I don’t intend to diminish what I accomplished yesterday in any way. It was a wonderful moment in my life. I had originally intended to fly into Birmingham on Saturday, pick up my bib and timer, meet my walking buddy Marsha, have a nice dinner and hit the sack early to walk the next morning. I planned all along to catch an afternoon flight back to Fort Lauderdale.
Then I remembered that my mother-in-law would be less than two hours away and it wouldn’t take much to see her. I changed my flight plans and got to her assisted living facility at about 3:30 on Friday. The afternoon was beautiful and she was having a good day. She’s muttered during recent visits about the fact that Sherod’s truck is impossible for her to get into. I had a brand new Toyota Camry rental so we wrapped her up and I took her for a drive. We went to see a part of town where old buildings are getting renovated. Juanita was curious and wanted to check it out.
Then she wanted to drive by the house she and Papa Earl built when Sherod was in Junior High. As we drove over, she told me that she’s heard that there are 5 or 6 shoot-outs most nights in her old neighborhood. The beautiful trees and roses she and Papa Earl planted and tended to have all been cut down. The house looks forlorn. Then she wanted me to see where her mama lived so we drove a few block over. Juanita stopped and visited her mother just about every single day of her adult life. We talked about the fact that both of us think of our mothers daily–she told me there are still times she wants to reach for the phone and call her mom.
From there it seemed only natural to go on to the cemetery where Earl is buried, on the outskirts of town. She couldn’t walk to his grave but she wanted me to go look for his gravestone and wave when I was standing next to it. I found a discarded plastic flower between some tombs and put it on Earl’s grave. Juanita liked that. Then we stopped at the Live Oaks Cemetery, in front of the Derryberry plot where she could look at the large tombstone that marks the spot where her mother, sisters, and brother all rest. We went back to dinner and on our way home she told me the most delightful story I’ve ever heard her tell.
She needs a walker now, and is frail. Sometime in the past week, she was headed from the dining room back to her little efficiency apartment, walking side by side with Dr. M. She explained he had once been her surgeon. Then she told me he looked at her and said, “let’s race”. She assented and the race was on. At first she didn’t pick up the pace much and she let Dr M. get ahead of her for a good part of the way. But then, when they were getting really close to the finish line, she gave it her all, got past him and won fair and square. Juanita is not one I would ever describe as impish. But she had the most impish smile on her face imaginable. She’s a chess player, that one, a smart competitor who beat her surgeon at a race when she was 96 years old and dying of lung cancer.
Then there is Mrs. M., pictured above, trapped in a body that is so worn out it can barely stand. Mrs. M starts out for the dining room a good 15 to 20 minutes before each meal. The hallway is not long–I can certainly get from one end to the other in under a minute. But for Mrs. M, each and every step is a victory of epic proportions. Each requires that she stop and rest and regather the strength to take the next. She does it quietly, she walks with dignity. I have watched her any number of times and I have never seen her complain or look sour. She just gets on with her life which includes this journey she must repeat, over and over again.
I go to Cedar Hill frequently enough now to have a sense of connection with this community. I know it’s a bunch of old folks who each have their own foibles and eccentricities. Their own deep flaws and sins. I watch them lose ground, become more feeble; some have died or had to move to nursing homes. Perhaps I watch them so intently because I know now that all they are is a little further down the road. There, by God’s grace, will it be I.