By Lisa Scottoline
This column classic this week is in memory of Mother Mary who passed on Palm Sunday several years ago. Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all! Enjoy your families! XOXO
Okay, so my brother has escaped back to Miami, and my mother is still visiting me and my daughter. One afternoon we were all in front of the TV, comatose before the Everybody Loves Raymond marathon, having finished the Law & Order marathon. For the past two weeks, my mother wouldn’t go anywhere else but the kitchen. Driven to distraction, I offhandedly suggested we go see the King Tut exhibit.
“King Tut?” my mother asked, suddenly perking up. Her eyes widened behind her round glasses like an octogenarian Harry Potter. “Let’s go!”
I blinked, astounded. “But, Ma, it’s In Town.”
“So what? I love King Tut!”
I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was, More than Telly Savalas?
“Only thing is, he’s not there,” my mother said.
“That’s because he’s dead,” I told her, then ordered the tickets online before she remembered she didn’t like having fun.
The next day, we were at the King Tut exhibit – me, my mother, and my daughter – three generations of Scottoline women, freshly showered and dressed up, giddy to be out of the house. My mother wore her best perfume, smelling great because she stopped smoking a few years ago, when she got throat cancer. She’s in complete remission now, which doesn’t surprise me. It’ll take more than a deadly disease to kill my mother. I’m betting on a meteor.
I picked up our tickets, bought the audio tour, and slipped the headphones over my mother’s hearing aid, then turned on her audiotape, which was narrated by Omar Sharif. She broke into a sly smile and said, “Omar Sharif can park his slippers next to mine anytime.”
“Who’s Omar Sharif?” asked my daughter.
“Doctor Zhivago,” my mother answered.
“Nicky Arnstein,” I added.
“Who?” my daughter asked again, and we let it go. I cannot explain Omar Sharif to a generation who has not swooned over him. For Omar Sharif, I would have learned bridge.
But back to the story.
We waited in a line that zigzagged for an hour, which was a lot of standing for my mother, especially after she’d come three blocks from the parking garage. She’d walked only slowly, but she hadn’t complained at all. Her vision is poor from glaucoma and macular degeneration, but she was gamely squinting at the museum map. We entered the exhibit, which began with a short movie about King Tut. In the dark, my mother said to me, “Watch your purse.”
In the first room of the exhibit, we were a field trip of underachievers. We couldn’t pronounce Tutankhamen or figure out his genealogy, and we didn’t know what canopic meant. I kept pressing the wrong numbers on my mother’s gadget for the audio tour, so the tape would play the spiel about liver embalming when she was looking at the mask of Nefertiti.
But we found our stride as the exhibit continued. The lights were low and dramatic; the rooms modeled after the King’s own tomb. I held onto my mother’s elbow as she wobbled along, and my daughter read aloud for her the plaques she couldn’t read herself. We saw lovely calcite jars, so luminous that they glowed. Delicate statues called shabti, glazed a vibrant blue. A gilded chest covered with carved hieroglyphs. The artifacts, all over three thousand years old, had been placed in King Tut’s tomb to keep him company in the afterlife. In the Egyptian culture’s reverence for the dead, I could see its reverence for the living. Looking at the amazing artifacts, holding onto my mother and my daughter, I realized that this moment might never come again. Cancer kills mothers every day, and death comes for all, boy kings and perfumed women.
Then I tried to understand why it took a glimpse of the afterlife to make me appreciate this life. It was an afterlife lesson.
We passed into the last room of the exhibit, which was darker than all the others. I had expected to see the grand finale, King Tut’s famous golden sarcophagus. But where it should have been, instead was a stand the approximate size and shape of a sarcophagus. On it was projected a ghostly photo of King Tut, which morphed from a picture of his mummified remains to a picture of his sarcophagus.
“What’s this?” I asked, mystified. “Where’s King Tut?”
My mother said, “Told you. He’s not here. I read it in the paper.”
“That’s what you meant?”
I felt terrible, for my mother. “Sorry about that.”
But she waved me off. “Makes no difference.”
My daughter looked over at me. “Bummed, Mom?”
“No,” I answered, without hesitation.
“Me, neither,” my daughter said with a smile. And we both took my mother by the arm.
Copyright Lisa Scottoline