My mother's unexpected companion

I view, from a thousand miles away, two tiny women spanning a 70-year age difference who have combined their needs and created a household for themselves and others.

At 88, Carole felt that she needed to change her life style. Newly widowed, and with all her children living out of state, she looked for a companion to live with her. She turned away from repeated suggestions: ''Maybe you could find another widow.''

''Old ladies are dull, I'd like some life around,'' she insisted.

At 18, Leico needed a home. A Vietnamese boat person with no family or money, she wanted to accomplish her dream of an education. She did not listen to friends who said, ''Impossible - give it up, get married.''

''I don't want to get married,'' she said. ''I want a degree in computer science.'' She hung on.

The two of them, my mother and adopted daughter, formed an alliance which they have maintained for three years.

I observe them through letters and phone calls. Their relationship appears to have corners, but like the glass in a kaleidoscope it moves, shifts, blends, revealing beauty and color.

They send holiday pictures filled with Asian people, mother a foreigner in her own home. When I visit, two or three times a year, I find my childhood home changed. A stream of strangers call my mother ''grandma.'' They come to report on their lives, practice their English, or stay for a few days or weeks.

Housework is often unattended. Meals are sporadic; unusual odors come from the kitchen. Dishes pile up in the sink until explosive words ''shape things up.'' The edges become sharp, each woman hanging on with fierce stubbornness until laughter softens and smooths.

My last trip home was in answer to a telephone call. Mother said she had experienced an illness and was going to be ''all right,'' but ''if it wasn't too much bother. . . .'' I took the next plane.

Upon my arrival, Mother answered the door, using a walker. I wondered if the problem was more serious than I had understood.

''Well, you made it.'' She leaned to accept my kiss. ''Still wearing that red coat, I see - never did like it.'' Relief flooded through me as I realized she was herself.

''Where's Leico?'' I asked.

''In the kitchen. When she heard you were coming she decided she'd better scrub the floor.''

As the afternoon progressed, I made discoveries. The refrigerator was not working (it'd been out six weeks); the back door wouldn't open (a couple of weeks); the burner on the stove no longer worked (a long time).

I made arrangements to have everything fixed, but I was concerned as to how long the two women could continue together. I went to bed early, exhausted and worried.

During the night a sound awakened me. I turned on my light. It was midnight. The noise, faintly familiar, was coming from Mother's room, where the two of them were sleeping.

It was giggles.

I turned off my light, my mind eased. Refrigerators, stoves, and doors are replaceable. What Mother and Leico have is not.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.