Friday, May 15, 2015

Mother Died and Other Stories

“Mother died today” opens Camus’ The Stranger. I almost started my email last Wednesday with that line. It was a dispassionate fact. Yet not. It was relief. It was terrifying. It finally ended my role as Sneelock. It revealed the one real, startling fact of all life. It mocked as failure my efforts for a large chunk of my life. It was what she had wanted for many years. It ended an era. So, like everything in life, it was filled with mixed emotions. 

In fact, the opening line of Camus’ The Stranger has been mistranslated. He does not use the word “mother”, for which I have been properly criticized for using in the past. The word is “maman”, which translates somewhere between “mother” and “mommy”—mixed emotions. 

Mom’s last coherent words were spoken to Gabi, the caregiver, as she bent over mom in her chair and whispered something to gain an acknowledgement or response. Mom noticed her bracelet and said, “What a pretty bracelet!” 

Gabi, delighted at the response, continued with something like, “Yes, it is the one instance where my husband showed good taste.” 

Mom’s response in some ways summed up her whole life and its message to others, “Oh, you’re too critical.”


Mike said...

This is a nice final remembrance. I'm glad in her brief bouts of lucidity she had her sense of humor. She will be missed. Those of us from out of town will always be appreciative of everything that was done by those in Mt. Lebanon - especially your work in the house, Jim. But also the children who stopped by, and the grandchildren, some of whom brought their own children, to visit. I'm glad she was relatively comfortable and cared for until the end.

Big Myk said...

I agree with Mike: very well said. I too find myself faced with the same confusing and unsettling emotions. I suppose, however, that the good vicar at the funeral was correct. The swirling emotions wiil subside but a hole will remain in our lives.

And I suppose that you did end up being Old Sneelock. And for that we are all deeply grateful. Of course, you didn't have to dispense 500 gallons of lemonade, be lassoed by a Wily Walloo, wrestle a Grizzly-Ghastly, face a blindfolded bowman shooting arrows at your head or navigate through a course of Stickle-Bush Trees on Roller-Skate-Skis. We know of course that your job had its own challenges.

And you really stirred up a hornet's nest by bringing up the discussion about how to translate the first line of The Stranger. For a full discussion, see Lost in Translation: What the First Line of “The Stranger” Should Be.