborn into a relationship that is different but involving having to work out the issues we all carried with us into the next life. I so hope this is not true as the thought of having my father in my life again is NOT something to look forward to! lolz

I hope you are reunited with your mom in whatever is next for you, and not in a reincarnation-ish way. 8-)

April 4, 2015 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Thank you Slugmama for your kind thoughts. Actually the idea that Z could comes back to this cruel planet scares the hell out of me. I'll take my chances elsewhere in the cosmos.

April 6, 2015 at 6:03 PM  

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