Like many landmarks in our life, on the one hand, it seems like just yesterday, on the other hand, it’s like forever ago.
It’s been a year since my Mother-In-Law Marie was called to Glory. Every gathering that I’ve been to this year, Marie’s memory hugs us like a microfiber blanket before its first laundering. I’ve never heard anyone mention it, but I can sense her spirit among us and I know she’s smiling and laughing.
“What Ev Er”
This weekend Bess, Marie’s greatgrandgirl, (Yes, we Southerners say a good many things with no spaces) was given a 2nd Birthday Cookout/Moon Bounce Tho’Down. There was a purple castle Moon Bounce. There was Bobby boppin’ everybody on the head with an inflatable hammer. Hoss unplugged the moon bounce covertly, yet brazenly. The moon bounce began to collapse inward. Hearty Rednecks that we are, there are no shouts of hysterical surprise, just “Awwww, dang thangs done tore up!” Then Hoss plugs it back in and the moon bounce recovers and the kids troop back in. X2 looks at me and does his “that boy is crazy” head shaking laugh thing that we have been applying to Hoss since he was a boy. (So Bobby and Hoss are in their 30s, wanna make sumpin’ out of it?)
Now, Marie loved a party. Especially kids birthday parties. She would feel gypped if there were no party games. She loved to go to Dollar Tree and pick out prizes for the game winners. And, she was in charge of the cake. If you had other cake plans, then you were going to have two cakes. That’s okay by me, the more cake the merrier. I had a formal dress Tea Party/Make Over Sleep Over when Mel turned 11. Marie was there for the afternoon tea, chuckling along with a big smile just watching Mel and her girlfriends interact. She did not stay for the slumber party, Marie had a strict rule about driving after dark. She did not do it. No way, no how. Nada…..nuh uh…no.
Marie would have been in her element, in the big fat middle of it. She’d have grabbed Bess every time she passed in grabbing distance and plant a big ol’ smooch on her, leaving a pink lip print on Bess’ plump cheek. She’d bend over Kyle in his jaunty rocketship walker and get slobbery cheeto kissykisses every few minutes. “Put some shoes on, Hon,” she’d plead with Shelly, who is running around barefooted with ice still in the shadows. Maybe she did do these things. I think I saw a smooch print on Bess’ cheek. A skeptic might call it a mild case of windburn. I say it’s an angel kiss.
It was 10 years ago today. My mother was in the hospital, they weren’t quite sure exactly what the problem was and they were taking her hither and yon for this test and that. I had spoken to her the night before and she seemed great, hopeful that she would get out in a day or two. In between that time and the time I started calling her room the next day, she obviously took a turn for the worst. When I could not reach her in her room I did not freak, as she was often out for various treatments…or maybe experiments, heck, who knows. A few hours later, I began to get concerned and that bitter taste of impending doom crept into the back of my mouth. One of her tests was going to coming back with very bad findings. I knew in my heart that something was wrong and I started making mental notes on what must be done, I would have to talk her into living with me and the girls and she’d not be able to live alone.
It was about 3:00 when I got the call at work. “Your mother has taken a turn for the worst; we’d like you to come in.” Its straight shot up 61 in Robinsonville to Shelby Drive then over to Elvis Presley Blvd and up to Methodist Hospital, but that was the longest drive of my life. All sorts of scenarios played in my head, but you know, I knew she had died. I called X2 for comfort, but he had none for me, in those days we had not become divorced friends yet. I remember sitting on 61, near old home town, and this car full of young black guys with Bolivar County plates, were looking at my car and laughing and pointing, who knows why, but I specifically remember thinking, my mother is dead and you’re laughing at my car, ain’t life grand?
I came to the intensive care waiting room and was met by the stereotypical stout nurse who whisked me into a waiting room and told me in a no-nonsense, not at all comforting manner that my mother was dead. I had just been diagnosed with a panic condition and I mentioned that, as I could feel the surge rising in my throat, she informed me there would be none of that and to let her know when I was ready to see my mother. And she left the room. I was alone, but thank God, I had a cell phone, cos the phone in the little room was local only. I did what any woman does in a crisis, I started making phone calls. Auntie Virg, out in Arizona. Norma; Mama’s cousin and next door neighbor, RonDan, day care, Donna Reed Flintstone, Geener, I don’t know who I called when what I told them, I only remember the lady at Day Care saying, “Don’t go in to see her alone.” I can’t remember who I put in charge of getting Mel, but it wasn’t X2.
DoodCuz and RonDan got there first. They both exceeded 6 feet in height and they towered over me and smothered me against them, it was like a cloud of what families are made of, closeness, love, despair, grief, disbelieve, support and kindness. Mama’s weird friend Barbra was there, Norma came in as we took that dreaded walk to the icu pod that housed her. Norma intercepted me in a bear hug. Her coat smelled of mothballs and I almost gagged.
You remember things like this in a jumble later on. We walked into the icu room, I think I may have been leaning on DoodCuz. Dot lay there as asleep. They had removed her dentures (Where are those? Do I have them?) Her mouth hung open, as if enjoying a particularly satisfying nap. I sat in a chair, looking at my dead mother, it was so unreal, she looked as if she’d wake at any moment. It looked like she was breathing. RonDan, who was a nurse by trade, touched my mother. “Her skin is so soft,” she said. I stayed in my chair. “She’s not dead”, I said, “she’s breathing.” DoodCuz suggested it was time we leave, and we did.
That was the last time I saw her, as we are the cremation types. She wanted her ashes spread near the old homestead in Attala County, between the property that had been her grandfather’s and the property of her childhood bestie who had always lived next door. She wanted said childhood bestie to do the honors; she did not want me involved at all. Seems she died while we were at loose ends, her and me. The last time I saw her alive, she was argumentative and critical, of me, Auntie Virg, and Chris as well. She wanted Chris to stay in the hospital with her, but Chris was too young to sit at the hospital overnight, she had no experience what so ever in the care of an ill person and besides all that, she just did not want to stay the night in the hospital. I did not make her stay and that sealed my fate as far as my mother felt about me, I believe. Had she lived, we probably would have gotten through it, but as it is, her life ended before we could make up. So, she was miffed with me the last few days of her life. That’s how she was, always miffed at someone, usually Auntie Virg, or me.
It was more than a year after that she began to visit us. Auntie Virg had moved back to Mississippi by then, she was spending the weekend at the apartment. I woke in the wee hours to make water, as the old folks say, and as I sat there sleepily, I thought I heard my mother cough. Now when you hear someone cough who has been dead over a year, you tend to jerk to attention. Then, I smelled coffee brewing. Dot always got up in the night and stayed up a bit, and almost nightly she drank coffee. Coffee did not keep her awake. As I made my way back to bed, I still smelled coffee, but pooh poohede it off to my imagination. Chris came in my room the next morning and asked had I made coffee the night before. Oh course, my answer of “No, why?” was accompanied by an icy cold finger on my spine. Chris had found a coffee mug sitting on the counter with a little brown coffee in the bottom of it and a spoon lay across the top the way Dot always did it.