My father lived to be ninety-four years old. During those last years, his short-term memory eroded. While he could still do math, remember names and directions, he often couldn’t think of what to say in ordinary conversation. When he did think of something, with no short-term memory, he repeated the question or statement many times.
Something like, “Did I tell you the story about getting that grandfather clock from the old post office in Cold Water, Mississippi?” -- times ten. Other times simple requests such as, “Have you seen my wallet?” came over and over. Sadly, the last few months he asked, “Is Helen really gone?” That would have been a nice one for him to forget, perhaps.
It must’ve been isolating not being able to pull information forward and interact with others. As I’m over fifty now, I already struggle to locate the appropriate word or response, at times. I can only imagine how bad I will be if I make it another forty years!
There are two repetitive vocalizations I really miss about my father, though. One was, when he asked how old he was and found out it was in the ninety-year range, he always said, “The good Lord’s been good to me, letting me live this long.” The other thing he repeated was singing hymns. Well, mostly one hymn in particular, “How Great Thou Art.”
In the car, on the way to the doctor’s office, he’d sort of randomly ask, “Do y’all want to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ with me?” What can you say to that, but yes? It was so sweet. We sang the song at his request in the car, in his room, and he even sang the hymn to at least one of his doctors.
No one in the family who was around my father those last years will ever hear “How Great Thou Art” and not think of him. Of course, we sang it at Daddy’s funeral. The thing is when I’m old-er, and my mind starts to go, I hope I remember to sing hymns. Or even just one hymn. Like my father.
Do you have a favorite hymn?
No mother is perfect. The Good Lord knows I’m not, but I believe my mother gave it her best shot.
Growing up in a small mill town of Cordova, Alabama, with very little money and no father in her home for the majority of her life, she still claimed to have a happy childhood.
Maybe it’s a generational thing, but she kept her emotions locked up tight when she raised my sisters and me. At times, that created some distance and a lack of understanding, especially with my generation that can dump out every passing feeling. But the things she did well, she endeavored to accomplish with gusto and left a legacy of love in the process.
The lady could cook, and she did every single night until Alzheimer’s made it dangerous. Because of her year of nursing school during World War II, she could make up a bed like nobody’s business, and I still miss her when I’m sick. Okay, I still cry for her when I’m really sick. And grandchildren—boy did she love them. She’d sit on the floor and play, even in her eighties, making each one feel special.
All these memories comfort me on Mother’s Day. But most especially flowers. My mother loved to plant. She could put a dead-looking stick in the ground and add her special root tonic, and it’d sprout leaves. All around my yard I see the evidence. Around the entire South in the spring, I see her as I recall names of flowers she raised. From the early daffodils and red bud trees through the chrysanthemums and camellias, they all remind me of her sitting on a little garden stool also well into her eighties. She said working the ground brought her close to the Lord, gave her time to think and pray. Perhaps that’s the biggest seed she planted—the dedication to the Lord and the determination to keep trying.
I don’t have a green thumb, and I can’t make a bed look good to save my life. The debate still rages on my cooking. But I hope to plant a seed of love in my children and grandchildren with the things I do well, whatever they are. Like my mother.
What legacy did your mother leave you?
I’m veering off my usual Southern travel blogging, if y’all don’t mind. This is the time of year that my parents come to mind. Their birthdays were one day apart in February, just before Valentine’s Day.
Three years ago, on leap year, my mother passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s. This began a season of mourning for our family as my mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away around thirty days later, to be followed by my father the next month. During those sixty days, we lived in a whirlwind of planning three funerals and visitations, wrote thank you notes for the flowers and condolences offered, and sorted through financial paperwork.
And then there was stuff. A lot of stuff. It’s hard to know what to do with all the things people treasured and saved for years. Especially the generations that came up in the times when life was bit tougher financially. They saved one thing to fix another or in case they might need it. Or they saved stuff for no apparent reason at all.
As the survivor, it’s hard to get rid of some of the stupidest things. A candle stick. A picture frame. A junky table that you know must have come from a garage sale.
Around this time, I began my obsession with chalk paint.
I admit it.
Supposedly, chalk paint covers over any finish. This claim is mostly true, but some colors are definitely harder to work with than others. That said, I began my experiments with painting old stuff I wanted to keep—if only it looked a bit better.
Nostalgia drove me, I guess. And I’m not even crafty or very nostalgic! So, I thought I'd post pics of refurbished things, as well as old photos of my parents and my mother-in-law. Perhaps the Lord’s made them young and new and even more beautiful in Heaven. That’s how I picture them, anyway.
Under the Southern Sun
Janet W. Ferguson