Lavada Mae Creed Golding - April 23, 1920 - December 15, 2002
By Eula Golding Walters © 2015
Online: May, 2015
"In the Pines, In the Pines,
Where the Sun Never Shines,
and I Shiver When the Cold Winds Blow."
Each time I hear that old Bluegrass refrain, I think of my Mother. It was a line that she never grew tired of singing, and I never grew tired of hearing her sing it, although I never failed to shiver as I felt that cold wind blowing thru the pines as she sang those words. I'd much rather listen to her singing, "You Are my Sunshine." Even though it too was a sad song, just hearing her sing the words made me happy. I so wish I could hear her sing either or both of them once more.
I have learned that It doesn't matter what sort of relationship you've had with your mother, how well you did or didn't get along with her, or how long you had her, you don't completely comprehend just what she meant to you, how much you love her, or that you will miss her more than anything, until she is gone. Not until you no longer have the opportunity to give her a call just to chat, to go visit her for no particular reason, or to buy a special gift for her that you know she's been wanting, but won't buy for her-self, not until then do you realize that you've missed many opportunities that you will never get back.
Now that I am older, and in the position of being the "senior Mother" of my own family, I can look back more clearly on time spent with my own mother as she aged. I see myself in my children as they give me that certain look, telling me without words that I'm too old to be doing certain things, that I am losing my grip on my thoughts, words and deeds. In other words they see me as old. That's how I saw my mother during those last years. Of course in the end, that is how she was, and she did need us to intervene and do, think and act on her behalf. But long before that, I think, I and her other four daughters saw her only as an older woman, and not necessarily the mother who had raised us and taught us so many things, and was still much the same person she had always been. I see now that we unwittingly attempted to take her independence away from her too quickly, that we should have allowed her to determine whether or not she could or should do a certain thing. For that I am sorry. And I am paying for it as I watch my own children do it to me. I guess that's what they call the circle of life.
I'd like to tell you about my Mother. To most she was probably a very ordinary person, wife and mother. There were times when I thought of her as just ordinary, but I'm thankful that for the most part, I knew that she was very extra-ordinary. She wasn't "modern," sophisticated or well educated. Her ways were countrified...citified would never have suited her. She lived a hard life, and while I can't say that she thrived, she certainly did endure and made the most of what life handed her.
Mother was born Lavada Mae Creed in Grayson County, Virginia, near Fisher's Peak Mountain in 1920, the daughter of Matthew and Frankie Goodson Creed, the great granddaughter of Leander Goodson, the famous mountaineer of the 1800's. She was the last living child of seven children, born to older parents. A younger brother died when he was six.
Her brothers were all grown and married and had children of their own when her 43 year old mother gave birth to her. She weighed less than three pounds at birth, and was placed in a small box padded with towels, and put on the warmer of the wood cook stove to be kept warm and safe from rats. You'd think she would have been spoiled plenty just for surviving such a meager beginning; but she lived in the shadow of her older sister who had been very ill with Saint Vitus Dance [Sydenham's chorea] at a young age, thus causing a weak heart and a bit slow of mind.
Still, Mother was a happy little girl, content to tag along with her Papa, picking and packing Galax leaves, then taking them to the store where she would collect the five cents she had earned. She told me of the time that she begged her Papa to let her spend her nickel at the store on candy as soon as she was paid. He let her do it, but on the way home, he broke off a twig and switched her behind with it. Money was precious and not to be spent frivolously... she "always got candy at Christmas, and didn't need it any other time." She learned that lesson well and that was the only spanking she ever got.
She also loved playing with her niece, Clyde, who was a couple years younger than she, and who spent a lot of time with her Grandpa and Grandma Creed. They each had a doll that Mother's oldest brother, Conley, had bought for them. He had left home, married and became a Roanoke City policeman. Her older sister, Aunt Lavona and Mother had large, beautiful dolls, and Clyde, being "just a niece," got a much smaller one. Mother loved her doll and hated that Grandma made her let Clyde play with it whenever she wanted to. Clyde didn't take good care of it and left it out in the rain one night, and it was ruined. Gone was the only store bought doll she ever owned.
As so many of that time were, Mother's family was very poor. They had owned land, but Grandma's brother had tricked them out of it. He drove their pigs out of their lot and while Grandpa and Grandma Creed were busy getting them rounded up and back in, he went into the house, stole the deed, as well as their money, and paid a crooked judge to change the name on the deed. Grandpa and Grandma never owned a home of their own after that.
As poor as they were, and as many hardships as they had, they still held onto their dignity, their upbringing, pride and manners. Mother told that every day Grandma would cook a good supper for the family and set it on the table. However, no one ate until Grandpa sat down at the table. It didn't matter how long they had to wait for him to come home, they still waited. Then, no one took a dish until Grandpa was served, and passed that dish onto someone else. He was the head of his house and was treated as such.
Thankfully, even though they lived thru the big depression of the 1930's, they didn't suffer as badly as many others. For one thing, they had no money or job to lose. They lived off their land, planting everything they ate. Grandpa whittled axe handles and other small implements to bring in some income, as well as the Galax leaves, harvesting ginseng, shaunahaul, and other herbs, barks and roots. What they missed the most was sugar, coffee, snuff and chewing tobacco. Grandpa was a "chawer" and Grandma was a "dipper." She always had her snuff stick in her mouth, made from a Sassafras twig. She would chew the end until it was much like a brush, then dip it in the snuff jar and put the stick in her jaw. She used an empty snuff glass as a spittoon. I still have one of her coveted snuff glasses. Mother too, secretly dipped snuff.
When she was in second grade at Goodson School, the school that Leander Goodson had built for his own children years ago, Mother had her eye on a fellow in school 5 years older than she. She would chase him around the playground, and somehow was always able to catch him.
Going into seventh grade she was forced to switch schools. She didn't dress as well as the other girls, talked "hillbilly," and wore her hair down past her waist when short hair was in style. I also recently learned that upon her Mama's insistence, she often wore it up on her head in a bun, with finger waves pushed into the front. She hated this hair style and never wore it once she left home. She was teased about all this by the other girls. After just a week, she sneaked her Mama's scissors, cut her hair off to her ears and declared that she was never going back to school. And she didn't. She stayed home, learning how to keep house, to can and dry the fruits and vegetables, to quilt, embroidery, and sew. She also went back and forth to visit with three of her brothers, helping them with their younger children.
Looking back later in life, I know that Mother was very sorry that she didn't finish school. She always carried a complex because of her lack of an education, believing herself to be ignorant, causing her low self-esteem to keep her from developing the extraordinary potential that lay buried within her. She may not have been able to tell you who the 17th President was, or to recite the Constitution, but she sure could fry some good chicken, sew a beautiful dress without a pattern, teach her kids the names of every bird (her own version) and wild flower, dance a mean Charleston, and bring tears to my eyes when she sang, "I'll Fly Away," or "Life's Setting Sun." Oh, the many valuable things we learned at her knee!
We learned that honesty is the only way, and if you strayed from it, you paid the price. We learned the value of hard work, of doing a good job at whatever we did, and how to make do with what we had or do without. She loved a good surprise. I went to bed one night, pouting because I didn't have a new dress for a special occasion at school the next day, and woke up to a beautiful dress laying on my bed, that she had sat up all night sewing, after cutting up one of her own dresses, and making it to fit me perfectly, even though she used no pattern. No, I guess my mother was no ordinary woman after all!
Mother met that boy again, that she had chased at school, when she was 18. She was conveniently standing outside talking to his mother when he came out of the house, on his way to court another girl with the intentions of asking her to marry him. He took one look at Mother, turned around and started down the road, turned back and saw her looking back at him, turned around and walked back to her, never looking back. They liked to joke and say that it was like the song that goes, "I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back at you." Just a few months later they were married, having got caught in a fib about her age at the first courthouse, and finally getting married at Hillsville Court House. This was July 1938. I have letters that Daddy wrote to her during their brief courtship.
The only negative part about her marrying Daddy was that he insisted she give up dipping snuff. She did, but she yearned for that taste of tobacco all her life, taking a drag off a cigarette that people in the know would sneak to her now and then.
Life got serious very quickly, having a baby just shy of being married a year, then another 13 months later, another less than 2 years later, and I came along less than two years after that. Through those early years, Mother worked alongside Daddy, putting up hay, keeping a garden, a house, taking care of her growing family, and even boarding several men who worked on building the new scenic highway which went thru our farm, called the Blue Ridge Parkway. Daddy also worked on the construction of the Parkway.
Thankfully, Mother had known hard work all her young life, and her make-do attitude carried her thru, but times were hard. When I was nine months old, Daddy was called into WWII and was shipped off to Europe. This left Mother with four little ones under five years old, a herd of cows to tend, wood to cut and bring in, along with all the other chores that a farm and house of four babies entails. She finally sold the cows and saved every Army check that she received, so they would have money when Daddy got home. They were grateful when he was sent home on a hardship discharge about a year later.
Times changed, some for the better, others not so good. When I was nine fate decreed that they needed more children, so four more were born between the years of 1953 and 1963. She also lost that many during those years.
Mother not only helped on the farm, picked, canned and dried every possible vegetable, fruit and berry, helped to butcher hogs and put up the meat, and tend to the growing number of babies, but she also often worked in the mills in Galax, and later the furniture factories. Many mornings she would get up at 5:00 am, walk two miles to meet her ride, work 10 hours, walk two miles home, pick whatever was ripe, and stand by the stove into the night, watching the canner. Just to get up and do it all over again.
As I grew older I loved it when she worked at the Wonder Knit in Galax. They made many varieties of knit sweaters, and she could get seconds for next to nothing. During the time she worked there I was one of the best dressed girls in school...at least from the waist up. One of my teachers, Mrs. Mary Ruth Welch, loved the sweaters and I was so proud to be able to get them for her for about $1.00 each.
Once when I had a doctor's appointment, Mother took me with her as she went to work. She left me at the Goodson Restaurant to wait for her to get off work, and told the owners that I would "earn my keep." I remember being so embarrassed when they asked me to fill up the sugar containers. Someone finally checked on my non-progress and realized that I was trying to pour the sugar into the little spout, rather than taking off the lid! I was a slow learner! They always gave me a hotdog and chips and a coke for lunch.
I loved going to town with Mother! Each time we went I would look for the sign above the store that read, "Get the best, get the best, get Sealtest." I related it to the advertising on the Big Top Circus TV show that we watched on Saturdays, and thought that it had to be the best ice cream in the entire world. One day I almost passed out when instead of going past the store with that sign, we went right inside! We sat down on a bar stool and Mother told the man that I wanted some ice cream. He looked at me and asked, "what kind?" Well, was he stupid or what???...I loudly sang out, "I want, 'Get the best, get the best, get Sealtest!'" My poor Mother's face turned blood red as she said, "she wants strawberry!" My embarrassment almost overrode the good taste of that ice cream cone.
Some years we would go into Galax late in the day on Christmas Eve. The year I was 10, it was getting dark as we walked past Vass Cap Hardware Store. There in the window was a tiny tea set, consisting of a tea pot, four cups and saucers and cost 99 cents. Oh, how I wanted that tea set. After staring at it a while, Mother told me, "if you really want it, I'll buy it for you, but if I do then Santa won't bring you anything." I quickly agreed to that since I knew that Santa wouldn't bring me anything that I would like more. I proudly held it in my lap on the way home, but I pondered her words in my heart. Something was off. In the middle of the night, I sat straight up in bed and the proverbial light bulb come on...there is no Santa Claus!!! And sure enough, he didn't come to our house on Christmas Eve any more. I know that it would give everyone a warm and fuzzy feeling if I said that I still have and treasure that little 99 cent tea set today, but I don't. It got chipped, broken and lost till there was no more. I do still treasure the memory though.
It was around this time that I had to give up my coveted position of being the baby of the family. Ernie was born when I was nine, bringing with him a ray of sunshine. He was a breach baby and was the first of us to be born in the hospital. Three years later, Kay was born on the day that Grandpa Creed was buried. A few years earlier they had moved near us in a makeshift house Daddy had made for them from one of the outbuildings.
How bitter sweet it must have been to lose your father and bring another life into the world on the same day. She also lost her Mother on that day, as one of her brothers came and took her home with them, thinking that we could not properly care for her. She died 6 weeks later. Within the next seven years Mother gave birth to another daughter and a son. By the time the last one was born, we four older ones had grown up and left the home.
After I was grown and gone she switched jobs and worked at one of the furniture factories in Galax. Her younger children and all her grandkids always looked forward to the huge stockings that the company gave out each Christmas, filled with age and gender appropriate toys and goodies. I'm not sure who it pleased more...Mother, as she passed them out, or the kid receiving them.
From her tiny beginnings, Mother sure grew into a strong woman. I have never known another who could work as long and as hard as she did. She did it all, tended garden, fixed fence, herded cows, fed the animals, put up hay, drug in fallen trees from the woods to be cut up for stove wood, butchered chickens for Sunday dinner, and put up enough food to last till next canning season. I once saw her rear back her fist and hit a cow in the head so hard that the cow fell to the ground. It was raining, and that cow had horned our favorite milk cow, knocking her into the electric fence and electrocuting her. Another time she went into the woods looking for a newborn calf. She stepped on the head of a copperhead snake & it wrapped its body around her leg. She had to stand there, putting all her weight on the snake, while she got Daddy's attention and then waited till he got there with a hay fork and killed the snake. She never admitted to being brave, but she always did whatever had to be done to survive.
The word "sex" was not in her vocabulary. In fact she never told any of us girls any of the facts of life. I was 13 years old and dating almost before I found out where babies came from! Before that, I thought they were found in hollow logs in the woods, and spent many an hour in the woods, looking for a baby of my own.
I was 12 when Mother was secretively showing my two older sisters the outfit she had ordered from the Sears Catalog to wear to a funeral. I took a peek and immediately exclaimed, "That looks exactly like the clothes in the Sears Catalog where it says, 'Isn't it wonderful you're having a baby!'" I was shushed and shamed and told to leave the room. I did, but by that time the light bulb had come on and I was very proud to know finally where babies come from.
It was a long time though before I figured out how they got out. But sure enough, in due time, Mother delivered a precious baby sister for me to love, pet and spoil. Likewise, I would never have learned how babies were made in the first place were it not for one of my "worldly" Grandma Copeland's True Story magazines lying around for me to pick up and read in secret. When you have as shy a mother as I did, you learn the facts of life wherever you can.
In addition to all her hard work, Mother made almost everything we wore, even my brother's shirts. She always had a quilt on the rack in some stage of completeness. She ironed everything, even Daddy's underwear, only putting starch in them if she happened to be mad at him at the time! If something got a hole in it, she patched it, throwing nothing away.
As I went into high school, I wore the hand-me-downs from my two older sisters, but as I began competing and winning contests such as public speaking in 4-H, even going to State competition, I needed nicer clothes. The first year I borrowed clothes from school friends. The second year I planned to do the same, but was so surprised one day when I came home from school and Mother ushered me into my bedroom. There laid a complete wardrobe of clothes, enough to last me a week at the Virginia 4-H convention at VPI in Blacksburg. She had worked for weeks, and again without patterns, to make me my own clothes. I was so proud to give my speech in my new box pleated skirt with the jacket to match. I was sure it gave me the luck I needed to bring home the winning prize.
For many years she carried water from the spring house for cooking, cleaning and washing. It was a grand day when the electricity came thru and she was able to give up the wash tub and board, and buy an electric wringer washer. Still though, she had to carry the water to fill the tub. Once I was "helping" her with the wash, by running the clothes thru the wringer, and decided to see how close I could get without my hand getting caught. I held onto her apron string, as it went thru the wringer, and didn't let go soon enough. That thing took not only my finger and my hand, but it took my arm all the way up to my elbow!
From my earliest memories, Mother broke pine for the packing companies in Low Gap. She would climb those tall pine trees, breaking off the tips as she worked her way down, and dropping them to the ground. We kids would pick them up and stuff them in the chop sacks that she brought along for that purpose. At the end of the day we would pull the many sacks to the road and Daddy would load them on the pick-up to bring home. In later years she rented one of their machines and made the pine that she broke into roping, making even more money. I loved standing there at night, watching her twirl that machine and the beautiful pine smell filling the house, as I listened to the elder trees swaying in the wind, giving off their own special music.
Sometimes the simplest things leave the best memories. Even later after she retired from the factories, well into her late 70's Daddy would drive her to a local factory where she worked with others making the roping. Most of the workers by now were Mexicans. She told how she could no longer keep up with them in production, complaining about the sorry job they did just to get more done. She made her roping just as she did everything else...she made it right. The "boss man" would complain to her, telling her she was making them too thick and costing him money. But she didn't change the way she made them. She told him that she was making them the right way and if he wanted to fire her for that, then so be it. She never was fired. She enjoyed the job and came to like, "them Mexicans calling me Grandma."
In between all her work, and even in the middle of it, she was always ready to pull a prank or a joke on someone. She loved to tease, and have fun. We loved it when she cut loose and showed us how to do the Charleston, or crossed her legs and walked across the room on her knees, or stood with her hands flat on the floor without bending her knees. Sometimes though, her "jokes" were funny only to her. I remember the year that she confided that Ernie, who was 13 at the time, and an avid hunter, was dying for a rifle for Christmas. She thought it would be such a joke to wrap up a new sports jacket in a gun box, and she did. This broke my heart for Ernie, knowing how disappointed he would be. I was married by then, and we hatched a plan, arranging for someone to bring him the 400 miles from the farm to DC to spend Christmas with us. I have precious pictures of him opening his brand new .22 rifle, as well as the complete set of Zane Grey Books that I had found at a Salvation Army store. Mother's surprise was a bit ruined, but Ernie still liked his sports coat.
The two of them finally "retired," sold the 75 acre farm that we children still call home, and moved to a five acre farmette on the Scenic Highway [Blue Ridge Parkway]. This freed them up to take bus tours, and even a trip to Hawaii. The only time they ever flew was the Hawaiian trip. Daddy loved to tell the story of how Mother wouldn't fasten her seat belt before take-off because, as she told the stewardess, she was going to get down in the floor beneath her seat when they took off. And she did! Daddy would laugh at her as he told the story, and Mother would always come back at him with, "Well, at least I didn't wet my pants like that other old woman did!"
Through the years they traveled with Sunshine Tours to Las Vegas, where they both spent five whole dollars on the slot machines. They went to Pikes Peak where Mother told the Park Ranger to turn his back because she was going to take a rock, and she did. They went to Niagara Falls, where Mother embarrassed Daddy when she planted a big smooch right on his mouth for all to see. Daddy badly wanted to go back to Europe to revisit the places he had seen during the War, but they never got the chance to do that.
I will always cherish the many times that Mother and my sisters would drive the 300 miles to West Virginia to visit me for a four day weekend. I always made sure to make her favorite dishes, to take her to the nurseries she loved so, but didn't want to pay their high prices and to the outlets where she would turn up her nose at those high prices. We sisters would keep an eye on whatever she was eying, but not buying, and one of us would lag behind to buy it for her, just as she knew we would.
Daddy would often make the trip with them, and between all of them, they looked for all the world like the relatives of the Beverly Hillbilly's as they left our house and went bumping down our lane to the highway. They would have to drive with the windows down so that all the plants and trees they'd bought could stick out, to make room for everything else they had bought.
With four sisters, a Mama and a Daddy, all the nursery plants and trees they'd bought, the latest Pflatzgraph dishes, and all the wild flowers we had stolen from the rich woods near Shepherdstown, someone always had to take turns sitting on another's lap, and once, the smallest sister rode backward on the console! What a sight they made, and what a time we had!
My husband and I also loved taking them on trips thru West Virginia, walking the trails, picking up rocks, and stealing wild flowers. Wonder where I got that from?
We also took them to the Hillsville Flea Market, to Pilot Mountain, Bald Mountain, Grayson Highlands, and any place they desired to go. I always knew exactly what they would say once we were home. As we pulled in the drive way, every time, Mother would say, "Well, look Daddy. This sure is a nice place. I'd love to live here. I bet the people who live here are nice people. Let's go in and say hello." And Daddy would grin, and go along with her. Indeed, those folks who lived there certainly were very nice people!
Of all the things that she loved, I think of her flower beds foremost. She took great pride in growing prize winning dahlias, double day lilies, Sweet William, Phlox, and Love Lies Bleeding. When I was three she had a beautiful red dinner plate dahlia that was going to be at its prime just in time for the Farmer's Carnival, which was held in Galax every summer. We all knew which one it was and was forbidden to touch it. Well, you know how it is with forbidden fruit...I just had to take a peek at it. Of course it was bending over because of its weight, so in order to see it, I had to lift it up a bit. It broke off right in my hands, far too early for the Farmer's Carnival. For once I owned up to my crime, went to Mother and pulled the dahlia out from behind my back and began to cry. I guess she could see just how sorry I was, because she just leaned over, picked me up and gave me a big hug. It's amazing how a little act of love can still make you feel when thinking about it, even after 68 years.
Of all the blessings in her life, what she loved most was her husband. Daddy was not an easy man to love, never having any love given him as he grew up. But he was her man, and no matter how mad she might be at him, she always loved him, and took good care of him. Every morning for breakfast, he sat down to a bowl of cooked oatmeal and banana (for his bowels), homemade biscuits, apple butter, fat back or a canned sausage cake, grease gravy, an egg and fresh cooked apples. A few hours later for dinner (lunch) she gave him a fresh pone of corn bread and a glass of buttermilk to go with whatever was left over from last night's supper (dinner). Then at supper, she always served him a full, fresh cooked meal.
They both came to love pay day when they took their Social Security checks to the bank, and then went to Roses' cafeteria for lunch, and in later years to KFC for their buffet. One day when I was visiting, Mother pulled out several pieces of KFC chicken breast and a container of coleslaw and some biscuits. I asked how she was able to bring that home when it was a buffet, she said, "well, it's all you can eat, but they didn't say we had to eat it all while we were there." ...OK.
She always looked out for Daddy, and was beside herself when he came near to death at the age of 80, having gotten a staph infection after surgery. Although his doctor suggested that he had lived a good life and we would do well just to let him go, we knew this was not acceptable. Our Daddy deserved better than that. We called the Salem VA and they told us to bring him in as soon as possible. We sisters met and took him and Mother in on a beautiful spring day...much too pretty of a day to be dying.
As the doctor was examining him, Mother began telling him some of his symptoms. "He can hardly walk anymore," she said. "He will stand up from his chair and fall "face-fomast right in the floor if I don't catch him." The doctor looked at us sisters with that, "what's face-fomast," question on his face. We were too busy hiding our laughter to be able to tell him what she meant. She didn't take much of a liking to the man, and as we left, she said in a very loud stage whisper..."that man don't know what he's talking about. I bet you he's meaner than airy a snake!" Again, the doctor who had overheard gave us "that" look. We hustled them out of there. Thankfully, that doctor saved our Daddy's life and he was able to enjoy life for nine more years.
As weak as he was, he would not give up his garden. Again, on a visit, I found them in the garden. Daddy was handling the hand plow and Mother had tied a rope to the suspenders of his bib overalls. She was holding onto the rope in case he started to fall. She could hold him up by the rope. This was a woman who loved her man.
One year when they came to my house for their annual visit, their last one it turned out, we girls had spent the day shopping and were visiting a nursery in Hagerstown, Maryland. A sudden spring rain surprised us and we all ran inside. After the rain, we didn't see Mother. As we went outside to look for her, a lady came up to us, with Mother in tow. It seems she had intended to jump into my car to get out of the rain, and had gotten in the wrong car. The good people let her sit with them till the rain stopped.
Another time as we rode back from taking Daddy to the Salem VA, Mother began talking about what a wonderful time they had had at my house; then she became concerned that she had left her luggage at my house. That then turned into worry for "a little boy" who had been riding with us and was no longer with us. Of course all of this was only in her mind. Looking back I realize that these incidents were the beginning of the end. As the dreaded Alzheimer's took over her personality, we slowly lost the Mother who had nursed us, cared for us, and taught us so many amazing things.
She began to lose her "babies," and would call the sheriff to report them missing. She would call us in the middle of the night to tell us that someone was in the house and was going to kill them, so they had packed a bag and were going to jump out the window. Someone would have to go spend the rest of the night with them so they wouldn't get out on the highway. When we would go home to take our turn to care for them, she would tell us that "Mama and Papa are sleeping in the extra bed room," and for us to be quiet so as not to wake them up.
My worst nightmare was realized when she called me from 300 miles away to accuse me of stealing her beloved quilts. This was the woman whom I had watched make quilts all my life, and had so lovingly made every one of her children and grandchildren one or more quilts. She gave me my first one the day I left home for Washington, DC when I was 18 years old. I still have that quilt! The hardest lesson I ever had to learn was to realize that the person accusing me of such a thing was not my mother. A monster by the name of Alzheimer's had taken over my Mother's mind.
A ray of sunshine in this nightmare was that even though she forgot almost everything and everyone she ever knew and loved, she never forgot Daddy. And although she no longer remembered how to cook anything else, somehow her love for him caused her to remember how to cook his breakfast, which she did every morning until her hip broke and thus began the quick downward spiral between hospitals and nursing homes.
As awful as Alzheimer's is and the terrible things it does to everyone involved, those times that she made us laugh, and helped us to see her unique former personality peeking thru, were precious. One Sunday we took them to the communion/decoration service at Coleman Primitive Baptist Church. Having ended a song, and while waiting for the next one to begin, all was as quiet as the proverbial church mouse. In the stillness everyone heard Mother say to Daddy, "Is that old woman up there, Louise So and So." Then she answered her own question by loudly announcing, "No that can't be her. That old woman is big and fat and Louise ain't fat." I desperately looked around, but there was no place to hide and no hole to swallow me up.
If you are familiar with Primitive Baptist Communion services, you know that there may be several preachers who speak throughout the day. This service had at least five, and as the second one was preaching, I noticed Mother was getting fidgety, which meant that she was reaching her limit. I leaned over and asked her if she wanted to leave. Again, in her very loud stage whisper she answered, "We might as well go...this preacher ain't worth a plug nickel, and the next one don't look like he's got a lick of sense." With that she stood up and said, "let's go Daddy, I'm hungry and it don't look like they're going to be setting dinner any time soon." I truly wished I was that church mouse as every head turned to see us marching down the aisle and out the door.
The Blue Ridge Music Center was built during this time. There was good and bad with the coming of the Center. The bad was that they took good people's homes and land that they had lovingly labored for and over. The Center took my brother's land which is just next to the farm we grew up on. The farm now also belongs to the Department of Interior; all this in the name of progress. The implication didn't really affect Mother and Daddy since they had already sold their farm, so when the Music Center opened; we offered to take them to the first outdoor program. I was looking forward to it. We got there and settled Mother and Daddy in their chairs and began spreading out a quilt for my husband and me. Mother turned around and said, "OK, me and Daddy are ready to go now." I tried to assure her that the program had just begun and that seemed to satisfy her. Five minutes later, just as the players were beginning to tune their instruments, Mother turned around and said, "OK, I've heard enough, let's go." And she proceeded to fold up her chair and walk off. The rest of us trailed behind her.
I took her and Daddy one day to visit my brother John in Cana. They were in the middle of a chicken killing. They were working around a steel drum filled with boiling water. They would wander down to the chicken pen, pick up one or two unsuspecting hens, rip their head off & toss them in the boiling vat of water. They planned to have a hoe-down and a chicken roast that night. Mother was hungry and impatient. She wasn't about to wait till night. After a few minutes of watching, she announced, "Well, if they ain't a gonna feed us, we might as well go. I didn't come here to jaw, I came here to eat." So off we went, with Mother nibbling on the KFC that I'd brought along just in case.
Another time she was at one of the grandchildren's high school graduation service. The long-winded speaker was causing even normal people to fidget. Again, during a quiet moment, Mother nudged Daddy in the ribs and said, "I bet if a snake run up his britches leg, he'd shut up and set down and we'd both be happy!" Our saving grace was that the speaker couldn't hear her, and her remark gave all who did hear a good laugh. At another grandson's wedding, just as they were saying their vows, Mother had a few words to say about the bride..."'Well she's awful fat, but she's right purty."
Alzheimer's disease can do horrible things to the person who has it, as well as those who love them. You learn to look for whatever good you can find to keep your sanity. One of those good times happened for our family one day in the hospital as we watched her slipping away from us. She had been very much out of touch with reality for some time, sleeping much of the time.
When she was awake she was completely incoherent. Suddenly, that day she became very lucid and recognized her children as they circled her bed. She began talking about the Lord and how much she loved Him. She told them that she wanted to be baptized because she would soon be going to Heaven. A visiting preacher was found, and a nurse got him a pan of water. As the nurses, doctors, her loving husband and children looked on, singing Amazing Grace thru their tears, our Mother was baptized. She was alert for hours, telling everyone that they needed to be right with the Lord. When she woke the next morning, the monster inside her had once again taken control of her mind.
As hard as it is to say this, I am thankful that the time went fast, and on a beautiful Sunday morning in December 2002, as our sister sat with her, at the age of 82, our Mother took a last breath, slipped free of her earthly bonds and slid into Heaven. I'm sure she was shouting, "Here I come, face-fomast!"
I don't know why I was so surprised when at the viewing; people were lined up for hours to pay respect to her and to our dad. I truly had not realized that she had touched so many lives and that so many people knew and loved her like they did. Each one spoke of her goodness and honesty and of what a good and helpful neighbor she was. Our family was overwhelmed and so thankful for such an outpouring of love and respect. Our daddy died 18 months later of a broken heart from missing the woman who had stood by his side for 64 years. They both lie in the beautiful cemetery at Snow Hill Baptist Church.
As I write this, I am convinced that there was nothing ordinary about our Mother after all. She taught us to work hard, to play hard, to be honest and fair, and to be strong, in body, heart and mind. She taught us how to live a good life, and how to die with dignity. Indeed, it turned out that she was smarter than any of us. Yes, without any doubt, my mother was extraordinary in every possible way. If I close my eyes and free my mind, I can hear her now, as she sweetly sings, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; please don't take my sunshine away."