When my mom was born, her parents named her Darlene. Seymour and Anne Horton thought they had coined a new name for their daughter, whom they called “Darling” in a domestic language of love.
Once a strong voiced loquacious performer and confident matriarch of 10 children and a clan of about 100 –counting in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – my mom speaks mostly gibberish now in a weak, high, thin voice. Hers is a pigeon language of heartbreak and lucidity.
I love language. I fluently speak English and Spanish. I have studied French, Latin, Portuguese, Catalan. So why not learn another, especially one informed by my mom’s love?
I talked to my her the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
“Hi. It’s Warren.”
“It’s Warren. “
“I know that,” she says. Her voice is reedy, higher than ever and very, very small.
“Sorry. I just didn’t know if you’d recognize my voice.”
“Well you sound the same to me,” she says. “We just got back. It’s antiquated winter. Are you in town?”
“No, I’m in Florida.”
“Are you coming tomorrow?”
“No, I’m in Florida.”
“Oh,” she says. “That’s good. We’re …” That’s when she delivers a fluent paragraph in the language I’ve never thought to learn: Gibberish. Don’t get me wrong, the words are clearly in English, they just don’t make any sense. At the end of this oration she asks, “What are you doing?”
“I’m getting ready for Thanksgiving.” I love the traditions surrounding the holiday, all of which she taught me. I make the same dishes, I use her wedding silverware which she gave me before going into the ‘home’ where she lives now.
“Oh, we’re having ours tomorrow. How many are you having?”
“Four,” I say, “the smallest Thanksgiving ever.” I grew up with 30 to 50 people coming home and in my adult life am used to having at least a dozen. This year was different. Smaller. Quiet.
“House (not how’s) you’re a ….” She stops talking.
“We’re doing good. Everyone is fine.”
“Good.” Her fluent gibberish tells me she wants to go.
“Yes, I have to go too.”
“It’s OK mom. I have to go too. I hope you have a good night.”
“Oh. Thanks, that’s neat. Me too.” She pauses for a moment then says, “You sound so sweet” and then she gives me an apparent non sequitur, “It’s almost finished.”
“I love you mom.”
“I love you too.”
I hang up the phone and cry. As the end of the year approaches, it is “antiquated winter” for my mom and her life is “almost finished.” For now I’ll have to content myself with learning a new language of love.
Oh, how I’m going to miss her when she stops speaking. Then I’ll learn the language of her silence.
As long as she speaks, my mom Darlene will always be darling to me.
Warren Parkin, a father of six and an English teacher, resides in Bronson/Williston.