THE HIGHWAY STRETCHED before us, long, like a line drawn through the landscape. Separating fields and farm sites under clouds suspended in an infinite blue sky. The type of clouds that identify a summer day in Minnesota. Southwestern Minnesota. It is my favorite of skies.
Our destination, a care center, lay 120 miles to the west. As Randy and I traveled, I tried not to think about what may await us. Would the visit go well? I’d arranged earlier in the week for an outdoors visit with my mom as allowed now by the Minnesota Department of Health. It’d been nearly four months since I’d seen her, on the weekend before care centers closed to visitors due to COVID-19. My mom is on hospice, has been for a year. I recognize that in itself is remarkable. I needed to see her. Phone calls and/or video chats have not been an option due to her health.
Along the route, I like to photograph scenes. I set my camera on a fast shutter speed, try to frame as best I can and shoot through windows that are all too often splattered with bugs or reflecting sunlight. But I still photograph. It passes the time and allows me to share my world and perspectives in a way that words don’t always fully cover.
Once on the west side of Mankato, I feel like I’m entering my home territory, the place of expansive farm fields and wide skies. The place where I feel small compared to both. It is a familiar and comforting world. The place that shaped me and which I still hold dear.
I appreciate well-kept farm sites where owners show care in upkeep of buildings. Along Brown County Road 29, what I call the back road between New Ulm and Morgan, sit some particularly lovely old barns, a vanishing landmark. Few of these hold animals anymore, which leads to the demise of these once hardworking agrarian buildings.
I also am drawn to vintage silos, now abandoned. Farming has changed so much, making the buildings of our ancestors outdated and mostly now storage spaces or simply visual reminders of the past.
All of that I considered as the miles rolled before us. After a pit stop at a park restroom in Redwood Falls, we covered the last 15 miles, arriving at our destination 10 minutes late. Had I not stopped first at the Faribault Farmers’ Market for a garden flower bouquet, we would have arrived on schedule. But I wanted to bring Mom a gift. And flowers are universal in their ability to bring joy.
Following a temp check, health screening, providing contact info and signing necessary forms, we were ready for the supervised one-hour allotted outdoor social-distancing visit. I already expected the designated visit site, a patio in full morning sun and next to three noisy air conditioners, would not work. It didn’t. No one could hear and the heat was too much. We shifted to Plan B, which was to talk via phone with Mom on one side of glass doors/windows, us on the other. That also proved challenging as Mom didn’t understand anything Randy or I said. But the staffer, bless her, repeated whatever we said and thus we managed.
I found myself trying to talk on topics that would spark a connection with Mom. A mention of Curious George, which she’s developed a fondness for, brought a smile. The Parkview staff has ordered dvds for Mom (so caring) after discovering the naughty monkey of children’s book fame makes her happy and holds her interest. I brought two Curious George books and she smiled at the gift.
Mom also reacted when I talked about her childhood pet lamb, Duke. I recognize that memories of yesteryear are much stronger than the memories of 20 minutes ago for the elderly. The aide mentioned that Mom’s one-room country school teacher lives at Parkview, too. I knew this as Mom told me years earlier. Hazel is 104, Mom 88.
We held our cell phones up to the glass, showing Mom photos of her great grandchildren/our grandchildren, four and 18 months. She’s never met Isaac. But images of the pair and photos of her own grandchildren brought smiles.
When I observed Mom drifting, her eyes shifting away from us, I would wave my hands and say, “Mom,” and then she would come back, into the moment. That happened often. I could tell she was tiring and it was time to leave. As much as I wanted to rush through the glass barriers and hug her, I couldn’t. So I told her repeatedly that I loved her. And I fake-blew a kiss. And in that moment, as the aide swung Mom’s chair to wheel her back to her room, I felt a strong connection of love. A bittersweet moment. I just stood there and watched. My heart breaking, yet filled with gratitude for one more visit.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling