It’s strange how the appearance of things changes as times change. Not the actual appearance, although that may change, as well: the aspect of things, depending on our moods and situations.
We all experience this when a place is new versus when it is familiar. What looks strange or even ominous may become commonplace and friendly, once known. Many people have the experience of noticing how different the same things look depending on the weather. A street may look dirty and depressing on a muddy, rainy day that seems clean and cheerful on a bright, sunny one.
When I first came to Green Valley, Arizona in 2001, I was a newlywed, and my wife and I were carrying with us our three youngest children. We stayed for the week of Spring Break. For my two daughters who came, that trip was their favorite vacation they took as kids. We swam, played games in the pool, stayed up late, visited the Desert Museum, went and saw a copper mine. We also went to a place called the “Gaslight Theater”, which was brilliant and funny.
The town was brand new to me: my parents had been here something like 2 1/2 years at that time. The Santa Rita mountains lay on one side and mine tailings (that I mistook for hills, because they’re huge and stretch for miles) lay on the other. There was desert all around, but plenty of trees in the city, including the line of pecan trees around the river bed for which the place was named. The topography was like nothing I had ever seen.
The next time I came back, it was just my son and me; my parents had come east to Georgia to visit us in the meantime. We went up into the mountains, saw a classical music concert, attended church, revisited the Gaslight Theater for a new show. It unseasonably rained the week we were there; my son and I played video games in the hotel, and made up words to the background music that we both still remember.
My parents came to visit us the next year, but my father wasn’t driving this time, for the first time in their lives.
The next year he died.
I returned alone for the funeral, meeting my brother and sister there, and the place had taken on a different aspect. I was glad I had two marvelous trips there to get to know the place. It was January, wintertime, and the place seemed so different than it had in the spring and fall. Still, to me, it was a place, a land, a topography that my father loved, and that’s how it looked. That’s what I noticed. I also thought a lot about the places he had been proudest to show us.
A year later, my mom told us she was selling their house, and moving into a retirement community called La Posada. It was a wonderful place, she said. When I came to visit her, first by myself, then again with my son, I had to agree.
It was, and is, a wonderful place.
When my mother first moved in, she was seventy-four, but she looked more like fifty-four. “You’re too young for this place,” she heard. A lot.
The place was beautiful, and sunny, and she had a wonderful apartment, large bedroom, living, room, her piano, room for books. It was on the second floor of an apartment building called “La Vista”. The dining room was full of friends. She was always on the go. Exercising, going places, doing things. She took us to a place where she and about thirty other women from her church made stuffed animals to give to underprivileged kids for Christmas. She tutored new Americans in English for free at a Community Center.
As I walked around the extensive grounds of La Posada, the place seemed marvelous, a community of people who hadn’t stopped living just because they’d gotten older. My mom had friends at church, and friends in town, and the place seemed full of possibilities.
I went to see her about every other year for awhile, she still took trips back to see us the other years, although, one ill-fated trip, she ended up in the hospital, and she never ventured east again.
For her eightieth birthday, my whole family came out to see her, along with one of my few remaining aunts. We made one last trip into Tucson to see some museums and go once more to the Gaslight Theater, which, my daughters were glad to see, was as funny as they remembered, and not just something little kids would like.
By that time, she was slowing down considerably, but still going.
Eventually, I would go once per year to see her, different times of year. The town was still beautiful, and had become very familiar to me. But certain aspects of it had changed. Her best friend in town moved to a facility in Tucson and they lost track of each other. I noticed that the people we would eat with when we ate at the dining facility kept changing. My mom also volunteered at the Memory Care center, and took me to visit a friend who was in the Assisted Living Facility. She also showed me the Nursing Home.
“Once people come here, they never come out again,” she told me.
Soon, her health problems had magnified. She had a heart condition for years; now she was diagnosed, more-or-less simultaneously, with Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. She had given up driving, which was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. Driving meant freedom. Even though the facility offered free rides to wherever, it just wasn’t the same. My trips out there usually had a large element of taking her to do various errands.
She let us know she had decided to move into the Assisted Living Facility around 2 1/2 years ago, because, she said, she “couldn’t keep up with her medicine”. My sister helped her move, I came a few weeks later, and noticed the much smaller room she now occupied. She was walking with a cane.
By the next time I saw her, she used a walker, which she was using earlier this year (April) when I came to visit.
She briefly made use of a wheelchair since then. Now she is bedridden, and cannot move unless someone moves her.
When I drove into town a little over a week ago, it was midnight, so I noticed little. But in the ensuing days, I realized: this place looks totally different to me now.
I don’t look at the mountains, so beloved by my father.
I don’t notice the mine tailings, so hard to believe unless you see them.
I don’t really register the friendly architecture, or the sunny patches where people play golf.
The life we see in a place
Is the life
We give a place
A land, once soul-filling, lies
Not empty, but
Emptied of meaning
Painted over with
The realization that
There are two kinds of people:
Those who know family is important, and
Those who know family is important too late
– November, 2018