“In a Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die: Ever drifting down the stream – Lingering in the golden gleam – Life, what is it but a dream?” – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
My mother is dying today. She is reposing, half-seated on “the community’s” divan, twitching and fidgeting, the vapors of her life coalescing, escaping in small electrical bursts. Utterances, half-heard under her breath, relay the signs of her ascension. Watching her now, knowing that she is treading her way through the muddy reeds outside Elysium, is gut-wrenching. It breaks my heart that she has been dealt this terrible curse of dwindling. She is, after all, a witch of sorts.
But hold your pitchforks! I call my mother a witch only out of the deepest respect, reverence, and love. Her devilish children and New England roots bestowed this title on her, a name of which she spoke with wry pride and amused regard. She would half-smile at any of our ancestry that might bring her closer to Prince Harry and the old royal gang. Her indulgence was only a passing one for her many Revolutionary War patriot forebears – for it seems mother’s family contained as many Loyalists as Yankee-Doodlers. No, it was her ties to Rebecca Nurse, Martha Carrier, Susannah North, and Rachel Varney that piqued her interest in her son’s genealogical exploits. This is a woman who schooled her children by reading Through the Looking Glass to them at the earliest of ages – as only the true believer would.
She’s not as powerful a witch as some before her have been. She’s no sister in spirit or blood to Elphaba – that seems certain. Even if sympathetic to the cause, her views would never allow for such a garish display, and she certainly would never have kept anyone’s little dog from them. And while it was true that several of her cousins were as resplendent as Miss Margaret Hamilton, she and they had been shown to be nothing but distant kin.
No, she has always been an old school sort of witch, a herder of cats or children, of all small creatures. Her powers were those you might find in the sleepy sunlight of a quiet lea rather than by waters roiled in a tempest.
As her son, and as someone who might have (or should have) known things about her, I can honestly say I never saw her use her powers against good or for ill gain. (Though she did disapprove of a couple of my girlfriends who met with peculiar fates…) Rather, she would spell bind you with laughter, anyone who might come a-calling to her kitchen, making all the smallish sorts of things appear quite grand. She delighted in taking the most humble object and making it somehow holy. She did this not to make the ordinary extra-ordinary, but to make it beautiful and special in and of itself.
I once watched her bewitch the children into hanging a braided pretzel onto the bottom of a lantern fixture (as if in jest), allowing the simplicity of such a non-act to become extraordinary. Somehow she could make the object and the act meaningful, and, no matter how absurd, a special thing. As I recall, the children never touched the braided pretzel as it hung from that light fixture, never bothering it once. Instead they looked upon it in awe, and there it remained untouched until it crumbled into dust one fine spring day.
No, her magic was made of smiles and laughs, of painted ceramic figurines, and the proper use of molasses in any spell.
These last few years she has borne a Scarlet Letter “A” (for Alzheimer’s Disease) as bravely as anyone who might battle the memory disease. Even one with the witch’s blood could not triumph over such a terrible curse. She’s struggled, of course, with all the phases of denial and grief. “My brain doesn’t work…” became her catch phrase, or, “Do I know you?” when she cautiously answered the telephone. It has robbed her, and cheated the rest of us. It begs questions of evolution as to what one woman, simple and sweet, could have ever done to deserve such a wicked fate. In the end there are no answers to these questions, just the wintered leaf of her spirit as it moves on to the next part of her journey.
Her powers were those you might find in the sleepy sunlight of a quiet lea rather than by waters roiled in a tempest.
I am the selfish first child. Along with my siblings, any rules might be broken to save our mother. Indeed, we might not be above the sacrifice of seven goats (kidding here) or the drinking of any proper concoction of molasses to save her from this evil fate. For me, my sisters, for her husband and grandchildren, for the great-granddaughters who will grow up and not learn some of the finer spells and ways of marveling that we are at once blessed with and cheated of – we begin the process of our mourning.
Her disease has imbued itself on my family’s future. However futures can be replaced, pasts cannot. This disease has stolen our mother’s past, a past she can no longer share with any of us. In the end, it will be the loss of her and who she was that will ultimately cost us more than we would have ever been willing to pay.
Author’s note: Yvonne Lee, Mrs. Edmund Guerry, passed away quietly 24 January 2018 after a long, hard-fought battle against Alzheimer’s Disease.
 Cassandra Burrell, “Elderly Cope With the Dwindles,” The Los Angeles Times, 18 June 1995.
 Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass – and What Alice Found There (1871).
 Gregory Maguire, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (New York: Harper Collins, 1995). “Elphaba Thropp” is a character in that novel.
 Margaret Brainard Hamilton (1902–1985), the “Wicked Witch of the West” in The Wizard of Oz (1939), an alleged ninth cousin.