Friday, April 21, 2006


"But she was nice, and you loved her. But it's too bad nothing lives forever. Or at least as long as you want it to."

Mom and I sat in a booth at a non-descript chain restaurant. We'd just seen the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, which had us in a mood to discuss animals we'd known and loved. I mentioned how much I still missed Scotchie, the cat my ex had brought into the marriage, and who died shortly after we split up.

"Even if you and Sue were still together," Mom continues, "it still would have happened. I can't help thinking she might have lived longer if you'd been there to notice she was sick, but still. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. And aren't you glad you weren't there to see her suffer?"

No, I said. I would have liked to have been there. Scotchie was the greatest cat ever. She was my buddy. I would have liked to have said goodbye.

"Well, what if she was still alive? She'd have proably forgotten about you by now anyway."

We were in the restaurant killing time before the day's main event. The Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines was kicking off its new Sunday night concert series with a performance by something called the Classic Rock All Stars. Well, All Stars may have been something of a misnomer, as it was an assemblage of nameless, faceless guys who'd been in various incarnations of one-hit wonder bands like Sugarloaf. Or Mountain. Or the Grass Roots.

Or Iron Butterfly.

Mom was born in 1928, so obviously she came of age, musically speaking, in a pre-rock era. Still, there wasn't a type of music she wasn't willing to give a chance (except easy listening). She'd listen to techno, death metal, punk, anything. She liked Meat Loaf, for God's sake.

But to all of us who knew her, nothing was as inexplicable as her enthusiam for Iron Butterfly's cheeseball psychadelic masterpiece In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. She had this album in every conceivable format: eight track (she bought at least three copies in this format because they kept wearing out), cassette (two copies that I know of), vinyl and of course compact disc. She had to do an upgrade on the CD when a remastered "deluxe" edition came out. She had compilation albums with the three minute single version of the title song. She had a copy of the movie Manhunter, which she watched repeatedly mostly because the climax features...In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

If you ever asked her, why this album, why this song, she'd answer, "I just like it."

So when she heard about this concert, it was a given that she'd go. But she wasn't going alone. I drew the short straw, and got to go with her.

Memories of the actual event are vague. The concert stage was clear at the back of the zoo, a snaking, largely uphill path, very difficult for Mom with her walker. She had to stop every few minutes to rest. As to the show itself, even Mom thought it was Dullsville until finally, at long last, that cheesy church organ, the snarling guitar and the drums--oh Lord, Mom loved her drums--kicking into In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

Suddenly Mom was on her feet, rocking back and forth, a goofy grin on her face. When they got to the interminable drum solo, she started waving her arms like Mitch Miller conducting a singalong, which was as close to pumping her fists in the air as she was likely to get. It was all worthwhile just to see that. "See?" she said afterwards. "Other people were clapping, too. I'm not the only one."

A good day. But my most clear memory is of that interlude in the restaurant, a quiet conversation oddly freighted with discussions of mortality. She couldn't have known then--could she?--that within two months she would learn that she had cancer, or that she had less than a year to live.

It's too bad nothing lives forever. Or at least as long as you want it to.