MY PARENTS WERE both committed users of index cards — or just “3x5 cards,” as they called them. My father carried tiny reams of them around in his shirt pocket, blank and bound with rubberbands, and occasionally even elevated them to art forms. My mother tended to capture quotes on them and keep them in plastic file boxes as sort of an alternative-form commonplace book. When each died, I found sundry stacks of unused 3x5 cards in their drawers, boxes and supply closets. Blank canvases, awaiting tiny ideas.
This fall would have been my mother’s 99th birthday. Several years ago, in excavating some of her file boxes at her request after she and my father moved out of their longtime home and into the first phase of their retirement-village decrepitude, I found sandwiched between some address cards this excerpt from a 1980 Reader’s Digest article. I had it framed.
I can see why it spoke to her — it is, in essence, a statement of one of her most core beliefs. And I’ll be honest: Thinking about this quote — and about my mother’s mindset in grabbing it out of the matter stream and memorializing it — informed me in my journey of the years that followed, when they both tumbled into severe dementia. The quote offered an organizing principle for the care and (sometimes) feeding of the people who used to tower over me but whom I came to watch over in sort of the same way.
I don’t know what the story was about; maybe I’ll decide to track it down one day. God knows there were enough Reader’s Digests around our house in those days. But the quote stands alone, worthy.
“What does a family do? It gathers around and supports — the strong who used to be weak repaying the weak who used to be strong.”
— Edward Ziegler, “Lucy, Lavender, and the Last Journey,” Reader’s Digest, June 1980
Ted Anthony, a journalist based in Pittsburgh and New York, has reported from more than 25 countries. He is the author of Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song. He tweets here, Instagrams here and collects his writing here.
Further reading by Ted Anthony (and a lovely piece on my mother reclaiming her stories by my partner, Melissa Rayworth):
Giving My Mother-in-law Back to Herself
They’re her memories, her stories. I just held onto them for a while.
The Last 90 Seconds
A fading father, a ticking clock, and one final snack for the road.
The Uninvited Sweater
Toward the end of his life, my father owned many pieces of clothing. This was definitely not one of them.