When Mother Came to Pittsburgh
In late 2001, I visited mother in Texas. She was 98 and living alone in the same condominium overlooking Corpus Christi Bay where she had been for 45 years. My stepfather and almost all her friends were gone, and I was there to persuade her to come to Pittsburgh. She had lost most of her vision, could not drive and was forgetting that the oven was on when she went to bed. After two days of difficult discussions, she reluctantly agreed to come to Pittsburgh for a visit. She probably knew that the “visit” would be permanent but had not yet given up.
We went to the small airport in Corpus Christi, which did not have a lot of arrivals and departures and only a few flights each day. When we approached, the obviously bored TSA agent looked at my mother and said, “How are you today ma’am?” Mother, who had not traveled since the tragic events of 9/11 and was not familiar with the new security protocol, looked at him and with no expression replied: “I hope you can help me… I’m being kidnapped.”
When I tried to explain that my mother was making a joke, he asked, “Ma’am, is this your son?”
“All I know is he’s the man trying to take me to Pittsburgh,” she replied.
Then things got serious. “May I see your identification?” the agent asked. I explained that we had different last names because my mother had been married to my stepfather. We were escorted into a small room where they began asking me lots of questions and I noticed that mother seemed to be enjoying my discomfort. I finally convinced them to speak to the Allegheny County Police Chief (at the time I was the county executive). We barely made the plane. I was a nervous wreck and mother was having a grand adventure.
During mother’s three-week stay in our home in Oakmont, we toured several living facilities. We wanted mother to make her own decision of where she would live. Finally mother announced her choice. She said that the “nice people, the swimming pool, the chapel and an apartment on the penthouse floor” had convinced her. She immediately began telling everyone that she was moving to the “Pent House.”
By now, you may suspect that my mother was somewhat of a “character,” and indeed she was. At age 66, she decided to go deer hunting. That turned into a hobby and she killed a deer almost every year until age 91. She displayed a 12-point deer head and rack on the wall in her penthouse apartment. One of my favorite stories about mother occurred when she turned 99. I was fretting about what to get someone who’s 99. I knew that for as long as I could remember, mother went to church every Sunday and to the beauty salon every two weeks. I called the senior center’s salon manager and explained that when mother came in for her two-week appointment to tell her that her visits would be free for the entire year and that was my present for her 99th birthday. A week later the manager called. He said that mother had arrived for her two-week appointment and that he told her about my gift. He said as soon as she confirmed that her visits would be free for the whole year my mother changed her schedule to every week. The manager said he needed another check.
Mother had a wonderful 100th birthday with friends and family flying in from across the country. It was interesting to hear her brag about being 100. Prior to reaching that milestone, she never wanted anyone to know her age. I think the change was because as soon as she would say, “I’m 100 years young,” the instant response was, “Oh… you look much younger.” She loved hearing those words. She remained active and mentally alert until she suffered a stroke two months after her 101st birthday.
Character or not, my mother left wonderful memories of a smart, fun-loving and caring mother, grandmother and great grandmother that our family and her many friends will always treasure. And thankfully, never again have I been accused of kidnapping.