My Scrambled Nest

An Almost-Empty Nest Journey of "Letting Go" With Laughter and Love, By Cathy Free

Has it really been 34 years since I pulled my favorite silky pink shirt off the hanger, took it into Earl Scheib Auto Painting in downtown Salt Lake City (at a time when a car could be transformed for $99) and handed it to a perplexed painter with flecks of blue and white in his beard?

“THIS is the color I’m hoping for,” I’d told the guy after making the decision to give my 1972 Volkswagen Beetle a much-needed facelift. “Not hot pink. Not peachy-pink. Not fuchsia or rose or flamingo pink. I want cotton-candy pink. Do you suppose you could help make that happen?”

It was 1984, and I’d recently bought my third Beetle from a friend for $600 after selling my beloved burgundy-wine ’77 Corvette. Although I adored the ‘Vette, (silver leather interior, removable T-top panels, a deep and sexy vroom) the insurance premiums were outrageous, not to mention the gas bills. And when covering police stories for The Salt Lake Tribune, it felt odd to roll up to a crime scene like one of Charlie’s Angels. A Corvette was far too flashy and conspicuous. 

What I needed was a pink Volkswagen. 

When I held the shirt out to the auto painter, he backed up a bit in horror. “Pink? You want me to paint your car PINK? Are you sure? PINK?”

“Absolutely, I’m sure,” I told him. “Look at my car now, all splattered with gray primer. THIS will be an amazing improvement.”

“Hmmmmm. Really? I kind of like the gray,” he said. “We have lots of gray shades. Or maybe blue. How about baby blue?”

“My LAST Bug was baby blue,” I replied, exasperated. “And the one before that was forest green. This time, I’m thinking pink.”

“Well, look I’ve been here eight years and I’ve never painted a car pink,” he said. “Never. But it’s your money. Honestly, I should charge you extra since I’ll have to mix it up special. Plus, I’ll be going home tonight covered in pink paint. How do I explain that one?”

“That’s up to you,” I said. “Confident men have no problem wearing pink. My boyfriend has a pink necktie.”

“Oh, all right,” he said with a sigh. “Pink it is. Come back in two days at 5 and it’ll be ready. I’ll keep your shirt for now to make sure I get the right color.”

He did not disappoint. Two days later, I let out a squeal of delight when he rolled out my curvy Beetle, adorned in its shiny new coat. The heater ran nonstop and there were still large rust holes in the floor, but on the outside, my sweet Bug was blushing like a new bride. The perfect shade of cotton candy pink.

And as an added bonus, I never again had trouble finding my car in the parking lot.

🌸🌸🌸

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Mom to son (inspecting the Victorian apartment he is now renting with two friends near the University of Utah): “So all of the bedrooms are in the basement? Is there a fire escape? Do the windows open?”

Son: “How should I know? We just moved in.”

Mom: “OK, I’ll go check.”

Son: “What? Why? We’ll be fine!”

Mom: “But what if there’s a fire? Or an earthquake? What if you have a loud party and need to flee the cops in the middle of the night?”

Son (exasperated): “That was YOUR life. Trust me, we’ll all be too busy studying.”

Mom (walking downstairs to son’s room): “Hmmmm. OK, but I’d still like to check.”

Son (rolling his eyes): “Whatever! You’d better not break that window.”

Mom: “Well, it’s a little rusty, but it opens. That’s good. But this house was built with Victorian people in mind. They were actually quite slender without all of their bustles and fussy hats and overcoats. This is a small window. Maybe we’d better see if you can fit through it.”

Son: “No way! You’re too paranoid! It’s FINE!”

Mom (looking in another bedroom on her way upstairs): “It looks like Ben’s window is plenty big. So THIS is your escape route. Got it?”

Son: “Whatever! Would you stop? We’re not going to burn the house down!”

Mom (peering into the empty fridge upstairs): “Well, a fire certainly won’t be started by any of you cooking. I can see that. How about if I run and get you some groceries?”

Son: “We’re fine! We’ll just eat at the coffee shop across the street in the morning.”

Mom: “But what about TONIGHT?”

Roommate No. 1 (entering kitchen): “I have a case of Top Ramen.”

Roommate No. 2 (shouting from the living room): I have a couple of cans of chili.”

Mom: “All right then, I guess you’re all set. That’s too bad because I was thinking of going to Crown Burger to get burgers and milkshakes so you won’t starve on your first night.”

Son and roommates (in unison): “Really? Sweet!”

Now that I’ve just shared an early supper with my son and his two friends (they’ve known each other since kindergarten), I can say without a doubt that the old Irish proverb is true: “Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.”

Are you looking to have a meaningful conversation with your 20-year-old son after he’s just moved into his first apartment? Food, people. Food!
😊💖

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It’s been exactly one year since we moved my son into his dorm at the University of Utah for his first year of chemistry studies. Now, after two months of living at home over the summer, we’ll be moving him again tomorrow into a three-bedroom Victorian apartment that he’ll be sharing with two friends. Although I’m sad that his sunny room will be empty again (most likely permanently this time), I’m excited for my kiddo to truly fly on his own. In a tight rental market, he and his pals lucked out in finding a place on a tree-lined street just blocks from the university, with a killer coffee shop across the street and a bus stop outside the front door. And as an added bonus, I know the neighborhood well.

Thirty-five years ago, I used to live here.

Two blocks down the street is a 12-unit apartment building where I lived for about four months in 1983. “Why such a short time?” you might wonder, and there are two reasons: First, I found out after moving in that I had several dozen “houseguests” — cockroaches that traveled up my kitchen sink pipes at night. Secondly, I had a landlord who was certifiably nuts.

The roaches were disgusting enough, but they gave me an excuse to avoid cooking the entire time I lived there. The rental market was even tighter than it is now, and I felt lucky to have the apartment after my previous building was bought by a new owner who upped the rent, forcing almost everyone out. Since I was rarely home and ate most of my meals out anyway, I figured that as long as the roaches didn’t venture into the bedroom, I could deal with it until my six-month lease was up.

What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d end up with a landlord who took management lessons from Norman Bates.

“Crazy Bob,” as other tenants called him, seemed nice enough when I paid my first month’s rent and signed my lease. Retired and in his late ’60s, he was a wiry man with a fringe of gray hair, who always wore high-water plaid pants with a black leather belt cinched a few notches too tight. I soon learned that he had one cinched around his brain as well. Because Bob lived down the hall, there was no avoiding him, even when I’d come home late from my job at The Salt Lake Tribune. His lights were always on and his door was often open, and I’d sometimes catch a glimpse of him sprawled in his recliner, beer in hand, watching television as I hurried to my apartment.

One night, about six weeks after I’d moved in, Crazy Bob followed me down the hall, obviously drunk. “Why didn’t you pay your rent! You owe me back rent plus a late fee!” he shouted.

“What are you talking about? I already paid you and my rent isn’t due for two more weeks!” I replied, exasperated. I quickly ducked inside my front door and locked it. He pounded on the door a few times and shouted something about taking me to court, then stumbled back to his apartment. I was more angry than frightened and decided that if he did it again, I’d call the police. Sure enough, three nights later, he was back. “Where’s my rent! Pay up or I’ll evict you!

“Go suck a lemon!” I told him, slamming my door. I called the police, who showed up in 15 minutes, but Bob told them it was a “simple misunderstanding” and that he’d confused me with another tenant, who was behind on her rent. He apologized and seemed sincere, promising that it wouldn’t happen again. I figured, “This guy is wacko, but since I called the cops, he’ll now leave me alone.” And for a while, he did. But then, two months later, he again followed me down the hall and banged on my door. It was late and I was tired, so I pushed a chair under the doorknob and went to bed, thinking that I’d deal with it the next day, when I came home from work.

Then, the next night, trudging up the stairs and down the hall, I found something attached to my doorknob: A metal “lock-out” device that prevented me from opening my door. “What the f*$#!”

Livid, I went to Crazy Bob’s apartment, which was unusually dark, and pounded on the door. When there was no answer, I borrowed a neighbor’s phone and again called the police, who finally convinced Bob to open his door and remove the lock. That did it. I decided to move. Late that night, I drained my waterbed from my second-story window, boxed up my books and records and tossed anything that I didn’t want into the kitchen. Then I crumbled up some graham crackers and poured a half-gallon of milk over everything to draw out the roaches, and drove over to a friend’s house for the night. The next morning, after phoning in sick to work, I found a new apartment in the Avenues and a boyfriend with a pickup truck helped me load everything up and move.

“Hey! Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Crazy Bob demanded on one of our trips down the stairs. “You have a lease! You’re in violation of your lease! I’ll take you to court!”

“Oh, yeah? Go for it!” I shouted back. “And while you’re at it, kiss my ass!”

He never sued me, of course, and thankfully, I never saw him again. I smiled with relief when I met my son’s landlord, a professional man with a warm demeanor who favors khaki shorts to high-water polyester pants. “He’s a good kid — take care of him,” I said, shaking his hand.

“No worries,” he replied with a wink as my son rolled his eyes. “I learned a long time ago that it’s always best not to piss off the parents.” : )

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It’s been seven months since my mother, Joy, was given a “death” sentence by doctors and told that she had three to five days until sepsis would stop her heart. As most of you know, that didn’t happen. Following a hunch, I ordered an independent blood test for my mom and learned that she didn’t have sepsis, but extremely low potassium, which also would have killed her if I hadn’t called an ambulance and pulled her out of hospice.
 
Fast-forward to late June. Although she is once again a hospice patient due to neglect at a care center that didn’t properly treat a nasty bed sore, you’d never know that my mother had “weeks to months” to live. Snowy Owl Woman has outgamed the system and continues to defy the odds. Although her bed sore will never completely heal (thus the second “hospice” classification), she’s been enjoying outings to a nearby park and bird-watching in her wheelchair; movie marathons on the big screen in her room and plates of homemade lasagna and chocolate cake baked by moi.
 
Once or twice a week, I bring my mom a fresh supply of whole-grain bread with high-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in, so she won’t have to eat the unhealthy white bread served at her new care center. She is otherwise treated wonderfully in her new digs, so I really can’t complain. Buying a fresh loaf of bread from a bakery is a small price to pay for having my mom here to share more stories about her life, more laughs, more opinions about the current political situation in the USA. (In case you’re wondering, she’s as livid and baffled as I am.)
 
Three days a week, we watch Hitchcock movies and classic westerns together (another of her faves), and I read a new chapter to her from one of my French mysteries or travel books. But for the past three months, we’ve also shared another routine: Every two weeks, I give my mother a manicure, trimming her nails, oiling her cuticles and allowing her to choose from an array of polishes brought from home. (Remember the old Palmolive ads? Just call me “Madge.”)
 
Thus far, my mom has been pampered with Chanel’s “Vamp,” “Savage Pink” by Yves St. Laurent, Smith & Cult’s “Peaceful Paranoia,” Bobbi Brown’s “Dark Chocolate,” OPI’s “Queen of D’Nile” and Essie’s “Sand of a Beach.” I’m saving “Teal the Cows Come” for a future visit. (BTW, exactly how does one go about getting a job naming nail polish?)
 
When it’s time for her next sugarcoating, I plan to take her the perfect shade of alien grey and top her nails with miniature flying saucers. Apropos, no?
 
Of course, I’ll also need a copy of “Alien,” the movie. 😉👽
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After several months of Hitchcock movies with an occasional Sherlock Holmes mystery thrown in for good measure, my mom surprised me at her care center over the weekend with a special request.

“What are the chances of seeing ‘All the President’s Men‘” again?” she asked. “I haven’t watched it since it came out in the ’70s.”

The odds were 100 percent in her favor, I happily told her, since I’d recently bought a new copy to watch as a double feature with “The Post.” So yesterday afternoon, I put on my favorite t-shirt (“Journalist — I’m Not Fake, But My President Is”), picked up a couple of smoothies and settled in with her on a hot afternoon to watch Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) take down Nixon while my cell phone was lighting up with alerts from The Washington Post and The New York Times about Donald Trump tweeting that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself.

When I told my mom about the alerts, she rolled her eyes. “He should do something to himself all right,” she quipped, “and maybe he should watch the movie, too. He might learn something.”

My mother can seem a little frustrated or confused sometimes, but when it comes to politics, she always snaps to attention. More than anyone, it was she who taught me to always speak my mind, question authority and fight for the underdog. I’ve mentioned before that when I was 12 and living with my father, I spent the summer of 1973 watching the Watergate hearings on an old black-and-white television in our East Midvale rental home. I was riveted. But my dad, a former Nixon supporter, was concerned. He talked to my mom and said he wondered if it was a good idea for a soon-to-be seventh-grader to spend the summer alone indoors, caught up in a political scandal aired live daily on PBS.

“Ahhh, let her watch it — there’s really no good reason why she shouldn’t,” my mother told him. “It’s not hurting anything, and besides, there are worse things she could be doing.”

When I reminded my mom about that conversation yesterday, she laughed, and then let out an exasperated sigh. “Isn’t it something,” she said, “that all these years later, here we are again? “What the hell is wrong with people? They’d better wake up.”

As I hugged her goodbye and promised to round up a DVD of “Nixon” featuring Anthony Hopkins, we both agreed that “All the President’s Men” should be required viewing for every American, now more than ever. With bonus points for those who pop some extra popcorn and also watch “The Post.” 🙂  

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Nine months after we moved my son, his artwork, books and double bass into a dorm at the University of Utah, we made the trek again last week, this time in the opposite direction. Although my boy will be taking a full load of classes this summer, plus working part-time in a chemistry research lab, he’s decided that he’d like to spend a couple of months in his old digs before renting a house near the university this fall with three pals. Dorm life, he says, has become “stifling.”

Of course, I’m thrilled, and so is the cat. She’s already set up shop in one of his dirty laundry bags to absorb his aroma, and we actually made a trip to Old Navy to get my kid some new shorts so that he wouldn’t have to wash the ones that his old “roommate” has claimed. Yes, my son is a wee bit spoiled. But the cat! Damn.

It’s been fun to have the house vibrating again with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds cranked at full throttle, and I couldn’t stop grinning the other night when I heard my kiddo laughing out loud at “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” at 2 a.m. More than anything, I have missed that laugh. My kid is going into chemistry and takes his studies seriously, but he still knows how to see the humor in just about anything. Especially moi.

When I asked him to be my date at the Utah Symphony last Saturday, I fully expected him to grimace and say no, which was pretty much how he reacted to “nights out with Mom” in high school. But he’s grown a lot (literally and figuratively) in his first year away at college. Laughing, he said, “Sure! Why not? A date with my mother. Just don’t look at Facebook when we’re in public.'”

“Deal!” I told him, even though I always turn my phone off in Abravanel Hall. “I’ll do that if you promise to actually walk with me instead of rushing 20 paces ahead like I have the Ebola virus. If anyone thinks I’m a ‘cougar,’ that’s their problem. Be ready to roll Saturday night at 7.”

During the drive downtown, my son combed his hair in the passenger-side visor mirror and we cranked the Tom Petty CD he gave me last Christmas. Arriving with 10 minutes to spare, we bought some chocolate-covered blueberries and Mentos, then my kid actually agreed to pose for a selfie with me in the lobby for the first time ever. That moment alone was worth the price of admission. But the highlight of the night was stealing a glance at my son’s face during “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (the intro was famously used in the film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and seeing a look of pure contentment and joy.

“Everything about it was perfect,” he told me later. “The horns and the timpani, the guy playing the chimes! Wow. Thanks for taking me. I loved it.”

As soon as we got home, he opened the fridge (I’d filled it with his favorite treats) and let out a dramatic sigh. “Mom! How is it that we STILL have nothing to eat?” He was kidding, of course. Well, maybe.

It’s a delight to have him back. ☺️❤️🐦

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After my mom’s home sale closes next week, I’ll be using some of the equity to buy her a $60,000 car, which she plans to immediately “gift” to me so that I can sell it back it to the dealer and abscond to France with the cash. 

Well, OK, not exactly. But close.

Because my mother is currently doing pretty well, even with a Stage 4 bedsore on her backside, I am told now that she could very well be a hospice patient the second time around for another year, maybe longer, after doctors initially gave her a few months, tops. (Are they ever right? From what I’ve observed these past eight months, I would have to say, nooooooo.) While I’m thrilled to have more time with my mom, living longer means that she’ll need more money for her care center copays. Simply put, to afford to live in a long-term care center, she needs Medicaid.

Hence, the car.

I was shocked to learn that my mother will be allowed only $45 a month for “extras” while on Medicaid, and she can’t have more than $2,000 in her bank account at the end of each month. The government will also be taking back the annuity she was awarded when the Veterans Administration was found culpable in my stepfather’s death after giving him a faulty pacemaker. Grrrrrrrrr. The entire process has been maddening. But I’ve found a crazy loophole that I’ve doubled-checked with several attorneys, and thought I’d share here.

Even though my mom can’t drive a car and will never drive one again, she is allowed to own a car, free and clear of Medicaid requirements. (Go figure.) She is also allowed to “gift” the car to anyone she chooses — in this case, moi.

So once her home sale closes next week and her equity is deposited, I will have until the end of May to spend down my mother’s account on “legitimate” purchases. First, I’ll pay off all outstanding medical bills and copays. Then, I’ll prepay for her cremation and funeral — another Medicaid-free expense. Trust me, rather than let the government take it all, we’re going to have one helluva party, with a string quartet, hors d’oeuvres and case after case of my mom’s favorite Veuve Clicquot Champagne. (Of course, if Trump is impeached before my mom dies, I’ll have to make another run to the wine store.)

Once all of this is paid for, that will leave me about $60,000 to buy a one-year-old car, park it for a month or so, then resell it back to the dealer and deposit the cash into an account for my mom. Wacky, I know. But the beauty of it is that this is all perfectly legal, and Medicaid won’t get a single dime of my mother’s equity if I do everything properly.

As you can imagine, I initially fantasized about buying a shiny red Corvette or Porsche Boxter and driving it for several weeks. Then I learned that Medicaid (now very aware of this loophole) won’t allow me to buy a sports car or a convertible. So now I’m thinking about a luxury Audi, BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz, or possibly a spanking new Volkswagen camper van for a road trip. Hmmmmm.

After my new account is opened at the credit union, don’t be surprised if I’m tempted to take a little overseas trip to a certain land of art, wine and cheese as well. 

I have a hunch that that my mom will understand. : ) 

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Now that spring break is over and my daughter is back in high school and my son has returned to college, I’m adjusting again to a silent house this morning. It’s just me, the cat and the light clickety-clack of my keyboard as I type faster than the computer can process my words (something my mother once told me is the sign of a restless mind).

Unlike years past, we didn’t go anywhere during the break this year and instead spent our time reading, going to matinee movies, baking (OK — I did all of the baking), visiting my mom at her care center to watch Hitchcock movies and making summer plans. My son said he’s had enough of the dorm life and wants to move back home in June while he takes a couple of summer classes at the University of Utah. “Would you mind much?” he asked politely.

Would I mind?

“Only if I get to borrow your Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds” CDs,’ I told him. “And only if you promise to watch ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘John Oliver’ with me and laugh a lot.”

My boy has the most wonderful, genuine laugh, and I’ve missed it.

At the end of the summer, he and three friends plan to find a house near the university to rent together, so I hope to enjoy the upcoming months with him, knowing that once he’s moved in with his pals, and eventually moves into an apartment of his own, he won’t be spending much time — if any — cranking the tunes and piling up dirty dishes in his old Sugarhouse bedroom.

It’s a bittersweet realization to know that this August I’ll be claiming his old digs as a music room or a larger office to handle all of my files and book-writing notes, while he hauls away the last of his mystery novels and CDs. I’m going to leave my son’s artwork on the walls, though, and the futon sofa at the ready, on the chance that I can talk him into staying for an overnighter once in a while. “The cat will insist on it,” I’ve already told him, “and so will I. It’s been decided. So there.”

With just one more year of high school to go, my daughter won’t be far behind with her own apartment search. She’s already looking through Pottery Barn catalogs for decorating ideas and she’s trying to decide which college to attend. Because she loves everything from music, dance and the theater to foreign languages, poetry and women’s studies, she isn’t sure yet what her major will be.

“Perhaps a tap-dancing, poetic United Nations interpreter?” I’ve suggested.

After listening to her argue with her brother (thankfully, their disagreements have now evolved into serious and thoughtful debates), I actually think that she’d make a terrific lawyer. But don’t tell her that.

“Whenever you and Dad tell me that I should do something,” she told me last week with a sweet smile, “you can guarantee it won’t happen.”

I was tempted to say, “Okay — would that also apply to demanding that you move out?”

But of course, I kept my mouth shut. 😉

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My mother’s family roots are in France, but she has never had the pleasure of going there. I had hoped to surprise her in a year or two with a trip to Paris and Bordeaux (the city of her ancestors), but then she severely injured her knee and has spent the past six months in and out of care centers, hospice, hospitals and now hospice again — this time due to neglect that caused a Stage Four bedsore.

We don’t know much time she has left (it could be a few months, perhaps even a year), so I’ve returned to a habit that I started the first time she was “dying” in hospice last November: Every time I visit, I make sure that I read something to my mother about France.

Already, I’ve read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” and “Toujours Provence” to her, along with “A Pedestrian in Paris” by John Baxter and one of Cara Black’s French mysteries, “Murder in the Marais.” I’ve also shown her coffee table photo books about the Eiffel Tower, the hidden passageways of Paris, French gardens and the charm of French cats.

And that’s just the beginning.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that my collection of books featuring France (particularly Paris) now numbers well over 100, not including the cooking and baking books. (I truly am ashamed to add up those.) But I’m also delighted that I now have a wonderful reason to read them all again, from “Coming Down the Seine” by Robert Gibbings, an Irish writer who journeyed down France’s most famous river in the early 1950s and wrote about the whimsical people and beautiful landscapes he encountered along the way, to 2015’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, about a French blind girl and an orphaned German boy whose paths collide during World War II.

I’m looking forward to reading my mother some of my favorite Claude Izner mysteries (“The Montmartre Investigation” and “The Disappearance at Pere-Lachaise”), a Parisian love story with recipes (“Lunch in Paris” by Elizabeth Bard), an intimate tale of my favorite perfume (“The Secret of Chanel No. 5” by Tilar Mazzeo) and a historical account of the most famous tourist attraction in the world (“Eiffel’s Tower” by Jill Jonnes).

Like me, my mother has a collection of mini Eiffel towers, and she loves my idea of taking a few tablespoons of her ashes to the top of the landmark one day, accidentally “tripping” and sprinkling her remains like confetti over the City of Light.

Of course, I’m in no hurry to make that trip. Just as with the Hitchcock movies we’re now watching every week, I hope that my mom is given the gift of time to experience them all. My voice is always hoarse after 30 minutes of reading aloud, but it’s worth it to see her smile with her eyes closed and say, “That can’t be all. Can you keep going?”

Oui, ma mère bien-aimée. With pleasure, m’dear. : )

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I’ll be catching up on work today after spending much of yesterday afternoon playing hooky at my mom’s care center, lounging on the spare bed in her room, sipping fizzy lemonade and popping M&Ms as we watched “Dial M for Murder” with Grace Kelly.

Our first official “Hitchcock Movie Club” get-together was so much fun that we now plan to hit replay at least once a week. I own a collection of 20 Alfred Hitchcock films, so if we’re lucky, we’ll have five months to see them all, and our routine will give my mother something to look forward to. I came up with the idea after noticing how my mom’s face lit up one afternoon when I was trying to figure out how to work the DVD player in her room. “To Catch a Thief” suddenly appeared on the Turner Classics movie channel, enchanting my mother, who until that moment, hadn’t wanted to watch television in months.

“Cary Grant and Grace Kelly — two beautiful people,” she said. “What’s not to love?”

I had to agree.

Thus far, my mother is doing far better than anyone expected in hospice care. Sometimes, I get the feeling that the hospital simply didn’t know what to do with her, so they decided to check “hospice” on the medical coding sheet and make her somebody else’s “problem.” Yes, the bedsore on her backside is as bad as it can be, and she is weak and prone to moments of confusion. But on other days, I get the feeling that she could climb into her wheelchair and roll up the street to IHOP for strawberry and banana pancakes if she really set her mind to it.

“Instead of just waiting around to die,” I told her a few weeks ago, “why not enjoy a little bit of living?”

Thus, my brother and I bundled her up and wheeled her outside in the sunshine one afternoon, and on my birthday last week, I showed up with a book about Paris, two slices of lemon cheesecake and a bottle of her favorite Veuve Clicquot Champagne. Spending a few hours each week with Hitchcock and Co., though, is definitely on track to becoming her favorite pastime.

Yesterday, we marveled at Grace Kelly’s red lace cocktail dress and simultaneously exclaimed, “Don’t do it!” when she climbed out of bed with immaculate hair to answer her husband’s phone call while a hired killer waited behind the curtains to strangle her.

“What a treat — I hadn’t seen that movie in years,” my mother told me when I kissed her goodbye. “Maybe we can watch two this week?

I probably don’t have to tell you that I’ll be playing hooky again on Wednesday for “North by Northwest.” : )

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