Irene searched the house for items of value that fit in her plastic suitcase. She selected those treasures that would come in handy during her bus ride to Boone County, Iowa: the green frog figurines, a bottle of ketchup, socks and underwear, her make-up case with a mirror on the lid, the black iron skillet, heavy, but rare and precious. She packed them all in folded towels from the upstairs bathroom closet.
At 89, Irene Duffy was still nimble as a cat as she crawled over the wrought iron fence next to the locked gate. She walked down the long drive, suitcase in tow, to Franktown Road. There, she stood by the lone mailbox and waited for the bus that would take her home: home to big elm trees and to people who knew her considerable status in Boone society. Home to her youth.
This was not Irene’s first escape attempt. My neighbors called me and, once again, I rushed home to help my mom, to half guide, half carry her back to reality.
I found her waiting on Franktown Road for that special bus that would drive her back two thousand miles and seventy years to a happier day. And Irene Duffy did not return to reality without a battle. She was a strong, proud lady and she fought for the ground that age and senility were eroding every day.
My mom’s last day was May 1, 1999. She left us while in a tizzy, but her dream bus had finally come. Now, over 17 years later, her final struggles echo in my own thoughts and emotions. I wonder how I’m supposed to age with dignity and serenity. I think of the wisdom in graciously stepping aside for younger generations, and planning for the end before it arrives.
I also think about my own childhood and young adulthood: the boundless energy, the power and influence. I can almost feel myself slip back into those old memories, and away from the weight of age and chronic pain.
But there is no bus waiting for me at the end of my driveway. Not yet.
Is a full life meant to be a large circle we each complete from birth until death? Maybe it is meant that, as each of us age, we come closer to the purity and wonder that was ours as infants.