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!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Heaven Is My Home...Mam-ma Polly Got Her Wings!

“Polly” Chandler, passed away Friday, March 8th, 2013, at her residence in Southridge Village Retirement Center, Heber Springs, Arkansas. Born November 5, 1912, in Little Red, Arkansas, as Willie Dove Thrasher, “Polly” was the eighth child of William Floyd and Mary Caroline (Cullum) Thrasher. When Willie Dove was a little girl, a man nick-named her “Polly,” and it stuck.

Polly lived in the area of Hiram and Cooter Neck much of her life. On December 18, 1932, she married Truman Paul Chandler. They were the parents of two sons… a baby who died at birth, and James Paul, who was born in 1936. Trup and Polly worked most of their lives in and around Heber Springs, with brief stints at factories and farms in Indiana and Texas in the 1940s and 1950s. In one of those factories, Polly helped to create munitions for the war. She also worked in a dress shop, a department store, and as a cook for farmhands in Texas.

Polly worked outside the home almost all of her life. Even in “retirement,” she served as a “Foster Grandparent”… first in the elementary school and then at the Community School of Cleburne County. She was a long-time member of the Heber Springs B&PW Club, the Extension Homemakers, and a charter member of the Heber Springs Folklore Society, where she was instrumental in raising the funds to build the facility that sits at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain. Polly was an extraordinarily good dancer!

Polly served as a chairside dental assistant to Dr. Joe N. Robbins for nearly 20 years. During that time, she was a bus driver for the Heber Springs Schools for approximately eleven years. Dozens of students can recall riding Polly’s bus… especially getting out and walking across the Swinging Bridge in its later years, because she felt it was unsafe for them to ride. She would drive across and meet them on the other end.

Polly was the oldest living member of the First Baptist Church of Heber Springs, having joined the local congregation in 1953. If anything defined Polly Chandler, it was her faith in God, which served her well through many challenges, including the loss of her first baby, a fire that claimed her home and all of its belongings in 1981, the death of Truman in 1984, and the loss of her grandson Tim in 1998, followed by James Paul’s death in 1999. Throughout all of these events and much more, Polly would say, “The LORD will take care of me”… and He did.

Anyone who knew Polly knew that she was an incredible cook, gardener, seamstress, and quilter. Polly was known far and wide for her peanut brittle, homemade rolls, and her sweet potato cobbler. She was recognized in the local paper just a few summers ago for growing incredibly large tomatoes in her backyard plot. At Southridge, she supervised the community garden and maintenance of the hanging baskets and flower beds. Polly made beautiful quilts… all stitched by hand from start to finish. She could arrange flowers on the fly and whip up a feast out of a few “dabs” of leftovers that looked like less than nothing.

Polly loved people and was happiest when surrounded by visitors to her home. Her conversations were peppered with “I tell you what!” , “I started to say…” and “My land a livin’s” galore… plus many other pearls of wisdom… some that cannot be repeated! Her first question to a new neighbor was usually, “Can you stay for dinner?” followed by “Where do you go to church?” Polly lived a rich life of service to God and others, and she will be remembered by many for her beautiful smile and her lovingkindness toward everyone she met.

In addition to her parents and nine siblings, Polly was preceded in death by her husband, Truman, her infant son J.H., her son James Paul, and her grandson, Timothy Paul Chandler. Polly is survived by her former daughter-in-law, Arline (Chandler) Smith and her husband, Lee; grand-daughters and sons… Debbie and Greg Robus, and Suzanne and Mike Linn, all of Heber Springs; her great-grand-daughter, Jasmine Gary and her husband, Jamison; and three great-grand-children… Timothy, Zola , and Nathan Gary, all of Heber Springs. Polly is also survived by her nephew, Ricky Whisnant, and his wife, Lori, of Heber Springs; nieces, Martha (Faulkner) Tucker, of Searcy, Arkansas, and Sue (Barnett) O’Dwyer, of Conway, Arkansas; and Amanda (Whisnant) Holland and her husband, Bradley, of Heber Springs, as well as many other dear relatives and friends.

Visitation will be held on Tuesday, March 12,, 2013 at 1:00 p.m. at the First Baptist Church Heber Springs. Funeral services will follow at 2:00 p.m., with Rev. J.R. DeBusk and Rev. Kathy DeBusk officiating. Pallbearers are Tim O’Dwyer, Kevin O’Dwyer, Chris O’Dwyer, BJ Stracener, Hal Caid, and Bill Baldwin. Honorary pallbearers are the staff at Southridge Village Retirement Center and the Cleburne County Hospice staff, Verlon Abram, J.R. Barnett, Joel Pilkington, and Tom Welborn. The family also wishes to offer special thanks to Dr. David Eades for his loving care of Polly in recent years.

Memorials may be made to the First Baptist Church 201 N. 4th St., Heber Springs, AR 72543, or to Cleburne County Hospice, 2319 Hwy 110 West Ste C, Heber Springs, AR 72543.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Safety in Numbers... and Paying it Forward

Yesterday, I attended a quarterly Family Council meeting at the ALF.  Dr. Kimberly Curseen, Medical Director of the geriatric palliative care program at the UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging was the speaker.  I'll be honest... I almost didn't go.  And as Dr. Curseen began to speak, I wondered why I was there.  It wasn't her fault.  But the discussion centered on Alzheimer's patients and their care... and dementia.   However, as Dr. Curseen began to explain the stages of Alzheimer's and dementia... and the various kinds of dementia... she hit on several things that resonated with me and my situation with Mam-ma Polly... and she gave me several insights.

The first thing that hit home with me was Dr. Curseen's comment that "one of the last things to go" in dementia patients is the "social graces"... the ability to smile, say "Hi!  How are you?"... or to shake a visitor's hand.  She said this is why patiens will light up when someone enters the room and speaks to them... and this is 100% Mam-ma Polly.  Later in the discussion, I said to the group, "If one more person tells me that Mam-ma 'still has that sweet smile,' I think I may scream."  Mam-ma will die with that sweet smile.  It's all she has left!  The administrator chimed in and agreed... "Even when Polly feels really bad... like today... she is still smiling."  Another family member attending the meeting asked, "Oh, is that the sweet little lady who is always peddling around in her wheelchair... the one with the white hair?"  That's my Mam-ma Polly!

Later, Dr. Curseen talked about how difficult it is to take Alzheimer's and dementia patients out of their routine.  She mentioned that once-frequented restaurants may now be too crowded, noisy and confusing for the patient.  She suggested that any visits to places outside of the facility be done at off times... with small groups... in quieter settings.  This really resonated, too.  Mam-ma did not do well at all the last few times we took her out to eat.  And the ALF administrator added that they always see a lot of behavioral problems with residents around the holidays... when families insist on taking them out of the facility and away from familiar surroundings.

This was another revelation for me... and I thanked the administrator for speaking out.  I told her that I truly grieved over the decision this Christmas NOT to take Mam-ma out and try to get her to our house on Christmas Eve.  While I knew in my head that we could not physically get her inside - she didn't even make it off the driveway last year! - I still felt guilty.  And then someone asked me, "How was it the last Christmas she was with you?"  "Terrible!" I replied.  "She slept most of the time or looked and acted miserable... and she was ready to go home before dark."  "So there's your answer," this person told me... and she was right.  And now I had reinforcement from the facility staff.  Mom and her husband ate lunch with Mam-ma on Christmas Day... I was there for the facility dinner earlier... and a day or so before Christmas.  And Mam-ma was fine... probably happier than the last Christmas she spent with us. 

When the doctor finished her discussion, the family members began to talk and share.  One lady, a retired nurse for the state hospital, told of her husband, who has Alzheimer's.  She said she should have seen the signs earlier, but she didn't... and maybe she didn't want to.  The doctor very lovingly reassured her that "We see the signs when we are ready.  You did nothing wrong.  When the time was right, you made the move."  This sweet lady spoke so lovingly of her husband and how she visits him each day... and how hard it has been.

Another lady spoke of her mother, who is apparently the QUEEN of guilt trips.  She told of visiting recently with her sister.  Her mother lay in bed repeating, "Oh, LORD, help me!  LORD, help me!"  Finally, the daughter said, "Mother, what do you need?  We're right here!  Why don't you let us help you?"  The mother replied, "Because I can trust HIM!"  We all had a laugh, but the woman tearfully said, "It's been four years now... when do I stop feeling guilty?  I can't even enjoy doing the things Mother used to do, because I feel so guilty that she can no longer do them."
I reminded this lady that we honor our loved ones when we do the things they can no longer do - or at least I believe we do.  I told her that I can make my grandmother's sugar cookies and homemade rolls, and in sharing them with others, I feel like I carry on her legacy.  Now, this woman's mother may not admit that to HER... but the administrators assured her that out of sight, this woman is adorable and pleasant - that she truly has mastered making her daughter feel guilty... and delights in doing so!  And this may never change.

What can change is this woman's attitude.  She can live in the world of her mother when she visits, and leave it at the door.  I know it is hard, but you can do it if you work at it.  We also all agreed that talking and sharing helps tremendously.  I pointed out that I believe if anything positive can come from our experiences, it is that we share them with others who are going through a similar situation, so that they know they are not alone.

In the end, the doctor told us that statistics show that the stress level of caregivers with a loved one still at home versus that of a caregiver who has admitted their loved one to a facility is markedly similar... no real difference.  I found that tremendously profound.  I don't think I am nearly as stressed now that Mam-ma is at the ALF... but if I add up all of the trips and meetings and phone calls and struggles over laundry and diapers and wipes and medications and falls... the wondering if/when the phone will ring... the not feeling comfortable to leave town because this might be "the day" that we are needed... I see that the stress is still here.  It's just packaged a little differently and distributed in spurts more than day-to-day (and sometimes hour-to-hour) like before.

So I came away from the meeting with a sense of community.  We are all in this boat together... and we have stories to tell... people to encourage... and at least one for each of us who desperately needs us to reassure him/her that they are still loved, valuable, and honored.  For the foreseeable future, this is my task.  I pray for the patience to see it through.

Meanwhile, I need to throw in a happy thought.  Timothy started HIPPY this week... the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program.  He LOVES it already, and he made quite an impression on the instructors at the elementary school when he went for his evaluation.  All three of our little ones are growing like weeds (and keeping the other end of the spectrum in perspective!).  Oh, LORD... give me strength!
Our little Zola... almost 2.
Nathan Daniel (7 months) with his Uncle Greg

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Some Days the Gap Seems Wider Than Others...

February 18... the phone rang around 2:30, and I recognized the number on Caller ID right away... the ALF.  The nurse told me that Mam-ma Polly had fallen and hit her head.  She had a nasty cut, and the nurse thought it needed stitches.  "Do you want me just to put her in my car and take her to the ER?" she asked.  I told her no... that I had signed papers saying that Mam-ma is not to go to the ER.  She said, "Then we need to call Hospice... and you can revoke those papers at any time."  I asked if I should come down to the facility, and she said, "It wouldn't hurt."

I was preparing for a workout, so I was not dressed.  I quickly pulled myself together and headed for the ALF.  I found Mam-ma with at least 3 facility staff members, sitting in her wheelchair beside her bed.  The workers animatedly began to tell me how she had "bled all over everything."  The bleeding had stopped, and she did indeed have a large cut above her right ear... just a little forward of the injury she received two Christmas Eve's ago on our driveway.  I saw blood on the carpeting and her oxygen compressor... but it did not seem excessive.

I told the staff that I realized it seemed like a lot of blood, but she bled so much more on our driveway - and she only had a small puncture wound from that.  The staff kept saying, "But she soaked an abdominal pad."  Yes... she soaked every rag in our house and the blood continued to run down the driveway.  This was not good... but I didn't see anything that I felt merited a trip to the ER.

We determined that an aide came in to ask Mam-ma if she wanted to attend a musical performance in the dining room.  Mam-ma was in bed at the time... napping.  She said she wanted to go to the performance, so the aide said, "I'll be right back to get you up and help you to the bathroom first."  Apparently, when the first note of music was played, Mam-ma helped herself up... and fell into her oxygen compressor.  The aide said when the first number stopped, she could hear Polly hollering... and she found her sitting in the floor with blood pouring.

The Hospice nurse came and cleaned the wound and Polly's hair - now read instead of it's beautiful snowy white.  The facility RN and two LPNs looked at her.  Neuro checks were ordered every 30 minutes for 24 hours.  Mam-ma basked in all of the attention.  The Hospice nurse lectured her sternly about not getting up without help.  Then she helped Mam-ma to the bathroom, and as they crossed the threshold, I heard the nurse yelling, "Wait!  Wait!"  Mam-ma had grabbed the rail beside the toilet and was already trying to help herself!  She will NOT listen - nor cooperate - and I am fully convinced that she knows perfectly well what she is doing.

I told everyone that when Mam-ma fell on our driveway, they did not suture the wound... they covered it with a gauze pad and wrapped her head like a turban.  It oozed and was ugly for quite a while, but it eventually healed.  A CT-scan was done, and she was given some pain medication she probably didn't really need - which made her woozy and very nauseous.  She spent two nights in the hospital... the first one vomiting every time they moved her.  For those reasons, I did NOT want to return to the ER.  Mam-ma seemed fine.  She was not complaining of anything.  The staff finally asked her enough times if she was in pain that she said "Yes," and they gave her one of her regular pain pills.  I told them, "If this controls things and she remains stable, this is the best option."  Some of them acted like I was Satan for not rushing to the ER, but I've quit caring about what anyone else things and now focus solely on what is best for Mam-ma Polly.  And this was best.

I stayed until Mam-ma was safely placed in the dining room for supper, and I left.  I told my husband later that I was totally exhausted... and I couldn't figure out why.  He said, "You spent two hours or more at Southridge!  That's exhausting."  And he is right.  It is... it was!

I knew fully well that my grandmother could have a more serious internal head injury - that she could even die in the night.  I was prepared for this.  After all, Mam-ma is 100+ years old and on Hospice... and she is living life on her terms.  I am done trying to add days/weeks/months/years to her life by artificial means... even medical ones.  I even wonder on some level if this stubbornness about getting up and around by herself is a self-conscious attempt on her part to speed things along.  We'll never know... Mam-ma couldn't tell me if I asked... and she might not even realize this herself.  I just know she is old and tired... and sick of living like this.

My mom visited Mam-ma the following day and could barely locate the wound, which had measured 1.25" long by .25" wide and seemed deep.  She came to see me afterward and said, "You definitely made the right call."  And indeed, she has not missed a beat since.  Cousins from Oklahoma visited on Friday, and she enjoyed their company and the chicken legs they brought her from KFC.  On Sunday, she could not even visit with me because she was so focused on her ham and turnip greens lunch... and Thursday, she was sitting under the hair dryer getting her weekly "do."

Meanwhile, I've been like a switchboard operator... trying to keep everything rolling along.  Mam-ma's laundry has been in a shambles of late, so I've spent the last two visits sorting her closet and drawers, looking for HER items and returning more than I can count that did not belong to her.  I've also been coordinating appointments for my niece with the elementary school to enroll Timothy in HIPPY, a program for preschoolers that helps the parents learn how to become more involved in the child's educational growth.

I've also acquired several children's car seats, cleaned them and washed their covers, so that my mom, niece and I all have our own equipment for transporting the children. This will make it easier for Mom to help out with caring for the children... and we won't have to be constantly shuffling car seats.  I feel like something of a rocket scientist now after removing all of the strapping and reinserting it in no less than six car seats in the last couple of months!  Once you get the hang of it, everything is pretty straightforward... but those first two or three were doozies!

In the midst of all of that, Timmy, Zola, my niece and I have battled some sort of upper respiratory bug... and we've had overnight visits from both of the two older children, which were a ton of fun.  I've also worked on finding a suitable Pre-K for Timothy for this coming August, and we've put out what seemed like almost-daily little "fires" of some sort between the youngsters and Mam-ma Polly.

In the "down time," we've tried to maintain a "normal" live... exercise, eat, sleep, handle our own personal business, and spend time together as a couple.  We even found time to attend our high school's local regional basketball tournament.  My husband's great-niece will be on the Senior Girls' team there next year, so we try to support her activities, as well.  It's been a very busy three weeks!

Shortly after Valentine's Day, my sister, niece and I attended a women's ministry luncheon with Mom at her church... the church in which we were reared.  Timothy and Zola spent this time in the nursery with three very attentive sitters who were thoroughly entertained.  Timmy returned the next day for Sunday school and "Wee Church."  When it was over, he did not want to leave... in fact, he cried!

While my husband and I now attend another church in town, I was delighted to see so many ladies I've known since I was a toddler.  It was great to see a mix of ages... from young mothers my niece's age to the ladies who are my grandmother's friends, and every age in between.  In my own church, we have created a "Middle Contemporary Praise and Worship" service in a separate building.  This service is held at 9:30 a.m. and is geared toward young families.  There are some grandparents who attend... and a few folks like my husband and me... but by and large, the age demographic is 40 and younger.

There are a lot of older church members who attend services at 8:30 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary that I never see any more.  And that saddens me.  One of my friend's moms, who is 88, said, "We never see children any more."  When all three services were held in our church sanctuary, we at least saw each other in passing as one service ended and another began.  I am not sure what the solution is to this dilemma, but I can say with certainty that there is definitely a generational gap in our church... and we are smack dab in the middle of the Sandwich Generation on this one!  If you have encountered this in your own church setting, I would be interested in hearing how you are addressing it.

I share this information to emphasize that I am feeling "sandwiched" on all sides... and in most every area of my life.  And there are plenty of challenges on any given day.  Whether we handle them well or not remains to be seen.  I don't have time to quit trying... and you probably don't either!

There are dozens of aspects to this I would not trade for the world.  We absolutely adore our great-niece and nephews.  We take incredible delight in watching them grow and hearing what they have to say.  Nothing beats a hug, snuggle or a blown kiss from our little ones.  We revel in watching our niece and her husband learn more each day about how to be good parents and to nurture and encourage these babies.  And we are blessed to see the children enjoy the privilege of a close interaction with their great-grandmother and her husband, whom they call "Granny and Pap-pa Lee."

How many children can say they knew their great-great-grandmother?  While we have not taken them to visit Mam-ma often in recent weeks, Timothy and Zola HAVE visited... and I believe Timmy, at least, will remember her.  My mother's paternal grandparents died when I was in 5th and 6th grade or so... I still remember them and visits to their farm.  I know that Timmy, Zola and Nathan will remember visiting their Granny's home... and that is priceless.

So I keep on playing "Switchboard Operator" - arranging for Mom to keep one child while I keep another or so as my niece attends appointments or runs errands... scheduling visits to Mam-ma Polly and making sure that everybody gets where they are supposed to on time.  This is my purpose for this season of my life... and I pray God continues to give me the strength and energy to bridge the gap!