One Last Time
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Listen to this piece on Episode 8 of the podcast.
“Hi Mommy! You’ve been busy I see,” Karli said, walking into room 113 of Prairie Mission Nursing Home. Karli gestured towards the careful stack of National Geographic magazines organized on a table next to the rocking chair where her mother sat.
“Oh, hi there dear!” Jo Anne chimed, looking up from her folded hands. The elderly woman appeared in deep concentration just a second before, but her kindly brown eyes warmed at the presence of this visitor. She recognized her daughter today. “Yes, I had to put them in chronological order.”
Karli walked the length of the small room in a few steps, bending over to kiss her mother’s forehead before taking the seat opposite her.
“Well, let’s see what’s on top,” Karli said with a smile bereft of curiosity. She knew which magazine would be on top. The same magazine her mother always put on top. It was the 1966 May edition of National Geographic. Featured was a photo of fireflies lighting up a night sky. Karli reached for the copy.
“You know what makes them light up like that?” Jo Anne asked.
Of course, Karli knew. Her mother brought that same magazine home one evening to help Karli with her first-grade bug exploration science project. As a zoologist, Jo Anne lit up when she caught Karli thumbing through the magazine weeks after the project was completed. She promised Karli her very own National Geographic subscription which bonded mother and daughter, both giddy with fascination every time a new issue arrived in their mailbox. Decades later and a dozen of their favorite issues made it to this room—a link to simpler times.
“You might like that one,” Jo Anne said. “We can even catch some fireflies tonight before I tuck you in to bed,” she added.
Karli paused for a beat. “Yes, Mommy. That would be nice,” she responded, eyes distant with nostalgia. She thought back to the times when she was a child and they caught fireflies and butterflies and tadpoles. Creatures that morphed into something more beautiful than their original state. Creatures whose last stage of life was triumphant. A stage that gifted them with dazzling light or flight or amphibious existence. Their last stage was a life superior to their former self. Not so for humans. Certainly not so for her mother. Her last stage was a cocoon with no promise of glorious growth. Just regression.
“Who brought these balloons?” Jo Anne asked suddenly.
“Hmm?” Karli hummed, blinking back the memories and refocusing on the present. Her mother’s attention was on the “Happy Birthday” balloons in the corner. Jo Anne had turned 78 just days prior. Karli and the staff sang to her after which they all enjoyed a slice of strawberry cake.
“The balloons—who brought them? Must have been your daddy. Would you call him for me?” Jo Anne pleaded.
Karli suppressed a sigh. “Daddy’s been gone for a long time now. Sixteen years.”
Jo Anne gasped. “Gone? Where to? Call him, Karli. I have to tell him how much I like these balloons!”
“Mommy… I can’t—” Karli countered gently. But there was no use. Karli reached over to grab her mother’s hands tenderly in hers. “You know, I actually forgot how the fireflies light up. Mommy, do you mind reading that article one last time for me?”
“Article?” Jo Anne asked, puzzled suspicion creeping into her visage.
Karli held up the National Geographic magazine.
“Oh yeah, of course honey,” Jo Anne said, reaching for the magazine and settling back into her rocker.