“Am I gonna get to read it?”

A seven word sentence – eight if you think “gonna” should count for two.

It is my measure of my mother, the number of words she can string together into a sentence without break. The sentence does not have to make sense to me to count. It merely has to have an internal grammatical coherence, the words matched up to the puzzle palace of her mind.

It is a rare day any more that we hear a sentence longer than five.

My sister and I bring sandwiches and we have lunch together in the garden of her nursing home. It is mostly a chance for Lisa and I to visit, Mom sitting vaguely aware of our company and happy for it. But I count the words, and on an “up day” when Mom’s voice is strong and the bursts of words are longer Lisa and I turn attention to her and listen and try to make sense of the glimpses those sentences give us into the puzzle palace of her fading mind.

Today I brought my book to show her. I have procrastinated for weeks, because of the distance between what I want her to know out in my world and the puzzle palace of her mind, and because of the constricted pathways between the two. She is largely blind, and substantially deaf. Though her mind still functions – the human brain is a truly remarkable thing  – what goes on in hers is often inaccessible to us.

She finished her tuna sandwich (we bring her the familiar one always, from her favorite sandwich shop) and I handed her my book. I followed the words on the cover with my finger as I read them – she has enough eyesight left that a cue like this can sometimes help. She looked up at me and smiled, reaching out to put her hand on my forearm.

She opened it, paged through with the familiar physical gestures of a bookish life. “Am I gonna get to read it?” She said I should send a copy to her mother, my grandmother. Grandma’s been dead three decades. This was Mom taking the book from our world and putting into the puzzle palace where it could be of some use.

I wanted her to know I wrote this book because my writing came first from her, a little kid encouraged by his Mom to put words on paper.

We put the book down and she finished off her cookie and then she pointed at the book again. She does this, points when the words fail her, so I handed her back the book. On her own this time she traced the words on the cover and said them out loud.

“John Fleck.”


  1. John,

    A very poignant post, describing your situation and one my heart goes out to you in describing. My Dad is 87 and still going out to the ranch he has worked for (67 yrs) everyday but says “I have had my run”. His faculties are not as sharp as when he was a younger man. Thomas Jefferson said it is easy to live too long, and Dad quotes that from time to time.
    Your book is truly wonderful and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Congratulations on such a notable accomplishment. The book adds to the scholarship about the Basin significantly. It is beautifully constructed and the thoroughness of your research is impressive – and proper given the subject matter. I look forward to having you sign my copy when we next visit in person. Be well and stay in touch.

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