Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How odd

Somehow, I had the idea that my first blog post would be uplifting, or funny, or a subtle jab at life's funny little moments.

Instead, I find myself writing from a point of wistful sadness. As I write, my mother lies strapped to a bed in a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, launched on the journey on which we all must travel---or should I say, approaching the end of the journey on which we all are traveling.

Her brain---that brain which could cause fingers to fly over a keyboard, launch a thousand wisecracks, outwit and outsmart those lesser endowed---is in an "advancing state of atrophy." This is cool medical talk for "shutting down" or, more appropriately, "dying". She will live out her last days on this earth in one of three modes: intense pain from sources as yet undiagnosed; under the influence of drugs which eliminate the pain but cause hallucinations (there are spiders on the bed, snakes on the ceiling, her gown is burning, a huge spider is sitting on her legs), or completely unconscious, feeling no pain but feeling----nothing----

The kind doctors and nurses have done their best; even now, they are working to find some combination of drugs that will enable her to be semi-conscious as she lives out her remaining few days. She's receiving excellent care; unfortunately, the doctors have been so far unsuccessful in their quest.

We elected to refuse to allow them to insert a feeding tube. We're going to spare her that little indignity.

As long as I think of the lady lying in the bed, I'm fine.

It's when I remember "My Mother" that I get into deep water.

"Tootsie" Tarkington (pronounced "toot" as in, "toot toot went the train whistle") was a freaking hoot. She had this funny, warped sense of humor and could crack wise with the best of them. She liked fast cars and football and dogs. She loved a good party. She loved to dance and was good at it. She had friends all over, never met a stranger, and could talk a blue streak with anyone and everyone. She never met a stranger.

She married my Dad when she was 16 and he was 19; they'd known each other two whole weeks (and they eloped---on Valentine's Day). Her stepfather met my Dad on the steps holding a shotgun; she walked past him with her suitcase, got on Dad's Harley, and never looked back.

She worked at the bomb factory in North Little Rock, Arkansas during the war, making bombs. She endured the death of her first child, moved to Texas with Dad, and went to work for Southwestern Bell as an operator. He had a bell-shaped locket made, inscribed "Love my telephone girl" that she wore forever. Until last Monday, when she fell and was taken to the hospital, she wore her "original" wedding ring---his high school class ring.

As of this writing, they've been married 66 years.

Church was something (we found out later) she endured for Dad's sake. She'd get up on Sunday morning and start getting ready on time, but somehow the time would slip away from her and she'd get late. It took one hour and one can of Self-Styling Adorn to get her hair ready to go; then there was all of the other paraphernalia she had to endure to get ready. Of course, she also had to fix her own mother's hair, her daughter's, and try to make sure her son was at least reasonably presentable. Dad, meanwhile, would put on the roast (this took him about 15 minutes), do his own prep work (another 15), and read the Sunday paper. He'd start checking his watch (more on this aspect in another post) about an hour prior to "drop dead" drive-out time, and would remind her (with gentle bellows from the den) of the time she had remaining. By the time we actually got in the car, we were of course late; my sister and I had likely run into "the hairbrush" (see below), and Grannie was (in her own words) "sulled up". Mother, of course, would be mad as a hornet and Dad oblivious.

The hairbrush. It was pearl-coloured, large, and really had a serious tendency to hurt when it came in contact with your posterior or whatever part of your anatomy she could reach with it. Dad preferred that she refer discipline problems to him; really, you'd prefer that she used the hairbrush and got it over with.

She had that big hairbrush because she had that beautiful hair. As long as I remember, she had a long ponytail (usually down to her waist) that she'd style up into a french twist for dress-up. She tried every hairdresser everywhere we lived, but she never found one she liked (indeed, she found many she despised), so she wound up growing it out and doing it herself. Even now, she still has that long snow white hair. It started out reddish-auburn-brown, then salt-and-pepper, then white. Mine is the same colour (I'm in the salt-and-pepper stage); in fact, it used to amuse both of us that she could comb her long hair into mine and you couldn't tell where hers started and mine stopped.

She loved dogs and was never without one except for the last couple of years (she made do with mine). "One" is an interesting number, because occasionally it really was "one" but usually was 3 or 4, however many she could talk Dad into letting her keep.

Mother loved popcorn and Coca-Cola's. On Sunday night we'd all pile up in the den and watch (in LIVING COLOR!) in order: Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, Bonanza, and Ed Sullivan. Mother would pop up a bunch of popcorn (everybody got their own bowl!) and we would get our WEEKLY (wonder what the kids would say to this now!?) "King Size" Coca-Cola.

Fast cars: she never was without one. Whatever the biggest, baddest engine Chevrolet put in an automobile, she wanted it. When she wanted to go, she wanted to GO. She'd lay a peal a block long in a Chevrolet Station Wagon (her favourite, and mine, was the 1970 Kingswood Estate with the 454 4-barrel Turbo-Jet V8) heading out with the kids in the car. Her favorite speed was "floored until I come upon something I can pass." Now, this did not extend to her SON; she wanted me to toe the straight and narrow; threatened to divorce Dad if he allowed me to go off to college in the SS 396---so he got me a VEGA---but for herself, well, hell's bells, she knew how to handle the power!

Her last car was a 2003 5.0 Mustang; we immediately dubbed her "Mustang Sally", telling her she'd "better slow that Mustang down". Her car before that was an 89 Lincoln, the "Hot Rod Lincoln", also with a 5.0. Dad gave up on the tickets.

Funny---when I got in ticket trouble (which was frequent), it was Mother I called to bail me out. She would grumble and bitch and give me the money and say, "You're lucky I don't tell your Daddy about this." And I was....

When I was 5, my father came outside in the back yard to work with his bird dog (Sheba). I, as usual, was riding on my swingset, and hollering (at the top of my lungs) my new word for the day: SHIT! "Shit shit shit, shit shit shit, shit SHIT shit shit shit!" (Jingle bells tune). Dad: "WHAT are you saying????" "Shit!" "Where did you learn that!?" (Roaring). "Um, Mother says it?"

And now she's lying there in the hospital.

I miss you, Mom.


  1. Great words for a great lady. I'll keep a good thought for you and your family.


  2. What a wonderful first post and a great tribute to your mother. I can't wait to read more musings.

  3. Dear Little Nicky Tarkington:

    With my eyes closed, through your words, I am riding along with Mustang Sally and swinging to and fro at your side. Godspeed for the rest of her journey.

    I miss you and your writing. Would love to catch up.



  4. Honoring tribute to one "helluva gal". Some of the most poignant words I've ever read. I, too, lost my mom last year. God bless you. I'm praying for you.

  5. What a lovely eloquent tribute that is. I'm sorry that I never got to meet her.

    I agree with KBeau, I can't wait to read more of your musings.