Sunday, March 25, 2018

a memoir about someone I love

By the time she was 13 she was a beauty, appearing older than she was and having experienced much more of life than someone twice her age. When she was in her 70’s she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and was having difficulty with the common tasks of daily living, yet her long-term memories were still intact and vivid. She spent an afternoon relating some of the events of her life. A few were happy memories, though tinged with the realities of a young life spent in abject poverty and paucity. Others were tragic and horrible. It was a sign of her disease, I believe, that enabled her to discuss both pleasant reminiscences and heartbreaking vile memories with the same light-hearted tone. Remembering the past no longer brought her pain or pleasure. She just seemed to need to unburden herself before she became unable to recall anything and was lost to us as well as to herself.


When she was 13 she worked as a waitress at a local diner in Johnson City, Tennessee. Many of its patrons were truck drivers who stopped to eat and rest and refuel before continuing their cross-country journeys. One of the handsome diners was especially taken with the allure of the young waitress. He often traveled that way on this truck route and would stop in whenever he passed. They talked and flirted, and she was thrilled by his attention. He eventually asked her to marry him and go with him to his home in Florida. She readily agreed. He was 35 years old, handsome and most importantly, it was an adventure that could take her away from the hardships of her life. I asked her about the twenty-two year age difference and she just grinned sheepishly and said, “Well, he thought I was actually 16.” 

Soon after they were married the two of them left her old home in Cuba Landing, Tennessee, to travel to Florida. Her family stood by to see them off. My mother, years later, wondered why the family wasn’t concerned that an older man was taking her away. She only remembers feeling relief that her sister had an exciting chance to escape from the misery of their life there in the hills of Tennessee. Most of the rest of the brothers and sisters and their mother eventually fled to Florida as well.  I often wonder what my life would’ve been like if my mother had not followed my aunt.

 Soon after moving to Florida they had two daughters. Aunt Gwen tells of not being able to breastfeed and my Uncle Gene sewing nipples from pieces of leather to attach to bottles to feed the babies. They were married for over 50 years and to me always seemed like a happy couple. After Uncle Gene died and Aunt Gwen began to become more forgetful she would often talk to him as if he were there and set a place for him at the breakfast table.

I saw Aunt Gwen recently. She is in a nursing home in Florida. I helped feed her lunch, she has forgotten how to eat and must be reminded to open her mouth, close her mouth and then to swallow. They say soon she will probably forget how to even do those things.  She is mostly nonverbal though she does attempt to talk but the jumbled mumbling resembles a sentence that cannot be understood. She smiled a few times. And she looked at our faces with a troubled look like she was trying to remember who we were. When I left her room I kissed her and told her I love her. She uttered the one word  I could understand, which was “yeah.” So I will hold on to that and believe she knows I love her and am comforted that her 'yeah' was her way of saying she loves me too. 

 I wish her peace.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

my view from a secluded room

  Passing the time while
time is passing…I see
darkened windows like
vacant eyes revealing
the empty, hollow,
 silent interior of the house.
Walking up the stairs
to enter the front door,
I find it standing ajar.
The moonlight shining 
behind my shoulder
illuminates the dark hallway.
I walk through each room
searching for some signs
of life but only see 
desolate, bare walls
and abandoned worn furniture
from someone's former life.

I could fill the rooms with 
my collections, turn it into
a suburban residence that 
matches all the other houses.
Or I could run away to 
a more joyful home with
things and noise and trivial pursuits.
But there is something about the
solitude and quiet beauty here.
I think I could be happy
in this deserted place...
find peace...or at least feel safe.

Maybe bring in some flowers
And books, a photograph
In a frame…all it really needs.
All I need to pass the time.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

keeping afloat

One of the downsides of a chronic illness is having a lot of free time to read, knit, work on my photography, etc., etc., but then not having the motivation, energy or focus to do anything. But this year since my health is improving I am challenging myself to read 12 books this year (Pike's Peak level). I have so many books in my to-be-read list so I hope to read more than 12 but thought I would start with a realistic number. I read about the challenge here.  Looking forward to improving my mental capacity for reading, writing, etc.Maybe you'll even see more blog posts...

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch

My favorite childhood book was Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. I remember receiving it as a gift for Christmas, or maybe a birthday. It was the first chapter book I read. The transition from children’s book to what to me was almost a novel is a vivid memory.  Mrs. Wiggs was an impoverished widow who struggled to care for her children and lived in an urban slum. In film adaptations of the book the husband had left her alone to travel to Alaska to find gold. Still she handled the circumstances with great strength and aplomb.  I always liked that her daughters were named after continents, because Mrs. Wiggs felt geographical names would be more refined. I haven’t read the book for many years but I do recall it was humorous, inspiring, beautifully illustrated (and probably unrealistic). Mrs. Wiggs, with her courage and fortitude, became a hero of mine. 

Poverty. As a child, I knew we didn't have extra money for luxuries. We had plenty of food and clothes and toys but somehow I felt our lack. Going out to eat or to a movie was a rare treat. My parents were both raised in disadvantaged rural areas. I knew they had very little when they were growing up and worked hard to make sure it wasn't that way for their children. When my sister and I got older my mother finished her high school education and went to work. My father took extra work when he could. Never rich, but we were comfortable.

 When I was a public school teacher I taught many children who came from poverty stricken areas much worse than where I grew up and probably worse than the fictional neighborhood where Mrs. Wiggs raised her children.  Many of the students I knew suffered hunger, wore ragged clothes and lived in old hotel rooms transformed by the city into housing for the disadvantaged.  The old hotels also sheltered ex-cons, drug addicts and many other unsavory characters, making it an unsafe place for children to play.  One student often complained that her mother never let her play outdoors with the other children. After school she was confined to the hotel room. The mother feared for her child’s life. School was her escape. When everyone else were making Halloween plans this child sobbed because she would be excluded from participating.  One student was sexually assaulted there and all the children were exposed to more than they should be for their tender ages. They either grew up fast or became troubled children with emotional and behavioral issues. Brandon used to hear voices telling him to hurt other people. He would climb trees or hit his own head to prevent the voices from taking over. Matthew begged for food and to play games, any game. If he was refused and asked to do school work he would often fight and scream and rage to the point I often wanted to join him. Then he would fall asleep for hours, the only peace he ever received.  His mother said she would get a job and move her children out of the hotel as soon as God gave her a car and found her a job. Angie lived with a demon in her head that she could describe and draw. His words were vile and harmful, causing her to act out and consider ending her life. William threw chairs and terrorized the classroom when he was frustrated. Calling the authorities often enraged parents, making them punish their children or, due to an overload on the system, nothing was done.  I realize some of these students had legitimate mental health issues. But for some I think they were just hungry, neglected and discouraged.

Over 40 million Americans live in poverty. One out of seven Americans suffer from hunger. More than 500,000 people in America are homeless, a quarter of those are children.

I am not offering solutions here or blame. I am just troubled by the suffering.