“There’s one thing I still haven’t done in my life,” my mother said.
I glanced across her living room, from the piano where I’d been playing some old Broadway song, to the La-Z-Boy next to the window.
My mother sat curled in the chair, her face poking out from under a comforter. She’d just spent four days without eating, which was why I’d rushed to visit her for the weekend, and though on this day she was better, sipping soup and sitting up, I braced for some final, deep revelation.
I waited. One thing? And?
“Oh,” she said. She’d been distracted by the backyard squirrels. “I still haven’t written Bonnie Raitt.”
I wouldn’t have bet my mother had ever heard of Bonnie Raitt, but now I could add one more unexpected thing to the list of what she thinks about at 86.
“That song you were playing reminded me,” she said. “I’m sure I’m one of the few people still around who saw her first performance.”
She launched into a story then about a trip in 1950 with her college roommate, and I started typing on my laptop. When your parents fade, you can at least hold onto their stories.
“It was ‘Carousel,'” she was saying, “on Broadway. Martha and I went. It was our first trip to New York and her parents were very worried about us. We had to stay in a women’s hotel.”
I asked how she got from Georgia to New York.
“I think I drove,” she said. “That’s right. I drove. ‘Cause I wound up on the wrong side of town. Didn’t understand a word anybody was saying. And then we went to ‘Carousel,’ and Bonnie Raitt was onstage with her father when she was just a tiny baby.”
Her father was an actor?
“Yes. John Raitt. And in ‘Carousel’ his character was dreaming; his life had been such a failure. And part of his feeling that his life was a failure was imagining this precious little girl that might have been his. And Bonnie Raitt was right on stage with him. They brought her on stage and he held her little hand.”
Later, I would Google “Carousel” and “Bonnie Raitt” to see if the facts of this story lined up. They did.
“I met a man who saw it, too,” she went on. “He goes to the same foot doctor.”
At the doctor, a few months ago, she explained, she’d been talking about seeing baby Bonnie Raitt in “Carousel.” An old man in the waiting room overheard and said he’d been there.
I was having trouble imagining why she was talking about “Carousel” during bunion treatment.
“I think there was a poster on the wall. For a local production. Don’t ask me to think too much. Anyway, this man’s eyes filled with tears as he remembered.”
So, I asked, if you were to write a letter to Bonnie Raitt, what would you say?
“I’d say, before it got too late I wanted to tell her … ” She paused. “I wanted to tell her that every time I see her on TV I think about her when she was a baby and I saw her onstage with her father. I think she would like to know somebody was alive who remembered.”
My mother probably won’t write that letter, but I bet she’s right. Bonnie Raitt probably would like to know. All of us are made a little more real to ourselves by the people who remember us from the beginning.