Monday, November 25, 2013

Make Mine a "Club"... One Woman's Experience with the Sandwich Generation

Recently, Lauren e-mailed me to describe her experience with the Sandwich Generation.  She wrote...
    "I have had several servings of "club" sandwiches over the past 25 years. I had my  2 and 3-year-old and a 92 and 90-year-old in my home at the same time (my grandmother and her brother).  We had them for 6 years.  Plus, my mother down the street at 70. 

    Then I had my mother at 80 in my house and my husband's grandmother at 91.  Plus, my son boomeranged back with his 2-year-old son. We are empty nesters now... for a short time...anticipating the next set of elderly coming, probably next spring (his dad and step-mom). Even though I work full-time, I find myself depressed now that my youngest is gone."
Lauren, I would like to suggest that you are not so much depressed because your youngest left home... you are EXHAUSTED!  Like many in this situation, you have become so accustomed to functioning in chaos and stress that you feel lost without it.  I encourage you to get some rest during this respite... to take some time for Lauren... and to give yourself a break.  I, for one, am in awe of your generosity and your fortitude!

I do somewhat understand where you are coming from... when our little ones have stayed with us for even a 24-hour time frame, there is that period after they leave that we sort of wander around and feel like, "Now what?"  All of a sudden, the house is quiet... there is no one to watch over intently and no feeling of trepidation if you even rush to the bathroom for five minutes.  It takes a while to adjust to the "emptiness" of the house again.  And I'll admit... it sometimes leaves me feeling momentarily sad.

I have also found myself experiencing some mild depression lately that I believe is due in part to the passing of my grandmother last March.  I truly miss her. It's not that I have a whole lot of extra time on my hands that I don't know how to fill... that was never an issue - and other people and projects filled in that void quite quickly and completely.  It's the little things... like thinking, "Oh, I must tell Mam-ma about that"... or "I'll have to ask Mam-ma what she thinks"... or "Mam-ma will love that!" 

For me, sewing has probably been the hardest adjustment.  I love to sew... and Mam-ma taught me how when I was little.  In the last two years, I took everything I made to the Assisted Living Facility to show my Mam-ma.  She would run her fingers across every garment or project.  She would examine the stitches and grin... and gesture for others to have a look at my handiwork.  Even though she couldn't talk, I knew she was pleased... and proud.  And sometimes she would shake her head, and I knew she was wishing that SHE could still sew... but she took great delight in my projects as her progeny.

Now, I don't have anyone to share my completed garments with... not in the way that I shared them with my grandmother.  And this has been hard.  Before my Mam-ma died, a friend who had lost her grandmother (who happened to be Mam-ma's back-door neighbor) told me how sad she was... how much she missed her grandmother... how hard it had been for her.  I thought, "That won't be me.  Mam-ma is SO ready to go to heaven... and I have made my peace with this.  I will miss her, but it won't be so terribly hard."  Well ya know what?  It IS terribly hard some days!  And that's just a fact!

So give yourself a little slack, Lauren.  Take some time for yourself and your husband in these next few months between "sandwiches"...and God bless you - for your dedication and your perseverance!  Every "sandwich" is different... but my goodness, it sounds like you've had a whole deli all by yourself!

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If you would like to share YOUR story, please contact me using the contact button on the top left-hand side of this blog.  We're all in this together... and you are not alone!  Sharing your story might be just the help that someone else needs, so please let me hear from you!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Moving Someone into an ALF or Nursing Home...It's Just Not That Simple

A childhood friend of mine is moving her mother into the Assisted Living Facility (ALF) where my Mam-ma Polly lived.  She messaged me to ask how I labeled Mam-ma's clothes.  I responded:

"Use a Sharpie® marker for most things... even socks (I labeled the toes). They make one that is for laundry, but I've found that all Sharpies® are pretty laundry-proof. For darks, I got a white paint pen in the craft section at Wal-Mart that worked on fabrics. I tried to put her name on labels wherever possible... but on undies, etc., I usually did the waistband.

Remember to label all of her toiletries, too... shampoos, cosmetics, etc. It will save you trouble down the line when she says, "Someone stole so-and-so!" I even labeled Mam-ma's towels & linens... don't think I did her bed sheets, but I should have... we ended up with a whole bunch in the closet that were not ours. Label her laundry hamper... EVERYTHING!  I know this is mind-boggling."


Another family friend recently moved his brother's widow into a nursing home.  He lives in North Carolina... several states away from Arkansas.  Still, he must make all sorts of decisions, including what to do with his brother's home and all of the personal belongings.  Last summer, I assisted friends who were trying to decide how to dispose of their parents' belongings.  The family members had all gotten what they wanted, and the house needed to be sold... but what would they do with all of the furnishings and bric-a-brac?  In the end, I advised them to have an auction.  Making money was not the concern, and I pointed out that it would all be over with in a day... and everything would be hauled away.  No carrying leftovers from an estate sale to a thrift working hard for days/weeks to price every item and set up the sale.  Pay the auctioneer a percentage of the sales and let him/her do the work!  From all I saw and heard, this couple was pleasantly surprised with the end results.

A childhood friend of my brother's passed away last week, and we attended her funeral.  While visiting with a sister-in-law, she shared that she had lost her mother two months ago, and now she is trying to determine what to do with her 89-year-old father.  He has macular degeneration and cannot live alone.  As we talked, I realized that this woman is a member of the Sandwich Generation, also.  She has two nearly-grown children, but one just graduated from college, and the other is a university sophomore.  So while she figures out what to do with her dad, balances the daily challenges of a job and a marriage, she also must be a mom to her two children.  Sandwiches do indeed come in all sizes and shapes!

At the end of the day, none of this is easy.  One of my HOSPICE nurse friends asked me if I had noticed a big gap of extra time now that Mam-ma is gone.  My reply?  "Not really."  She nodded... "That's how it goes... things just seem to fill in."  And she's right!  Between my little ones, now ages 4, 2 and 1, and my 87-year-old mother-in-law, my own marriage, responsibilities and more, the time seems to fly!  All of this underscores the point that we do what we have to do when faced with the challenges of caring for our loved ones... regardless of their age.

So my friend will get everything labeled, and the other will figure out how to manage his sister-in-law and her estate long distance.  The classmate's wife will figure out what is best for her dad - and something will come along to make my life even busier again!  None of it is "simple" - but it's what we do!  And I guess that's what makes life interesting... and every  "sandwich" unique!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saying Good-bye to My Friend Mich

I met Mich Magness three years ago when I took Mam-ma Polly to a 101st birthday party for his aunt, Lois Taylor.  We clicked instantly, as Mich learned that I was there as Mam-ma's caregiver...and he was a gerontologist for the state of Oklahoma.  Mich "had my number" pretty quickly, and he gave me great advice about caregiving, the elderly, and the sandwich generation.  We talked all through lunch, and I will always remember that on the way home, Mam-ma said, "Well, I said to Lois...'He's met his match!  If he can out-talk HER, he's really done something!'" 

I will also remember that Mich asked me why I thought I had to be responsible for distant relatives (like our little great-nephew Timothy) and "every stray that comes along"!  He said this was typical of certain groups of people... nurses and teachers, to name a couple... that we were by nature a "nurturing personality," and we felt it was our duty to care for others. As a former teacher, I fit the pattern.

The following summer, we met again at the birthday party, and Mich began to follow this blog. He usually shared my posts from the blog on his Facebook page...and he almost always had something insightful, encouraging and/or comforting to say about them.
Mam-ma Polly and Grimm Magness
July 2010

I find it interesting that in such a short time I could come to feel such a strong friendship with someone I only met twice  yet "corresponded" with almost daily via Facebook.  I never met Mich's wife or sons... although I did meet his brother, and his father, Grimm Magness, who had grown up in Arkansas with my grandparents.

Mich and I shared a lot of the same views... socially, politically, and spiritually.  I know he loved God, his family, his community, the arts, and dogs.  He had the biggest heart.  And now, he is gone... another victim of Glioblastoma... the second friend I've lost to this disease in the span of three months - and the third person I know who has been diagnosed with GBS in the last year.  Until last July, I had never even heard of is supposed to be fairly rare.

Mich's last message to me was on June 24th, when he assured me that he was as okay as you can be when you know you are dying of a brain tumor, and he added, "Thanks for caring."  I did care... and I will miss his social commentaries...his sweet insights into aging and the elderly, and his ever-present wit and ability to tell us how he really felt - and get by with it!  I am sure I will re-read his advice (as documented in a post in July 2010 on this blog) quite often... and the comments he shared with me on Facebook, as well.

I will so miss Mich and his larger-than-life personality. Oklahoma - and the country at large - lost a good man tonight. The "gerontology world" lost a tremendous teacher and advocate.  And Heaven's table gained a delightful dinner guest.  I'm sure he, Mam-ma Polly and Mrs. Lois are already having a great conversation there.

God bless you, Mich...  we will never forget you. May you rest in the peaceful, loving arms of Jesus.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Older... and Wiser?

We've been celebrating quite a few birthdays lately.  My husband and two of our little ones had birthdays in May... they are now four and two - I won't share my handsome man's age!  My sister and my mother-in-law had birthdays in June, and we celebrated my birthday on July 4th with a family dinner at my mom's.  I know for certain she cooked ALL DAY in preparation... and we feasted like kings and queens at a festive table bedecked with red/white/blue table linens, candles, centerpieces and even candy favors at each place setting.  I told her I would have been totally satisfied with a sandwich supper... but she said that would never do!  Have I mentioned that cooking big family-style dinners is a Southern tradition in my family?!

We gathered for a group photo... our first since Christmas Eve.  I'm posting both so you can see how we have changed!

Christmas Eve, 2012

July 4th, 2013
My husband and I have started taking Timothy and Zola to church with us.  We pick them up, and then most Sundays we pick up Grandma "E".  While the children have Sunday school, we attend worship service... and then we all go to Burger King or McDonald's for lunch!  It seems to be a good fit for all of us, and Timothy and Zola entertain all of us royally.  They love their Grandma "E" and always are glad to see her.  We haven't tackled taking baby Nathan (almost one) along yet... wish us luck when that happens!

Ice cream at Burger King with Grandma "E"

Our little Nathan, almost one.
For the moment, things are going fairly smoothly in our neck of the woods.  My mom and her husband are taking Timothy on his first trip to Branson, Missouri in their motorhome.  They will attend KidsFest at Silver Dollar City, play in the pool at the resort where they park their rig, and attend a couple of shows.  Timothy is beyond excited... I hope Granny and Pap-pa Lee took their vitamins!  While they are away, Pap-pa Lee will turn 75... Granny is 74... and Timothy is 4 going on 14!  It should be interesting!

We are in the process of finding someone to remodel Grandma "E's" bathroom to make it more accessible for her.  Now age 87, she is having some issues with the bathtub, and the time has come to transition to a shower with a seat and a hand-held sprayer.  She seems to have accepted this.  Should she insist on taking a bath once in awhile, she will still have a tub in the guest bathroom that we hope can be outfitted with more grab bars to make it safer.  There are things that she still wants to do and is unwilling to relinquish (like puttering in her yard and garage and dog sitting), and for the most part, we are okay with this.  But they come with consequences... like stiff and sore joints, the risk of falls, and more.  We think we are prepared to deal with these possibilities, as well.

If I learned anything with Mam-ma Polly, it's that you have to pick and choose your battles.  I am trying to apply this theory to all age groups.  Some days are better than others.  I'm also trying to "let go and let God" - to practice what I preach.  I was not happy when my mom announced in May that she and Lee might be Workamping this summer in North Dakota... and then spending the fall in Kentucky... and we might not see them again until Christmas Eve.  But the North Dakota trip did not happen... and for the first time in YEARS, Mom was actually home for my birthday - and my sister's birthday - and we enjoyed wonderful family get-togethers for both.  (See what happens when you let God handle things?!)  I assume the fall trip is still a "go," and I am rolling with that!

My sweet husband is the best son - and uncle - in the world.  He is so patient with his mother.  Each Monday after he delivers Meals on Wheels for the local Senior Citizens Center, he picks up take-out somewhere and goes to his mother's and shares lunch with her.  He handles all of her yard work - mowing, trimming, fertilizing, weed control... and many other things around her house.  His older CPA-brother handles the finances, but my husband has offered to help his mother with her bill paying and small matters in between monthly visits from big brother.

On the "uncle" front, this man is truly hands-on.  He helps with everything from getting the children to church and back, playing in the park on a sunny day, watching one child while I bathe or change another, general playtime, meals, reading stories, bed-time kisses, and so much more.  He serves as a part-time "dad" to the children's parents... a mentor, financial advisor, and moral support.  It truly does take a village to see after all of these generations... and he's the greatest!

So here we are... many of us a year older... and hopefully a little bit wiser!  There are still new challenges - and I'm sure there will be setbacks - but we will weather them, with God's help.  I pray that things are well in your neck of the woods.  As always, I would love to hear your "Sandwich" stories.  Please send them to me if you are willing to share.  We can all learn a lot from each other.  What's your story?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Few New Ingredients... A Few New Sandwiches...

I answered the phone to hear a desperate plea from Beth, my friend since childhood… “Mom had a bad car accident at church yesterday and did a lot of damage.  She says the men of the church told her not to worry about it… that it was no big deal.  Why on earth would they tell her that?”  First of all, my friend’s name is not really Beth, but since I don’t want her to have to go in to the Witness Protection Program, I’m somewhat protecting her identity with a fake name.  So I won’t use her mom’s real name either.  Secondly, I told “Beth”… “In the first place… what happened?  And secondly, you don’t know that the men really said that to your mother.”

Beth began to relay that her mom pulled into her regular parking space at church on Sunday morning (I know the space- a “handicapped” parking area out front), and she apparently hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.  I’ve driven by the church and seen the damage, and for the life of me, I cannot begin to explain how the accident “went down” as it did… but “Lucy” managed to jump the curb, cross a sidewalk, hook a hard right, and plow into a metal railing that is (or was) secured in concrete.  This railing lines a retaining wall that adjoins a playground for the church daycare… one story below!  Probably four to six bars of the railing were mangled and literally pulled up out of the concrete.  But had they not stopped Lucy’s car, she would have plowed head first to the concrete floor below that once housed the church basement… and she could have been killed.  Had it been a weekday (and she does visit the church campus during the week), she could have hit and/or killed toddlers playing there.

I have not seen the car, but I understand that there is significant damage to her front grill.  As I told Beth, I suspect that men rushed to soothe the ruffled feathers of an 88-year-old woman in distress and lovingly told her, “Don’t worry about it… everything will be okay.”  But Lucy told Beth, “All I need to do is pay an extra $50 to the church, and those men will make the repairs.”  Beth made a trip to the church campus to survey the damage, and the office staff told her, “You need to call your insurance agent.”  The scary part is that less than an hour after the accident, my mother saw “Lucy” in the church restroom before morning service began, and Mom said she was “cool as a cucumber.”  Mom had no clue there had been any sort of accident – until I told her days later.

So Beth did call her mom’s insurance company, and she discovered that Lucy had cancelled everything except the minimal coverage our state requires for motorized vehicles.  In a panic, Beth called attorneys, the sheriff, and anyone else she could think of for advice.  She provided credit card information over the phone to increase her mother’s insurance coverage, and she talked to the collision repair guy and asked, once again, to be informed of any visits by her mother.  Lucy has had several “fender benders,” and she has asked the local collision repair shops NOT to tell her daughter and son-in-law that her car was repaired by them.  Of course, they have not complied, realizing the seriousness of this situation – and valuing their friendship with Beth and her husband.  In fact, Beth saw my husband last week at a local sub shop, and she said Lucy had taken the collision repair guy a box of donuts and asked him NOT to tell her kids about any more accidents.  Clearly, he did not honor her request!

Beth paid her mother a visit and suggested it was time to stop driving.  Lucy went ballistic.  In fact, she became quite angry and combative and all but ordered Beth from her home.  Beth forbade her mother to drive out of town (knowing it was only a verbal threat). Her mother continued to have a fit!  Probably a decade ago, Beth’s mother was diagnosed with “vascular dementia” - which mimics Alzheimer’s in many ways.  Beth was given a mountain of information about vascular dementia, including a checklist of common behaviors associated with this condition.  She said, “Mother checks everyone on the list now.”

Upon the advice of our local sheriff, Beth contacted the DMV, who referred her to a “Driver Control” office in a nearby city.  The person there recommended that Beth ask her mother’s physician to write a letter stating that Lucy was no longer physically capable of driving safely.  The doctor readily agreed.  He told Beth, “I do this all the time… and I’m glad to do it.”  Now, lest you think this doctor is a little too eager to get elderly drivers off the road, consider that his late grandfather practiced medicine until nearly his 96th birthday.  This doctor is very “senior friendly.”  But as he pointed out to Beth, “I have to think about what sort of drivers are on the road with my wife and four children.”  So he wrote the letter and sent it to driver control.

Fast forward a week or so, and Beth’s mother was supposed to play cards one evening with some other seniors.  However, she was unable to attend, because she was so upset over a letter she had received in the mail about her driving… and she was quite sure her kids had instigated it!   I talked to Beth the day after the card party and asked her about the letter… her mother had not mentioned it to her.  So Beth called and “played dumb,” and her mother said she had gotten “something about the insurance,” and never admitted that she had heard from Driver Control.  However, she had been summoned for a hearing… and that has subsequently taken place.  Apparently more information will be required from her doctor in order to determine whether or not she can continue driving.  Failure to attend any hearings or to comply in any way results in immediate suspension of one’s driver’s license.  Lucy is livid!

My friend Beth has her own “sandwich” going on… her second oldest son just returned home for the summer after his freshman year of college, and she has a nearly 16-year-old son who will be a high school sophomore this year.  She works close to fulltime in her husband’s business, in addition to shuffling the duties of caring for her family and her mother - and working in her church.  The day she called me, she had been to some sort of meeting three out of five nights that particular week.  She has begged her mother to move into an Assisted Living Facility – or even to move into a condo on the grounds of the Assisted Living Facility - so that she could avail herself of some of their services.  Her mother flatly refuses.

I am not sure how this is all going to be resolved.  Lucy adamantly maintains that she will not stop driving.  And I know it is a real problem.  Some of my grandparents and elderly relatives politely laid down their car keys… others gave up kicking and screaming.  A dear friend of mine who is probably in her late 70s is currently dealing with this dilemma with regard to her husband, who suffers from dementia and cancer.  This once-brilliant man can no longer remember where he went when he leaves home in the car… or who he saw while he was out.  He went for a haircut recently, and when he returned home, he could not tell her which barber had cut his hair.  Lately, the doctor has told this man he can no longer drive.  He commented to his wife, “If I can’t drive any more, then I will just shoot myself.”  I don’t know how she copes with the worry that she might indeed find him dead someday.

Someone said to me, “Just take the car keys or disable the car.”  My response in Lucy’s case was, “Do you know how many church deacons she would immediately phone to come fix her car?”  As for the woman whose husband refuses to stop driving...and to some degree, Lucy, as well… we are talking about people who are strong-willed, frequently belligerent and combative… and physically powerful when “fully engaged.”  It’s just not that simple.

So what is the answer?  In my opinion, there comes a time when we must realize that our loved ones are no longer the person we knew and loved… they are not responsible for their actions – nor capable of making wise decisions.  We must decide for them what is in their best interest – and the best interest of others, as well. Beth’s mother told a group of friends that none of her accidents until this last one were her fault.  That isn’t true… the collision repair man pointed out to her where she had damaged the underside of her bumpers by running OVER something – which Beth pointed out to her could have been a child that she hit and killed.  But Lucy’s comment to her friends prompted one of them to say, “We just all need to get together and tell that judge that you are a good driver.”  This person hasn’t a clue!  We, as caregivers and children – and responsible adults – must sometimes recognize that whatever decision we make is not going to set well with our loved one… and we must go ahead and do what makes sense.  For some, that means insisting they move to a facility – or get rid of the car.  It’s a tough call… but not much about the Sandwich Generation is easy!

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A few weeks ago, my husband and I traveled to Little Rock to see a movie and do some shopping.  We stopped at Sam’s on the way home.  My husband purchased some storage cabinets for the garage, so we required assistance in loading them into the car.  While Greg went to get our car, I stood with the cart outside the exit doors at Sam’s.  I observed a young woman - with a FULL basket that included a small toddler-as she loaded her purchases into a mini-van.  She opened the passenger door and handed a box with some fresh fruit and a cake or some sort of baked good to an elderly woman.  “Hold these so they don’t get smashed,” she said.  The next thing I knew, the woman was getting out of the van.  The girl gingerly said to her, “Please get back into the car.  I need you to hold your cake so it doesn’t get smashed.”
By now, she had loaded the toddler into the back seat, where I could hear screaming and crying.  She muttered, “He’ll be asleep soon,” as she continued loading this mountain of merchandise into the van – tucking things into every nook and cranny.  And did I mention it was incredibly hot and humid for late May in Arkansas?  The poor girl was sweating and out of breath.  I so wanted to help her, but I knew better than to offer and upset her “system.”
Finally, I asked… “Is that your grandmother?”  She nodded and said, “Yes.  My mother died two years ago, so now I try to do all I can for her.”  I told her that I understood completely.  “I’ve been right where you are with a grandmother in one seat and a baby in another,” I told her.  She replied, “Well, it wasn’t bad until I had these last two only 2 years apart.”  So she has at least three children… and I realized that TWO of them were in the back seats of that van!  Talk about a SANDWICH!  I wished her well as she slammed the last door shut, and I thanked God for my own little “sandwich,” such as it is!
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Grandma "E" with Nathan
Lest you think my sandwich has lost one of its slices of “bread” now that my grandmother has passed… it seems that my mother-in-law, whom Timothy and Zola call Grandma “E”,  is beginning to do a nice job of filling in the gap.  I’m not complaining.  I love my mother-in-law.  She is a jewel.  She will also be 87 in a few days… and in the last six months, she has begun to feel every single year of that age.  Things hurt that didn’t used to… she has no energy or “ambition” (one of her favorite words)… and her short-term memory is pretty well shot.  We have just completed a two-day yard sale, which was her version of “downsizing.”  My husband begged her not to overdo it.  As I said, we are already smack in the middle of Arkansas heat and humidity.  She decided to concentrate on “only cleaning the garage.”  I cannot begin to tell you what this means.

Grandma “E” spent two weeks working virtually every day in her garage, sorting, setting things out on tables, and rearranging.  She insisted she didn’t work that much, but neighbors reported differently… and we could see how tired she was when we would check in on her.  She found items she has not seen since she moved into this house in 1997… and some probably packed long before that and simply moved to the new abode.  She spent a good part of Friday searching – physically and mentally – for four small dolls “in blue boxes” – only to decide yesterday that she probably sold them many years ago and just doesn’t remember.  When the sale was over, I boxed up what I had left and we loaded it to take to the thrift store.  My mother-in-law plans to repack all of her “treasures” and “tuck it into the corners of the garage.”  My husband told me, “We are never, never, EVER having another garage sale… and neither is Mom!”  He has suggested to her that she have an auction… but she cannot bear to part with her treasures… so that will have to wait.

Meanwhile, Grandma “E” mentioned to me the other day that her knee was really hurting…her “bad knee.”  She had arthroscopic knee surgery several years ago, but the other knee now bothers her, and the orthopedist says it’s too far gone for anything but a replacement, which she doesn’t want to have done – and I don’t blame her!”  She said, “I accidentally knelt down on that bad knee to get something out of a cabinet, and I almost didn’t get back up.  It hurt SO badly.”  She went on to tell me that she has a hard time getting in and out of the bath tub, and that “I have to get on my hands and knees to get out of the tub now.” 

I repeated this to my husband, and the next day she demonstrated to him how she gets out of the tub.  I didn’t see this, but she actually puts some sort of piece of foam rubber into the tub to help with this somehow.  We talked at length about her tub situation.  My mother-in-law loves to bathe.  She said, “I like to fill the tub so full that the water comes up around my ears.  We talked about walk-in tubs.  But you have to get in, close the door, let the tub fill with water, then sit in the tub while the water drains out afterward.  That all sounds cold and uncomfortable to me, and she was not on board with doing this.

My husband conferred with his brothers, and they agreed that a walk-in shower is in order… the days of bathing are drawing to an end.  I told my husband, “There is a reason there are no bath tubs at the Assisted Living Facility and the senior condos!” We had lunch last week with Greg’s mother and one of his brothers and sisters-in-law, and we talked about contacting a local carpenter and plumber to redo her bathroom.  The brothers may also look into the possibility of placing additional hand rails in the spare bath tub, in case there comes a time that she INSISTS on having a bath.  While we were discussing all of this, my sister-in-law said something about the danger of using bath oils.  I had not realized that my mother-in-law uses those little “pearl” thingies that dissolve and put oil in your bath water.  She loves them!  OR… she uses Avon’s Skin-so-Soft!  Now I don’t know about you, but there is little to no hope of me getting out of the tub safely after using one of these items… it’s like trying to stand up in Crisco!  

So we insisted she stop using these products IMMEDIATELY and start moisturizing AFTER she gets out of the tub. Hopefully the new shower project will happen soon and alleviate this potential danger.  I’d bet you a dollar to a donut she is still using her bath beads, but I can’t prove it.  We were talking about people who lie yesterday, and Greg asked her, “Are you always truthful with me?”  She nodded and replied, “Yes, I never keep things from you… unless it’s something I don’t want you to know!”  And then she giggled.  Greg told me the other day that he thought she had not been honest with him about something – maybe how much she had worked in the garage in the heat – and I said, “You don’t think your mother would lie to you, do you?”  He replied, “Oh, I’m pretty sure she would never admit it… but yes, I’m quite sure she does if she doesn’t think the truth is what I want to hear!”  I just shook my head.

Timothy - now FOUR years old!
Last Sunday, we picked up my Grandma "E" for church… and then we picked up Timothy and Zola.  After church, we went to McDonald’s for lunch.  We ordered “Happy Meals” for the kids (and I got one, too), and Greg got chicken nuggets and fries to share with his mom.  She requested one of those coffee drinks with all the whipped cream on top.  We sat down to eat, and the kids had their meals and Cokes (a special Sunday treat), and Timothy said to Grandma “E”, “Mmmmm… I want one of THOSE!”  I explained that it was coffee, and he said, “I like coffee!”  He did not get any… and he was quite good about it.

Zola - now TWO years old!
But I had to laugh as we drove home. The children were sitting in their car seats, sleepy and ready for naps… and Grandma “E” was sitting in the front passenger seat, sleepy and ready for HER nap!

Yes, our “sandwich” continues… it just has a few new ingredients.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The "Wrinkle" of the Day...

After my grandmother died, I noticed that her online bank account (on which I am a signee) showed a balance of $120+, but an "available balance" of $0.  So I called the bank, and her account had been "frozen" because she is deceased. I assume that the Social Security office notified the bank of her demise.  The bank employee I spoke with told me that I would have to come in and show proof that I was the Power of Attorney, present a death certificate - "Or..." she said, "you can even bring a newspaper clipping of the obituary... just something to prove that she is deceased and you are designated to manage her account."  (How an obit from a newspaper clipping would prove that is beyond me!) 

So today, I took in a copy of the death certificate, and a copy of my Power of Attorney papers to the bank and presented it to one of the tellers.  The teller was very nice, but profusely apologetic as she explained that... "When your grandmother died, your rights as a signee disappeared.  Your Power of Attorney is no longer valid on this account.  Only the person she designated as the recipient of her funds upon her death can close the account."  Now, I'm thinking... that's probably my dad, and he is dead, too!  I asked... "Who is that?"  She told me the name... it was my mother.

The teller kept saying, "I'm so sorry!  I'm so sorry!  They don't tell you these things ahead of time.  There was no way you could have known.  I'm so sorry."  I thanked her for her empathy... I felt she was sincere and truly, I did appreciate her attitude.  Clearly her hands were tied.

So I went back to the car and drove to my mother's house and handed her the copy of the death certificate and told her that she would need to go to the bank and close the account.  She could not believe it, but she said she would do this, of course.

The teller wanted to know who I spoke to on the telephone when I got information about how to do this.  She especially wanted to know who I talked to when I told her the bit about bringing in a newspaper obituary.  For the life of me, I could not remember the girl's name...and I'm pretty sure she was located in another city, because of the way the phone seemed to "ring through" to an extension... probably in this bank's main branch.

The point in sharing this is to say that I am beyond being surprised at this point by bureaucracy and paperwork - in all aspects of our society.  We were talking less than $125, for goodness' sake!  But you might want to check the fine print on your senior's banking business - if you are managing the finances and make sure that you are not only a signee on the account... but that you are the designated recipient of any funds upon this person's death.  It would have made things simpler and saved at least one of us an extra trip!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Same Sandwich... Different "Bread!"

My grandmother is buried in a rural family cemetery.  A week or so ago, my husband took a motorcycle ride and stopped by the cemetery to check on things.  He observed that the once-beautiful floral sprays that were heaped atop Mam-ma's grave were now dried, brown and ugly.  So tonight, we drove out and gathered everything in garbage bags and cleaned up the graves of my grandparents, my dad and my brother.  I would say this is one of the last remaining tasks... but there seem to be "loose ends" to tie pretty much every week yet.  My grandmother's funeral was seven weeks ago today... maybe that's to be expected.

My mother (known as "Granny")
and Timothy - Christmas Eve 2012
I never really thought that I would discontinue this blog when Mam-ma was gone... and now I am sure of it.  As we pay the last bill and write the last thank-you to summarize her earthly life, our own mothers are both telling us that they "feel old."  My mother just celebrated her 74th birthday, which I consider "young."  However, she has several health issues, including COPD and diabetes... and she is beginning to develop some neuropathy in her hands and feet.  My husband's mother will be 87 in June, and in recent months she suffered a mini-stroke... and that just about correlates with her comment that " the last six months, I've suddenly felt old."
My husband's mother (known to the children as
"Granda E")... with Nathan - Christmas Eve 2012
So I don't know what turns the next stage of our journey will take.  But I have learned that we are a lot stronger than we think... and we'll be fine.  I also hope that some of you will share your own stories with me, so that I can demonstrate by example that we truly are not alone.  Two of our dearest friends have just placed his parents in an Assisted Living Facility, and now they are anticipating the arrival of their first grandchild in October.  Now there's a "sandwich" in the making! 
My niece and I had a yard sale this weekend, and a lady purchased a sleeper sofa from me, explaining that "we're downsizing."  As her husband and teenaged son placed the sofa on their trailer, she asked if I happened to have a twin bed for sale.  She said, "We've just moved my grandparents into our home.  My grandfather is in a hospital bed, and we want to keep them together.  There isn't room for more than a twin bed for my grandmother, so we are hoping to find one."  If only I could have manufactured one on the spot, I would have given it to her!  I felt an instant bond with this woman...I can't imagine what her "sandwich" must be like on any given day, but I know she faces big challenges!

So we will move and grow and change with the circumstances.  I figure we will be the "filling" in a sandwich of sorts for several years (hopefully).  We'll just have some variations in the "bread."  I know that we can handle this, with God's help, and the support of each other.  After all, we're all in this together at The Deli!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Homegoing Service for Mam-ma Polly

I told several cousins and out-of-town/state-friends that I would share a copy of the video made during Mam-ma Polly's funeral.  We had to break it up into several videos to get it to upload... and the whole thing is a total of about an hour, so grab a BIG cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea and get ready to celebrate the life of Mam-ma Polly.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013

Making Adjustments...

I looked at the clock tonight shortly before 9:00 and realized that two weeks ago, I was sitting beside my grandmother, watching her take the last breaths of her life and drift away from us forever.  Tonight, I was sitting beside my great-niece, Zola, watching her drift sweetly off to Dreamland... and hopefully a long night of restful slumber.  The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity... planning and preparing for the funeral, acknowledging those who helped with everything from the pre-service meal to the pastors and funeral directors, those who sent flowers and those who have generously given to charities in memory of my grandmother.

My grandmother's apartment had to be cleared and the few items we didn't donate to charity had to be sorted and stored.  There were dishes to return, forms to sign, and things to catch up on at home... like laundry and housekeeping that had been put off far too long.

During all of this, I assured Timothy and Zola that when I rested, they could come for a visit.  A few days ago, we had the one and only "warm" day of this week, and my husband and I set aside everything else to go grab the kids and spend an hour at a local park playground.  Timothy ran to me, arms open wide.  As I scooped him up and hugged him, he gently patted me and asked, "Aunt Debbie... have you rested?"  I told him yes, I have rested, and he can come soon for a visit.

So Zola is here tonight for HER visit... Timothy comes tomorrow for a night, and we will all go to church together on Sunday.  As I sat down to one of the first "real" suppers I've cooked in a while last night, I said to my husband, "I keep thinking I need to go to Southridge and check on Mam-ma."  Then I remember... she is no longer there.  I have no idea how long this will go on... when I will truly realize that things have changed.  I just know that tonight, I reminded myself that it's only been two weeks.  After almost 56 years of having my grandmother as a constant in my life - and the last eleven as her primary caregiver and guardian - it's bound to be an adjustment.

I find myself still experiencing moments of feeling "bleh" - not necessarily sad, but just dull and a little numb.  Toddlers are great for that!  They have a way of jerking you right out of your vacant reverie and back to reality!  And that is a good thing.  Timothy's mother allowed him to attend Mam-ma's funeral, and having him there was a great comfort to me.  Even though he is not quite four, he had a perspective on death that we could all take to heart.

During the visitation, Timothy played throughout the church sanctuary.  Mam-ma's casket sat atop a "gurney" type table on rollers.  As visitors paraded by to speak to me, Timothy came with arms up for me to hold him.  I scooped him up, and he looked down into the casket.  "Mam-ma's dead!" he exclaimed.  "We're gonna roll her up to heaven to be with Jesus... He's a really nice guy!"  Then he was off to run and play again.  At the cemetery, he sat in my lap and said, "We can't leave Mam-ma in that box very long."  Both pastors who officiated are dear family friends, and one of them gently explained to Timothy that Mam-ma is in heaven...she's not really in that box.  Honestly, I don't know what all she said to him, but he accepted it readily.  On the ride to the cemetery, Timothy had declared again that "Mam-ma is dead!"  My mom said, "Yes, she is in heaven... and we are glad."  Timmy replied, "I'm not glad!  Well, I'm a little glad.

We could learn a lot from a four-year-old.  I'm sure my grandmother would be greatly pleased by his comments and "take" on her passing.  She was so ready for heaven, so I am glad she is finally there. And I know how worried she was about her great-great-grandchildren.  So as I tucked Zola in tonight, I thought of how pleased Mam-ma would be to know that I was rocking her to sleep... and continuing her legacy of love and devotion to others - especially our family and this new generation of little ones.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Do You Sum Up 100 Years...a Eulogy for My Grandmother

When I was about six or seven, my grandmother sat me down on the rock ledge of the well house in the chicken yard one day and handed me a beautiful white hen. The chicken sat on my lap, warbling softly as I stroked her feathers. Then without any warning, Mam-ma grabbed that hen by the neck and began swinging her around violently. Soon the neck snapped, and the body of the hen ran round and round the chicken yard, wings flapping. I really had no idea what was happening, but that hen became dinner!

Not long ago, I told this story in front of Mam-ma, and we asked her WHY she did this – why she sprung such a thing on an innocent small child. Her explanation was that she thought she needed to teach me a lesson. In her mind, I needed to know how to wring a chicken’s neck… and she never was one to sugar-coat things. Some might even say she had a mean streak… and I would have to agree. She saw this as an opportunity to toughen up a little “city girl.” And while she didn’t necessarily toughen me, she gave me an experience I never forgot!

In his book, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, author Robert Fulghum presents a list of lessons learned in his first year of school. And as a former kindergarten teacher, I greatly appreciate these pearls of wisdom… things like take daily naps and eat cookies. But for all I learned in kindergarten, I learned even more from my grandmother
  • I learned how to cook and sew.
  • I learned how to catch fish – and how to fry them.
  • I learned how to grow a garden and can fruits and vegetables.
  • I learned how to paint a picture.
  • I learned how to feed others.
  • I learned how to cook teeth!
  • I learned how to be a “people person.”
  • I learned how to serve God.
Of course, there were a few lessons I didn’t learn so well. I kill more plants and flowers than I grow. I can NOT make peanut brittle… and I never did learn to wring a chicken’s neck.

Mam-ma Polly was known far and wide for her peanut brittle. Nearly a half inch thick, yet light and crispy, she had the touch for making candy that tasted like no other. And she NEVER pulled her candy. She let it spread on its own, unlike most other peanut brittle makers. She tried to teach me, my sister, Jasmine, and my cousin Natalie how to make peanut brittle one winter. She “instructed” while we did the work… we stirred the sugar syrup until it made the right “hair” on the end of our spoon, and then we added the peanuts and watched the candy cook them. We stirred the foamy scalding substance and added the baking soda. And just as the candy started to pour out of the pan onto a greased cookie sheet, I attempted to help it along. “NO! NO! NO! I’m gonna whip you! Don’t you dare do that!” Mam-ma screamed. Apparently it is complete sacrilege to touch the candy as it pours. What’s left in the pan is just left in the pan. And you do NOT help the candy spread on the cookie sheet. That part I did learn! I don’t know if any of the three of us can make peanut brittle, but we will all remember that day and the screams… and we’ll never help the candy out of the pan… ever again!

Mam-ma Polly and her County Extention
Service Home Economist - somewhere
around 1953 - in Mam-ma's root cellar
Anyone who knew Mam-ma Polly knew that she was “a mess.” My mother wrote a book about her Aunt Zula, and my mother-in-law said, “I think you should write a book about Polly.” Greg said, “You could call it Golly Polly!” I laughed and said, “No, I think it would need to be called Polly, Patchwork, and Peanut Brittle.” But in retrospect, I think maybe it should be titled I Tell You What! If you have spent any time at all around Polly, you know that she prefaced nearly everything she said with “I tell you what…” or maybe you have heard “Why, my land a livin’” as she imparted some words of wisdom. Or maybe you know some other of her many tried and true sayings that she loved to pepper into her conversation.

There is a lawyer who has a little infomercial on television, and in his ad, he says, “I’m gonna tell you a few things you don’t know, and some things you need to know!” Well, I’m going to tell you some things about my grandmother that you may know – and a few that I’m betting you might not know.

My first recollections of my grandmother are of her nimbly sewing the tiniest of wedding dresses, wool suits, evening gowns, and even underwear for our Barbie dolls – almost all done by hand or on a treadle sewing machine. I also remember catching her fill our red net Christmas stockings with fruit and nuts and hang them on either side of her fireplace. When I asked about it, she said, “Well, Santa is so busy – I’m just helping him out a little.”

I remember early mornings of John Chancellor on the Today Show… Huntley and Brinkley in the evenings, and gospel music on the big radio console that stood adjacent to a wall near the dining area. I remember stopping at Foust’s Department Store on the way home for staples like coffee, flour, sugar and Crisco. Everything else came out of the “deep freeze” or the cellar. My grandparents grew everything they could for our meals, and we feasted on canned and frozen garden vegetables and fruits – and black angus cattle raised in the pastures behind the house.

The "crew" at Young's Department Store
My grandmother worked in factories from Texas to Indiana. She worked at Young’s Department Store and the Glove Factory. She drove a school bus route for eleven years. She was a chairside dental assistant for eighteen years, and in her starched white “nurse’s uniform, white hose and shoes,” I thought she was as much a nurse as any RN at the hospital. She worked for Dr. Joe Robbins, and in those days, the dentist made his own dentures. I still can see the cabinet with the trays of molars and canines and the little table with a strong light and impressions set alongside the work-in-progress that would become someone’s dentures. Dr. Joe would “set” the teeth, and then Mam-ma would take them home in the afternoons to “cook” in a big pressure pot on her cookstove… sometimes alongside a pot of beans.

Mam-ma worked briefly for Dr. Leon Wilson – another dentist – as his receptionist, and she served as a “foster grandparent,” first at Heber Springs Elementary School, and then for several years at the Community School of Cleburne County.
I still recall the look on my grandmother’s face when she walked in the room to view my dad’s body after he died. Her knees buckled, and her companion, Deb Caviness, my cousin Eddie, and Greg scrambled to catch her so she wouldn’t sink to the floor. I still remember how blank and devastated she looked when I first saw her after the house she had inhabited since 1953 – and virtually all of her earthly possessions within it - burned to the ground on December 20, 1981.

I still hear the trepidation and sadness in her voice as she told me of losing her firstborn baby… being so sick and out of it from the drugs given during her delivery that she was not even able to attend his burial. She was a 20-year-old bride. She worried so when Jasmine was pregnant with Timmy, reminding me more than once that “you know, I lost my first baby.”

I still hear the bitterness in her voice as she spoke of her daddy, who abandoned his family when Mam-ma was about 12 to move to another state with another woman and start a new family. Mam-ma only saw him once ever again – when my daddy was about 10. She said Grandpa drove up in the yard and wanted to pretend nothing had ever happened. A few pictures were made of him and Daddy, but only one included my grandmother. As she would tell us in recent years, “We had a good life until Poppa left. Babe and I played with dolls and did all the things kids do. But when Poppa left, we had to go to the fields and go to work.” And work became her mantra for the rest of her life.

Mam-ma Polly loved nothing more than for people to sit and visit with her… and to make her the center of attention…and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that she never overcame her feelings of abandonment, even after almost 90 years. She had a way of cutting to the chase – telling you if you needed to lose a few pounds or “dry it up” – or offering marital advice. Once, she told a widow who had remarried, “Well, you already killed one husband, and now you’re workin’ on another!” And she told me often, in one way or another – and once outright – you don’t do enough for me… you could do more! She also told me that what was wrong with our churches is that we have gotten away from shaped notes, gospel singing and the King James version of the Bible.

Mam-ma Polly would be the first to tell you, “I’ve worked hard all my life” – and she did. But she would also be the first person on the scene if you needed her. I’ve seen her bake wedding cakes for brides who couldn’t afford to buy one – and then hand the bride a new nightgown from her own dresser on the way out the door with a quick, “Here, you’ll need this.” I’ve seen her bake countless cakes, pies, pans of hot rolls and more for those who were sick or grieving… or to celebrate even the most mundane of occasions. I’ve seen my grandmother ask month after month, year after year, “Did you send my tithe to the church?” In the years 2007-2009, she must have made close to 20 baby blankets and quilts for cousins, nieces, nephews, and her great-great-grandson, Timothy.

On her 95th birthday in 2007, I asked about 100 people who knew and loved Mam-ma Polly to write down their memories and send them to be added to a special “memory box.” To Mam-ma’s credit, dozens responded, and she treasured her memories for years afterward. I would like to read a few of them that capture the essence of who Mam-ma Polly was.

From Evelyn Robbins Irwin… “You have always been a part of our family. I’m glad you were always at Daddy’s office to hold my hand.”

From Nevin Robbins…”I want to share two memories with you. The first is about peanut brittle, of course. You probably taught every person in Cleburne County to judge the quality of peanut brittle against what you make. It is so good! I remember the first time I ever saw you make it. My father took me out to your farm. I was delighted to see your place. You explained to me that the trick to making good peanut brittle was having the right combination of ingredients, cooking time, and temperature… and WEATHER! If it all fit together just right, the candy would be great. Somehow you were able to fix it just right, and we have enjoyed the benefits for years.”

The second memory is really a collection of memories back at the old dental office. I learned very quickly who was really in charge. You were always able to keep the office and people in it on the right track. Sometimes it was your smile or laugh that eased the situation. Sometimes it was your saying, “Now, Dr. Joe…” It was always your joy in life that touched us all. For all these things, I love you and thank you. I am so glad you are a part of my life.

Polly and Deb, her companion for
7 years after my grandfather died.
He was like a second grandfather to us.
From Donald Payton… The first time Charlene and I visited the Chandlers in Heber Springs, we were planning a Saturday night activity and told Polly she was welcome to go with us, “but it probably won’t be over before 10:00.” She replied, “Nope, me and Deb are goin’ dancin’… and we’ll hardly be started by then.”

Many years ago, long before we knew Polly, I wrote a song, recorded by Porter Wagoner, which was entitled “Plantin’ Beans and Turnip Greens and Thinkin’ Dear of You.” Now, whenever I recall that song, I think of Polly. Invariably, when I speak with her over the phone, I ask if she’s had any beans and turnip greens lately, and she’ll say, “I had a mess of ‘em yesterday. Picked ‘em myself right out of the garden, and fixed ‘em with cornbread. They sure were good. I just wish you and Charlene were here to eat ‘em with me.”

From Charlene Payton…Nobody in this world makes peanut brittle that tastes half as good as Polly’s. One day we asked her how she breaks it into “eatable” pieces. Polly replied, “I put it in a sack, carry the sack to the back porch, and keep throwing it on the floor till it breaks into pieces!”

One day, several of us women, including Polly, were in a Branson theater awaiting the start of a show. Just as the houselights dimmed and the crowd hushed, Polly said, “Charlene, if something happens to Donald, you should start dating as soon as possible.”

From Rufo Martin… Polly was working at Young’s Department Store and helping a young lady that was trying on blue jeans. It seems the young lady left, and Polly went into the dressing room to pick up the 2 new pair of jeans she had tried on. There were no jeans in sight, so I confronted the young lady outside the store, and Polly went with her to the dressing room to have her remove the 2 new pair of blue jeans she had on under her old jeans.

From Natalie Fall Norton… My favorite baby gift was the quilt you made for Olivia. It is beautiful. I love knowing that it was made by someone who loved Olivia before she even made her grand entrance. At first, it hung on the wall, because I didn’t want her to get anything on it. Now, I cover her up with it when she takes a nap. Not one time have I covered her up that I didn’t thank God for you and what you have given our family. I’m not talking about gifts. I’m talking about love and a sense of what true family is all about.

From Carla Lou Huson… My grandmother, Nonnie, was not as good of a cook as Aunt Polly (and that is being kind). Nonnie was, however, competitive with Aunt Polly. Aunt Polly would come into town and bring us cookies, and Aunt Polly’s cookies were out-of-this-world delicious. The minute Nonnie saw the cookies from Aunt Polly, she would start baking. Nonnies cookies were barely edible. Regardless, Mother would make all of us choke them down so Nonnie wouldn’t get her feelings hurt. I got to where I actually dreaded seeing Aunt Polly coming with those heavenly cookies because I knew that Nonnie’s contribution was close at hand!

When I was in elementary school, I would ride the school bus with Timmy to Aunt Polly’s house. We would run amok on the farm, and Aunt Polly would cook all of our favorite foods. We would do whatever we wanted to do, and then our parents would come and get us before bedtime. Going out to the farm seemed so exotic… and riding the bus was a huge thrill, too. Of course, the best part was hanging out with Aunt Polly!

My number one memory of Aunt Polly is DUMPLINGS! She makes the best ones EVER! No one even comes close. Her cooking is the best part of me coming home to visit.

From Elwanda Bailey… I recall when you worked in the dental office and how neat you were in those white uniforms… makes me think also of my mom and how she starched and ironed her uniforms and wore the white shoes with white hose… neither of you would have ever thought of wearing the scrubs professional people wear today.

From Rick Whisnant… Remember when me and Jim Huson got caught smoking grapevines behind your house?

From Jasmine Linn Gary… Mom picked a flower on your lamp post. You thought it was me. You told me you would beat my “@$$” if I didn’t stop picking your flowers.

I showed you a bonnet on “Little House on the Prairie.” You made me one just like it, but mine was prettier because it was pink, orange and yellow.

From Mike Linn…You sewed the motorcycle on my stocking so I would feel like part of the family.

From Suzanne Chandler Linn… One year we had Thanksgiving dinner at the farm. That afternoon, you and us kids went for a walk in the woods. We picked rabbit tobacco, and when we got back to the house, we rolled it up in strips of a brown paper sack and smoked it!

I remember watching you make mince meat. You clamped the meat grinder to the kitchen counter, and I couldn’t believe all the stuff you ground up to put in it. It was a while after that before I would eat mince meat pie again! Now I love it!

Right after Pap-pa died, you and I were walking through the field to pick the peas, and you told me, “Honey, I learned a long time ago that you’ve got to walk through lots of piles of manure before you ever get to smell the roses.” (except she didn’t say manure!)

From Greg… I don’t think we’ve ever really acknowledged it out loud, but we both know that I adopted you as my substitute grandmother many years ago. The first time I had supper at your house (now over 40 years ago), I immediately became envious of Debbie, Suzanne, and Timmy. As you know, my family had moved hundreds of miles away from my grandparents when I was very young. The distance made it impossible for my grandparents to maintain the sort of relationship that you had with your grandchildren.

I realized just how much I missed being close to my grandparents the minute I stepped into your warm, cozy farm house one cold night for supper. And when I say warm, I mean WARM! Besides the wood stove, Trup had a fire in the fireplace and you were cooking up a storm in the kitchen, which generated even more heat.

I was just getting to know your family, so I was a little nervous. Trup was hard to read, but you made it clear that you’d be nice to any scoundrel that Debbie might drag to your table. Over time, I came to know that Trup had a sweet heart, too.

I could see immediately how important you were to Debbie, and so I wanted to make a good impression. When we all crammed in around the supper table, you made me feel right at home, and you introduced me to the best dessert ever invented… sweet potato pie!

Up to that time, I’d never cared much for sweet potatoes, so you might as well have been offering me a turnip pie! I probably appeared a little reluctant, but I was not about to insult Debbie’s grandmother, so I agreed to try it. I was even more apprehensive when you presented my pie in a bowl and with some sort of white gravy on top. When I took my first bite, I felt like everyone’s eyes were on me, so I was fully prepared to grin and bear it. Well, I was hooked… not just on sweet potato pie, but also on my new grandmother-to-be.

Besides being a great cook, you are a great teacher. I learned a lot of things at your table over the years… here are a few of my favorites…
  • Green beans and black-eyed peas are good when they’re cooked right.
  • Even turnip greens are good… when they’re cooked right!
  • Eating and laughing go together.
  • Some people put sugar on sweet corn.
  • Some people put tea in their sugar.
  • Some people say “I love you” with sugar cookies.
  • Life’s short and sugar’s cheap.
  • Hard work is its own reward… so long as your family appreciates it!
  • Love and faith will get you by.
  • God is good.
I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for me, but I’ll try...
  • Thank you for throwing me off the bus when I was 12. I deserved it.
  • Thank you for being nice to me, even when I didn’t deserve it.
  • Thank you for accepting me into your family.
  • Thank you for your example of hard work and perseverance.
  • Thank you for praying for me.
  • Thank you for loving me.
I love you too.

To mark Mam-ma’s 100th birthday, my mother posted a tribute to her on one of her blogs. It said in part…

Despite long working hours, Polly made time for church activities, membership in the County Home Demonstration Club, and the Business and Professional Women’s Club. She regularly hosted suppers for her family and many friends. Every Wednesday, her three grandchildren rode the school bus home with her and stayed for supper. Polly’s green thumb and her love for digging her hands into the soil turned out deep colored flowers and bountiful vegetables in her large garden. She spent summer nights canning and freezing her harvested food. Yet, she still made time to sew tailor-made garments for herself and her granddaughters. Her favorite pastime? Picking up a fishing pole and heading for a pond with her husband and two favorite friends.

To me, she is Polly—the mother who raised my first husband and cherished our three children. To my children, grandchild, and great-grandchildren, she is Mam-ma Polly—the matriarch of our family. She has lived and loved for a century; she's endured hardships and observed changes that boggle the imagination compared to her childhood. We celebrate her 100 years of living, her numerous accomplishments, and the impact she continues to have on so many lives.

Over the weekend, my good friend John Birdsong posted this tribute to Mam-ma Polly on Facebook… I want to share this on my own page because the life of this dear saint of God was so intertwined with mine. When I was very small we lived next door to her in my grandmother's house and later in Polly's rent house. She was sweet and kind and also very proper -- one of the most dignified and elegant ladies I knew as a child, though she might not have seen herself that way! I enjoyed knowing her son and her son's future wife Arline Chandler when they were dating and newly married, and Arline later became my piano teacher. Polly's grandchildren became some of the closest friends that I and my sisters had growing up.

In 1958 when I started first grade, Polly was bus driver for the small group of kids who lived east of the river. There were so few of us that at first she took us to school in her own car (a brand-new gold-colored 1959 Chevy with enormous fins) then later in a van until our route eventually qualified for a "real" school bus. It always amazed me to watch her grapple with the stick-shift and the big steering wheel on that bus, and it looked to me like it would have been a hard job for a strong man. She could back up that bus and turn it around as well as any bus driver in the district!

Though we moved across the field into our own house later on, we still considered Polly our neighbor. When telephone service came to our community it was on an eight-party line, and Polly sometimes gently reminded us kids that we needed to be respectful of the other folks on the line. I'm sure we sometimes drove her crazy making and receiving call after call in the afternoons and evenings, (our "ring" was an annoying "long and a short") but she was always kind when she reminded us that other people needed to use the line too.

She and my grandmother were good friends, though Grandma was about 18 years her senior, and I will always remember Polly coming to my side at the cemetery when we laid Grandma to rest. I was standing next to the grave as they lowered the casket into the ground, in some degree of distress, and Polly calmy and quietly, in that genteel Southern voice reminded me that Grandma was in a better place now and that everything would be all right.

So now Polly has gone to that better place. Her granddaughter, my good friend Debbie, has kept us apprised of Polly's condition over the past few years as she continued to enjoy life as best she could while her body became more frail. She will be missed by those who cared for her and stayed close to her. I had not seen her in a couple of years, but always enjoyed hearing about her on birthdays and special occasions as her family posted on Facebook. What a wonderful life she lived, and what a better world it is because of this sweet lady's life.

Yes, Mam-ma Polly was a mess… but she was our mess, and in large part, we are who we are today because of her influence. I may not be able to make peanut brittle, and my quilting stitches may not be as small and neat as hers, but I make a mean pan of hot rolls… and I like to imagine that I think of others more than myself most of the time. I know I love serving God – and serving others, in no small part because of her example. And I’ve even started saying “I tell you what” as I get older!

There will never be another Mam-ma Polly. I’m not sure the world – or heaven – is big enough to hold but one. But I know when I get to heaven, she will be there waiting for me. I just hope she isn’t holding a chicken!