pure unadulterated joy: dancing with skeletons

Everyone has skeletons in his closet, but not everyone has taught them to dance….my pastor, Burt Palmer in church last Sunday.

Joy’s big moving day dawned cold and clear. The Texan, the Sprouts, the in-laws and anyone else we could throw a lasso over helped us with the move to the nursing home. Mom remained stoic even though the move was complicated for her. While the nurse reviewed Joy’s condition and talked with me about her medications, the others dutifully brought in her precious belongings and beloved family photos. Faded photos of her parents, brothers and sisters, and lots of shots of the grandchildren were hung close to her bed.
A favorite photo of Joy’s mother and her twin sister
Joy’s hearing had deteriorated to basically ‘non-existent’ in recent days. Her hearing loss was profound, but she took pride in being able to read lips when a speaker was standing in front of her. Now, macular degeneration was robbing her of the ability to read lips. I was her lifeline to the world. I brought some wide-tipped, black magic markers and a note tablet to the home and asked the nurses to write a note and hold it in front of her to aid communication. She was different, but not demented.

If any one’s family tree had been stunted and wrecked by the disease of alcoholism…it was surely Joy’s. I experienced firsthand how the sinister disease had touched the lives of her brothers and sisters…even how it had wreaked havoc on their families. Many novels are waiting to be written filled with the unusual exploits of my family. Think Angela’s Ashes (by Frank McCourt) times 10. Once in a great while, I’d ask Mom about her childhood and she would clue me in.

She once told me of how abusive her father became when he drank. By all accounts he was a brilliant, perfectly civil man, but drinking brought out his dark side. Joy said she and her brothers and sisters hid in a bathroom when they heard their daddy hit the front door drunk. They lived in an upscale neighborhood of Oklahoma City called Nichols Hills. Seems Joy’s father did pretty well for himself during the Depression years. They often took in relatives and helped feed the neighbors and others struggling at the time. Mom recalled her dad coming home one evening and all the kids scrambled to the bathroom to avoid the destructive fallout. They could hear shouting, their mother crying and objects flying around the house. The episode must have gone on for some time and the children fell asleep in the locked bathroom. Joy’s memory was of getting up the next day and getting ready for school. As she walked from the house to the sidewalk, she saw the lovely curtains gently blowing out all the broken windows. Bits of destroyed furniture were scattered on the lawn. She said she cried as she went to school that day thinking of her beautiful, destroyed home. The incident was never spoken of again.

Another favorite Joy-story involved her preparing a speech for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union meeting. She was about 12 and she was entered in a speech contest for the WCTU to decry the dangers of drinking alcohol.

Early WCTU poster

Young Joy set her keen mind on writing and memorizing her speech. One afternoon, her father and a neighbor-friend asked Joy to recite her speech for them. She recited her speech on the front porch as her dad and the neighbor drank liberally from an open fifth of bourbon. She recalled walking over the passed out neighbor as she went back inside the house. The competition occurred a few days later in front of a large audience inside a packed church. Joy remembered hearing some of the youth delivering passionate speeches and scathing remarks about the evil of drink. Readying for her turn, she rehearsed the lines in her head. She stiffly strode to the podium. Silence. Throat-clearing. Nothing came to her. She looked at the packed house. She looked at her family beaming at her in expectation. Still nothing. Young Joy stood alone for an uncomfortable while trying to collect her thoughts and gather up the opening words to her finely prepared speech. Still nothing. She left the podium….unable to recall a single word.

It was getting late at the nursing home. The busy-ness of the first day was almost complete. The sweet nurse asked us if we would like to eat with the residents in the dining room.
Joy in her room meeting a sweet, sweet baby. This visit raised her spirits.
Might as well jump in with both feet, Kath. Let’s give it a try. Will you eat with me?

I wheeled Mom to the dining room where we sat at a nicely decorated table. Joy furtively looked at the other residents. One impeccably coiffed lady was dangerously close to falling headfirst into her mashed potatoes. Another man constantly chattered to himself and struggled to find his mouth with his fork. There were helpful aides feeding some of the residents. Everyone wore a large bib….some of them made of big pieces of molded plastic to catch the run-off. Joy and I weakly smiled at each other and tried not to notice how different this dining room and it’s residents were from her previous residence.

We ate quickly and hightailed it out of there to finish up some chores in her room. The Florence Nightingale-of-a-nurse who tirelessly helped us all day approached Joy in the hall.

How did you enjoy your dinner and the dining room? she chirped.

It’s not baaad……if you don’t mind eating in a morgue! was Joy’s acid reply.

Right then and there, Joy became one of Florence Nightingale’s favorite residents. Me?….my heart was racing and I promised myself I’d call the cardiologist in the morning.





4 thoughts on “pure unadulterated joy: dancing with skeletons

  1. Such a fun surprise to see Claire and me on your post! It was so fun to sit and visit with your sweet mom that day and get to introduce her to Claire. I've really enjoyed reading this series of posts about your Mom. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Oh Kate, there are so many layers woven through this lovingly written post. What a beautiful pair of sisters Joy and her twin are. This is a new phase you and she are entering, and like anything new, it will take adjustment and some faith to embrace – but from what you describe, it looks to be a positive and promising move, one where Joy can be happy, safe and comfortable. My heart twisted for the child she was, alcohol blights so many generations (as I know from experience), seems she certainly managed to rise above it all, and went on to raise a strong, compassionate and wise young lady. (Hugs)

  3. This was so touching. I moved out into the country 8 years ago to be close by my mother in learning of her symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Between mys sis and I we were able to help mom remain at home until her last year, when we had to put her in a home. It's been two years now since she died. The whole thing was quite hard watching her break, but it was rich too in many ways. I am still processing these last years. Thanks.

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