It’s a skilled nursing facility—this place that now harbors my mom. So there’s a scattering of humanity in all phases therein. It’s a place for transition...rapid for some and not soon enough for others. The ennui and loneliness of those being warehoused indefinitely and rarely visited by family is palpable. And then there are those who seem busy.
The busy ones are usually Alzheimer’s patients…still in early enough phases to harmlessly roam the halls…surveying…inspecting…pondering. Their disease progression seems to me most evident in their eyes. Early on their eyes are still sharp but vaguely suspicious and then they seem to become more distantly hollowed…troubled.
This busy one is in the room next door to my mom and his eyes are somewhere between suspicious and troubled. Maybe there’s a weigh station on the way to full dementia that belies suspicion and trouble. Maybe anxious. He’s fit and obviously ambulatory. Friendly but mostly unaware of his family’s identity when they visit. This busy one walks. And surveys.
I was told we had some distant—at least to me—kin also in residence. But my flurries of intense visits are focused exclusively on my mom and I knew not nor cared too much about some extended family stranger billeted there. I was standing in my mom’s doorway when he walked up and asked, “Who is in there?” and I stated my mom’s name and for some reason I felt compelled to include her maiden name with my answer. “I’ve got to see her” he said. Not “may I see her” or “could I see her.” …“I’ve got to see her.”
Obviously this man had seen enough of my mom’s face to register something. Maybe he’d seen her en route to physical therapy. Perhaps he’d walked by her almost always open door and seen her sitting in her chair. He was tentative as I made the way for him to my mother’s bedside. He of sound body and feeble mind. My mother whose mind is sharp and body useless. The twain. And he said, “Frances.”
This man who rarely knows his daughter when she visits somehow hearkened enough of his rapidly fading life to remember my mom. And he seemed troubled by it. Or was he concerned to see her mostly bedridden? Or was he troubled because he couldn’t place her? We won’t ever know because John’s utterances were incomprehensible beyond my mother’s name.
Yes. This is Julian’s younger brother, John. The flyboy…the one who survived…the one who came home to run the dairy farm for thirty years and to also sell crop insurance from a little agency in Manning, South Carolina. My mother was an eight year old farm girl to his eighteen year old recruit status.
I saw the scrapbooks full of Army Air Corps photos the next day, courtesy of John’s daughter. She’d bought them to John in an effort to jog some of his memory. It was for naught but I sure loved seeing them. And so did my mom. You see, my mom and John are first cousins. Their fathers were brothers and John’s father, the oldest, inherited the family farm. My grandfather was gifted an adjacent one.
And then it began to come back to me. I’d visited that dairy farm as a small child but only once. It's the home of my great grandparents. My mother and her nine sibs all left their farm and scattered and by the time I was born, my maternal grandmother was long gone and my grandfather was soon to follow. So most of my knowledge about my mom’s family, beyond the loving gaggle of aunts and uncles I had, is all second hand. I’m pleased that this wasn’t the case with my paternal grandparents and their farm. My summers there were bliss.
So I learned enough to write about John and Julian by visiting with John’s daughter and sitting with my mom as she narrated each page of the two scrapbooks. “That’s Miss Hutto and that’s Miss so and so” my mom said. These were single gals who taught school and who lived at a local rooming house in town. And families bonded with them and had them out to Sunday dinner after church. This was the early 1940’s and I suppose that everyone, whether you were in Brooklyn or on a South Carolina farm, kinda looked after one another.
My mom’s the one who said that Julian was the better looking. She was a little girl, the baby of ten kids from the adjacent farm and I can only imagine how much she considered her older cousins to be handsome heroes. I didn’t ask her to tell me if she remembered the details of learning about cousin Julian’s death...where she was and how she felt when they told her.
Cousins…little adoring ones and older uniformed ones. I doubt that LFG remembers being in such awe of my sister’s boy—the one named after me—the one who’s seen the ugliness of war firsthand.
John came home and like most of his generation, settled into a life exclusive of small talk about the War. And now he’s on the home stretch of his journey. Unaware now of hardly anything, much less his service on all our behalf or the ultimate sacrifice of brother Julian. But he’s keeping things in check at the nursing facility, right next door to his cousin Frances.