Saturday, March 24, 2007

I got a call one night this week from an old friend who called to express her sympathy for Mom's death. Flora is 86 years old and is one of the most vivacious and friendly people of Plantersville. She's lived in Jackson for over 50 years, but has maintained her ties to our hometown. She's related to a lot of the folks there through her Harris family, which includes the father of my children and our two sons.

She told me she no longer drives because of her macular degeneration, and how hard it was to give it up. She had visited with Mother, she said, when she lived at the Admiral. She claimed that Mother knew her, which surprised me, even played the organ for her. Mother had also told her that she wasn't driving "as much" since she came to Jackson because there was too much traffic, but that her car was parked in the garage in case she wanted to go to Cathy's house.

I didn't bother to refute Mother's inaccuracy to Flora, but the truth is that Mother gave up her driving altogether when we abducted her in 1998. She had become a danger to herself and to others, her insurance had been cancelled, and she wasn't telling us about all her accidents. I had to intervene.

Mother owned two identical cars and didn't even realize it, thanks to an unscrupulous car dealer, whom she considered one of her best church friends. He kept one at his shop, repairing her latest damage, then delivering it to her the day after her next wreck occurred. She thought he had repaired her wreck overnight. He even went to the trouble of removing her cassette tapes from the wrecked car, placing them in the repaired car, inserting the same tape in the tape player, so she would not be suspicious. Based on her bank statements and cancelled checks, we found out later, this had happened five times. He encouraged her to pay for the repairs herself without filing on her insurance, so that's what she was doing until she had a wreck that injured an old man, whose son was an attorney.

Trying to figure out this tangled business over the phone from Jackson with an 80 year old woman, whose mind was diminishing rapidly due to dementia, was not easy. Her pastor in Baldwyn, a former FBI agent, had gathered most of the pertinent facts. "You have to come get her," he insisted, "before she kills somebody." I drove to Plantersville that day determined to do whatever I had to do to coax her away from her home and her car.

I'd never been able to persuade my mother to do anything by reasoning, even before the dementia set in, so I used the only other tactic I knew would work with her- deception. I cooked up the tallest tale I could think of that might convince her to come with me back to Jackson: The State Treasurer's Office has unclaimed funds in Daddy's name and to claim it, Mama, you have to go in person to their office in Jackson, with proof of identity, your marriage license, and Dad's death certificate.

Mother was a sucker for sweepstakes, never "winning" anything but magazine subscriptions for all those $14.95 checks she wrote, so the promise of hitting the jackpot when she got to Jackson was the carrot I dangled in front of her. Little did she know, as we left her little maroon Buick Century parked in her carport, that she would never drive it again. I've never felt so low in my life.

We were in Jackson before I told her the truth. Thanks to her failing short term memory, she'd already forgotten about the empty promise I made to her. She stayed at my house for a couple of weeks, complaining frequently about all the bedrooms being upstairs, begging me to take her back to Plantersville, begging Mike, she even tried to bribe him.

Over and over, I said to her, "We're moving you to Jackson, Mama. We're selling your car[s]. Your insurance has been cancelled and your license revoked. You will not be driving again." Then Betsy and I took her to the Admiral Retirement Center to introduce her to her new home. She was livid. I had not seen her that mad since I was a small child and she was slapping at me with her house shoe. Again, I felt lower than a snake's belly.

I spent the first day and night with her to make sure she didn't try to leave, and by the second day, she was beginning to accept the idea of living in Jackson close to her children. Helping to seal the deal was the Admiral's cook Clemmie and her home-style meals. When we dismantled her house in P'ville, moved her organ into the parlor downstairs, and she played for the other residents, instantly winning their admiration and applause, she was sold. Two of the most difficult weeks of my life finally ended on a happy note.

Mother lived at the Admiral for 5 years and absolutely loved it. She couldn't remember any one's name, but she remembered her music. She was like a human jukebox, and most of the people there loved having her to entertain them. There was one senile old lady who resented the attention Mama got, but she called up that favorite excuse, "She's just jealous," and never let it bother her. (The complainer was also Church of Christ and didn't think Mother should be playing for their Sunday services, but she was soundly ignored by the organist and her fan club.)

I dread the health problems that come with aging. Losing my hearing, my sight, my mind, my mobility, all of it worries me. Hopefully, my children will be better equipped to help me than I was at helping my mother. And, guys, you don't have to make up any tall tale to lure me away from my house and my car. If you can hog-tie me, you can take me.

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