A Walk with My Mother

She still has far more sense than I will ever have. My mother. Who has Alzheimer’s disease. We decided that it was a lovely day for a walk along the ocean on Portland’s Eastern Promenade Trail. The sun was out. It was really 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 promenade 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 is ALWAYS right?

The view from our parking space

All settled into the chair, off we went. 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.

Can you spot the dog in the water?

The trail stretched out in front of us. Perfect for feet and bicycles and skates and wheelchairs.

Eastern Promenade Trail

Around the bend my mother exclaimed excitedly about the beautiful daffodils and proceeded to rattle off the first stanza of a poem.

Mom and the daffodils

Daffodils

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.

                                       by William Wordsworth

When did you learn that poem I asked her. “Oh, third grade I think. 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 the way to Peaks Island, the seagulls, the buoys. Suddenly, she noticed an outcropping of rocks and began to recite another poem.

The rocks on the promenade

Maine

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 you 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, Maine. I’d never heard of it before.

From Maine, My State

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, but 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.

Beverly on the trailI first posted this story a year ago, and although her Alzheimer’s continues to progress, my mother is still 10 steps ahead of me most of the time!

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on News Center 6. She's now a regular guest on the Morning Report. Before she became a health reporter, Diane was a radiation therapist/dosimetrist at Maine Medical Center. In 2000, she left the world of reporting to manage marketing and public relations for Mercy Hospital. In 2011, she decided to pursue a longtime dream of being a freelance writer and launched her award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.