My mother lay curled up in the bed watching TV, or maybe like me—the TV is watching her. As the sounds of the church program drone on in the background, my mother looks to be deep in thought. I look at her fragile form cocooned in the center of the bed—the only place she wants to be—and my mind takes me back to one of my favorite stories that she used to tell.
Coming home from work on the second shift one night, she boarded the front of a standing-room only bus. Holding on to the pole with one hand and her purse secured in the fold of her other arm, she felt something move against her and turned to look. A man had his hand in her purse. Reminiscent of a scene taken right out of Langston Hughes "Thank You Ma'am" when Roger tried to snatch Luella Bates Washington Jones purse, the tables turned on my mother's would-be-thief.
As the words, “You roguish motherfucker!” rolled off her tongue, my mother drew back and left-hand slapped him. “If you steal from me, you’ll steal from your momma.” SLAP! “It’s a hundred passengers on this bus. Why you single me out?” SLAP! “Cuz I’m small?” My mother said the people on the bus watched in stunned silence, but parted like the Red Sea as she slapped the man from the front of the bus to the back. The bus stopped. The driver opened the door, the guy exited, and my mother went on home.
Like Schroeder’s blanket, this story comforts me as I adjust to this period of change for her and me. The mother I remember is the one from the bus: strong-willed, resilient, and tenacious and with a tongue that cut like a fine blade. I’m trying to get used to this “little old lady” lying in the bed, and it’s a struggle for me. Like many children, I believed my mother to be Invincible and Immortal. But the reality is that she is neither.
A solid-size 12-14, I bought my mother some pants recently and I was shocked when the 6 was too big. I know she had lost weight, but there was no way to know how much because she wears pajamas all the time. Because my mother was still going to the farm to pick fresh fruits and vegetables into her early 70s, I was not prepared for that trip down the one-way street to old age in her late 70s. The signs have been visible: rails in the bathroom, the portable toilet, putting her meds in the weekly container every Sunday morning so she knows what to take and when, but I rally against her aging and I am losing.
My mother says she’s tired. She says she has lived her life. And my feelings vacillate with this notion of her believing that her life is done. Sometimes I’m angry, other times, I’m sad, but always I am thankful for her 80 plus years on the planet even though I want her to live to be 100. The adult in me knows that her declining health is taking its toll; the child in me wants her to be the fighter that she used to be. But who am I to dictate how she lives her last days? My mother has always been one tough cookie, and maybe, just maybe she is tired of fighting.
My mother has made her peace with God and her time on this earth. And I am working on making peace with my mother.