East Texas is beautiful this time of year. It’s springtime. The grass is sprouting with such a vibrant shade of green you can almost hear it saying, “Hey! Look at me!” Many of the trees that bloom haven’t yet, so their bare twigs and branches of brown and beige give way to the ones that have. As you drive around town and through the beloved back roads you can let yourself be lifted up with wonder and awe when you see the occasional burst of white and purple in the woods that line your path. Or not. Today we did.
My phone rings. It’s my mom…she hardly ever calls me, I call her every day or go to her house to check on her. She’s on a mission…she wants something. I smile as I answer her call.
Mom: Can you take me to the beauty shop Friday? Susan can’t come get me.
Me: Of course! Unless I’m working. I haven’t heard from them about my start date. When I do, I’ll ask if I can start next Monday.
Mom: OK, good. Let me know as soon as you can…I guess I can cancel my appointment.
Me: (smiling with slight eye-roll) Will do! I’ll call you as soon as I find out.
The next day I contact my new employer and find out the details of my start date, which to my delight is next Tuesday. Plenty of time to take care of my mom before starting my new adventure with a whole new schedule, one that I’m sure will leave plenty of time and flexibility to be available when she needs me. Whew! I call her…
Mom: HELLO?!?! (She yells because she has lost most of her hearing.)
Me: Hey! I can take you to the beauty shop on Friday!
Mom: Oh, you can? Great. You need to take me to lunch with the girls, that’s at noon, then my beauty shop appointment is at 1:30 and you have to take me to the bank and to the dollar store to get my allergy medicine.
Me: (Noticing how “can you take me to the beauty shop” has turned into you have to do lots more so plan on the whole day) OK, great, I’d love to. What time do you want me to pick you up?
Mom: Susan said we are meeting for lunch at 12.
Me: (laughing) OK…what time do you want me to pick you up?
Me: OK, I’ll see you at 11.
I show up a little late, she’s been sitting by the door ready to go since about 10:30. We grab the step stool we keep by her door so she can get into the Jeep a little easier. She zooms out the door without her walker, needing no help to walk down the ramp while holding on to the handrail, and only needs to hold my hand to walk to the Jeep. She gets in easily and we are on our way. I’m already feeling that goose-bumpy feeling of being so blessed to have things work out so that I can spend the day taking care of her, laughing, talking about stuff, being quiet for part of the drive and not needing to fill the silence with words. We’re good. She’s good.
At a local Mexican food restaurant, one of their favorites, I sit with this marvelous group of women, feeling honored to have been invited to stay for their “girls’ lunch.” They look forward to this time together once a month. They’ve been friends since their school days and still love each other, laugh at each other, enjoy seeing each other. I’m sitting at the table with them, watching and listening, soaking up the wisdom and humor from these lovely steel magnolias. They are in their 80’s and as I sit with them, I see each of them as they were in high school. I grew up looking at their pictures in my mom’s yearbooks, hearing all of the stories of their growing up together. Lunch is done, time for the next stop.
It’s too early to go to her hair appointment so she says, “Let’s just drive around town,” so we do. We go down the main street of Marshall and around the square, talking about fun memories of when she worked at East Texas Sports Center and Joe Weisman (her mother worked there too). Still more time so we decide to ride out to the cemetery and have a look at the family plot. Can’t explain it…it’s just what you do here. Going to the cemetery while I was growing up was something we did every holiday, on my dad’s birthday, and on July 4th which is the anniversary of his death, and it was never a sad thing. We would take fresh flowers, throw away the previous bunch and be on our way.
We drive through the gate of the old cemetery and slowly meander along the grown-over path riddled with deep holes, that was once a paved road through the many graves with ornate and weathered headstones. Some have fallen over and broken. Others are sinking into the ground. We get to our small family plot and she says, “Oh Hallelujah!” I start laughing and ask her what she’s so happy about all of a sudden. She points out the large empty space next to my dad where she’ll be buried one day and says, “All this time I thought I was going to be buried between Raymond and Mother and could NOT imagine being between those two for eternity! I coulda sworn Mother was buried on the other side of my daddy, but I guess not. Well! I’ll be between the two men in the family…perfect! I feel so much better, glad we came out here today! Now let’s go get my hair done.” So we do.
We make it to the beauty shop in plenty of time and I’m happy to see friends from my childhood who are now business owners in our home town. Lovely, sweet, beautiful Toby is the owner, and takes such loving care of my mom as she not only makes her hair pretty, she carefully holds her hand as she moves from station to station, then hugs and kisses her with sincere adoration. We’ve known Toby since she was born as her mom is one of my mom’s dearest friends, one of the girls we just had lunch with. It all fits together and is one of the joys of growing up in a small town. I’d like to think there’s also a deeper joy that is unique to this small East Texas town.
One quick stop at the dollar store, then another at the grocery store for flowers. I like to make sure she has a vase of fresh flowers on her kitchen table because it’s something we have in common. I love having flowers in my home, wherever home is at any given time.
She’s tired, ready to get home and tucked in her recliner with a blanket and a good book. Her favorite way to spend her time these days.
As we drive home along the country roads through the Piney Woods of this small, historic East Texas town, my mom is looking out the window and expresses her joy in seeing the trees that are blooming as I mentioned earlier in this story. She names each one. The flowering pear tree, the white rosebud tree, the ornamental tulip tree…I ask her how she knows the names of these trees and she says, “Mama taught me.” She looks out the window again and speaks of the beauty of the trees everywhere.
There’s a calmness about her observations, almost wistful, yet she’s happy. There’s a twinkle in her eye as we point our more trees and I ask her to name them over and over again, sometimes saying, “There’s one! Oh, look at that one, it’s beautiful!”
It’s days like this when I am so blissfully happy and aware of how blessed I am to be here. I look over at her and the past disappears. I’m grateful that the need for family, deep love for others, and a sense of humor have been the strongest tools in my life’s tool box.
I’m grateful for today. You’d never know by looking at my mom and watching her get excited about the beauty of nature, that she has what they say is terminal cancer. She has a belly full of malignant tumors and her abdominal cavity is rapidly filling with fluid. It’s ok, we take care of that each month too, just like we take her to meet her girlfriends for lunch and get her hair done with Toby. We don’t talk about it. We don’t deny it, we just have more fun things to do and share. She has redefined what hospice care can look like for all of us. She has once again reminded me of something without even being aware of it.
If we can change our thoughts about what we are looking at, then what we are looking at will change.
Each day my intention is to see how life is changing me, making me better, helping me remember who I truly am, and then I do my best to live these changes.
Love always, T