Sunday, July 21, 2013

John and Julian Part Two

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.

Onward. Awash.



Anonymous said...

There are no words, but thank you for this.


Fichereader said...

This has been quite a story, so well told. I like the way you revealed it to us in a series of posts, reflecting the way we learn about such things in the real world. It's touching that you've made this connection during this difficult time. Thank you for sharing it.

LPC said...

Wow Max. Human life in all its complexities and corners. Thank you. And to LFG, for the smiling face.

hawkeye315 said...

as my family's resident genealogist, I love stories like this. Did your Mum know that her cousin was a resident?

Pigtown*Design said...

Just lovely. Sat around a dinner table this evening with my cousins here from SC and talked about kith and kin, who's related to whom and how. Strengthening the ties that bind us together.

Young Fogey said...

What a wonderful story. Completely unexpected twist.

Earlier this month, I had a nice weekend with two family reunions: one on my mother's side, and the other on my father's. There's nothing like family. I'm happy that you got to know more about yours.

Rebecca said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. My father is in a nursing home with Parkinson's Disease and it is so sad to see him waste away there, along with all the other "residents", who like to call themselves "prisoners".

I wish there was a better solution for our ailing seniors or more money so that each and everyone of them had more one-on-one attention. After all, all they are looking for is someone's time and attention.

~ Becky

ADG said...

Thanks everyone. The story of John and Julian is fascinating and extraordinary--mostly--at least to me--because of it being so--ordinary. They personify what everyone of their generation, from all strata of America did during the War.

And now, as John's journey winnows through its final turns and my mother--God only knows--navigates hers, these two kids who lived on adjacent farms are--adjacent again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your family with whom so many of us can relate. This is truly a heart wrenching story. Its tragic to lose our greatest generation; I think there is a real longing to return the principles and values that so many of this generation demonstrate.

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

I've never commented on a post anywhere before, but as a reader of your blog who shares a love of clothing and who enjoys your tales of sartorial exploits. This post touched me.

My mother died in an assisted living facility a couple of months ago. In the four years since my father's death, she went from being a self-sufficient woman who enjoyed shopping for Christmas clothing for her grandchildren to a person who was simply waiting for the next step in the journey. All of this after two broken hips and a broken pelvis. God, she was a awesome woman. I miss them both very much.

All I can say is this...your mom will enjoy your visits and those of your daughter. They will be the highlight of her week. It's enough to simply share the journey with her. No amount of hoping can change what is or what will be. Live in the moment and let her know that whatever is, is OK. Don't let anything go unsaid and let her know she is loved.


Patsy said...

Thank you. This made me cry a little. OK, maybe a lot.

GSL said...

Touching story very well told.

Reggie Darling said...

I love your storytelling, Maxie. This is one of your best. Evocative, vivid, and very present. Thanks for sharing it, and your family's journey. Thank you. Reggie

ADG said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. My mother’s journey—saga—odyssey continues and it really is a day at a time thing. We took her off the respirator in March and gathered ‘round to say goodbye. Yesterday, she took six steps. She walked. Walked.

heavy tweed jacket said...

I had been wondering how your mother was doing. Thank you for this warm story of rediscovering a family narrative and its connections into the present. It is an inspiring story of the ongoing power of relationships. It reminds me of the many distant relatives in my family whom I only know by name, but who have nevertheless shaped my own family narrative. So glad to hear that your mother walked!

Irene said...

This is cool!