Dating My Mother
By Joel Stratte-McClure

The lady was fast company, always a step ahead of her aging son...

Dating My Mother


I returned to Northern California when she turned 90. I wanted to be close as she prepared the inevitable move to her final address.

I took a townhouse in central Redding with a mountain view — a rental, renewable on a month-to-month basis.

We figured, every year, that this could be the last stand. We’ve had live bands, magicians, outrageously decorated cakes, testimonials...

People admired my devotion, and it was an effective chick magnet. Still, after a decade, I sensed friends starting to feel sorry for me.

We all have mothers. They may have abandoned us at birth, ineptly raised us or became a pivotal and inspirational force in our lives. Mine tricked me.

When she turned 90, I returned to Northern California, after living outside the United States for almost forty years. As her somewhat obedient oldest child, I wanted to be near her while she prepared to make the inevitable move to her final address.

She lived in Redding, a redneck part of the Golden State, where the temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees between May and October, and that’s before you get to the wildfires and the smoke.

Hers had been a rich, full, deeply rewarding life, a pioneering radio and print journalist…

But based on the actuarial assessments I’d studied, I figured this would be a six-month, or maybe a year-long, commitment. The townhouse I took in central Redding with a mountain view was a rental, renewable on a month-to-month basis.

Hers had been a rich, full, deeply rewarding life. As a young woman in the 1940s, she was a pioneering radio and print journalist, the sort who refused to be the society editor for an Ohio paper because “it wasn’t considered a real reporting job.” She’d had four children and two stepchildren; she’d outlived both her husbands and one octogenarian lover.

During the first couple of years I travelled part of the time. But basically I was there. For her. For my about-to-die mother.

I did everything a dutiful son would be expected to do at this stage of his mother’s life. I took her for walks and drives, hosted weekly lunches with her friends at the Riverview Country Club, and frequently took her gang to Nello’s for faux Italian dinners and Clearie’s for real American ones (I let the old lady pay most of the time).

I made sure she was up-to-speed in cyberspace (she had started emailing her kids and grandkids in the early 1980s) and didn’t blink, and certainly didn’t object, when she remodeled the kitchen and had new blinds, furniture and televisions installed (at 94, seriously?).

Though she’d aced the eye exam on her last driver’s test without glasses (“Eyesight of a teenager,” the examiner exclaimed), when we decided she could no longer drive, I regularly dropped her off at bridge games, took her to swimming meets featuring her aging grandchildren and accompanied her to the hairdresser’s.

Her friends bit the dust one-by-one but my mother, in complete command of her mental and most of her physical faculties (well, not quite, she did tell me at one point that “Everything takes ten times longer to do than it used to…except sex.”) didn’t miss a beat.

She remained au courant by streaming movies, downloading books and watching replays of every golf tournament that Tiger Woods didn’t win. Once a Rockefeller Republican, for years she’d been moving rightward, so there was also a lot of Fox News.

In a book I wrote, I waxed meaningfully on the value of returning to my childhood home on behalf of the mother who had been “responsible for providing me with the confidence to travel, take risks, try new things…stray a bit from the beaten path of life.” All I was doing now was returning the favor.

Her birthday each October 24 beccame a big event because we figured, every year, that this could be the last stand. We’ve had live bands, magicians, outrageously decorated cakes, wedding/funeral photographers, biographical books, sentimental testimonials and elaborate food for family members who annually fly in from throughout the world.

Most people congratulated me on my filial approach and devotion, and it proved especially effective as a chick magnet. Still, once it passed the decade mark, I began to sense friends starting to feel sorry for me.

Still, my predicament continued to make for good cocktail chatter.“I came here for six months when I thought my mother was dying at 90,” I’d jokingly lament, to general amusement. “Now I can’t leave.”

Then, again, there was the snobby former girlfriend in Manhattan who pointedly told me: “Do you realize that you’ve wasted a decade of your life dating your mother? How many men in their 70s choose to do that? None! You are an Idiot. Goodbye!”

Gradually Mom quit traveling. “This is the first vacation I’ve had in ten years,” she joked, at 99, when she had to evacuate to Sacramento during a wildfire in 2018. More recently she’s become hopelessly addicted to two already fixed habits: two glasses of champagne every night at five and Ghirardelli hot chocolate with Califia almond milk every morning for breakfast. Besides those drugs, she takes no medication, except Tylenol, and steadfastly avoids doctors, except her physician son, my youngest brother.

At the start I’d made all sorts of plans about what I’d do when she actually moved to her final address. In my 60s at the time, I thought I’d enjoy theater and art in New York and London; friends in Paris, Cape Town and the south of France; enjoy myself in New Brunswick, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Newfoundland and other New locales.

But by the time my mother turned 100, I realized that such projections were a waste of time. The woman showed no sign of illness, much less dying.

And I was stuck in Redding, California.

According to the medical experts, my mother was actually supposed to die in August, after a fall led to internal bleeding, and we family members, having agreed to take no invasive steps to prolong her life, were calmly preparing for her exit. After all, she was 101.81-years-old and death was certainly not an unexpected surprise. We cancelled her newspaper subscription to the local daily and her membership at the Riverview Country Club.

But, remarkably, she rebounded and is now regaining her strength in a rehab before moving back home.

I will not tell her about the cancelled subscription or club membership or, for that matter, that I’d intended to ignore her wish that we not pay for an obituary.

Actually, rather than a mere obituary, my plan is to disrespect her wishes by purchasing a full page tribute in the Redding Record-Searchlight, accompanied by two beautiful photographs of her, one in 1944 (black and white), the other in 2014 (living color). The tribute will begin: “My 132-year-old inspirational mother was a remarkable woman with a beautiful mind and a wonderful life…”