(the third in a series about my mother)
The honest depiction of your past may be the courage for another’s future. Danny Gokey
Mom….would you like to go see the new, beautiful nursing home I’ve been telling you about? The Texan’s mother is out there and she ADORES it!
|Joy about age 14|
Nice try. No old, dying person really wants to see the inside of a nursing home no matter how avant garde you promise it to be. Joy was a practical realist, so we scheduled an appointment. Wouldn’t you know I had some very important business out-of-town with the Sprout on the day of the nursing home visit. Who do you guess wheeled Mom around on her fun nursing home tour? That’s right…the steadfast, rock-love of my life….the Texan! Mom loved the Texan and she trusted him completely. The Texan reported Joy took copious notes and inquired as to the cost of everything. How much were meals? Did they charge extra for the oxygen? Did they charge to give her a bath? Could she bring her computer without an extra charge? Was toilet paper in the bathroom included in the price? Could she get her diabetic meals and what would they cost? The Texan finally got through to her that everything was included and she didn’t need to worry about anything….she could be right next door to his mom. We placed a deposit and scheduled a move-in day.
Joy had always been smart. She had a good head for figures and business, too. But during my growing-up years, Joy didn’t always make good decisions. You see, for my formative years….as far back as I can remember, Mom was an alcoholic. Of course, when I was little I didn’t know what ‘alcoholism’ was. I had no name or way of communicating what was wrong with my mother. Call it a progressive revelation.
|Me with broken arm as a baby. Something about a run-in with my 2 older brothers.|
I knew she was able to work her job OK, but when she came home in the evenings, she passed out on the couch. On weekends, she might pass out earlier. I knew she and my dad argued about what was wrong with her. (My dad was an alcoholic as well, and died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1978. That’s another tale and beyond the scope of this story).
|Dad and Mom early 1950’s|
One of the earliest recollections of realizing my mother was sick was when she checked into the Oklahoma State Mental Hospital. It was the early 1960’s and I’m not talking the Betty Ford clinic, I’m talking One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She was gone for weeks and I remember going to the foreboding place for a visit. Never went back. Guess the adults in my life figured it was too much for a youngster. They were right. The clenching fingers of fear gripped my young psyche and held tight for decades.
When Joy found sobriety with the help of A.A. in 1980, she began the task of turning her life around, making amends and building a new, productive life for herself. I was a young mom with small children as Joy embarked on her journey and I was hedging my bets. I’d witnessed many ‘recoveries’ and she’d have to prove she could be trusted. Her attempt at transformation felt like turning back a freight train speeding towards a cliff. I’d never known a sober mother and I would reserve judgement, thank you very much. Jump forward to her funeral in 2011….she celebrated almost thirty-one years of sobriety.
We enjoyed our sober Joy so much, we moved her from Oklahoma to Texas 1985. We loved her and yes….we needed an extra baby sitter for our three rug-rats. The raging freight train had turned.
Now….back to her smoking addiction I told you about. She knew I detested her smoking. I’d grown up with it. Gone on endless road trips in an old station wagon with the windows rolled up…both parents smoking. I have allergies and asthma and become ill when exposed to cigarette smoke. Wanted to become a sleazy lounge singer, but I couldn’t handle the smoke. My lungs have spoken…..ENOUGH!
In our conversations over the ensuing years, Mom told me giving up drinking was the hardest thing she EVER did. Alcoholics always crave a drink and that’s just the way it is. She honestly and boldly told me after giving up alcohol, there was no way in hell she was ever gonna give up cigarettes. She simply could not do it, no matter my pleading. No matter the lung cancer. No matter living in a smoke-free retirement home. No matter needing oxygen 24/7. Mom had spoken.
She almost made good on her promise. She was about to move to the nursing home. I would gladly have handed her a smoldering cig if it would relieve her pain…even for a moment.