by Kevin Burton
I took custody of the gold yesterday. Didn’t make me any richer, not in the monetary sense anyway.
The transaction took place at my mother’s apartment at an assisted living facility twelve miles north of where I live. I go there to visit her just about every Thursday. We are both savoring this time together. There are chores I help with then we have time to chat. We spend right around four hours together each week.
It has been more than 30 years now since my mother visited me in Palmer, Alaska. I was working for the Frontiersman newspaper then. She came up and spent maybe ten days with me.
We hung around Palmer some, then we took the train up to Denali Park, a very popular tourist destination about halfway between Palmer and Fairbanks. I have forgotten some of the details. I bought some kind of park package that included a hotel stay and choices of several activities.
One of the things we did was pan for gold. There was an Alaska guy with a white beard from either the bush or central casting, patiently teaching us tourist types how to swish the pan that separates the gold from the dross.
Both Mom and I actually found a few little flakes of gold. These were not exactly gold nuggets. The Alaska guy took some tweezers and deposited the gold for us into some tinfoil. So Mom and I each took home a little ball of Reynolds wrap with our treasure inside.
I don’t think I’ve ever opened mine for fear of losing what little gold there is. Not sure if mom has gazed at hers over the years.
She kept it in a little box, sealed and labelled ‘gold.”
“I want you to have this when I go home,” Mom said during yesterday’s visit, producing the box. “You can take it now if you want.”
I knew what it was instantly. We laugh about the wealth we have, protected in tinfoil.
“The experience was rich. It was as if they were bricks of gold. That’s how much it meant to me, being with you.”
“It was a different kind of experience, panning for gold,” Mom said.
We also took a ride on a speed boat of some sort during that trip. Mom remembers that the rooms we stayed in were made entirely of wood. I remember holding the door open for a German woman on that trip. When she said “danka” I opened my mouth to say you’re welcome, and realized I didn’t know how.
Mom would have never gotten to experience Alaska had I not landed there. And I never would have landed there, except for a strategy I felt compelled to employ.
I was having no luck breaking into journalism, because I was legally blind and not many publishers and editors would even consider hiring a reporter who couldn’t drive.
After a fistful of rejections, I reasoned that few people would want to move to Alaska and so I started competing for those job openings. The Nome Nugget said no thanks, but the Frontiersman said yes.
So that’s why Mom and I have flecks of gold in tinfoil and golden memories in our hearts.
When Mom talks about “going home,” she is referring to going to Heaven. My mother is 88 years old. Her mother lived to 91. We don’t know how many Thursdays we have left together.
On Thursdays we celebrate life while acknowledging death. Nobody truly embraces death, but death is not an ultimate threat to my mother or me because we have accepted the salvation made possible by the death of Jesus on the cross.
On Thursdays we have taken to recording our memories on cassette tape. It’s a series of interviews by the old newsman to a favorite interview subject.
At first Mom didn’t like the idea. But she grew to like it and now truly relishes it.
There was a time when I could walk maybe three minutes up one street and down another and be at my mother’s place. God help me, I took that for granted.
Then we found out the house she was renting was being sold by the former owner. She had to move, and quickly. The move to assisted living was wrenching, but of course, exactly what the family needed. But it did mean more of a separation for me. Now a government ride service helps me get to her place, once a week.
Thursdays with Mom.
It’s a long good-bye. We both know it.
I’m not sure who started this, or why. But when we end our phone calls now, we say “bye for now.” When her time comes it will be intensely painful for me. But it will not be good-bye, only bye for now.
Until then though, we’ve got some living to do.