Monday, March 19, 2012

I Am My Daddy's Little Girl

I am my daddy's little girl.  Fourteen years span the oldest brother's birth and mine; three brothers between us, the youngest male five years older than myself. Mama somehow partially herniated a disc in her neck during labor with Favorite Child.  If it had been entirely up to her, I'm not sure I would be here today, but Daddy wanted a daughter to go along with those four sons.  So here I am.

Daddy named me Mary Sharlene.  Mary, he said, because surely a girl couldn't go all wrong being named after the mother of Jesus.  It's a family name, too, the Mary McLeods in his genealogy too numerous to count.  Sharlene is a combination of Mama and Daddy's middle names:  Claudene + Sharp = Sharlene.

 Just like Mama was sure all her sons could cook, launder and iron clothes, clean, and sew on a button, Daddy made sure I was adept at most of the traditionally male tasks.  During the years of actively being his daughter I came to know how to look for earthworm castings to know where to dig for bait; measure, cut, clean and glue PVC pipe; put on traditional shingle roofing; staple ceiling tile; strip, stain, and paint furniture; hang, tape and float sheet rock; and plant and tend a garden.  Mama will tell you Daddy didn't know much about gardening when they were first married but he took to it quick.  Daddy's garden was always fine.

 It had been unusually warm weather this time of March, thirty years ago, and the garden was put in extra early although the last cool spell of February had us hustling to make newspaper caps for the seedlings - none were lost to frost.  Mama's careful saving of the almost-infinitely-useful newspaper assured the tender plants life.  Thirty years ago I had worked side by side with Daddy the entire Saturday in the garden, tying up the tomatoes, laying the corn by, and putting a little more fertilizer to the potatoes and hilling them up one last time.  Daddy and I had been on the outs with each other for a solid year or so, me having developed the almost-independent voice and opinion of the almost adult and almost independent.  We knew we loved each other, though,and that our alone-together time was memorable, whether running trot lines on the river or painting or working in the garden.

Daddy had asked for my help.  I was glad to that Saturday. The hot March sun exaggerated the contrast between the green hues of the living garden, the dark of the soil, the blue of the sky.  We laughed and worked and enjoyed the labor of our hands.  When the tiller was finally put away we smelled of sweat and two-stroke motor exhaust, granny beads in ever crook and crease of skin.

Mama had cooked a big supper.  I remember the first of the scratched new potatoes in milk gravy and cornbread.  There was always cornbread for Daddy (cornbread and buttermilk with a generous shake of black pepper was his favorite Sunday-night-after-church meal).  The meal was consumed, dishes washed,and bodies bathed.  I wanted to go to town loafing for a while.  Daddy was in his recliner.  "That was good work today, we'll be eating corn in another few weeks,"  he said, having given me permission to go juking.   I leaned over and gave him a kiss on his forehead.  "Have a good time tonight, Sugar.  I love you."  "I will, Daddy.  I love you too."

 I was home and in bed when Daddy died of a massive heart attack in his sleep a little after two that Sunday morning following our day together in the garden.

It's been thirty years, come March 22nd.  I am still my daddy's little girl.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paying It Back: I Love Mama

A mother's love.  My mother's love.  I know there are some awful mothers out there.   I've a friend who's biological laid her in the floor of her grandmother's home, stepped over her, and said "There she is if you want her -- I don't."   I can't imagine it but know it happens, my friend has no reason to lie.

I have a pretty good mother.  I would say a perfect mother but she does have a few minor but selective hoarding issues that tarnish the definition.  And she's awfully passive aggressive to everyone she loves and since she loves just about everybody (but any and all of our presidential candidates for the last 16 years) the behavior extends all the way to the bag boy at Piggly Wiggly too.  She's spoiled just a tad even though she's not started smelling yet and tends to be a bit sloppy with housework.  Her place-for-everything-and-everything-in-it's-place generally means wherever whatever gets laid out is where it stays before, during, or after use.  And she has a few opinions on the Scriptures that I can't find a precedence for anywhere but in her mind.  The fact she likes flavored water weak coffee and doesn't like dark chocolate still makes me wonder if I wasn't born to one of her sisters, even though older folks and Wade call me Perlena Junior,  that's a big rip in the cloak of perfection for me.

She's an excellent nurturer, even if she is a bad liar.  We call Brother #4 FC, Favorite Child.  It'll bring Mama to drop big ol' alligator tears when she hears us say something about it, her peely wally admonishment she- loves-us-all-the-same falling indifferently on the ears of those of us that aren't Favorite Child.  Favorite Child status gets awarded at different times to one of the five that's done something splendid to enrich her life so sometimes someone other than FC gets to BE favorite child.  But not often, the title being his by default.  That's okay with us, too.  She's the sole beneficiary of the unspoken game.

She paid for fifteen years of piano lessons for me.  Classical piano lessons - pricey - no playing by ear here.  She funded years and years of cleaning band uniform, munchies and boarding fees to contests, clinic after clinic, Lion's Band trip, Junior Miss Pageant dress (hhhhey, no haters, I did the pageant:  was awared the Congeniality Award, too);  wedding;  washing machine; sons' haircuts; and lets me use one of her vehicles 'cause I gave my own to one of The Fellows, his own transportation needs to/from/and around Mississippi State exceeding my own.  Mama continues to help by supplying eggs for cakes, memories for the blog, and sewing lessons  for Havard Lane Totes.

She's given so much for her fambly in time, effort, and love than I feel like I can ever repay.  Then again, being a mother isn't about getting repaid for anything done for the sake of your child.  I figure, though, it's time to pay it back in earnest, loving through action than in word.

I had started a timeline last Wednesday beginning with the ire felt at coming down here a full day ahead of necessary.  I kinda sorta wanted a day with Youngest Fellow + GE (Gur'friend Extraordinare) all to myself but Mama insisted I lead the way for her and FC down here.  **insert gripey face**  Thursday was spent getting all the presurgical testing done, the surgeon's final interview, and preadmittance to the hospital cleared up all the while dealing with FC plus Brother #2 in their we're-older-and-know-best-dammit capacities.  It's alright.  I know they are and do.  It's irksome, though, when you're 51 going on 85 and know a few things yourself.  Friday was tough, watching Mama being wheeled down the hall, feeling the incredible dichotomy of trusting the Almighty to do His job regardless of the outcome and uhhmmmmmm trusting the Almighty to do His job despite the outcome.  Surgery was delayed by a couple of hours and then voila!  was done.  ICU surround-sound-beeping and Mama unconcious with intubation and tongue hanging out, not to mention the tower and monitors and the intubation and the pressure cuffs on her legs constantly inflating and the chest drain and the central line and the intubation and canisters of drainage on every corner of the bed and floor, was disturbing.

She was a model of aortic-valve replacement surgery:  a text-book procedure.  Saturday morning she woke up breathing fine on her own, intubation went bye-bye, and she started barking orders talking.

She spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in the Intensive Care Unit - not because she needed to be there beyond Saturday evening (24 hours required?) but because a room wasn't available on the Cardiac Care Unit.

The chest drain was removed early Monday morning.  AAAaaack!  I didn't to stay to watch it and wished I hadn't've watched the removal of the central line Monday night.  The catheter had been removed Monday morning before coming down here to CCU.  She was tickled beyond pink (and her coloring is nice and pink, too, by the way) to get her big gurl panties on yesterday.  Forty, previously. and now twenty milligrams of furosemide have made sure she potties like a toddler. And she is a toddler again, the shuffling steps looking precariously balanced.

They've got my last good nerve in a lab here somewhere, furiously trying to clone it and get it back to me before leaving  tomorrow.  I sent it to them Monday shortly after FC left going back to work.   Without it I've been managing on love, trying to let Mama see not only how well I do love her, but also how well she taught me to love -- how well I was paying attention.

Mayree?  Well.  It's got to be love -- otherwise it'd be guilt and I don't do things like take her false teeth out and clean them and put them back after every meal and every night for guilt.  I can do things out of guilt.  I've plenty of training with that too, but holding a warm cloth to her head while she tries to ack up phlegm isn't guilt.  I have no explanation why it's easier to help a child than an adult with acking.  I think it's due to adults being able to interject noises with the action.  Children throw up, plainly, simply, and often explosively.  Adults add a blech and sliminess to it making it entirely different.  It's love, pure love, that keeps that cloth in place.

Carefully scratching around the edges of bandages with just enough touch to be touched without causing any redness is love.  Rubbing dry cracked feet with lotion and trimming those skanky nails is love.  Dressing the spot of eczema directly atop the natal cleft (google it, please) and covering it is love.

It's also love that holds her seemingly frail (it's not) hand and drags her grumbling, griping, and panting down the hallway another ten feet beyond the previous walk.  She's ahead of schedule on the walks.

 It's love that opens all the food and drink containers, adding just enough salt to make the bland food taste like food; that peels and slices the apple in the right thicknesses to make for late night snacking sans bottom teeth.  She's not anemic or dehydrated.

You could say I'm a devoted daughter and I'd have to argue with you.  I'm a daughter of a woman of the Deep South that was one of seven daughters, one of the youngest two, that was a careprovider for her mother also.  It's a genetic predisposition I'm glad to possess, knowing that love is better shown and returned here in the bathroom handing her toilet paper than in any melodic ode or well-crafted poem.  She's a valuable resource, a real Proverbs 31 woman;  I'm priveleged to call her blessed....

We're scheduled to go home tomorrow.  It's been a week of emotional extremes, biting the inside of my mouth to keep from opening it at times.  She's not always easy to tend to;  even the nurses recognize she's spoiled rotten.  She's adored here and they take exceptionally good care of her, the nursing staff taking the occupation to all time level highs.  I'm so glad we're here at Ochsner's.  I'll be even gladder when we're not here at Ochsner's.  Now if I can just break into Mother's for that brownie recipe before we leave I'll call it a successful trip all the way around!

Thank you all so much for your prayers during our preparation, surgery, and stay for the miniAVR.  Prayers work:  Mama's been the text-book example for the surgery and recovery and that's not for her age, either.  That's across any age group.  We're blessed and we know it.
MawMaw Havard with FC's daugher, Tiffany
Much love to you all.