Saturday, June 5, 2010

Young Bob Flynn

I popped over to the hospital Saturday morning to help Bobbie, my 90-year-0ld mother-in-law, with breakfast. Over the years, she's been known, very lovingly you need to know, as Young Bob Flynn, Busty Bobbie, Velveeta Butt and The G-ma.

She's got a thing going on with her ticker that needs some tending to, plus a couple of other issues that, for the most, are part and parcel of living 9 decades, plus or minus a couple of months. Throw in the fact that macular degeneration has taken away her vision -- and she deals with some pretty hefty memory issues -- so, yes, we're helping her with meals while she's in the hospital.

As I round the corner into her room, I see she is sitting up in a chair, sound asleep.

Uh oh.

Let me explain. Over the years, Bobbie has earned a well-deserved dangerous reputation for her shoot-first-ask-questions-later response to being awaken unexpectedly. One fabled family story has her late husband, Bob, coming to bed wearing a football helmet because, earlier in the day, she pretty much decked him when he surprised her in the middle of an afternoon nap. He survived the night -- and many others -- I might add.

Bobbie looked lovely, cotton-candy white hair gently outlining a dignified, almost patrician profile. Her skin, still roses-and-cream at the age of 90, was softly illuminated by the morning sun. Nevertheless, fabled or not, I couldn't help but recall this favorite family story as I reached over and touched her gently on the shoulder -- while attempting to calculate the potential projectory of the portable heart monitor next to her hand.

"Hey, Bobbie. It's Mary, Brad's wife."

She did wake with a start. I braced myself. Her dark hazel eyes widened. And then she smiled.

"Why, Mary, how lovely to see you."

For a woman, who reportedly saw little men running around her hospital room earlier in the morning, her aplomb was refreshing. Note to self: Must work on my aplomb.

(P.S. I love that word.)

"Breakfast is coming soon. I thought I'd help you out."

"How perfect. You know, it's always lovely to share a meal with someone you love."

We do a little comb-out while we wait for breakfast. Bed head hair is transformed into a gentle bouffant and gradually, in appearance and attitude, Bobbie becomes a regal grande dame of Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Note to self: Must also work on my inner grande dame.

During the comb-out, she asks:

"So, Mary, how goes it at the community colleges?"

I smile, touched by this. Even as Bobbie's memory fades, as she slowly loses the scraps and patches of memory that make up a human quilt of family and life, she remembers this small detail -- that I work for the community colleges here in Bermtopia.

Back in the day in Southern California, she worked for community colleges, too. First as a nursing instructor and then, moving up the ranks, becoming a she-devil of dean of nursing. And please know, I say that with utmost admiration. Say what you might, in higher ed, a good dean -- a he/she-devil dean, if you will -- is passionate about his or her discipline, his or her division and really doesn't care how many heads get knocked together to get students educated, graduated and employed. Bobbie was a good dean.

Breakfast arrives. While slicing and dicing sausage and eggs, I talk about work, more than happy to prattle on about my community colleges, the end of the school year and the projects I hope to knock off during summer quarter.

Bobbie munches contentedly on the mish-mash I've created, nodding in agreement here and there, half-smiling in, what I think, is recollection. Then, she clears her throat, and asks:

"So, Mary, how goes it at the community colleges?"

I have to smile. She doesn't remember. But I don't care. I'm talking to Young Bob Flynn:

. . . . The little girl shaped by an unpredictable, itinerant childhood during The Great Depression, frequently separated from her 4 sibs and parsed out among well-meaning family members and various Catholic institutions while a beloved mother slowly succumbed to congestive heart failure and a charismatic father drank and gambled away the family's livelihood.

. . . . The officer and gentlewoman who, during World War II, defied the U.S. Army by "fraternizing" with a dashing young enlisted man on the island of Guam -- a corpsman from Southern California who aspired to start his own business when the war was over. I think you can fill in the rest.

. . . . The intense, focused young woman who grabbed at a lifeline of education and nursing, thrown to her by the Sisters of Providence. She never let go -- not as a young mother working graveyard at St. Lukes in Pasadena to help support her husband's fledgling painting business. . . not as working mom going after a master's degree in public health at UCLA. . . and not as passionate, proud academic administrator who helped build an esteemed community college nursing program from the ground up.

. . . And a fierce family woman, who raised 6 children, all college graduates (and no convicted felons that I'm aware of) . . . a woman who, I might add, had a valued hand in the raising of my own two boys. . . and a woman who, I think, still believes there are very few obstacles in life that can't be moved by some combination of the 3 F's -- faith, family and fun. Thanks to Bobbie, I've come to believe that, too.

While I repeat the highlights of my work week and plans for summer quarter, Bobbie savors another bite or two of sausage and eggs, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. She swallows deliberately, clears her throat again, and turns to me.

"And so, Mary, what's going on at the community colleges these days?

I can't help it. This just makes me grin. And I think, Young Bob Flynn needs another taste of sausage and egg.

1 comment:

  1. Mary, that is perfect! I am glad you are sharing some of G-Ma with the world. xoxoxox