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Desert Companion

Bucket List Extra: A chorus of approval

Seeing Vegas through the eyes of my small-town mother

Midway through the first act of the Vienna Boys’ Choir concert at Virgin Valley High School’s theater in Mesquite, I leaned over to ask my 73-year-old mother if I could borrow her binoculars. Earlier, on our way to pick up my two aunts from the Palms, Mom had unpacked the sundries jammed into her quilted bag — crossword puzzles, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, tissues, pills, Corn Nuts — but still couldn’t find her glasses. She had, however, uncovered a compact pair of Bushnells, and they’d do just fine. Our seats were only a dozen rows from the stage, but she wanted to make out every detail of the 23 angelic faces comprising the choir’s touring company.

“Check out the second boy from the right in the front row of the alto section,” she whispered, at alarming volume, as she handed me the binoculars. “He must be new.” Indeed, the poor skinny blond — couldn’t have been more than 9 years old — appeared to be mumbling the lyrics.

My mom covered her mouth with her right fingers and scrunched up her face, pretending to muffle a giggle, as I handed the binoculars back. She was obviously tickled pink to be there, and the music was as pure and airy as sunshine in a church. Though I was expecting tears from our family’s only Pisces and most notorious crier, I was pleased by my mom’s delighted reaction. This evening was to be the highlight of a Vegas vacation she’d persuaded my dad, who almost never leaves his farm in Roswell for more than a long weekend, to take during the first week of November by stressing that his two brothers and their wives had already planned a trip here at that time. Family reunions, no matter how small, get more appealing as you age. Having lost both their sisters, the brothers Kyser were happy to stay at the hotel and chew the fat while we women piled into my husband’s SUV and made the near-three-hour round trip for a 90-minute concert.

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I surveyed the room, noting that I was the youngest adult there by 20 years. A split-second thought of things I could be doing on a Saturday night in Vegas flashed across my mind, quickly dispelled by a glance at my mother peering through her binoculars, now studying the soprano section. I remembered her torturing my dad, brothers, sister and me with cassette tapes of the Vienna Boys’ Choir played in our Chevy Impala station wagon during long road trips from Roswell to Ohio, the Kyser motherland. During Saturday chores at home, she’d blare their records so frequently that my siblings and I could sing along. In September, I’d stumbled on the choir’s Mesquite date while researching entertainment options for my family’s trip. When I told my mom about it, she went mute with disbelief.

“It’s going to be more than an hour’s drive to Mesquite, but I think it’s worth it, don’t you?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said finally. “I’ve always wanted to see them.”

“I know, Mom. I guess you could say they’re on your bucket list.”

“Yes, that’s exactly right.”

It turned out that the trip had some bucket-list items for the rest of the family, too. My Aunt Frieda had always wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show; we caught Mystère on Monday evening. My Aunt Barb had never driven in the mountains; the brothers and sisters-in-law took the Red Rock scenic loop on Sunday afternoon. Marriage Can Be Murder. The Bellagio Fountains. Cornish Pasty. Everybody got something to savor, to remember. My parents would return each night to my house, where they lodged, with reports ranging from satisfied approval to wide-eyed awe. I felt proud of Vegas.

A couple hours after Mom and Dad packed their truck and headed back to New Mexico, I found my mother’s magnifying glass and some crossword puzzles she’d forgotten on the coffee table. In my head, I replayed a dinner conversation we’d had about her age-related macular degeneration — how it was starting to blur her world.

“I’ll probably go blind,” she’d shrugged. My aunts and uncles nodded knowingly. There was a moment of silence for their collective hip sprains, blood clots, brushes with cancer. And then, “I forget: Have you ever met Bobby’s wife Margot?” Back to family gossip.

Over the course of the week, as my relatives thanked me repeatedly for helping them navigate the city, I understood that the circus acrobatics and sandstone cliffs and gourmet meals were more than boxes to check off a list. They’re sensory stimulants that remind us how great it is to be alive. And never was that plainer to see than in the eyes of my mother watching 23 Austrian boys sing.

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