I thought I should post something today, maybe about who won on Dancing With the Stars last night or maybe whether Nancy Pelosi should endanger her position by choosing Jack Murtha as Majority Leader, or maybe about my plans for Thanksgiving or the weather in Fairhope or any of the little daily situations that stimulate activity on all blogs.
But the overriding factor in all my thoughts today is that my 92-year-old mother is fighting her last battle in the nursing home a few blocks from here. When I went for my daily visit yesterday she was sleeping and the head nurse said that she couldn't eat because her last stroke had made swallowing all but impossible. I could only hope that her sleep would be peaceful. Strong as she is, it is clear she is not likely to see another Christmas.
When I got home there was a call from a childhood friend, a woman my parents had wanted to adopt when her mother died at a young age from disease. She lives in Birmingham now, and is in her own battle for victory over ovarian cancer, but somehow she had heard of the second stroke Mama suffered on Monday, and she wanted to talk about her memories of the many good times we all had together. In times like this, anyone who can bring up happy memories is welcome to call to share them.
Maudetta Graham was the baby of the family born to Maude Melia Matthews Graham and John Richard Graham, born in 1914. The family lived in the town of Crichton, hard by (and now a part of) Mobile, and she grew up in poverty with a brilliant underachiever of a father and a doting mother. She learned to love from her mother Maude and her devoted aunt Etta, both of whom she was named for. She was to contract the double name into a shortened version which had an old-fashioned, genuine ring to it, much like herself. She worshipped her older brother, Theodore, known as "Doe," an entertainer and professional golfer. Her brother Claiborne, a year older than she and thought of as the smart one of the three children, died of spinal meningitis at the age of 15, a trauma she never really overcame.
She loved little children and dolls. For her 16th birthday, she received her last doll. Two years later she was married.
There was something innocent and childlike about Maudetta Timbes all her life. She was an expert at denial: Every child she loved was "the smartest" and everybody she knew was nice. A gifted and natural writer, she dabbled in poetry and short fiction. When we moved near the bay she began combing the beaches and collecting driftwood which she fashioned into furniture and lamps. She loved her gardens, always claiming that she didn't like the work but she loved the result. To this day she has a wonderful sense of humor and an almost accidental wit. Her three children have a way of gathering and trading wisecracks and jokes in order to keep her laughing. Even at the nursing home, debilitated by a stroke and enormous discomfort, she is able to laugh if we are able to come up with the right thing to say.
She has never handled harsh reality well. When bad things happened she was overwhelmed. After my father died she threw herself into creating a long and complex family history. Aided by a local family history club, she learned to research and spent several years compiling what will always be a family treasure, a 200-page volume of stories, charts and anecdotes of as many family members as she could find, on both sides of our family, going back as far as some brothers who provided a boat for the escape of Robert the Bruce in Scotland (and achieved the honor of a coat of arms with the phrase, "I Saved the King" at its base). She visited major libraries and browsed ancient cemeteries and church records for her information.
She may rally and get better, even now. She has done so several times before. But the end is near and there is only so much her strong old heart will be able to take. All of a sudden, this imminent departure eclipses everything else in my mind. It will come to an end soon.