My mother ate the banana I provided at 1 am but did not return to sleep. I ignore her chatter until 7. When I bring breakfast, Bea tells me she has decided to invite several cousins from Belleville to a party. I have never heard of Alan, Adelaide, or Robert Chinnock. Bea plans to introduce these family members to a young visitor from Africa: “Festigoombah.”
“Festigoombah,” I repeat. “Strange name!”
My comment provokes laughter. We laugh and laugh. She is in fine spirits today. It is nice to share a good old-fashioned belly laugh with one’s almost 97-year-old mother.
Bea tells me she has also invited a whole football team. “Write that down for me,” she says.
Suddenly Bea interrupts herself. “I ought to go to the ear doctor and see if there’s anything to be done. I just can’t face it, you know.”
“Ear?” I ask, disconcerted by the digression.
“Ear doctor. E-A-R. The one Dad went to.”
“What’s wrong with your ears?”
As long as Bea is the one doing the talking, hearing problems do not really matter she must have concluded because my mother jumps right back on her train of thought. I struggle to catch up:
“I have to find a way for people to be interested in football. I’ll worry about that later. First, I’d like to go over the menu with you: orange juice, roast lamb, with leftover fish, if that’s not enough, and, after that, desserts, if there are any left over. Chances are they’re all eaten. I guess I can ask someone to go to Manhattan and get more. I want to have exactly the same people to dinner, as for football.”
“I’ve written all the names down. That Festigoombah fellow is intriguing.”
“Sexy-Goombah” she says with a wink. “You’ll have to mail his invitation since he’s from Africa. You know Emerson?”
“He lived a long time ago. I wanted to invite him for the evening as I thought he’d enjoy seeing another aspect of American life.”
I consider pointing out the impossibility of his even sending regrets, but Bea’s mind has already raced on: “We should invite Alexandra.”
“Cousin Alexandra from France?”
“No. The one in my office. Ruth Alexandra. I’m so shy of people I don’t know very well.”
This is a preposterous idea: “You’re not shy at all!”
“Thank you. Maybe we better have Esther who is in the same office with … oh, what is his name?”
Really confused now, I ask, “Murdo?”
Bea guffaws at the idea in her quiet way. “No, we don’t want Murdo. He’s much too old. My grandfather’s office, not my father’s!”
Apparently the party is going to have guests from all periods of Bea’s life, except for the football players. I don’t think she ever met any football players, but then, who knows?
“Should I arrange for cocktails ahead of time? Makes it so much more festive. I have to get Helen’s consent. She needs to come back from downtown. I didn’t want to invite her, but I guess I should.”
We plan flower arrangements and songs. Bea agrees to have guests sing a little ditty from the 1920s. She aces a memory check on its lyrics:
ME: “Oh, Charlie, my boy,
You fill me, you thrill me …”
BEA: “With shivers of joy.
You’ve got the kind of, sort of, bit of a way
That makes me, takes me,
Tell me what shall I say?”
She breaks into song as the tune comes back:
“And when we dance
I read in your glance
Of love and romance.
They tell me Romeo
Was some lover, too.
But, boy, he should
Lessons from you!
You seem to start
Where others get through.
Oh, Charlie, my boy!”
When Bea is hyper, she uses a more authoritative voice, more bossy, in as much as anyone bedridden can be bossy. I try my best to listen, by turn amused and amazed at this manic person my mother becomes one day a week. I leave the room, exhausted.
Sven and I tune out the low murmur coming from Bea's room during dinner.
At 8 pm, the chatter is still going on. I hear her greet guests as they arrive. Former neighbors Ruth and Martin Clapp, both deceased, were not on our list, but they make it to the party. “Martin!” Bea laughs as if he were really here. “You should take your vitamins!”
“Time for sleep,” I say and snap on the light. Bea’s eyes are open wide. Her flushed cheeks seem more sunken than ever. I pile the covers she has tossed to the floor back on.
“I was so looking forward to it,” Bea is telling someone. “The flowers do look lovely. It is such a wonderful time of year for a party."
“Did Festigoombah come?” I ask, curious.
Bea breaks into a toothless grin. “Festigoombah,” she repeats. “But that was a joke!” Her face says how funny it is that I believed her.
I’m helping my mother maintain her dignity.
“Goodnight to all of you,” Bea calls to the other imaginary guests, the ones whom she does not consider figments of her imagination.
“And goodnight to you, too, Festigoombah,” I whisper.
Bea falls asleep at 11 pm.
The 22-hour marathon is finally over.
Postscript: From deep in the recesses of her mind came the name “Festigoombah.” I thought she had made it up. It turns out not at all, according to grandniece Ellen who surmises “Festigoombah” was a part of her grandmother Dorothy’s world as a child, and therefore, also of Bea’s. Ellen remembers references made by her mother, Dotty: “My mom used to say things like; ‘Oh, everyone was there, even Festigoombah,’ or ‘Okay, so if you didn't leave the milk out, who did? Festigoombah?’ I only remember it being used a lot from when I was really little. When she was in a good mood, she used to answer the phone and say things like ‘Festigoombah here.’ At some point it faded from her vocabulary pretty much.