In memory of my mother, Elizabeth Douglas Moran


In the back of my file drawer I found a pair of socks
left from the time my mother came to stay
the time when the music room was her bedroom
and everything she owned fit into two drawers

after a stroke, my mother remained her sunny self
and though she could no longer find words
she charmed the staff in rehab, shamelessly
created her own clucking, gibberish language
at the same time she found out
she would never return home, or drive again
could not write her name, or dress herself
and in the grasp of such bottomless loss
she continued to smile until the hallucinations

a second stroke, ending in a bad fall, caused them
when she returned to earth, she was stuck in a wheelchair
and rolling into her room she looked furtively
at the books, the shelves up to the ceiling
and she couldn’t remember any of them
she studied the walls and her eyes filled with fear

so much fear, it drove her to pack
all of her things in four brown paper bags
she pulled her comforter and pillow from the bed
and dragged it all to the front door to wait
for a different daughter to rescue her
when she left, she cried for two days straight
and my sister took her to a nursing home

later we figured out my mother’s terror
was the prednisone prescribed for the
mysterious swelling in her right hand
it scrambled something in her brain
something she needed to keep her bearings
and though we stopped the medication, my mother
remained wherever it had left her

for a time she was content, back in her borrowed
bedroom of beloved books she could no longer read
to hell with socks! she would say with a kick
as I eased them onto her freezing feet
so she could lie cozy under the comforter
sleep, her only ticket to a chance at joy
to wake to the sound of her grandson running
jumping into her bed to snuggle with a handful
of the dozens of dinosaurs she had given him

in her last hours my mother didn’t loosen
her grasp of whatever was left for her
she moved her lips to match the words
when the music therapist sang
five foot two, eyes of blue
to the strum of a ukulele
she held her own as long as she could
until the morphine obliterated the pain
and the rest of her with it

the last time she closed her eyes
there was no sound and
as she launched herself into eternity
something magnificent remained
a giant songbook, words and music
to a big life, a life of boogie-woogie, blues, and Bach
biscuits in the pan, an island breeze and ocean air
mischievous grins, miscellaneous sins
her gorilla suit, and socks

P.S. My mother used to say she wanted to be like actress Ruth Gordon, who in her old age couldn’t be reached by her children because she was on a long trip to a faraway place, and hadn’t bothered to tell them she was going. Even though we were by her side, my mother got her wish. Just like Ruth Gordon, she left, she’s far away, and she’s not answering her phone.

Email to my friend Dennis

You are

salt ‘n’ peppa on the chips
cream in the coffee
icing on the cake
cinnamon in the chocolate

purr in the cat
down of a duck
rattle of the snake
wiggle in a fighting fish

center of a bloom
spike on the cactus
jalapeño in the sauce
brown sugar in teriyaki

spam in the musubi
burn on a marshmallow
spark in the smoke
crackle in a fire

hot in the dog
foam on a beer
bergamot in tea
cheese in cheesecake

chorus of a song
current in a river
shells on the shore
curl of the wave

happy in a popsicle
the pit of a cherry
the pick of the litter
and the bees’ knees


6 August 2014


Gorilla Suit

In nothing flat, my mother could tackle a hay bale of nuisance and whip it into strawberry shortcake. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she was raised on homemade. She cooked and baked, taught herself to knit those brain-cell exploding Irish Fisherman sweaters, quilted Hawaiian quilts, and was always there for babies, teenagers, old folks, and everybody in between without sense enough to reach out if they needed something. Her name was Elizabeth, and she had many nicknames including Lib, Libby, and Liz.

Libby grew up poor and somehow related to this, she was always after things she couldn’t afford early on. Late in life when she was driving a second-hand Mercedes, she was still not over an imperative to accumulate. This situation worked well for us growing up because Mom was bound and determined that my sisters and I would have on our backs—and our feet—everything known to her only in childhood dreams. Like the time we four girls got matching pairs of white go-go boots from her boss, each pair in its own Lord & Taylor box. I remember when I was a freshman in college, in the days of peace and love, and went through a stage of purging all material possessions. My mother was not quite speechless when she found my expensive, matching wool skirts and sweaters had all departed through my dorm-room door stuffed in the backpacks of my friends.

In the late 50s and 60s, Mom always worked, inside and outside the house. She tried not working one year and her soul almost drowned in the muddy waters of four kids under age five, everyday pulling her down in it when she was only 23. She said while her friends were talking about who was getting pinned to whom, her biggest excitement was climbing Mount Laundry. After her full day as secretary to a dean at a local university, Mom came home and cooked dinner every night. Even so, at day’s end, all I remember are her smiles. One night, I forgot about something I needed for school the next day, and didn’t open my mouth to say so until about 8 o’clock. Without a whiff of hesitation, Mom said, “Okay girls, let’s go!” and piled us in the car headed for the drugstore. Ever the mother duck, my mother had her ducklings in tow everywhere she went, and every moment she was home.

If my mother hadn’t worked, all four daughters never would have known the saving grace of braces. My father came from the thinking that orthodontia was a luxury and refused to pay for it. My mother made a deal with a soon-to-be-beloved orthodontist for forever-time-payment. Thanks to her effort, my buck teeth bucking in opposite directions disappeared, and I was able to date in high school. I ended up marrying a man who told me I was beautiful like a fine quarter horse: beautiful small head, good-sized round rump, small feet, and the most gorgeous teeth he’d ever seen. I’m glad Mom knew romance, and especially any prospect of marriage, required braces.

Over the years, now known as Liz, my mother worked her way up from secretary to Dean Henry Kamphoefner, Dean of the School of Design of North Carolina State University, to executive secretary, administrative assistant, office manager of EDAW, Inc., to regional manager, and VP of Human Resources and Data Processing at a San Diego bank. Moving up so high on the ladder was natural for someone so industrious, and someone who’d never met a stranger. She treated her boss and co-workers like the babies, teens, and old folks she loved so much, and always stayed late to get more work done. Along with my mother’s professional growth flourished her love of practical jokes.

My favorite was the time she went to a board meeting at the bank in a gorilla suit. Since she didn’t tell a soul she was going to do it, she had a good 15 minutes of watching the rest of the board—mystified in the gorilla mist—unable to start the meeting because they were dead set on maintaining confidentiality and couldn’t figure out who was in the suit. Even though Mom was missing, obviously their 60-year-old VP was not on the list of possibilities for donning such a suit. Actually, I think the board thought they’d been invaded and the list of possible pranksters was blank.

My mother’s spirit sped her along the twisty, pot-hole roads of life. If things slowed down, or got too serious for people’s own good, she conspired with whoever was handy to stir the fun pot and make a little pudding. Thanks to her, my childhood was mostly dessert first. Oh yeah, and there was one more nickname for Elizabeth. When she was in high school, everyone called her monkey.


I wrote this favorite memory of my mother, Elizabeth Douglas Moran, on June 9, 2009, and edited today (July 18, 2014) to post. Love you Mom. Miss you a lot. (Edited again June 12, 2015)

Elizabeth Douglas Moran on Oahu 1967


Lie Lazy

my knuckles are raw
scraped against concrete
my glitter heels so high
I stumble, fall backward
hey, no, I don’t, I’m
chewing on cheap drama
spitting up pablum
because my year so far
is a bushel of dried up beans
and if I was brave enough
I’d run away, leave my screens
slam the door on the dead air
sticking me inside the walls
I’d breathe in the outside
air, the moisture of the woods
the fragrance of the dry
something in the breeze I’d
lie lazy under a granddaddy tree
in a long, wispy dress
covered with bits of flowers
in lavender, yellow and baby blue
I’d curl up, wiggle
in dirt and pine needles,
cold little rocks and sticks
under my thighs, no thoughts
between me and my day
nothing in my head but the buzz
of summer browning my skin
I’d sit still, savor
a sip of cold tea, a bite
of soft bread and cheese
a pickled garlic snack
on crackers, a nap
before night drops
and deer appear
to round me up and
shepherd me home

©2014 Hattie Wilcox

Hattie Wilcox 2385-2

Brave Boy

through my rearview window
I see my son’s silhouette
his head framed by headlights
chasing too close behind us
he gazes out the back window
at the freeway night of lights
and I know he is an old soul
and the most innocent possible

I remember the gleam
in his baby eyes
his glittering smile
and how now
his expression is contained
less bright in the pre-teen din
of reflection, caution
and confusion

sitting knees up, he’s camped out
with his blanket and cheeseburger
tucked deep in the well
behind the last row of seats
in the very back of the van
he tells me
“death is not necessary
it’s a state of mind
a person in the 17th Century
lived to age 152…”

“Did you know they say
Britney Spears is half plastic?
Yeah, she had seven
surgeries to look good
and Mom, did you know
Lady Gaga was born
with a penis? oh yeah
she had extra cells”

the school year nears its end
and he continues to lunch alone
then roam
solo until the break ends
he won’t sit with just anyone
he’s proud, has no use
for the art of cool
or any other false barter
for acceptance, he breaks
his own urban trail
his wits his only defense
he scans the horizon
and heads into the depths
of his future

late in the evening
I check him, he’s asleep
with the black wooden
Japanese ninja I gave him
next to his pillow
his hand is on it and
I wonder if the ninja
shows him a way through the mist
a talisman to deliver him
to the base of mountains
to begin the steep climb
to his dreams
dreams, treasures even now
to fly him far from the hostile
ground of middle school
to the secret hiding place
of stealth and strength, to truth
to the home of the fearless
to the reward of courage
to stand, alone, prevail
untrackable prey

Evan & Hattie Wilcox 12-8-09-1