In June 1995, a few weeks before my mother passed away, she came to stay with my family for a week. My first husband and I were renovating, turning a garage into a bedroom for our oldest daughter. Mama commented on the studs we’d put up to create a wall, noting that she’d liked doing those kinds of building projects with my dad. Daddy had passed away in 1980, fifteen years before, shortly before our oldest was born. She never stopped missing him by her side. Although daddy never met his grand-babies, we all know he chose them carefully before sending them off to be born!
My sister and her family were on a much-needed and well-deserved family trip to Disneyworld, but I could sense my mother was not comfortable at our home. Our two oldest, our daughters, were teenagers, with all the requisite drama, friends and noise that comes with adolescence. This was a stark contrast to my sister’s younger children. Mom was on dialysis, so I had to be sure she got to her treatments; my oldest had just started her first job as a lifeguard. Each day consisted of dropping off, picking up and meeting everyone’s needs. To say it was a busy, HOT week doesn’t need saying. Mom often sent me a 911 code on my pager, meaning I had to stop during my sales calls, to find a phone so I could hear about the latest “emergency.” Perhaps a boy with fuchsia hair had shown up at the door (a daughter’s friend) or the phone was ringing too much to her liking. Wasn’t I the least bit worried that the girls were on that thing too long and too often? Their music was atrocious; it was too loud. When could she get back to the peace of her own bedroom, her familiar things?
We returned her to their home when the week was up, but we all sensed we would not have her much longer. She’d suffered with many health issues over the past few years. It was no surprise that she had to be hospitalized soon afterwards. During the Sunday night of her hospital stay, she dreamed about my father. They were working on a house renovation project. There were studs separating them when he asked her to hand him a hammer.
She offered the hammer through the studs; he grabbed her wrist and said: “No, I want you on this side with me.”
I love that dream. She could not share it with my sister—they were very close and she had to have known her death was imminent. She did share it with Peggy’s mother-in-law, an old friend. When she shared it with me, she asked me what I thought it meant, but I found it too difficult to tell her that it seemed her time on earth was ending. The morning she passed, the Fourth of July, she insisted on putting a check in the mail to me. It was money for a gift she wanted me to have for my birthday in August. In her mind, the long porch at our home was in sore need of a pair of rocking chairs. She’d noticed a sale for unfinished rockers in the paper, so she wanted me to get them early so I could paint them in time for my birthday. Green, there was no other color in her mind. My sister reminded her there would be no postal service that day, but she told her to put the envelope in the box for the next day’s pickup.
She went to dialysis and never returned, dying peacefully during her treatment. That check arrived the same day we buried her—you better know my son and I went immediately to purchase those chairs.
I hung on to those chairs the best I could in the ensuing years, but time took its toll, finally disintegrating one of them to scrap wood. It bothered me that another was stolen shortly after I had it repaired. They had been my talisman, a reminder of my mother’s last thoughts about me and my family. But I finally realized such things are temporary; memories are not. Stories are the best preservatives.
My mother left this life independently on Independence Day, 1995. I’ve always thought she must’ve gotten to the Pearly Gates, picked up my father and rushed to the heavenly residence of John Philip Sousa. After all, she had to help him put on a celestial celebration because she absolutely loved his march music, parades and pageantry.
Now, whenever I pass old rocking chairs moving in the breeze on porches, I silently express my gratitude to my parents. I know they’re talking about us!