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Monday, November 10, 2014

Watching Mama Die

This is the collection of messages I sent to people to serve as updates during the time my mother was in Hospice. I’m leaving them here as a place holder for something I might do later when the memories have smoothed a bit. While there was no surprise that her death approached, that knowledge did nothing to soften the blow. However, Xanax worked very well to get me through the back-to-back MRI and funeral.


Day 0. Granny snores in SECU Hospice, Room 14. Meanwhile, back on the ranch, is Buck. I'm on the glide path to an exceptionally strong Cuba Libre. Or two.


Day 1. No granny update tonight. I slept until noon. Followed by adult life maintenance. I'm visiting Sunday. The family is in love with Hospice. If you've been there, you know full well why. More tomorrow. Maybe. I really hope that all I hear and see tomorrow is a snoring old woman working her way slowly to the grave. That would make this world, my world, our world, a far better place.


Day 2. So she got a bath and a shampoo this morning before starting the usual fistfight. An Ativan and morphine cocktail help with that situation, and she was gently snoring, mouth agape, when I visited this afternoon. Yes, I took a picture knowing full well she would kick my ass for doing so. The nurse indicated that she didn't eat and didn't drink. I asked specifically. Dehydration will do the job soon unless something else changes. Buck spoke extensively regarding a garage door opener and a baseball game in St. Louis. En voz alto.


Day 3. Today's cocktail of Ativan and Benadryl seems to be right on the mark as indicated by gentle snoring and a Beanie Baby dog. Today marks the third day without water, and the typical person can go three to five days without water. You can do the math. However, the nurse encouraged caution with that estimation because of generational differences. The Greatest Generation took Normandy, and they are tougher than one might otherwise expect. To wit, another patient who went thirty days under much the same conditions. We will be here until she decides. Not one day sooner or later. Might as well get used to it. The nurse did say that Granny is weaker than earlier. The evidence was in the force of the punches she threw earlier today. That'd be my mama.


Day 4. No update.


Day 5. A quick trip after work found Granny with labored breathing and occasional attempts at sleep talking. The Ativan and Benadryl cocktail performed it's magic as usual. Sitting there with the TV droaning in the background, I recalled a moment on the gazebo from years ago. Lily had done something involving Josh as I almost recall, and Granny had something to say about it. I listened to her advice because she was right, but I also realized that the core problem was the mischievous look Lily had on her face. And it was the same look I'd seen on Granny's face countless times before. Lily came by it honestly.

So today marks five days with little to no water. The nurse said she got a few drops in Granny using a dropper. The blood pressure machine indicated something like 180/110 with a heart rate of 115. I suppose Granny had been dreaming of one Uncle Graham to get to such levels. It probably won't be long now.


Day 6. So Granny remains much the same, just a little lower. I did not visit today so that I could finish a report. Bro visited. I'll go late tomorrow when the traffic fades.

So I find myself thinking of a eulogy. I've made notes, and they're stored in Evernote, from which I'll write or speak. Who knows? Only a grave side service is planned. And probably the insufferable minister will officiate. My problem with him? He obviously does not know what "Bless you heart" means. After 400 repetitions, I could pinch his head, and no jury of my peers would even raise an eyebrow. Well except to wonder what took me so long.

As I waded through the statistics of a performance assessment, I found my mind wandering to one of the eulogy points. Not to worry, the report got finished. Many years ago, Granny and Buck made one of their pilgrimages to visit the children. We were sitting in the living room, and the matter of going to church emerged. There was no doubt even then regarding my feelings about church, probably because of my frequent and eloquent harrumphs as I actually listened to the back collared cheerleader spin a sow's ear from a silk purse.

And then Mama agreed with me regarding the extreme boredom of church. I was floored, but not like I was about to be. She then told us this: When we sing, I add "between the sheets" during the pauses.

I will forever date from that Sunday afternoon in Jamestown, though not like I'll date from a moment soon to come.

Six days now. No water. Little food. Who among us could do that? Even with the Ativan and morphine cocktail? That's one tough old Bird laying in that bed. I should be so strong.


Day 7. Lily and I met in Smithfield for a visit. Seven days with no water, but a huge volume of output nonetheless. The nurse and I marveled over the incongruity. Aside from that, she was Granny as usual. Sleeping. Snoring. Occasional mumbling.

One thing is for sure: She should be finally catching up on her sleep. Lily and I received our talent for sleeping honestly.

We reflected on the funeral, and I find myself remembering a story Granny told for truth. I never knew her to be a liar, and so I accept her word.

Granny went to the Middlesex Children's Home when she was three, directly after her mother died. She told the story of a well-dressed woman visiting just before the State Fair. The woman was there to give each child a silver dollar to spend at the fair. The coins had been passed out, and the children were making a raucous noise bouncing the money on the lunch room tables. The house mothers called for quiet, threatening to take the next dollar that bounced.

Granny then reported for the Gospel Truth thinking: I went into that Home with only my dignity, and I for damned sure will leave with it. And thereupon she bounced and lost her dollar.

That one so young would process so well troubles me. Regardless, she told the story for truth. Who am I to disagree? Besides, there's that mischievous look on that red headed girl to remember. I'm sure Mama never had trouble with authority, but I'm quite certain authority had a lot of trouble with Mama.

There's likely a gene link involved.


Day 8. Wiggly. Guttural speech. Snoring. Quiet. Repeat at differing intervals. Nothing in particular to report.

Well, there was the short spell of dry coughing. Followed by no breathing. Perfect quiet. I sat there looking, listening, and wondering if this is how it ends. A dry cough after eight days without water? I started the list of next activities, starting with letting the nurse know it was over. Then here comes the mother of all yawns followed by a series of smaller yawns.

And we return to wiggly. Guttural speech. Snoring. Quiet. Repeat at differing intervals. Nothing in particular to report.

I decided to get more coffee at that point. And some cheese nabs. Some church brought in chicken stew. By the looks of the people, I knew it'd be better than good stew.  However, I couldn't move past all the church labels. A can of chili beans back home would come with less baggage. I thanked them for the kind offer and stuck with the coffee.

Half way through the coffee, the nurse who checked us in stepped through the door. It was Ativan time. But it was not an injection. Just a squirt between the cheek and gum. We both smiled over the snuff reference.

The nurses speak to Mama as through she were processing information, and this time, just as earlier with my brother, she responded, and did so in a manner appropriate for the moment.

Now, random stuff, both good and bad, happens constantly, and we're quick to assign some manner of incorrect causality and meaning. This is something I know to be true. Far truer than most want to believe. Nonetheless, I felt that tug to believe she was still in there. No, I harbor no delusion in that regard, but it was interesting to feel that moment.

While texting some of these events with my brother, he mused as to what's keeping her alive. I suggested stubbornness. St. Peter probably already called, but she's still catching up on her beauty rest, and the Pearly Gates will just have to wait a little longer.


Day 9. A little wiggly. Guttural vocalizations. Knees bent. Hands up now and again. Some things don't change. Her feet appear purple in the dimmed light of early evening.

They got her to eat some yogurt and drink some juice. She had a bath and shampoo this afternoon.

Staff appear to be cleaning out the room across the hall. I suppose it'll be time to refresh this room all too soon.

As I sat in the chair attempting to find meaning in her vocalizations, and then realizing there was no meaning to be found, my mind drifted to a long time back. My brother and I were outfitting a few rooms in a house that was to be home to a group of at-risk girls.

The orphanage had changed its business model since Mama was there.

Bro and I were going to surprise Mama for Mother's Day. As a part of the unveiling, we were touring the old dining room, the one where Mama lost her silver dollar. On the walls were pictures of the children who had found a home there through all the years.

As we progressed through the years, the darkening of skin tone was readily apparent. Mama's countenance darkened also. Then in the quiet, she turned, touched a recent photo, and said: I guess they get tired and scared and hungry too.

No one spoke except Buck. He asked the assistant director to turn around and hold still. There in the still and quiet, Buck wrote the check to finish getting the house ready.


Day 10. No visit from me today. Life conspired against me. Stayed at work too late. Someone had a huge accident on 40 eastbound. And my hip ached like a son of as bitch. Perhaps tomorrow.

But there is a report from Samo:  A very figgity and mumbling Grannie today. They tried giving her mashed potatoes and a lil OJ, and she pushed it out of her mouth. She did swallow her medicine in applesauce.

This leaves me wanting mashed potatoes. Guess what is on the menu tomorrow.

And then there's the butter orchid. It belongs to a close friend, but it lives with me until she fetches it, and she offered it to Granny for the duration. I don't know. Yellow was Granny's fave color. But I'm pretty sure she can't process flowers now. Or anything else.

However, my one concern is that she does process external information, and she just can't communicate that. It's not that I feel guilty about having frank conversations with nurses in front of her. She'd expect no less from me. It's just that recurring dream I have where I cannot pass information to those around me.

But my dream state insecurities are of no importance here. What would it hurt to take the buttery orchid to her? Might she remember one of the weekly Saturday trips to Angier and the IGA, where she and I would often deviate with a side trip to the adjacent nursery? There, I'd often beg her for one more yellow rose, perhaps laced with a little red, and on those weeks where an extra permanent had been sold in her beauty shoppe, I was able to plant one more rose in the yard, none of which survive today, but that's a different story for a different day.

My first reason for wanting a lily and rose garden. The second reason doesn't quite fit here.

Let me quote Miss Scarlet (sorta): As God is my witness, that fucking butter orchid is so going to Smithfield tomorrow.


Day 11. Never tempt a Fate. I was so adamant last night. Big talker, I can be. Life threw up all over me today. I was about to stay home this evening after a long series of energy sucks, but a brief nap left me headed out at 6:30, fingers crossed regarding Raleigh traffic.

And I delivered the Butter Orchid. Note that is not the official name, but it ought to be. The plant was admired as I walked into the building and down the hall. I placed it on the rolling tray at the foot of her bed.

She was a little wiggly. The guttural vocalizations were going strong when I walked in. They continued off and on as she nodded in and out of sleep. We discussed shopping at the IGA and how the TV house flippers had more money than sense.

Her dinner was something from a blender. I don't know exactly what. However, I'm without doubt the woman would be far better off with a strong frozen boat drink. So would I.

Rum and tequila are widely known for their restorative powers.

It occurred to me that I should discuss food with the nurse. Mama would be all over a pickled pig's foot. She used to chow down on them regularly for her midnight snack when she worked second shift at Data General.

Don't tell anyone, but I like them too. Let's let that be our little secret.

She could also do with an English muffin, but not the kind you're thinking. She would cut leftover biscuits in half and toast them with butter for our breakfast. We thought that was fancy eating as we headed out to the fields. To this day, I cannot replicate her biscuit recipe that produced those yummy homebrew English muffins.

The best, though, would be a banana with peanut butter and mayo. Mama picked up the dish when she worked at the K&W in Raleigh. She told us it was what all the rich old ladies in town ate for breakfast. Cut the banana in half the long way. Pack peanut butter in the middle. Slather mayo on top. Chow down. I've eaten a million, and that probably explains a good many things.


Day 12. No substantive change. I walked in the room and started a soliloquy about her behavior at the Little Brown Jug last night. (That's a white trash bar over by the river. It's been there forever. The bar, not the river. Okay. The river too.) If she keeps it up with this wild living, I'll have to take out another note on the house to cover the accumulated bail. And then there's the bribe money for the judge and sheriff.

If she could hear, she would have thrown something at me. Little would please me more than to dodge a biscuit from her.

The look on the nurse's face was priceless. The numbers on the blood pressure machine suggested Granny heard me, but again, that's most likely a random convergence. If you hang with her a while, it becomes clear that the process of dementia has burned out the most of her brain involved with conscious thought and activity, leaving only a few randomly firing neurons to confuse us. About the only thing left is the part of her brain that controls autonomic activities.

And snoring.

The nurse also didn't think using the blender to make frozen boat drinks would pass review. That left me sad because it'd be about the one thing I'd waive the no feeding tube rule for. I also think this entire vigil would benefit from a temporarily depressed CNS.

So here we are, awaiting the inevitable. Sober as the day is long. Well, except for Granny. She had an Ativan cocktail for dessert, and no, there were no leftovers. I checked. My sciatica medication could use a little augmentation.

Meanwhile, Granny has a pedicure scheduled. Let me translate. A podiatrist is coming to trim her toenails. I do hope she paints them red afterwards. Why? In the orphanage, painted nails were forbidden. Sin, you know. So  Granny secretly painted her nails red and wore socks. And now you know why mine are purple with glitter.

Come to think of it, I'll paint her toes myself if I have to.


Day 13. We had an uptick. She ate maybe a cup of her pureed dinner served and feed to her by the facility director. (They were shorthanded today.) I noticed Granny was responding somewhat as the director spoke, and in time it appeared not to be random occurrences.

I asked the director if there would be any harm in giving Granny something like honey, and the answer was hell no. Give her anything you think she might like and be able to swallow.

I can work with that.

After dinner, I told Granny that I was stepping out to get her some dessert, and I went to the IGA for a pound of sugar, some grape jelly, some strawberry preserves, and some honey. When I returned, I got her a cup of black coffee.

Back in the room, I pulled the table and chair up to her bed and proceeded to show her all the stuff. I also told her the story of Josh in Harris Tweeter after his vaccinations where he acted on my promise of anything in the store he wanted.

Yes, he chose a box of sugar cubes.

I proceeded to spoon the preserves, jelly, honey, sugar, and coffee into her mouth. Sometimes followed by a little water. She was not as impressed by the sugar as Josh had been.

The CNA who came in for BP check was a touch concerned about jacking Granny up on sweets. I begged for forgiveness and spooned more in. I regaled the CNA with a couple of tales from Granny's storied youth, and received an offer to paint Granny's nails tomorrow, which I accepted with a smile and a thank you. CFM red, to be exact.

Note to CNA: Do not fuck with a gay boy feeding his dying mother.

More people came and went. The tales evolved. The evangelical chaplain came in, and we chatted a while. She asked if she could pray for Granny, and I told her that was fine. Granny might appreciate it, and I can live with it even if I don't swing that way.

After the prayer, I recounted the "between the sheets" story, and we all disturbed the delicate decorum of the Hospice facility with gales of foot stomping laughter.

I also slapped my knee.


Day 14. A fortnight. The doctor was off a bit. I was thinking on the drive home last night how I pity Her Maker, if indeed she has one, because when Granny meets said maker, that maker has a lot of explaining to do. Like Mr. T, I pity the fool. I just wish I could get it on video for YouTube.

Meanwhile, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. I was too wiped for a trip to Smithfield tonight. I'll go tomorrow if the creek don't rise. After grocery shopping. And maybe vacuuming. But those things really aren't high on my list. I'll take her an over-icinged cinnamon bun.

Probably some massage oil also. I'm thinking she needs an impromptu foot massage. Thank you, Mr. LaRiche, for the excellent idea that I should have had the foresight to think of all by my pathetic little self.  There will be some CFM red nail polish involved also. But no socks. She doesn't have to hide those red nails any more. Neither do I.

I'll translate CFM for the innocent as requested. Just remember. You asked.

Meanwhile, can I get a refrain of Shall We Gather At The River?

I also reflected on the many trips I made with Lily and Josh back in the day to visit Buck and Granny. Always on those trips, no matter what the weather, Buck, Josh, and I would walk down to the bridge to throw rocks in the river. It's important that boys throw rocks in rivers, but I digress, and you already knew that bit about boys, rocks, and rivers. I just know it.

When the weather was hot or cold or wet, Granny and Lily would stay in the house. They had secrets to share, and I know this because they both carried the identical mischievous looks on their faces. I'll never know what those secrets are, and my Y chromosome likely would preclude my understanding anyway, but I'm beyond happy that those two excessively rascally truth tellers had the opportunity to share.

Besides, the boys were satisfied with Granny's patented Rice Krispy Treats.


Day 15. The spirit was willing. The flesh was willing. The NC State Fair traffic was not willing. I had planned to leave at 5:00 PM. That didn't work out. I'll give it another go tomorrow at noon. God only knows how I'll get back in the house. Could it rain please?

I could have made the trip. An hour to negotiate the traffic, and I'd be out. Apparently, I inherited Granny's distaste for traffic. When I was home for the weekend from Chapel Hill, she'd get all beside herself in the middle of the afternoon. I needed to scoot lest I have a problem with the traffic. When she and Buck would visit to see the children, she'd get antsy towards 3 to get back home.

As the darkness descended, she chattered endlessly about going home. The Christian believers just knew she was talking about going to heaven. Clueless, they are. She simply wants to leave where she is and go to where she calls home, which I believe was an old two story clapboard house that no longer exists. The one she was born in.

Ages ago, she had a recurring dream about finding treasure buried by the chimney of that house. I bought a metal detector just for this purpose, and she and I went trespassing. No, we didn't care. I still don't.

Lo and behold, I detected metal by that chimney. We dug furiously. In time, we hit metal. It was a rusted plow point. We looked at each other and laughed aloud. How many times has god mocked us? Plus one that miserable count.

She will go home soon, whatever home is.


Day 16. Sound asleep with mouth and eyes open. Lightly raspy breathing. Wouldn't wake up for dinner. Granny always did have a talent for sleeping. Not that I should talk, what with having sacked in until 1:30 today.

The nurses and I concurred on an extension of the Sleeping Baby Rule.  Never wake a sleeping baby or a sleeping granny. It's the law. Not even to give them a spoonful of honey.

There's a church group offering dinner across the hall, but I'll leave them to their own devices. Besides, I doubt I'd look all that good going up in flames. Bro is fetching dinner anyway.

We sit. We wait. We get on with the living. Granny sleeps mostly. Brandenburg Concertos play in the background. They lend a color to this room that I find inviting. I just hope Granny is cool with them. She was not so gracious with Tink and Addie Coats' opera. Hollering music, she called it. Mostly because those two miscreants played the music loud enough to be heard clearly a quarter mile away.

Not to worry. The Concertos are playing softly in the background, just right to mask the ambient TV, conversation, and occasional prayer.


Day 17. After a two-day nap, she awoke and got a little agitated. I'm always a little grumpy when I awake too early, and it makes sense that she would be also. However, she has the luxury of that Ativan cocktail. I get a glass of soy milk.

This note is by report. I didn't visit today. I travel to California tomorrow. Return the next day. There's often a fair amount to do before a road trip, and this one is no exception. I do need to leave instructions regarding no excitement while I'm gone. Pass the word, if you will.

Granny never could wrap her head around all the travel. Going to California is overwhelming enough. Returning the next day removes any chance of comprehension. That can seem so quaint when I think about it. She never left the state except once to drive to New Orleans when a relative had a stroke until she married Buck. 

A trip to Raleigh was always a huge deal. She limited most of her driving to Benson, Smithfield, and Angier. Groceries and such. Ten to fifteen miles. Very rarely much farther except for the occasional vacation week to the mountains or the coast, and then, she didn't drive.

But when she married Buck, some of that changed. She would agree to the occasional Sunday drive to Greensboro. But those trips soon became nothing. They were first in line on the first day of the State Fair because it was still clean, she would say. She and Buck started taking bus trips. She detested the food in Massachusetts. They once spent an entire month touring what's left of the Wild West. Unbelievable.

Now, she lies dying a quarter mile from where she gave birth to me in a hospital with a doctor, hardly five miles from the farm where she was born with aunts serving as midwives, and not ten miles from the site of the orphanage she was reared in. I should go back to that house site with that metal detector. Maybe dig a little deeper this time. Of course, the million dollars I'd find would probably be Confederate. And molded.


Day 18. Not much has changed aside from the addition of oxygen. And a CD of gospel music that one Samantha thought appropriate. Remind me to pack ear plugs for my next visit.

A little lower on the glide path. A little less hydrated. A little lighter. Her dieting self from decades ago would be proud.

I'm in California. Headed back Wednesday night. Josh and I will cross paths in the air tomorrow evening. But he has far better evening plans than I.


Each year, the Children's Home had homecoming. Every. Freaking. Year. Hot. Packed church. No fan. Certainly no AC. Uncomfortable clothes. Endless business meeting after church. I would hide in the car where I could at least be horizontal.

Horrid with one exception. Parker's barbecue. Mr. Parker senior was reared in the Home with Granny, and he supplied endless mountains of his barbecue each year. The same heavenly Fruit of the Swine we dined on when Cleveland High School had an away game towards Rocky Mount.

But it's not the barbecue I'm thinking on right now. Nope. It's Mr. Parker and a moment. He and Granny were on the playground swings decades ago. (Granny described this very afternoon some twenty years ago during a Sunday visit.)

The moment? Her first kiss.


Day 19. Heart rate 140. Blood pressure low, and no, I don't know how low. Being in in California, I didn't visit. Instead, I relied on the reports of others. 

Working on three weeks in Hospice. Little food. Less water. I couldn't match this feat. Maybe it's the Ativan and Benadryl. Perhaps there are nutritional qualities there we should study. I could volunteer over my end-of-year vacation. Catch up on my sleep, don't you know?

Years ago, I interviewed for a computing job at UNCG. I won the job, but one thing stands out. Okay. Two things. One, I choked on a cracker at lunch, and sprayed the table and my future boss with chewed cracker. Yes, I can be fetching that way.

During the interview, the director told me about the people who worked there, including himself. He told me he suffered fools poorly. I smiled at the revelation, and filed it away for later.

Sitting here on this plane, it's easy to see the commonality between Granny and Ted Hildebrandt. She had little patience for pretentious men and she often remarked how she wished she could buy him for what he's worth, and sell him for what he thinks he's worth.

This especially applied to one Uncle Graham who apparently single handedly defeated the Nazis. So one Sunday afternoon, Granny and I went to see Addie Coats in the rest home. Graham was also visiting Addie, and he was recording one of her Brer Rabbit stories.

We sat down and chatted. The subject of my admission to Chapel Hill arose. Graham never liked Chapel Hill. He blamed it for making his first born son into a gay hippy artist dropout who lived in Greenwich Village.

Graham to Granny in polyphonic tones: I promise you he will come back different.

Granny to Graham in disemboweling tones: That's why we're sending him, Graham.

Graham suddenly realized he was late for a Gideon to-do, and he left. Quickly.

However in hindsight, I'm pretty sure Granny got a bit more different from me than she counted on that day.


Day 20. Heart rate 155. Blood pressure in double digits. Extremities cold. Very little time spent in whatever constitutes alert now. The nurse called Bro in the wee hours to let him know the end was near. That was nearly 24 hours ago. I'm pretty sure Granny has her own schedule to keep.

I think some biscuits would be good about now. As a wife and mother, Granny made biscuits two and three times a day. She had done so since she entered the orphanage. As she told the story, she stood on a box to reach the counter. A piece of me has trouble believing a three year old was making biscuits at 5 AM before the bigger children caught the school bus. However, it was common for children then to have adult jobs and to work as adults. Who knows?

Granny's recipe was different than Grandmother's, and we all liked Grandmother's biscuits better, especially when country ham was involved. Grandmother let the dough sit out a while before cooking. Granny did not. Grandmother used a biscuit cutter. Granny did not. Granny rolled the dough in her hands, and then flattened the ball of dough with her open hand leaving the impression of her fingers in the dough.

Every biscuit out of Granny's oven bore the imprint of three or four fingers. I do that now even with sugar cookies.

Granny also made cheese biscuits. She rolled a cube or two of cheddar cheese into the ball of dough, and then lightly flattened the ball on the biscuit pan. (We never called it a cookie pan.) Those biscuits were beyond good, even cold. Of course, I added butter and grape jelly.

Cheese wasn't the only thing Granny packed in her biscuits. Oh no. Think baked sweet potato. Many people recoil at the idea, and I always encouraged that thinking because it left extra biscuits for me. The sweet potato biscuits always needed more butter.

This note is making me hungry for a proper biscuit. Fortunately for my waist and cholesterol, I can't stand long enough to roll out a pan of proper biscuits.


Day 21. Three weeks to the day. In the time I've held this recliner down today, the only movement I've seen is the gasping breath that occurs about every three seconds. As I recall from the guidebook Hospice gave Buck, such breathing is associated with last few days of life.

I have no idea if she dreams or not at this point, but I hope she does. Like me, she often expressed a preference for her life in dreams compared to her real life. I extend that sentiment even to my occasional nightmares. My dreams, typically lucid, are far better than the usually paltry reality that stalks the waking hours.

Lucidity aside, I hope she does not dream of string beans. You might know them as green beans. Regarding the string bean and me, there is no love lost. I despise a green bean with the singular exception of the tempura-fried appetizer at McDaid's on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. (Was Porter's Bistro.)

It's not the taste I dislike. No. It's the heavy baggage. The summer my parents broke up we had an acre of garden by the house. A quarter of that acre was in green beans. With the separation, Granny's survival instinct kicked in. Every morning, she was picking green beans. She snapped them between curling hair in her salon. She canned then in the evening directly after dinner. Sometimes, Bro and I helped. More often, we did not.

The fruit of her labor was several hundred quarts of green beans, snapped in one-inch sections. We might be poor, but we would not be hungry. Every time I went home for years to follow, she would give me a couple of those jars. Every. Single. Time. For a while, I cooked and ate the beans. Quickly, though, I started dumping them. If I never see a green bean again, it will be too soon. Well, except for those lightly fried strips of heaven at McDaid's. I'm glad to see those many times again.


Day 22. Maybe 15 minutes past midnight. It's over. She died while I watched a Seinfeld rerun, ate some ice, and wondered about another Cuba Libre.

Several weeks back, someone talked Buck into taking her to revival. I don't know why Buck agreed, but he did. It was one of his best decisions. Ever. Besides, the minister was one of Granny's guards when she worked security at Data General. He called her "Miss Mildred."

It was a long sermon. You might know how Baptist ministers can be. If you do, I am so very sorry. The revival minister droned on. Clueless, those children can be. Finally Granny said en voz alto "Won't you sit down and shut up? I want to go home!" Therein, she made real the most fervent desire of every human who ever sat through a Baptist revival.

Going home has been a recurring theme in the past decade as the darkness enveloped her. A month ago, I sat in the kitchen sitting her while Buck went to the dentist. She had a running dialog looping through her head, and she vocalized most of it. She wanted to go home. Repeatedly. Even before her mind left her, she wanted people to be home when the sun went down, especially when that home was a shared dormitory room in Chapel Hill.

Every boy loves his mother without condition. Gay boys even more so. Why? Because our mothers love us when no one else will.

And now, she's gone. Has she gone home? Perhaps. Is she in a better place? Perhaps. Will we meet again when the roll is called up yonder? Perhaps. Mostly, I conceptualize death as lights out. Nothing more. I don't delude myself with notions of an afterlife to avoid the thought of never hearing my mother pray again.

But then a girl can dream...


Day 22. The chapter closes. Riverside Cemetery in Smithfield. Stones there predate The War. Epitaphs there often have meaning. Earlier graves have benches for the living to sit and rest. This City of the Dead is well worth this time spent there in reflection and solitude.

And it now has a new resident. A truth teller from the beginning. Someone will need to rise to fill that void, assuming only one can tell that much truth. Who will meet that challenge?

It was a grave side service only. There was no church service. And there was certainly no ghoulish open coffin for the world to pass by and gawk. And to remark on how natural she looked.

Now, if only the minister could have actually known a single iota of the woman about whom he spoke. The one in the box. A long tailed cat by a rocking chair might have caterwauled better. I was within a hair of interrupting for a point of personal privilege. And yes, Robert’s rules would have applied. Let me guaranteed that one point.

But I was a good boy. At the end, we piled yellow carnations on the casket. I had earlier offered to deliver a chapter from a Fannie Flagg novel about those flowers. They were to be roses, not carnations. Bro correctly argued that yellow was the important part as exemplified by his bathroom walls. I took the high road. Yellow roses. Or at least Peace Roses.

These will be a good pair of soliloquies then next time we have a beer on his porch.

From there, we drove to Raleigh for an early dinner at The Pit. Upscale barbecue, but with enough other stuff to keep everyone going. And banana pudding. We ate. We remembered. We told stories. Samantha wished we gathered more often. We parted with my brief benediction: It could be any one of us next. Live accordingly.