Go Ask Alice…When She’s 94 is the title of a blog I kept for several years on this site. It was about my mother, Alice, who moved from Iowa to Oregon at the age of 94 in order to live near me. On her first day, she discovered a statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary standing in the yard of her assisted living facility. She couldn’t quite get over this and called to tell me about it. “I’ve never, ever in all my life seen a pregnant Mary.” Although she was not religious and had grown up in a tiny prairie town with only two churches, Methodist and Lutheran, she disapproved on behalf of believers everywhere who might take offense. This more or less suitable residence was the only one I could find close to my houseboat, which was not big enough for both of us, and it was named for a Catholic holy day. She could easily remember the address but not the mysterious day, and so she called her new home – with its gardens and rooms of strangers and crucifixes at the end of nearly every hallway – “The Place,” as in, when tired from an outing: “Better get me back to The Place.”
She went through a lot after moving here, including hip replacement surgery and a steady decline in hearing and sight. Her early life and marriage had been no tap dance around the stars either. Still, she was the most undaunted woman I’ve ever known and one of the funniest. All her life she was shy around strangers, who might never guess her wit. Her self-expression with those outside of family was hobbled by growing up in an era when the word feminism was not yet invented. But her self-expression with me and the people who became her friends at The Place was what I cared about for the purposes of Go Ask Alice…When She’s 94. Her move to Portland changed our lives. Thanks to considerable work on both our parts, we went from a long relationship of mutual chiding, disappointment, and disapproval to a life together filled with what I can only call grace. (Maybe that Virgin had her way with us two non-believers after all.) I used the blog, now closed as I prepare its contents for publication, to keep track of moments with her that I didn’t ever want to forget.
Alice died at the age of 100. You can see a few of the last posts about her under Archives, in the lower left corner of the page.
The names of residents and others on the blog were changed to protect privacy.