My mother got sober in 1982, after hitting her “low.” She totaled her car in Oakland, but has a difficult time filling in the blanks between living in Portland and her car being wrapped around a pole in California. She recalls living on a reservation in Washington for a short time with her boyfriend, but it was all pretty fuzzy. After about a weeks stay in the hospital Mom decided to enter rehab. Fortunately there was an available spot at a local woman’s treatment center, the Pinehurst Lodge, located in San Francisco’s Sunset District. The historical brick building was built in the 1920’s as an orphanage and has been owned by the Salvation Army and served at a women’s treatment center since the late 1940’s.
After about a year of sobriety at Pinehurst my mother was allowed visitors and my aunt allowed me to fly to San Francisco to stay with her for a long weekend. I had been working at our local tourist hot spot, Sea Lion Caves for a couple of years, and had saved enough to buy my ticket. Mom picked me up at the airport in the treatment center van. She had been working hard on her recovery and had earned the responsibility of driving the ladies around the city in the van for their various recovery related appointments. She opted for an extended stay at Pinehurst, to work and get her footing and the facility was happy to have her help. When we arrived at the Lodge, there was an ambulance and a cop car in the driveway. Apparently, one of the women had gotten ahold of a bottle of rubbing alcohol and had relapsed.
Despite the sad circumstances of our arrival at the Lodge, I found the facility to be warm and welcoming. The people were friendly and the lodge, although expansive, had a hospitable, homey feeling to it. The architecture of the 20’s delivered beautifully double hung pane glass windows, wainscoting and simple woodwork finishing throughout the lodge. The interior was humble and comfortable and Mom showed me to my upstairs guestroom, situated a few doors down from her room. The room was a cozy and hosted it’s own bathroom, a small fireplace and small couch adjacent the comfortable double bed. We sat on the bed for a few hours, visiting and trying to close the nearly four-year gap between us. It was so good to see my mother smile and laugh. She looked so much younger than the last time I had seen her.
For the next few days we enjoyed being tourists. We made the rounds, including a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, roller skating through the Presidio and of course visiting Ghirardelli Square. The reunion was pleasant enough but either clearly highlighted the fact that we had grown apart or accentuated the fact that we had never been very close. I loved my mother but we inhabit different universes, different realities. It didn’t matter, we were together for a few days and it was nice to have her close.
The night before I was to return home I snuggled in the cozy guest bed and absorbed the events of our visit. I drifted off to sleep with a full heart and a recognition that even though my mother had great limitations she was still my mother. Despite her failings and the pain she had contributed to our upbringing, I prayed for her health and happiness. Late in the night I awoke to the presence of my mother walking around my bed, tucking me in. I saw the silhouette of her nightgown as moved from one side of the bed to the other, pulling and tucking the comforter. It was sweet. The nurturing instinct was new as she had never tucked me in before and I appreciated the gesture. I felt a sense of sadness or loss as if she was sorry for the missed years. Quietly she placed her hand on my foot as she left the room.
Wanting to acknowledge the kind gesture, as I was getting ready to leave the next day I thanked my mother for coming into my room and tucking me in. She looked puzzled and a brief moment passed. “I didn’t tuck you in last night,” she commented. I knew my mother had a difficult time with expressing tenderness, but I didn’t realize that she would have such a hard time owning a sweet moment between us. “No, really….” I said again, “thank you.” Mom took a step back and stared blankly at me for a full minute. She looked like she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the right words. Finally she spoke, “Um, I think you’ve met Clara.”
Yikes, someone else was walking around the house, tucking people in! “Who the hell is Clara?” I asked indignantly. Mom grabbed me by the hand and pulled me close, “Shhhh, I don’t want you to upset the other girls,” she whispered. After a brief moment of hemming and hawing, Mom quietly explained, “Clara was the house mother when this place was an orphanage.” Mom paused and considered a fuller explanation, “She still comes around and comforts the girls on occasion.”