VERNON COUNTY - My mom’s wish was to go the Milwaukee Art Museum. I was in town for my grandson’s birthday, so I arranged the weekend to be able to take her there. Mom is 91 and I want to try to honor her wishes whenever possible.
When I called her ON the morning of the event, I was excited and said, “Hi, Mom, Are you ready for our big day at the art museum?”
“Who is this?” she answered.
“Mom, it’s me, Jane—your daughter. Today is the day we go to the art museum.”
“No it isn’t. I have someone picking me up to do my grocery shopping today.”
Around and around we went until either I wore her down or she finally remembered and gave in: “Okay, Janie, I’ll cancel my driver for shopping today.”
I wouldn’t have given up. After all, we’d been planning this for months and I had just driven three-and-a-half hours to pick her up.
Once she and her walker were in my car, I decided to take Wisconsin Avenue to the museum instead of the expressway. I thought she would enjoy the drive, especially near Marquette University, where she had worked and taken classes after high school. It was a lovely day and Mom had fun pointing out various landmarks she remembered.
I checked out a wheelchair at the museum and helped Mom into it, then asked her to wait for me while I parked the car and checked our coats. When I came back she was talking with a museum aide, asking where her favorite painting was located. After getting directions we started our tour on the ground floor, knowing her favorite was up on the second floor.
The first section we visited was Pop Art. We paused in front of a floor-to-ceiling canvas painted all one color with a darker line down the middle. After parking the wheelchair behind the yellow guard lines that show you how close you can go, I read Mom the name of the artist and the title of the work, The Cell.
“They call that art?” she said, loudly enough for the others in the room to hear.
“Well, Mom, everyone has different taste,” I answered and quickly wheeled her to another installation.
Soon we were in front of a work that consisted of a doll lying beneath a tipped-over folding chair. A small floodlight shone on the doll and a tape played words that I couldn’t make out. Mom glanced at the display and said, “Some worker left his stuff.” This caused quite a few heads to turn, and I wheeled her quickly away.
The Pop Art section of the museum wasn’t working for Mom so I decided it was time to move on. Only now I was completely at a loss as to how we’d gotten to where we were. I wheeled her one way and then another, looking for the hallway that would take us to the elevators.
Finally, I took a turn that seemed familiar. I looked down at some tiles on the floor and for a minute I wondered if they were part of an art display. Before moving Mom I looked carefully around but saw no yellow “stay back” lines drawn on the floor like at other exhibits. Feeling more confident, I began rolling the wheelchair over the tiles to get to where I thought the elevators should be.
Mom started yelling, “You’re pushing me over the art. Stop! You’ve got me on top of the art!”
I began to laugh and so did a few other museum goers. Mom chuckled too, and when we stopped she innocently looked up at me, all tiny in her chair, and asked in her sweetest voice, “Why did you push me over that art, Janie?”
At last we reached the second floor. As I wheeled Mom toward the enormous painting she had come to see, ‘The Wood Gatherer,’ I could feel her body shift and settle more comfortably into the chair. She became quiet, and I stopped back far enough for her to take in the full effect. Mom glanced over at a man and lady standing next to us and informed them, with authority, ‘The Wood Gatherer, 1881, Le Page.’ I felt a little embarrassed, because of course these people knew the painting and the artist.
When they walked away Mom asked to go closer. I moved her chair forward half the distance to the painting. She seemed content and happy. I was enjoying the painting and the silence. Mom looked so small in this spacious room. The Wood Gatherer appeared to be taking her breath away, and the moment was perfect.
Again Mom asked me to take her closer, and I did. We gazed in silence a while longer.
Once more she asked to go closer, and I pushed the wheelchair forward. By now we were so close there was no way she could take in the full effect of the painting.
But still she said it again: “Closer.”
I complained, “Mom, I can’t—you’ll be rubbing up against the painting.” Too late—she reached out her thin, tired arm, and her arthritic finger lightly touched the canvas. I gasped.
Mom whispered, “Okay, Janie, we can go now.”