Coming home to care for an ailing mother is a path many a grown-up child has followed. With Mo Rocca now, we pay a visit to one:
For twenty-five years, George Hodgman was one of the publishing industry's top book and magazine editors.
Rocca asked him, "If ten years ago someone had said to you, 'You're gonna go back to Paris, Missouri, to take care of your mother,' what would you have said?"
"Oh, I would have said, 'What other tragic thing can happen to me on this planet?'" Hodgman replied.
But five years ago, he found himself far away from New York -- back in his hometown of Paris, Mo., taking care of his widowed mother, Betty.
"I've had this terrible fear all my life that I couldn't do this," Hodgman said. "I was an only child. I was gonna be alone with this. And it involved all kinds of things that made me terribly uncomfortable -- taking over my mother's taxes. I can barely do my own taxes! I thought the 'Medicare donut hole' was a breakfast special for seniors."
At first he thought of it more as a visit, then weeks became months. Months became years, and life came down to casseroles.
"I had to come up with three meals a day. I was like, how do they know all these things to make? Because I'm down to Jell-O and tuna fish casserole with potato chips on it, and maybe I'll buy barbecue potato chips because maybe that would throw a new kind of zesty thing into it."
He began to write, for therapy. "It was a way to not feel sad, and kind of get it out of my head."
The writing became a book, "Bettyville," a best-selling memoir.
"When dealing with older women, a trip to the hairdresser and two Bloody Marys goes further than any prescription drug."
"I was able to write the book, because I didn't hear New York talking to me," Hodgman said. "If I'd gone to them and said, 'I want to write this book about a fat man and his 90-year-old mother,' I would have been laughed at."
The book is about Betty and George. But it's also about George coming to terms with the town where he was raised. "I thought of this place as kind of church territory, and as a gay person, I was not so comfortable," he said.
"You thought of this as, that's my past?" Rocca asked.
"Yeah. That's my past. And it's not my world."
Coming home meant driving along those old familiar roads. ("Tulips! See the tulips?")
"My entire summation of my mother is this woman with dyed-blonde hair and a Kent cigarette and racing that car to meet the school bus and with us kind of singing along with this pop music," he said.
Betty played the piano at her church for years, and she kept on playing, even when dementia clouded her mind and her fingers began to fumble.
"I don't expect that she'll play for church again because the last time she played for church, she dropped her music on the floor and uttered a word that one probably should not utter during a church service," Hodgman laughed.
Starts with? "It starts with 'God' and it ends with 'damn it.'"
Hodgman says he's no martyr. He came home for one simple reason: "I came back here because I like her. I just like her."
"Both of you are funny. Do you laugh around the house?" Rocca asked.
"A lot. We do."
She also reads. Books about American history are fine, but Betty's guilty pleasure? "The Secret Confessions of Ava Gardner." "It's the most vulgar book I ever read," Betty laughed. "It is!"
"But you enjoyed it!" Hodgman added.
Hodgman has come to appreciate the people of Paris as never before. He writes about kindness, such as fresh-cut flowers in his mailbox.
"I think those gestures that say, 'I'm here for you. I'm seeing you. I'm seeing your struggle.' It sounds cliché. But it's not."
A friend asked Betty what she felt about everyone thinking of her as a celebrity. "I'm not a celebrity," Betty replied.
"You're the mother of one," another friend retorted.
Yes, Betty's son George has become quite the man about town.
"I never fancied myself an expert caregiver," he said. "I still don't. But suddenly I'm like the Mick Jagger of elder care."
When we visited with Hodgman, his biggest worry was that Betty was worried about him.
"I think my mother has this feeling that I'm here taking care of her and that I'm in kind of retreat. And I would like her to come to terms with the fact that she has produced somebody who really cares about her. And I would like for her to wind up feeling that I was happy."
Betty Hodgman died a few months after our visit, just shy of her 93rd birthday. But she lives on in her son's loving memoir.
And George Hodgman still lives in Paris, Missouri ... a place he now calls home.
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