On the last lap of some errands with my mother yesterday, we crossed the Mississippi River near St. Cloud State and then turned left onto Kilian Boulevard. Only occasionally do our errands take us near there, and when they do, I make sure to drive past the house at the corner of Eighth Street and Kilian, the house where she and Dad lived for forty-six years and where she stayed for another eighteen months without him.
The house has new owners: The young family that bought the house from her has sold it, and a new young family lives there now. As we pass the house, she looks closely to see if there are any obvious changes. Nothing stands out this winter. Summertimes have shown a few different flowers along the walk and a different set of shrubs in the back yard, but that’s about it.
There are changes, however, inside the house. When it was on the market a couple years ago, Mom, along with my sister and my cousin, took advantage of an open house and went through the place. Mom didn’t care for some of the new wallpaper: It made the dining room too dark, she said, and I got the sense that she felt a little offended that anyone would change things in her house.
And it’s still her house. It always will be. It made sense to sell it eight years ago, and it made sense eighteen months later for Mom to move into an assisted living center, but the house on Kilian Boulevard will always be hers. I understand that. I spent only two years in Minot, North Dakota, about twenty-five years ago. The house where I lived was near the Souris River and was certainly damaged, if not destroyed, by the disastrous flood during the summer of 2011. That pains me. And if I feel something for a home I lived in for just two years a quarter-century ago, what must Mom feel for the house on Kilian where she spent more than half her life?
So we drive by whenever our errands take us near there. Sometimes we go down the alley, so she can see how the flower bed by the garage looks. When we last drove that way during autumn, she noted with a grimace that the row of bricks behind the garage – laid down to separate the lawn from the steep bank down to the alley – needs to be aligned. But she also noted that the trashcan stand that my dad made out of galvanized pipe more than fifty years ago still looks sturdy.
Mom turned ninety-one on the first of the month. She’s moving a bit more slowly these days, but she still uses the stairs instead of the elevator when she comes down to get her mail or to wait for me to pick her up. There are days when she doesn’t feel up to going out, days when I pick up her shopping list and run her errands alone. Ninety-one years is a long time. As I similarly wrote a couple of months ago about the age my father would be if he were still alive, that’s a length of time I cannot grasp.
I have a good memory, and sometimes the weight of the memories I carry in my head and heart feels heavier than I’d like. If anything, my mother has a better memory than I do, and I wonder sometimes about the weight of her memories. Quite often, during our nearly weekly lunches at the Ace Bar & Grill, I’ll ask her a question designed to get her talking about her childhood, her youth or the early days with Dad. As I listen, I often learn something, and I hope that telling her tales makes the weight of her memories just a little bit lighter.
One of the best songs ever written about memories is “Try to Remember” from the 1960 musical The Fantasticks. Ignore the fact that the lyrics are written from a male point of view – recall the “callow fellow” – and just hear the song’s title as the tune begins. Then let the song take you to your own Kilian Boulevard. This lush version by Mantovani and his orchestra (whom Mom and I saw in concert many years ago) comes from the 1971 album From Mantovani With Love, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.