I remember vividly my first day of kindergarten. Because of my September birthday, I was the youngest in the class, and very shy. In those long ago days, mothers usually didn’t work outside the home, and kids didn’t routinely go to day care. This was the first time I was away from my mother for more than an hour or two, and I was scared and homesick, and I cried. The teacher called me to her desk and let me sit in her lap (probably can’t do that any more, but those were innocent times) Finally I calmed down, and I soon learned to love school, but those first days in a new environment were difficult.
The first time I had to leave my two-year old at day care, he wailed and hung on to me as tight as he could. A grandmotherly lady (she probably looked like I do know, but I was 30 and she looked very old) took him into her arms and sat in a rocking chair. She told me he’d be fine, and eventually he was, but I felt such guilt sending my baby into the care of strangers.
One of the hardest goodbyes took place the summer after my divorce was finalized. I went to Missouri to work on a dig, and my sons stayed with my parents. They came to Missouri to celebrate Jeff’s fifth birthday. Jeff wasn’t yet old enough to understand that things would never be the same after that summer, that something precious was broken, but his big brother did. The pictures are heart-breaking. Jeff is smiling, splashing in the swimming pool, giggling about the trick candles that wouldn’t go out. My dignified dad was wearing a party hat, but his face was solemn. In one shot, I have my arms around the boys. Jeff is smiling, I am trying to smile, and Baylor looks like he’ll never smile again. When it was time for them to go, he held on to me for so long my father finally had to gently pull him away. It took all my strength to get in my car and drive away, when my mind was screaming, “quit that job, take your sons, and go home,” but there was no going back.
Now I am a grandmother, and my sons are all grown up, and I will be taking my mother away from her home of 41 years, trusting strangers to care for her. She is 89, closing fast on 90, and we all tried to honor her wish to remain at home until the end, but she is almost blind now, is a brittle diabetic, has congestive heart failure, and the list goes on. She knows she will be safe and well-cared for at the assisted living home – she’d better be, or the staff will answer to a very large and angry family.
I’ve written about how my silver-haired daddy took care of her every need when she became so ill, even as he grew frail and his mind started wandering. We tried to get him to take it easy and let us help. I asked him “what will you do if you fall and break your leg, who will take care of Mama then?” He replied “I’ll take care of Mama even with my broken leg.” Then he did fall, and he broke his elbow, and the doctors couldn’t fix it, and through a series of hospital and nursing home neglect and error we lost him on Christmas Eve, 2009. For the first few months, family and friends and neighbors rallied around and stayed with Mother, fed her, managed her medications, but as always happens, the help gradually stopped showing up. Medicare sent a nurse and an aide after each hospitalization, and there have been many, but once she was “well” again that stopped. My brother, a disabled Vietnam vet, lives with her, and he tried as best he could to help, but it wasn’t enough.
We tried various ways of keeping Mother at home, hiring a housekeeper who didn’t last long, paying grandchildren to help, but things weren’t done the way Mother wanted them to be, and her needs were greater than they could manage. We had big yelling, screaming “family meetings”about what to do, and every person had a different idea. Mother just wanted to stay at home, but after burning herself badly two times trying to cook for herself – she is a stubborn lady! – her doctor said she couldn’t stay in the house virtually alone, and she couldn’t afford care 24/7. Her nurses and I tried to talk about the good things about assisted living – she’d get all her meals and snacks served to her, she’d make friends, she’d get to go on field trips, there wouldn’t be any more stressful family meetings … She tried to be enthusiastic, then she’d say “I don’t want to live with all those strangers, I just want to crawl under the bed and stay there …”In her weary eyes I see myself all those years ago, begging just to let me stay home.
Tomorrow I will drive to Dallas to help Mother gather up the last of the special things she wants to bring to her new home, and Saturday the furniture will be moved and she’ll get settled in. I can’t help with the physical aspects of the move, but I’ll try to help with the emotional side. I think I’ll take her out for breakfast, and then maybe an outing to Walmart, so that she doesn’t have to watch her world being dismantled and reassembled. She said she would try not to cry when she walks out the door, but I told her to cry all she wants to, I certainly will.
For the first time, she’ll be able to have photos of both her husbands on her walls: 2nd Lt. Hulbert H. Robertson, her first love, who died in WWII:
And my father, Sterling L. Hornsby. They celebrated their 65th anniversary in October, 2009 at that old house.
Sterling L. and Velma Ruth Hornsby, Gwen Robertson
Several generations of our family gathered on that front porch through the years: