Performer: Pete Townshend
Songwriters: Pete Townshend, Alan Rogan
Original Release: All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes
Definitive Version: None
Yes, Mom fought the good fight all right after she announced that she had throat cancer in August 2010. She did the whole ball of wax—surgery, radiation, chemo—multiple rounds of each. It didn’t work. She might have kicked lung cancer in the butt, but this was unstoppable.
She died March 1, 2011, less than seven months after her diagnosis. I wasn’t with her when she went—no one was, I guess—but I was in Columbus when it happened. I was the last one from the family to see her.
I’ll have more to say about all of that at a later date, or dates, but just before she died, Mom told me she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered in Chicago.
After she died, Scott and I were—Scott particularly, being the closest to Columbus—consumed with cleaning up (out) Mom’s place. Partly due to that and partly due to laziness, I didn’t get my act together regarding putting together a proper memorial.
But that worked in my favor, because the obvious solution became apparent: We’d hold it on the anniversary of her death. That worked out because that was also the 50th anniversary of Mom living in Chicago, where she left to marry Dad in 1962. When I suggested Chicago as a final resting place for Mom, that part of the equation had eluded me.
Now all I had to do was hope that Lake Michigan wouldn’t be frozen, and, of course, if never did—the first winter in years where that wasn’t the case. (Who said global warming was all bad?) Laurie and I scouted out a couple of places up in Rogers Park where Mom had lived and found a spot just a few blocks from her apartment—still there, but now all condos.
We also scouted out restaurants to have the post-memorial dinner. Mom loved Chinese—real Chinese, it turned out, after I introduced to her to one of the best places in Columbus, which was right across the street from her condominium. So it seemed appropriate that that would be the cuisine of choice. Plus, the name of the place was Mee Mah, which, of course, was the name I’d given my grandmother when I was a kid (spelled Meemaw). Mom also loved Meemaw, so that made the selection all the more appropriate.
Everyone came in. By everyone I mean, Jin, Paul and Bridget from L.A.; Scott, Shani, Leah and John from Cincy; and Uncle Jack and Aunt Sally. It was a blustery, chilly Saturday. (It was March in Chicago, after all, coming in like a lion.)
We caravanned up to Rogers Park, the actual park, not the neighborhood, and had the ceremony in a perfect location. At Rogers Park, there’s a bit of an overhang out into the lake, where the water is deep, about 200 yards past the beach.
Scott had asked me to remind him to bring Mom, and I did, and he did. I was going to do the actual scattering. Have you ever seen cremains? It’s not like the ashes you see in a campfire or even like the floury puff in The Big Lebowski. It’s almost like sand although a bit more chalky. And with the Coen brothers’ movie firmly in mind, I moved so everyone else was upwind.
Jack delivered an incredible speech. I had a speech prepared, too, and I had to be The Monkees following Jimi Hendrix. Aunt Sally really liked my speech and asked me to write up as best as I could remember so she could have a copy. Here’s what I wrote to her and pretty much what I said on March, 1, 2012:
“When Scott and I took Mom to the hospital for the last time, I had a song running through my head called The Sea Refuses No River by Pete Townshend. It’s basically about how the sea accepts all rivers, no matter how polluted or humble, without judgment. It just does. That song gave me some comfort during that time.
“When I saw Mom a few weeks before she died, I asked her what she wanted us to do after she was gone, and she said she wanted to be cremated. But when I asked her what she wanted us to do after that, she said she didn’t know.
“I had given it some thought on my drive down from Chicago, and I offered two suggestions. The first was where she spent her only adult vacation as far as I know with neither kids nor family—Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico. The second was Chicago.
“Well, in typical Mom fashion, she said, ‘Surprise me.’ But as I was driving home, just as I reached the outskirts of the city, I got a call, and it was Mom. She said that she had thought about it, and she wanted it to be Chicago. I’d like to think that her reason for choosing Chicago was exactly the same as my reason for suggesting it in the first place.
“Fifty years ago, Nancy lived one block West of where we stand now, and she was at a crossroads in her life. Down one road was a career as a medical technician, where she would be able to use her skill and expertise to help others, including on the Hope ship. Down the other was marriage and a family.
“Like so many her age, she chose the latter, and there are six people here right now who wouldn’t be anywhere if she hadn’t made that decision. Unfortunately, as we all know, things didn’t work out for her on the road that she chose as well as she would have liked.
“But today, we’re full circle. Here she is again, 50 years later, and now the spirit of Nancy is free to go in a different direction. May she find peace and acceptance there.”
When we walked back to our cars, it started to snow.