An article in the most recent issue of The New Yorker proved to be a conversation stopper. You read it and think, “What?” and walk away thoughtful and speechless.
Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City’s public schools, tells how he encountered Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her young son Jack at a social function. The boy approached him and said, “They tell me you run the city schools? And that you are the one who declares snow days.”
Now, little Jack attended a private school–it will not surprise readers to know–but he knew that if the public schools closed the private schools followed suit. Jack said, “When I have a birthday, I’d like the schools to be closed.”
I don’t recall the superintendent’s answer
As it turned out, it was Caroline who called in that favor. The snow was coming down in buckets and she called the superintendent’s house. “Tomorrow is not Jack’s birthday,” she said, “but he has a big paper coming due and he’s not ready for it. This would be a great time for you to declare a snow day.”
The superintendent, now retired, admits that that was one of the days he closed the schools for snow.
Fascinating. More than a little strange.
One wonders just how many of the high level decisions being made every day are prompted not by economic or other realities but as personal favors to people of influence.
In my most recent article for this blog–“Greed: The Favorite Sin of the Free Enterprise”–I started to tell that story and make the point that, for most of us, it’s not money we’re grasping and groping for, but the things money can buy. Like influence with people in high places.
Caroline Schlossberg has such influence. And money too, we presume. Enough to shut down the city schools for a day for her young son. How he must admire his mom. The things she does for him.
So, what has your mom done for you lately?
Here’s what my mother did for me recently.
First, a little background.
Lois Jane Kilgore McKeever was born July 14, 1916, in the farmhouse her father (John Wesley “Virge” Kilgore) built just on the next ridge over from where mom lives now. She married Carl J. McKeever as a 17-year-old, and they logged nearly 74 years of married life before Dad graduated to Heaven in November of 2007.
Mom belongs to the New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church of Nauvoo, Alabama, the church of her parents and grandparents. It’s the only church she ever joined. She’s now the senior member of the congregation. Pastor Mickey Crane has served there over three decades; mom thinks he’s one of her sons.
Lois and Carl had seven children in a nine-year-span. The fourth one, a boy, lived only a couple of days before dying from an inability to get oxygen into his lungs. They called it a “blue baby syndrome.” The other six children–Ronald J., Glenn Dale, Patricia Ann, Joe Neil, Carolyn Sue, and Charles Wayne–lived to maturity and beyond. Charlie was the first to go, dying of a heart attack in April of 2006. Mom wrote in her Bible that that was the worst day of her life. When Dad died, she wrote, “Second worst day of my life.”
The house mom lives in is the second one on that hill. The first burned in February of 1954, a particularly low time for us as our coal mining father had been unable to find work in the Alabama mines and was trying to make a living farming. But, family and friends pitched in, and within a few weeks, the remnants of the burned house were bulldozed off the hill and a new house went up. Dad and my older brothers cut timber which they traded for dry lumber at the planer mill. The house they built–with the able assistance ofnumerous friends and an uncle who was a house builder–has been the family home ever since.
Mom sleeps in the ancient bed which used to belong to her parents. I imagine she was conceived and delivered in that bed. In 1951, I recall a newspaper reporter coming out to the farmhouse and interviewing my grandmother and aunt and writing up a story about that bedroom outfit. It was over a century old at that point, they said.
For a long time, we boasted at how well mom was doing. But these days, dementia or senility (I’m uncertain of the difference) is taking its toll. She is still the same loving, gracious, thoughtful person she’s always been. But her mind doesn’t retain anything. You’ll tell her something and she will turn around and ask you the same question. By the fifth or sixth time for that, you grow tired of the conversation and have to pray for strength.
My sisters Patricia and Carolyn have been our mainstays during this time. Especially Patricia–we call her Trish–who lives across the country lane from mom with her husband of 54 years James. Her two children live in nearby homes and grown grandchildren are nearby. There’s always someone to spend the night with mom, or “Granny,” as they call her. Trish does the meals.
Carolyn lives in Jasper, some 13 miles away, and buys the supplies and pays most of the bills. Oldest brother Ron, who lives in a suburb of Birmingham, over an hour away, handles major decisions and expenses, and comes up the first of each week for a couple of days.
Glenn and I are the two who come more irregularly and contribute the least. He has health problems and I live 8 hours away.
The week prior to Christmas, I arrived at the farmhouse on Tuesday just before supper, and stayed until Friday morning.
Mom sits at the dining room table–the same table we crowded around as teenagers–reading the two papers she receives, these blogs which Carolyn prints out for her, and her Bible. She marks up her Bible, I’m glad to report. And she watches “The Price is Right” and “Wheel,” although she can no longer remember their names. When dad was living, they enjoyed laughing at Redd Foxx’s hi-jinks on “Sanford and Son.” Thanks to someone in the family, the television set gets the Dish Network, so anyone staying overnight can still watch football games and favorite movies. Mom will sit and visit with you quietly, but shows no interest in anything on the screen.
With Alzheimer’s, we are told, everything about one’s personality is stripped away gradually until only the core is left. That’s what’s happening with mom.
What’s left is love. Pure love. Solicitous, concerned love.
“Here, you eat the rest of this food. I don’t need all this.”
“Are you hungry? Can I get you something?” (We don’t let her do anything in the kitchen any more, so this is not an option. Still, she says it. When I call to say I’ll be coming home, she wants to know what I want to eat. I answer, “Whatever Trish makes will be fine.” The question is a holdover from when she did all the cooking, and what a cook she was. Her fried apple pie turnovers are legendary in that part of the state.)
“Do you have enough cover on your bed?”
“Did you sleep all right?”
When someone leaves the house, walking to a nearby residence, mom says, “Joe, check and see if they got there all right.” And nothing will do but for you to call. If you don’t, she’ll not let it rest.
If Janet, the home health nurse, is due to arrive that morning, mom wants the house picked up and straight, even though Janet is now considered a member of this family after caring for her and dad all these years.
My wife Margaret asks if I ever heard mom and dad argue or one raise their voice to the other. I didn’t. They might have disagreed but it was mostly understated, not something they involved the children in. As for the love between them, particularly in the last couple of decades of his life, every day dad told mom how much he loved her. He was quick to tell us he loved her, too. “My rib is the best bone of my body,” he would say. Mom would listen to that and smile broadly, almost to the point of embarrassment. But she was eating it up.
These days, she will sometimes say to no one in particular, “I miss pop.”
We say, “I know, mom. We all miss him.” Carl McKeever filled any room he ever entered. His personality, his laughter, his endless ideas and constant conversation left major holes in this family. (As for the endless conversation, before my friends get a chance, let me say, “I came by it honestly.”)
For a long time when mom would say something like, “I’m tired and wish I could go on,” my niece Deanna would answer, “You can’t leave yet, Granny. We’re not through with you yet.” We smiled, because it was an apt answer.
These days, as much as we love her and are loved by her, we know mom is almost through. As much as one can prepare for these things, we are ready to give her back to the Father. And when she goes, we will weep and remember.
More than anything, we will remember the love.
Last week, as she sat on the couch reaching up to hug me as I was leaving, she said with teary eyes, “I love you, honey. I wish you didn’t have to leave.”
We love you, too, mom. And even though we will miss you for a short time (until we get there too), the family is about ready for you to leave. In the Lord’s own good time, of course, and not until then.
Thank you for loving us, mom. No one else has ever done it better.
We have been loved.