The World of Franyo 92: Living in the Past

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I flew to New York to visit my mother every six weeks or so. With each visit she seemed a little changed – smaller, older, paler, quieter. We let her hair go white and it was beautiful – thick shiny waves that surrounded her face perfectly, inspiring me to let my own hair go white years before I had to.

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White hair

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She had reached that point in life where she was living in the past, in her childhood, spending a lot of time with her mother, grandmother and doting aunts. To the very end, she knew who I was. But the world I lived in, the world outside her windows, had become unimportant. Her own world was full and rich. She would say things like: “I was just with Frederiche, my grandmother, and she made me that soup I love.” Not that she didn’t know where she was in present time. Her bedroom was her universe and so was the living room where she sat on an old recliner, covered in blankets, watching TV.

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Franyo and her mother

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Franyo’s aunties

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I did not know how to relate to her. For one thing, since her days in art school a million years before, she had always been Franyo. Now you couldn’t call her that. She was Marga Victoria, the name she’d been given at birth and had always, as far as I knew, despised. In her time frame my father had not yet entered the picture, and so he was a stranger from the future who did not exist. She had turned from petulant and domineering to docile and sweet – a change so fundamental that it was very hard to get used to. Each time she saw me was the first time; I could have been in her presence five minutes before, but already that memory was gone. Being with her was painful. What to say to this ancient white-haired alien creature whose mind was frozen in the past, who frequently spoke German and lived in a different century than I did?

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Franyo & her nanny, center

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But I had changed, too. Back in Austin I had become a member of the woo woo dance community. Three times a week I’d go to a yoga studio that looked more like a scruffy old high school gym and dance my heart out to music that formed a wave.

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elyshalenkin.com

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Every hippy in town was there. Grey haired men with beards and skimpy ponytails in tie dye shirts. Women in long flowing skirts with a trillion beads around their necks. Ballerinas in leotards. From them I learned joy in group connection, the freedom to move unselfconsciously as a wildfire of energy soared through the room. I brought that joy with me when I visited my mother. Since it was impossible to talk to her, I’d get in bed with her and hug her close. I’d caress her face and hands and tell her secrets I couldn’t tell anyone else. From the gathered intensity of her silence, I felt as if she understood me. Then, by chance, I took an unexpected trip that would lead me deep into the shadows and confusion of her obsolescing world.

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Leon Augustin Lhermitte’s “An Elderly Peasant Woman”

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To be continued…

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