The Last Dance
would support reproductive choice. The women's groups backed down. The nomination was confirmed overwhelmingly. My mother was delighted. She was vindicated in June 1992, when Justice Souter voted in the 5-4 majority in the Casey decision, upholding Roe v. Wade.
I wake up the next Friday morning to rain. The whole world is weeping, still stunned by the enormity of 9/11. When I arrive at my mother's condo, I can tell that she's feeling blue, too. I have rarely seen her in a low mood. As I begin taping, I ask softly, "Tell me how you're feeling, Momma."
I'm feeling a little badly because I can't remember anything anymore. I feel for the first time that I really have Alzheimer's and [she pauses, searching for words] that I can't talk anymore. I went yesterday with Richard Moore down to Manchester. For the first time, I really got the sense that I couldn't speak. On the way back in the car, I got the money for the tolls. That was very special to Richard, who was driving, but it was the only thing I did all day long that was significant.
The trip to Manchester was for an Audubon Society meeting. Just a few years ago, my mother was president of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire. Her leadership and charm were key to a successful multimillion-dollar capital campaign to build a new nature center. Now her greatest achievement is finding the correct change for the tollbooth.
Wondering how she felt when her 25-year legislative career first began, I ask, "What was it like for women in the legislature back then?"
I didn't dare go door-to-door the first time, so I lost. But two years later, in 1969, I was braver. It worked and I won! I remember that the women were better than the men in the legislature. They all came out of the League of Women Voters. The men were not the types that could earn money. They were the types that couldn't. There were 400 members and 89 women
when I was there, and it grew to 125 women. It was the women that inspired me. I became a feminist when I turned 40—I wasn't up until then. I became convinced that government needs more women. The women worked hard and studied the issues. I did a study of the men and women getting out of their cars in the morning. The women changed into high heels and grabbed a huge load of books, papers, and mail. The men put on their jackets and ties and walked into the State House empty-handed.
Once again, my mother's candor is disarming, yet charming. I have come to appreciate a certain trade-off: She might have remembered more if we'd taped her story a year ago, but she's much more direct now. Alzheimer's has removed her discretionary filter.
October arrives with a cold snap. The day is beautiful, but not perfect. That afternoon, I rush out of my office for a dentist appointment, then I realize that I've locked my keys in the car. Damn, I'm going to be late. My first reaction is anger and frustration. I call my husband, Brad, to get a ride, only to reach his voice mail. Now I'm frantic. Then I pause, take a
deep breath, and think of my mother. Three children under age five, two broken legs, pregnant with her fourth while she was on crutches. And so, there it was. Five children under eight, three in diapers at the same time, no car all day. And so, there it was. What was I worried about anyway?
Suddenly, the day feels sunny and warm. The walk up the hill to the dentist feels good. I won't be on time, but life will go on. Besides, the exercise is good for me. I sink into the dentist's chair with a smile. Life could be worse, much worse.
But in my frustration over the keys, I'd forgotten to feed the meter. When Brad