Sunday, December 26, 2010

"A Blue and White Christmas"

It's Christmas Day and the weather forecast calls for snow. Since several of my siblings, nephews and nieces live out of town, it's looking as if a Christmas celebration will have to wait. I'm a little hesitant to tell mother the news, but brave the waters and knock on her door. As a rule, mother can't remember hardly anything from five minutes prior, but since I have been talking up Christmas day and all the family coming, and writing it down own her memory tablet, she will no doubt be aware of the big day.

As she opens the door, I can see she is expecting a day filled with family and food. "Mother" I begin, "It's looking like we're going to have to cancel our Christmas gathering today, due to the weather." "Cancel Christmas, huh?" she says. "Well, I guess it's going to be a blue, blue, blue Christmas then." Reciting the lyrics to an old Elvis song "Blue Christmas." I remember that song very well from many years ago. If mother heard a special song on the radio that she really liked, we would soon have it in our collection of records. "Blue Christmas" was no exception. "Well, it won't be a "blue" one, just a white one and some snow for your entertainment," I assured her. "We will reschedule our Christmas and you'll never know the difference." I told her. "Who's ever heard of 'rescheduling Christmas?" she snapped. In a previous blog, I ended by saying that I didn't think Jesus would mind if we weren't able to celebrate His birth on Christmas Day, but mother might not be so understanding. My words seem to be ringing true. Not wanting to continue this conversation with her, I go about preparing enough food for her for several days, just in case the weather is unrelenting and I'm not able to get down here. A stash of mother's pills lie unbeknownst to her upon top of the fridge, so I can make a call and she can reach up and get a bag and take them herself.

It's about 7:30 pm and the weather has fulfilled her promises. Approximately four inches are lying on the grass and my phone rings. I have made several calls to mother throughout the day, checking on her needs and everything was looking good, until this call. "Jean" she says, either my power is off or the light bulb is out." I quickly instruct her to turn on other lights in the house to see if the electricity is indeed off. She returns, and gives me the news that none of the light switches are working. We live some 3 miles from mother, so our power is on a different line. I instruct her to get in the bed early and cover up, knowing that the roads are too bad for us to get to her. "Let's hang up and I'm going to call and report your power." I tell her. She promises me that she will go directly to bed and cover up, adding that she has a little girl from up the road there with her spending the night. Startled, by what she has just said and thinking that it must be her dog Annie that she's referring to, I say "mother, you mean Annie is there with you!" She says, "No, it's the little girl from up the road." I then ask a really dumb question, which gets some stares from some of my family members which are listening to my side of the phone conversation, "Does she have skin on her?" Now why, would I ask this question? So many times, mother declares that her dog Annie is so many different entities and one would think that I would be use to it by now, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't bring myself to cozy up with dementia.

We hang up and I call the electric company. A real live person has answered on the first ring and I am able to tell her my predicament with mother and she assures me that she will contact the necessary workers and the power will be reinstated soon. A few minutes transpire and I am very antsy just thinking about my poor mother at her house, alone with no heat but that which comes from a dog lying next to her, which she thinks is a small child and a blanket. So I began calling her, seeing each time that I do, she must climb out of bed and find her way through a darkened hall using a small flashlight just in order to talk to me on the phone. With my husband's advice as to not to do that again, I call the electric company lady once again and ask if they are fixing mother's power. She tells me the good news that they are working on it and my worries are relieved.

The next morning, I awake to see a winter wonderland of beautiful snow. I reach for the phone to call mother to make sure she's still alive and not frozen. "Hello" she says. Did your power finally come back on?" I ask. "Well, I guess, did it go off?" she says. I change the subject and tell her that my husband and I will be down as soon as we can get there. Luckily, the roads aren't as bad as anticipated, and we are able to drive down with a load of logs in the back of our old brown truck, nicknamed "Brownie" which has been a close friend to us through out the years and continues to get our back road driving chores taken care of.

When we get there, the garage door slowly opens. There standing wearing a red turtleneck, which represents Christmas, I suppose, is mother. "Come into the house where it's warm" she invites. "Well, I'm sure glad they got the power back on in a hurry last night so you didn't freeze to death." I say. With mother looking clueless, she tells me that the little girls from up the road have just left and that they kept her good and warm all night.

I have pondered mother's "little girl" or "little girls" story for just about all day now. I know in my right thinking that there indeed was "no" little girl or girls, only a dog, but how comforting it is to think, what if, what if...God sent a little child to be with mother on a cold and snowy night, just like He sent His Son Jesus to us, some 2000 years ago, one cold and starry night.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Christmas and Groundhog Day"

It will soon be Christmas, so I have been dropping hints to mother about the upcoming event, which will be held at her house in a few days, just like it is every year. She asks the usual questions as to what can she prepare, etc. I assure her that we are all bringing plenty of goodies for everyone with lots of left overs which she will be able to eat the following week. "But what about the children's presents?" she asks. Weeks earlier, I had taken mother to the bank to withdraw enough money for her great-grandchildren's Christmas gifts. I try reminding her, but after several attempts, I move on to other issues.

It's the day before Christmas Eve and the phone rings. "Jean, what in the world do you and the children mean by transplanting me here at this house?" "Mother, that is your house," I tell her. Going through the usual routine of having her take a quick walk through the house, pointing items out to her that will surely make her remember, doesn't seem to work this time. I tell her goodbye and go outside to where my husband is and let him know of mother's state of mind. As soon as I walk back into the house, I hear the phone ring again. It's mother and she begins with the same question,"Why did you and the others bring me to this house." My husband and I hurry on down to her house, thinking that we need to somehow satisfy her that she's "home." As we enter the house, I'm anticipating seeing a mother who is distraught over being in someone else's home, instead, she is smiling and telling us to come in and stay awhile. I say 'Mother, do you remember calling me and saying that you are in another house? "No" she says, "I reckon this is my house isn't it?" Just like she had never called me at all or had any feelings of "not being home." We stay for awhile and say our goodbyes, seeing that all is well.

After returning back home, I still feel a little uneasy about mother, so I decide to call after a lapse of thirty minutes. "Mother, are you alright now" I ask. "Well, I guess I am, I'm getting ready for bed," she answers. Just wondering, I ask if she remembers my husband and I visiting with her only less than an hour ago. "You mean you were down here?" she asks. I go on to tell her that I was just checking and to go on to bed. I hang up and within a few minutes the phone rings again and it's mother. She wants to know if I had intended to come down for a visit and if I was, she'd just stay up a little longer, never the wiser that I had just came from there.

Today is Christmas Eve. Doing my usual baking and last minute Christmas usuals, the phone rings. "Jean, why have you and the others brought me to this house?" she says. "Tomorrow is Christmas isn't it?" she asks. The only reason she remembers this is because I have written it down on her pad so she can read it as she walks by the kitchen counter. "Yes mother, tomorrow is Christmas." "Well, how will the children find me in this new house?" she wonders. I begin to tell her all the same things which I have done many days prior. If any of you remember the old movie "Groundhog Day" starring Bill Murray, you can begin to understand a little bit about the life of Dementia. Many days are replayed over and over again, just as if the record has a scratch on it and the needle automatically goes back to the beginning of the song and right when you think it's going to play through this time, it starts over again.

Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow, Christmas Day. Some of mother's children live out of town and may not be able to come. If not, we will have to cancel our gathering and celebrate on another day. It's Jesus' birthday and I know He will understand. I just hope mother will.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"A Brother's Homecoming"

Today, I make my way to mother's house with a heavy heart. I will come as a messenger of bad news, instead of a helper. This isn't the first time this year that I have brought the news to mother of a loved one who has gone to be with the Lord. Back in July, my oldest sister Doris, lost her fight with lung cancer and it fell on me to deliver the news that mother's oldest child had died. I can't imagine ever hearing those words about one of my children. That day in mother's kitchen, I reluctantly called dementia, my friend. Had mother been about her normal self, the grief would have been unbearable.

As I step through the door, she can already sense my uneasiness. For as long as I can remember, mother has always been able to look in my eyes and know that something is wrong. "What' s the matter" she asks. "Nothings wrong," I say. Not wanting to tell her so soon that her brother Arnold, the last of her eight siblings, had passed, I fib a little until I'm sure she's awake enough to grasp the pain which will soon come.

Mother always had a special bond with Uncle Arnold for as long as I can remember. After the passing of her husband Yates several years ago, mother began to lean on him for good advice about anything from doctors to cars. The family knew that Uncle Arnold was in failing health, but had avoided telling mother as long as possible.

Several weeks ago, I had asked mother to talk to me about him when mother had drug out a picture of her and some of her siblings the day of her sister Louise's funeral. (Mother is to the far left and Arnold the far right) Mother told me that Uncle Arnold was very handsome in his younger years, more so than any of her other brothers. She told me of his heroism in World War II, and how proud he made her father, John. I only found out the extent of his bravery by reading his obituary this week where it listed his Bronze Medal and Purple Heart.

I glance over at the kitchen table and see mother taking sips of water as she swallows her last morning pill. I decide to walk over and have a seat at the end of the table as I do every morning, prior to my saying goodbye and heading to work. "Mother" I begin, "I have a little bit of bad news for you this morning..."

It's been four days now since Uncle Arnold's death which came only five days prior to his 91st birthday. The family has chosen to hold his going home celebration (funeral) on his birthday. Mother seems to be adjusting to the loss now. Every morning since I had given her the news, she would greet me at the door with a silly look on her face and say she had dreamed that Arnold had died. Unfortunately, I would have to tell her that it wasn't a dream but instead, reality. The grieving process would repeat itself, over and over again each morning, forcing mother to experience his loss each day. I truly believe that Dementia is an illness straight from the gates of Hell, grasping its victims, torturing them and the ones they love.

Tomorrow, a brother, father, grandfather, Uncle, war hero and friend will be buried in the Williams Cemetery which lies just adjacent to where he was born, raised and lived for some 91 years. Rest in peace Uncle Arnold.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Wanna Go Home

Here lately, mother has been telling me that she wants to go home. She has met me at the door twice this week with her pocketbook, asking me if I was taking her home. She has gone through a cycle of this before, but usually will get over it by the next day.

I must admit, I have always been a home body myself. Growing up, nothing was more important to me than getting home, changing into my gown and sitting on the couch, watching Lost in Space and Bonanza while nursing a bowl of chocolate ice cream with potato chips crumbled up on top. Several trips away to Girl Scout or 4-H Camp ended up with a "I wanna go home" from me, leaving mother and daddy no choice but to drive miles to get me or else send me back with a total stranger. Back in that day, no one thought anything wrong with this reasoning.

I have just called to check on mother for the afternoon. She sounds so like herself that I'm feeling as if she has gotten over this homesickness of hers. Just before we say goodbye, she asks me if she can talk to me for a minute longer. I naturally say "what is it?" "Well she says, I just don't know how much longer I'm going to be staying in this house" she says. I try to convince her again, that this is her house and she has lived here for the past 18 years. She won't hear of it and tells me that when we hang up, she's going to go look in the closets and see if she has any clothes there.

I'm not sure exactly which "home" it is that mother is wanting to go to. Is it the home where she grew up, situated just below White Oak mountain? The place where she grew up with her mother and father and eight siblings; two from her father's second marriage. Mother had a well rounded and happy childhood there as she has told many stories to me about she and her brother Ralph and all the farm work that she was made to do, but had given her a good work ethic.

One story I fondly remember, was the time that her Dad had told her brother Ralph to go and get their mule from the pasture. Well, because Ralph was older than mother, he felt he could boss her around, so, instead of him going after the mule, he sent mother to do the chore. As mother tells, this certain mule was a little on the mean side and unlike her, had no bosses. Just like Ralph told her to do, she headed on down to the field to get the mule. As she climbed over the fence rails, she noticed it heading her way. Afraid that she would get trampled, she hurriedly climbed back over the fence. Just as she did, the mule jumped over with her, then she jumped back and the mule jumped back with her, again and again. I have laughed at this story so many times, just to imagine my mother as a little girl of no means, being in a predicament of this magnitude.

Or possibly, the home mother truly longs for, is the place she called home for some forty years as a wife and mother. A woman who loved, laughed and nurtured her children and husband in a house built on a piece of land that her daddy John had given them. Only to leave it after daddy died, remarried and built the home with her late husband Yates which she now lives in some 15 miles away.

One can't help but wonder about another home of mother's, Heaven. If there's anybody who I know for sure will be leaving here and going to heaven, it's my mother. We all have in our minds and hearts, beautiful thoughts of our loved ones, especially our mothers. I can honestly say that I was raised by a mother who actually cared about who her children would turn out to be someday. She has always had an unselfish love and compassion for her fellow person. Something that not many of us can say about ourselves.

Today I feel sad about her wanting to go home but not knowing where. I can only pray that she can find some peace in the house she now lives until the Lord calls her home for good.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Mr. Williams, Two Fat Ladies and a Mini Skirt"

As I enter mother's house, my eyes are drawn to the telephone which sits on the kitchen counter. It's a corded phone and I can see that the receiver is off. I haven't called this morning, so I am not aware of this calamity. I quickly ask her what in the world is the phone doing off the hook. "Oh, I guess I must have left it off when I was calling Lewis" she says. Lewis is the brother of mother's late husband Yates. For any and everybody that attended Polk Central High School back in the day, they will remember him as their US History teacher.

Not only was "Mr. Williams" my history teacher, and my mother's second husband's brother, but we are all distantly related through my daddy's people. His father, Hamilton and my great grandfather "Bryse" better known as "Uncle Bryse" were brothers. This made for embarrassing comments in his class, which he gladly blurted out from time to time. My Grandmother Myrtle, was known to be called "Catbird" in her younger years. I had no idea why or how she acquired this embarrasing name, and had no intentions of asking him, but, as if grandmother's given name "Myrtle" wasn't embarrasing enough, when your teacher calls you "Catbird" in front of all your friends, it tends to make a teenager blush.

It was a well known fact that Lewis Williams was one of, if not THE hardest teacher at Polk Central High. If you wanted to make passing grades in his class, it was practically a "given" that you would have to do the dirty word, "cheat." Looking back, I have to thank my lucky stars for the fad of the day, "mini skirts."

My girlfriends and I concocted a plan that would secure us each, a spot in our graduation exercises. We came up with a scheme to wear mini skirts on the day of Mr. Williams' tests. Now everyone knew that Mr. Williams was infamous for giving only multiple choice tests, so my friends and I would meet outside his door on the day of the dreaded test and hand down the answers, which would be written on a tiny piece of paper, just the right size to fit under a mini skirt. Quickly heading to our desks, we would place the little slip of paper bearing the prospective answers, between our legs just barely peeping out from under our skirt, glancing down from time to time with Mr. Williams not being the wiser. However dishonest this plan was, we looked at it as being a means of survival, right up unto the day that one of my bestfriends "Pam" got busted. I don't know how in the world I made it out of that class with a "D," but all of us were indebted to my friend Pam from then on out for being the sacrificial lamb and not spilling the beans on us.

"Why were you calling Lewis?" I asked. "Well, let me tell you" mother began to whisper. "Yesterday, I was sitting in there on the couch when these two "fat ladies" just busted in the door, headed down my hallway and jumped in my bed and went to sleep." She continuted on saying, "I just assumed that they were some of Yates' people and that Lewis had probaly sent them up here to get some rest from their trip." I couldn't help but giggle, and asked her how they got here. She told me that they had driven up in a little black car and apparently had been on a long trip because they were so tired that they didn't even speak to her when they came in. Mother was amazed at the bravity of these "fat ladies" who had just came in and made themselves at home by jumping in her bed without asking permission.

I had many questions as to what happened when the ladies woke up and where did they go, but decided to leave it be, knowing that from experience, it was in reality, her dog Annie who had come in the house and made her way down the hall and into mothers bed.

The next time I see Mr. Williams, I will have to tell him this story. Maybe he'll give me an "A" for it.