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Another Year Goes By September 8, 2005

Posted by Leita in Flotsam/Jetsam.

My mother died two years ago tomorrow. Shortly after her death, I sent a letter to friends. This is a copy:

Mom passed away quiet and sweet Tuesday morning, September 9, 2003 at Ocean Springs Hospital in Mississippi of heart failure. Never one to want a big fuss, she had a simple graveyard service at 1 p.m. Friday, September 12 at New Live Oaks Cemetery in Selma, Alabama. She didn’t want the usual songs or hymns sang, (“None of that depressing gospel stuff.”) But someone sang “Amazing Grace? anyway. I think that was okay, but I know she liked the Eagles’ “Best of My Love? better.Most of you didn’t get to meet mom except through me and my incessant stories of her. Here’s one more: Daddy grew up on Mobile Bay and it fed his mother and siblings during the Great Depression. The youngest of four, Daddy’s job was to catch blue crabs and he was as good as any commercial crabber. Later, while my sisters and I did our own growing up on the Alabama coast, we’d often catch pretty blue crabs on the verge of shedding their shells. “Busters,” we called them. Daddy always could tell by looking at them which ones were about to leave their old shells and turn into soft shell crabs; a process that takes many hours, yet they remain soft only a couple. We’d place the busters in a pail of salty bay water and watch them. It was akin to giving birth, amazing to see a creature twice its size leave behind its former home looking new and shiny and vulnerable to whatever might have swam by had they been still in the bay.
We’re all born that way, soft and harmless. We harden with age and experiences. Mom left us that Tuesday morning, leaving behind a pretty shell so she could become something bigger.At five-foot zip, Mom was ferocious, persnickety, and hardheaded and had my father firmly whipped. No matter what idiotic calamity her daughters wound up in, she was always on our side and physically there every time we needed her–which was a lot. Bay met Doris when he was a soldier stationed in Selma, Alabama the summer after she graduated from high school. She was working at Carter Drug Store and he spied her through the window. Love at first site, just like the songs, stories and poems. It took him six months to be granted the privilege of walking her home after work and he asked pretty much every day. Fighting through a formidable wall of six brothers and sisters, an asshole of a father and a witch of a mother, he stuck it out and eventually won. There was never a day that she didn’t love him and never a day he didn’t love her and they told one another this ad-nauseum right in front of their three daughters up until her last day here. The only real fight they ever had was when they were newlyweds and Dad’s mom came to live with them and proceeded to boss Mom around regarding household duties. Mom left in the car and drove off. Daddy tossed Gramma out and got Mom back. She never left again until that Tuesday morning and one of the last things she did was pucker up for her Monday evening goodnight kiss from Daddy. Christmas time growing up resembled something out of a ToysRUs dreamscape. Mom rarely asked what we wanted yet she never disappointed and the result was an embarrassment of overindulgence. Come morning, wrapped boxes and doodads carpeted the living room floor and had to be shoved off the sofa so we had a decent place to sit. Growing up dirt poor–literally–during the depression, she vowed her kids would never experience the same although we were never close to being wealthy. Even the boxes of chocolate covered cherries (I never did like those nasty things) were perfectly wrapped, all the edges and patterns matching. Imagine an engineer wrapping a gift and you kind of get the idea, although she’d make him start over and do it right.On that Tuesday morning in September, Kathy and I stayed with mom while she was prepared for her last trip to Alabama. Out of all the sisters, Kathy is the strongest. I couldn’t have done this without her there.  We bathed and wrapped her and I made the nurse tuck her tiny feet in just right knowing she was watching and critiquing the process. I think we did okay, except for a proper matching pretty bow-and-ribbon tying which I’ll probably catch hell over someday. July, 2001 was when Mom first started getting sick and it took me two years to get my head to the place where I could begin to accept the impending death. I’ve yet to have a wallowing wail and as I was told yesterday, I might not. Just moments as this one I’m having right now. Those two years of emotional hell we went through was mom’s finest gift to all of us–time to get ready.




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