About three weeks ago Sue called me to tell me that both of Mother’s caregivers were about to have surgery; Linda Wheat was having eye surgery and would be out for a week and Betty Campbell was going to Union City for more critical surgery and would be out of commission for 6 to 8 weeks. So I hopped on my horse and headed north to help Sue with Mother and assist her in finding some additional folks to come in and sit with Mother.
We put out the word and found a real gem in Penny Hughes who would come in and assist Sue mainly during the afternoon and early evening hours. When Linda returned from her cataract surgery to take care of daytime caregiving, and with Penny now filling in for Betty while she was recuperating from getting sliced open, I made plans to return to Atlanta on Tuesday the 21st of April. Soooooo, Monday afternoon following a pretty good lunch with Mother the story of "how I done her in" began.
About two o'clock I started wiring her up with a medium-size ice cream cone and then asked her if she would like to take a walk with me downtown. She actually asked me "Well, how would we do that?" I told her all she had to do was let me assist her into the wheelchair that is kept nearby and I would roll her right down the ramp built at her front door a few years ago and off we would go. The only word Mother ever needs to hear is "go"; destination has never been important. So with a warm coat on and a lap blanket in place, we headed toward Peacock's Florist Shop and Peoples Grocery store... at least that's what use to be across the street from Dr. Smithe's Office.
Mother and I actually made this trip several times last summer, but this was the first day in quite a few months that the weather was warm enough to venture out. When we got across the street to about where the Lake County Banner office is now located, I could tell she was really enjoying the outing. Whomever is responsible for the downtown improvements sure deserves a big hand! The side walks and street crossings are very wheelchair-friendly. The occasional park benches along the way make it possible for "old chair pushers" to sit down and rest.
As we made our way past the Court House, Dr. Holifield's old office, First State Bank and Trust Company, and Markham's Drug Store, she was telling me how much she was enjoying the trip I was taking her on. Several times she actually made be lean down so she could give me a hug and tell me how wonderful it was to be going on this tour. I rolled quickly past Runt's Pool Hall before she could ask me: "Now what is in that place?" I would of course have told her: "Why I have no idea!!"
When we reached Council's Five and Dime, we crossed the street and headed over to the Service Station, where I reminded her that she had spent many mornings there waiting for her mail-carrying jalopy to have patches put on its bald tires. Next door is present-day Tally's Cafe where Sue, Dorothy, Janice, and Mother went most every Saturday for a BBQ sandwich just a few years ago.
It was at about this stage of the tour that I realized that my "smart phone" (I am not sure how I ever qualified to own a smart phone) has a feature that allows me to call someone and let them watch me talk to them. Until that day I did not appreciate the value in that, but I decided to call Marty and let her tag along on this excursion. By pushing mother's wheelchair with one hand I was able to point the phone toward Mother and at whatever exciting storefront we were visiting and allow Marty to witness the incredible lucid and animated reactions that Mother was having.
Mostly Marty would just listen and enjoy the moment, but occasionally I would have Marty speak to Mother and ask her questions. Mother would say: "I hear someone talking. Who is that?" To which I would respond: "That's my wife Marty. She lives in this little box. Can you see her?" Mother and Marty would have several minutes of conversation while I rested on a bench. I can't imagine what must have been going through Mother's mind as she looked at my phone and conversed with Marty; often asking her: "Now who are you?," the same question she usually asked me every time I walked into her living room.
So Marty spent about 20 minutes with us as we proceeded past Caldwell's Clothing Store, Tiptonville Drug Store, the old Post Office, Homra's Dry Goods, and eventually made it to the Strand Movie Theater. There we spent several minutes discussing the various movies she used to take me to. Next door is the new Veteran's Memorial Park. I showed Mother James Neville's "brick" with the dates of 1944-46 and my "brick" dated 1966-68, both of them on the walk in front of the Granite Memorial. She was quite impressed and even reached down to touch the bricks although I really could not tell if she understood the significance of the stones.
As we approached the fountain in the middle of the park she said she could see the water shooting up and then she looked up and asked about the flag poles. Marty is my witness to all this and has repeatedly said she wished she had somehow been able to tape all that she was seeing so others in the family could share the experience we were having. I'm pretty sure that this "smart" phone could probably have done that, but it would have required a "smart" user and none was available.
With my phone battery getting low and my muscle batteries beginning to weaken, I told Mother to say goodbye to my "wife in a box" and we headed off for home. As we crossed the street she looked up and said: "Is that the Court House over there?" I could not believe she was so aware of where we had been during the last 45 minutes or so. Mother made me bend down a couple of more times and told me that this was such a wonderful trip. You would have thought I had been giving her a tour of Paris, France!
When we arrived back at 114 LeDuke Street, puffed up the ramp, and settled back into her usual chair at the front window, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for taking Mother on our trip. However, as happy as I was to see her in such a lucid and animated state, I soon realized that I had created a "monster." Mother was wound-up like a top. She was not ready to rest and have an afternoon nap, as was the normal routine. Snacks, poetry reading, and an early supper did little to relax her and when she eventually was assisted into bed for the night she just lay there and talked instead of falling asleep.
Later, during the night she sat up on the side of the bed and asked: "Where am I?" as she often did. Sue got up and coaxed her back under the covers at least two times and twice I checked in on her and persuaded her to head back to dream land. About 4 AM Mother sat up on the side of the bed and then very uncharacteristically decided to take a walk into the living room. Sue saw her take about three steps before she fell. Since she did not appear to be injured, Sue and I helped her back into the bed and she was finally quiet enough to get several more hours of sleep.
The next day Mother seemed to be back to her normal calm self. She walked with assistance to her living room chair, ate three good meals during the day, and slept through the next couple of nights quite calmly. I returned to Atlanta and Marty and I enjoyed reminiscing about our trip along the sidewalks of downtown Tiptonville. A week later a hairline hip fracture was found that had not affected her ability to stand and put some weight on her legs, but had, however, created some internal bruising that eventually led her 99 year-old body to start shutting down.
Lyle Lankford has reminded me that the lord works in mysterious ways and that I should not be too hard on myself for the events of the last week or so. His mother passed away on the exact same day, May 6th, 13 years ago.
Like a light bulb burning extra bright before it fails, Mother had an incredibly lucid afternoon unlike any I had seen in quite a while. I believe that God was finally ready to call Catherine LeDuke home to her saintly seat beside Him. I am sure she is now in a far better state than she has been in for many years. Mother for many years repeated the bible verse of Philippians 4:11; "For I have learned, in what so ever state I am, therewith to be content." All of her family has heard her repeat those words throughout her life; words that we knew she truly believed in and lived by. I am so thankful that she can now be truly content.
But, it sure seems to me right now like "I done her in."