Could you tell me a little bit about the tribute1 given your mother in Massachusetts in December of 2003?
Professor David Guss is a fan of Mom's and he decided he wanted to put together a tribute at Tufts. Mom had broken her leg a couple of years before and was living with my brothers, who are both ranchers down in New Mexico. She had been bedridden since she had broken her leg and could only get around in a wheelchair. Travel was a pretty big deal for her, especially across the country at the age of 94. It was winter, so it was cold. It wasn't an easy trip, but she made it. She loved the people and she was very appreciative, and kind of incredulous. She said, "I just can’t believe that all you people would come out on a frosty night to see an old lady like me!" She was very self-deprecating.
The film they showed was I Walked with a Zombie. She never was a huge fan of Zombie — she really liked doing it, and she loved the director and producer, but she was never that thrilled with the movie. She was always kind of embarrassed that it got so much attention. I don't remember what Pop thought of Zombie, other than he liked the mood and photography. And, of course, he thought Mom was beautiful...
The interview she did on stage at Tufts was terrific. She was very candid and very funny; she had the audience just howling. There were quite a few of our family members there. It was a great evening, and she loved it.
The best part of her whole trip, for me anyway, was to be able to spend so much time with her. She had been living in New Mexico for two years. I had been able to see her only on vacations in the summer and at Christmas. But when she got back east, she ended up coming to Connecticut where my wife and I live. Because she needed 24-hour care, she stayed at a Sunrise Assisted Living home very close to our house. She liked it and enjoyed staying there and I could see her every day. I got to spend time with her which I wouldn’t have had if she had stayed in New Mexico.
We didn't know it then, but those where the last few months of her life. I was with her when she passed away in March, 2004. On that morning, I had some classical music on the stereo in her room. Mystically, while my favorite piece of music happened to be playing, (The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughn Williams) Mom passed on. It was as though she had scored her own passing. She gave me the gift of life, and in a way, it seemed as though she was giving me a gift even in her death. Every time I listen to that piece, I can remember her. It was the most moving experience of my life.
1 Further information and photos from the event can be found on our Tribute in Somerville page.
Photograph of Frances Dee at Tufts courtesy of David Guss.