Even in her late 80s, she had far more sense than I will ever have. My mother. Who had Alzheimer’s disease. One day in May a few years ago, we decided that it was a lovely day for a walk along the Eastern Promenade. The sun was out. It was warm. My mother reached into the closet for her fleece jacket. “Ma,” I said as brightly as the sun was shining. “It’s too warm for that jacket. How about something lighter?”
“No,” she called over her shoulder with equal brightness. “I’m always cold when other people aren’t. This will be just right. Are you sure you’ll be warm enough?”
On the prom, we rolled into the last available parking space and I hefted her wheelchair out of the trunk, shocked at how chilly it was. I grabbed my thin sweater in the back seat. Why is it that my mother was ALWAYS right?
With her settled into the chair, off we went. The first thing that drew her attention was a dog chasing a tennis ball into the water. She was thrilled but also worried it wouldn’t make it back to shore. “I’ve always loved dogs and cats,” she told me.
The trail stretched out in front of us. Perfect for feet and bicycles and skates and wheelchairs.
Around the bend my mother exclaimed excitedly about the beautiful daffodils and proceeded to rattle off the first stanza of a poem by William Wordsworth.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
“When did you learn that poem?” I asked her. “Oh, third grade I think,” she replied. “I’ve always loved it.” I pushed the wheelchair along, struck by how she could remember the lines of a poem she learned more than 75 years ago, but often couldn’t recall what happened just that morning or even minutes ago.
We looped around the trail and headed back. As we approached the daffodils we had passed only ten minutes before, she exclaimed excitedly at how beautiful they were—as if seeing them for the first time.
Onward. She spotted the ferry on its way to Peaks Island, the seagulls, the buoys. Suddenly, she noticed an outcropping of rocks and began to recite another poem.
You’re just a rugged, homespun State
Perched on the nation’s edge,
A stretch of woods, of fields and lakes,
Of ocean-pounded ledge.
But rugged deeds and rugged men
You’ve nurtured for your own:
Much good the world has harvested
From broadcast seeds you’ve sown—
And so, we love you, rugged State
We love your smiling skies,
We love you for your deep-piled snows,
Your jagged coast we prize.
We love you for the lofty seat
You’ve reared ‘neath heaven’s dome:
But best of all, we love you, Maine
Because you’re Maine—and Home!
I googled the first line and discovered that the poem was written by Lester Melcher Hart and was in a book of historical narratives and poems about Maine called “Maine My State.” It was published by the Maine Writers Research Club in the early 1900s for Maine schoolchildren and printed by The Journal Printshop in Lewiston. I’d never heard of it before.
We had such a good time on our excursion along the ocean. For me, though, it was far more than just a pleasant walk with my mother on a sunny and slightly chilly afternoon in May.
She pointed out all the wonderful things to see along the trail. She recited poetry to me. She taught me something I didn’t know. She tried to make sure I was dressed properly for the weather. All those nurturing things that mothers do for their children. Still there.
My mother, Beverly Swett, died on September 6, 2016 at the age of 90. She still teaches me lessons.
Diane Atwood writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood, which received a Gold Lamplighter Award from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications and a Golden Arrow Award from the Maine Public Relations Council. Find it at catchinghealth.com.