Good morning, y’all. I have reflected last night and this morning about telling the personal details of my family dynamics. I know I have to talk about the things that hurt me, things that get locked behind mental doors, because, well, it’s court ordered. I get some relief from the telling, and certainly going back and re-reading, but I just wonder how universal my experience is. Could there be any family out there as screwed up as mine?
Anyway, when we left our story, it is Saturday, January 31st, 2015, and Jackson and I have decided to try to move up the timetable of Mom’s move to Mountain View. The lunacy expressed by my sister and aunt has rocked our security and caused us to evaluate whether the whole enterprise is worth it. I’m headed back to jail, something I will need all of my resources to manage. Jackson has been living a quiet productive life in Chattanooga. He can easily say, “screw this crazy bunch of witches”, and go back to being a well respected member of his community. I remember the truism our Daddy would spout when things would get too distasteful, even for him. “ I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” Well, there was no doubt we were wrestling with pigs, the question was how dirty we were willing to get in trying to do the right thing.
There are a few factors that compel me to keep trying. First and foremost, I don’t want to leave my Mom unattended with my sister. Don’t be confused into thinking this is out of some great feeling of love and devotion for my mother. It’s not. When I look at my Mom I see a bitter mean old woman, who, despite her “deep” religious beliefs, continues to work very hard at maintaining good health. The one exception being that she refuses to drink enough water because it makes her go to the bathroom. Other than the water thing, Mom is physically sound. In spite of all of her talk about being ready to dance on those “streets paved with gold”, she works very hard to stay in this life. That’s actually an admirable trait, I think. The fact that mentally she doesn’t understand the importance of water points out the depths of her dementia. Now, I’m talking the dementia pre hospitalization. Mom’s near death experience has left her completely befuddled, and in the need of constant care. In Mom’s current state, I don’t know that if Charlotte handed Mom a bottle of strychnine with a skull and crossbones on it, that Mom would not take a drink. I don’t want to have my sister and aunt be tried for murder. Taking away the opportunity by checking Mom into Mountain View, lessens the risk.
The second big factor is a soul searching that I have done that is probably tainted by my advanced age. My step daddy George used to say, “There’s only two types of people in this world, the caught and the uncaught”. Which is to say, we’re all sinners. I may not ever be able to forgive or forget all of the things my Mom has done, but I think I should be able to rise above it and do “what’s right” for her. Lord knows, I’ve done wrong with my own family and I hope at the time that I can’t handle my business anymore, that my kids will do the right thing. It’s like I told Bud Jr., I don’t need anything fancy, just a bed, a bathroom and a TV with a sports channel. If you can’t afford the sports channel, just let me watch the snow on the TV and tell me the game is in Green Bay, I’ll be ok. Doing the right thing for Mom is putting her somewhere safe with hot meals, medical staff, and the opportunity to regain whatever facilities she can in a positive environment. I will confess, it’s also easy to do “what’s right” for Mom, when it’s Mom’s money.
I start by calling Mountain View to see if we can advance the schedule. I connect to Barb, the assistant director, who then transfers my call to Suzanne, the director. Suzanne repeats that Mom’s room was available from the time they put her name on the mailbox outside of her door. I explain that conditions have changed a little and that we would like to advance the move to Sunday, the first of February. Suzanne assures me that moving the furniture today will be fine. Suzanne tells me that they work all of the time with The Facility and they can be ready for Mom’s arrival on ten minutes notice. I ask for the name and phone number of the movers that they use and ask for assurances again that there will be no problems with us disturbing the other tenants by a mid-day move. Suzanne is nothing but the nicest person you could ask for in a tough situation, and she assures me again that we are fine. I thank her and hang up to call the mover Suzanne recommended.
The mover is a bit more difficult, and I wonder during the negotiations if Jackson and I shouldn’t go back to plan A and do the move ourselves. Unfortunately, Jackson has headed to Home Depot to pick up some items, so I’m not able to get his immediate input. After back and forth, I decide to use the tried and true method of throwing more money at the problem. For about two and a half times the normal rate, the mover will use their “small truck” and grab his brother and do the move. Since we’ve basically got just one bedroom’s stuff to move, the mover figures they can make the move and still get back in time to watch the Carolina basketball game on TV, which was their original plan. I give him directions to the condo and the mover tells me that he and his brother will arrive in an hour or so. I thank him and ask if a check will be ok, and he says yes.
I hang up and call Jackson to let him know the plans. Jackson is in his idea of heaven on earth, Home Depot.
“Hey”, I say. “Hey”, responds Jackson, and before I can start talking, Jackson continues on, “I was thinking, we should change the locks at the condo”.
“Uuuhhh”, is my first response, and my brain tries to calculate the risk – rewards from such a bold move. “What are your thinking”, I ask while trying to give myself some more time to think.
“I’m thinking I don’t want to sleep in that condo again knowing that Charlotte can just slip in at any moment and kill us in our sleep, that’s what I’m thinking”, Jackson answers.
“Well, you’re right I say, do we need to call a locksmith or can you handle it?”, I ask.
“I got it”, he replies, “they’ve got kits here that will even allow me to change the key again myself, if it ever comes to that”.
“Ok, you’re the boss where that stuff is concerned”, I say, “how long will it be before you’re back here?”
“I’ve just got to check out and then it’ll be about ten minutes”, he says.
“Can you pick up some Chik Fil A on the way back?”, I ask, “I think we’re going to have a long afternoon” “Sure”, he replies, and we hang up.
I look up the number of The Facility and give them a call. I am fortunate that this is the weekend that their director is on call, and they transfer me to her. I ask if there will be any problems in getting Mom moved on Sunday, and she begins to hem and haw. I explain the need to get Mom moved before my sister or anyone else can do any more damage to Mom. The director tells me that I will have to pay the ambulance service an up charge due to the Sunday work, and I agree. I tell her I’m happy to pay for Mom’s room through Tuesday as originally planned, but she tells me this won’t be necessary. I thank her profusely and tell her if there are any issues at all to please call. I repeat my cell number for her again. She assures me they’ve handled the move many times before, but if there are any problems they’ll let me know. I thank her again and hang up.
I look about the condo and start deciding what goes. I start in the bedroom and start measuring furniture. I’ve got a scale drawing of Mom’s room that Mountain View provided, those people think of everything. Now I just need to arrange the room on the scale drawing to see how much of “home” we can recreate at the new place. It’s looking pretty good. We’ve got enough space for Mom’s whole bedroom plus her big white leather Barcalounger that is her favorite nap spot. We are also able to add another wing chair for guests and a hall table to add a little sophistication with her favorite reclaimed oil lamp. I’ve just finished the layout when Jackson arrives with lunch and locks.
We sit at the kitchen table and enjoy the best fast food meal in America. I show Jackson the design I’ve come up with for Mom’s new situation. Jackson shows me the front door lock and deadbolt he has purchased to replace Mom’s existing units. I go over with Jackson the new revised plan “A” and we discuss which of Mom’s “antiquities” should make the move with us. I am feeling better about the security of the condo, but I still worry that if Charlotte gets a wild hair that she’ll break into the condo and steal what she wants. We decide to take as many of the “antiquities” with us as we can fit on the walls and find space for. It seems like the safest choice, in addition to giving the Mom the opportunity to see her favorite things and not worry about their status. We start taking things off the walls and I make the executive decision that “Wooden Moses” is not coming with us. I hate that piece and if someone wants to steal it, well God love them. We get the “antiquities” all in one spot and start taking apart the bed. Just then, there’s a knock at the door and both Jackson and I jump as if fired from a cannon.
It is the mover and his brother. Well, it takes the mover about fifteen minutes to pack up everything I point out. Jackson and I will move the “antiquities” in Mom’s van to ensure there are no problems. Jackson has started work on the lock replacement and we tell the movers we’ll be about fifteen minutes behind them. I pack the “antiquities” in Mom’s van while he changes the locks. Jackson keys the deadbolt to the main lock and then keys the extra key for me. After multiple tests of all keys and locks, we put a “new house key” on Mom’s key ring and put the key ring back in its hiding place. We jump in the van and head for Mountain View. The van starts right up, which is good. Putting some miles on it today and tomorrow will help keep the battery charged. The sky is dark, it is windy cold, and we hear on the radio that it could start snowing tonight. We speculate as to whether the ambulance service will come out in the snow to deliver Mom from The Facility to Mountain View. I wisecrack that they should, “after all, it’s mostly downhill”. We arrive at Mountain View and drive to the side of the parking lot where the furniture truck is parked.
The movers are using a side entrance that accesses the patio at the end of that wing of the building. Turns out, Mom’s room is the third door on the right using this entrance, so it is very easy to maneuver. The guys are making their last load as we arrive and we walk in with them to check out the situation. Final placement and bed setup are part of the move, so I use my diagram to direct the positioning of the furniture. Fifteen minutes later, Mom’s bank account is lighter by five hundred dollars, and Jackson and I bid the movers a fond adieu. Five hundred dollars an hour is my lawyer’s fee rate, of course my lawyer doesn’t come with a truck, or work on Saturday on two hours notice. I guess the move was a bargain after all. Jackson and I start hanging and placing Mom’s favorite things. We get the bed made and put towels in the bathroom. This is one tricked out bathroom, by the way. Handle bars everywhere with a “help me” call button in the shower and one next to the toilet.
Mom’s room has two lock boxes in it. One for Mom’s medicines and one for Mom’s valuables. I joke that Mom shouldn’t be given the key to either one, but I know she’ll be given the key to her valuables box. We hope to minimize the amount of cash that Mom keeps on hand. The Mountain View office has patient accounts setup like a commissary. We’ve agreed to get Mom an account once we figure out what her needs are. For the time being, we are leaving Mom one hundred dollars in twenties and a debit card. Mountain View has a very strict “no tipping” policy, and I’m sure Mom will be amenable to that policy. It will be more difficult for her to not want to buy gas for everyone that comes to visit her. We’ll just have to replenish the twenties when they run out. If Mom decides to attend any of the outings provided for by Mountain View, she’ll have her debit card. A lot of Mountain View’s outings are free, so Mom won’t even need her debit card, just hop on the bus.
Jackson is fiddling with the “help me” button at Mom’s bed, which he finally decides can be tied to Mom’s head board directly above her head. That way she’ll just reach up and know it’s there. I fiddle with the TV and cable box until I get it working and then set the control on the night stand next to the bed. It looks like the only thing we’re missing is a patient. We survey the room one last time and lock up. We go down to the office and make sure that everything is still a “go” and to leave Jackson’s contact information. I explain to Suzanne in round about terms that I will be largely unavailable for the next few months, but that Jackson will be on call. I tell Suzanne that Mulva will always know how to get in touch with me, so if there is something financial or of an immediate nature, call Mulva first. We shake hands all around and Jackson and I head back to the condo.
It has gotten colder in the short while that we were inside Mountain View and the skies have gotten that greyer shade they take on right before a big snow. I’m now concerned that of all the things that could go wrong, it will be Mother Nature that will derail our plans. While I’m worrying myself over the weather a bolt of lightning strikes inside my brain.
“We need to pay Aunt Edna and Charlotte a visit”, I say to Jackson. The look he gave me was priceless, somewhere between, “are you out of your flipping mind?” and “let me out of this car right now”. To his credit he responded, “What?”
I explain my thought process. We can go over and let them know that they’re not the only ones capable of surprise attacks, and, by re-stimulating their neural cortices, we will possibly derail any plans they may have made for tomorrow morning. Jackson is beyond dubious, but I am driving.
We arrive at Edna’s house and make a lot of noise stomping around on her porch before knocking on the door. The look of shock and fear on her face was the look I was going for. Edna invited us in and asked if we would like coffee. I responded, “yes”, and she takes “the pool boy”, Chris Coe in the kitchen with her. After a few minutes they return and everyone sits around looking nervously at one another. I decide to give Aunt Edna about ninety percent of the truth, and tell her that Jackson and I have moved Mom’s stuff into Mountain View. I am very particular about telling her that we have moved Mom’s “antiquities” and that we have gone the extra mile by changing the locks on the condo. Well, I couldn’t have gotten a more stunned look out of Edna if I’d used one of those air gun bolt shooters like in “No Country For Old Men”. Edna went slack jawed, and I left her there for a while before continuing.
“Jackson and I are the powers of attorney for Mom, and we are responsible for making sure that Mom’s stuff is safe until the end, whenever that comes”. I continue, “this morning’s little episode pointed out to us how vulnerable Mom’s things are.” “If Jackson and I are the only ones with keys, we don’t have to look very far if something goes missing”.
Edna has gone from slack jawed to a stammer and manages to articulate, “but what if your Mom needs some clothes, or something from the condo?”
“Jackson will be coming over every weekend for a while, and if something else comes up before then we’ll work it out”, I reply, “Mom is not going to need for anything while she’s at Mountain View”.
“Well, what about carrying the trash out of the condo, we still need the garbage key”, Edna sputters.
I look from Edna to “pool boy” and in my most condescending voice I say, “Some folks don’t understand how an unoccupied house doesn’t generate trash, I’m counting on you to somehow get this point across.” “The condo is currently clean, Jackson and I will carry any garbage we make out with us before we leave.” “The condo will be sealed clean and there shouldn’t be any need for anyone else to have a key except for the Home Owners Association in case of fire or water leak, which we will take care of before leaving town”. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Pool boy looks back and forth between all of the faces before responding, “Yeah, I think I’ve got it”.
“Good”, I reply. “Now, Edna, you’ve agreed to continue managing the apartments until we get a proper management company, right?” Edna manages a weak, “yes”.
“Good”, I say, “and we’ve agreed that the apartment will be leased furnished or unfurnished, based on the needs of whoever gives us the first deposit check, right?”
Edna perks up, “but it will rent better unfurnished”, she says.
“But we’ve agreed to let the money do the talking, right?”,”first check determines what we do with the furniture, right?”, I respond. “Yes”, she responds.
“Good”, I reply, “and if the first deposit wants it unfurnished you are free to gift anything in the apartment to whatever relative you want to, ok?”.
“Ok”, she replies, “but there’s just a few things we want”. Edna starts to list the items she has earmarked for herself and her family and I cut her short. “Take what you want and have The Salvation Army pick up the rest, ok?”, I say. Edna sighs and seems to give up the point.
“Ok, we need to touch base with Charlotte on a few items before we clear out, so I guess we’ll head down there.”, I say as we get up and head for the door.
“It’s Charlotte’s Sabbath”, Edna replies, “I doubt she’ll come to the door”.
“Oh really”, I say, “she didn’t seem to have any trouble opening a door this morning, or operating a mechanical device, if we’re going to be religion specific.” “We’ll go down and give her an opportunity to be hospitable.”, I say as we move off of the porch and head towards the driveway that leads to Charlotte’s apartment. About halfway down the driveway Jackson visibly shivers as if he had been struck by a cold wind. “You ok?”, I ask.
“Yeah, I just got a chill”, he says.
“Maybe it was a haint”, I reply, half joking. Jackson gives a wry grin and we march up on Charlotte’s porch and bang on the door. While waiting for a response, I read all of the notes that Charlotte has left to all of the major delivery services, including the U.S. Mail. It is clear that Charlotte has a very clear rule set as to how her deliveries are handled, and has gone to the trouble to copy the specific law(s) that covered her type of disability and why she was due special attention. It’s a nice touch that Charlotte has laminated her “rules for delivery” to protect them from the weather.
Jackson and I, however, are not protected from the weather, and we can see that Charlotte is not coming to the door. I’m guessing Aunt Edna gave her the head’s up. I take as good a peak into Charlotte’s apartment as the window in the door allows, and I see several lamps standing on top of a book shelf in Charlotte’s living room. They are not in use, the shades are off so they can be stored closer together. I recognize two of them as two oriental vases Mom had brought home from her China trip. Mom had them made into lamps so she could be reminded daily of her trip. Now the lamps were stacked on Charlotte’s bookcase, standing watch over Charlotte’s multitudinous guides for survival when the dollar collapses.
It is clear that Charlotte works best when the element of surprise is on her side. It is clear she is not coming out, no matter how loudly we knock, so we leave. “You ok?”, I ask as we head across the river back towards Mom’s condo.
“Yeah, surprisingly, so.”, Jackson replies, “I’m getting hungry , though”.
“Me too”, I reply, “let’s go back to the condo and clean up and then we can go to Fishbone’s for dinner, on Mom.”
“Suits me”, Jackson says. We cover the rest of the distance in silence. We pull into Mom’s parking space and just as we start to climb the steps to Mom’s condo, Mom’s neighbor, Louise, pokes her head out of her condo and says, “hey”.
“Hey” we respond, and it’s clear she wants to talk, so we walk over to her condo. Louise is a very nice lady, I’m guessing mid-seventies, and seems to have both oars in the water and rowing in the right direction.
“How’s your Momma?”, she asks in a slightly Northern accent.
“Better”, I respond.
“Will she be coming back home?”, Louise asks.
“I can’t say”, I answer, “she’s made lots of improvements where she is, but she’s not where she can take care of herself yet, even with a little help from the outside”.
Louise seems to bite her lip a little bit before responding, “have you considered who might be helping her if she does come back home?”
I’m now concerned that Louise is going to start telling me about some sister-in-law or church member she knows that take care of the elderly. Before I can shuffle an answer that is polite but non-committal, Louise continues.
“I don’t know what you know about what happened with your Mom before she went into the hospital, but I don’t think your sister or your Mom’s sister need to be caring for her anymore”, she says.
Well, now she’s got my curiosity up. “What do you mean?”, I ask.
“Well, the day before your daughter took her to the hospital, your sister and your aunt were coming and going from the condo carrying those big trash bags, and I though it looked real curious and I stuck my head out to ask if Hannah was ok, and if there was anything I could do to help.” “Well, your Aunt just looked at me and threw up her hands and said, “that’s it, I’m done with her, if she wants to commit suicide, I’m not going to stop her”. Louise continued on, “I just tell you that’s the coldest chill in my heart I think I’ve ever felt”.
Well, now I’m slack jawed. Jackson is first to respond, “Maggie is my daughter, that was my daughter who helped get Mom to the hospital”.
“Oh, ok, I didn’t know, your aunt and sister just refer to her all of the time as the “Golden Girl”, so I just don’t ask too many questions.”, Louise says. “I just thought you boys would want to know what was going on here, in case you didn’t know.”
“Thanks, we appreciate it”, I respond, “I don’t know if Mom is going to recover well enough to come back, or if she does, if she will want to, life’s pretty sweet at Mountain View”.
“Oh, is that where she’s going?”, Louise asks, “that’s real nice, a little pricey, but real nice”. “It’s real sweet of you boys looking out for your Mom so well”.
Well, I’ve got to get inside to a shower before the guilt gets any thicker. I start walking to Mom’s condo, and it occurs to me that I should tell Louise about the lock situation.
“We don’t want to involve you in anything”, I say, “but we’ve changed the locks to protect Mom’s belongings.” I continue on, “the only people who will have keys are me, Jackson and the homeowner’s association. If Mom is desperate for something from the condo, we’ll overnight Maggie a key to use.”
“Do you want me to do anything, do you think your sister will try to break into the condo?”, Louise asks.
“I don’t know what to think any more”, I say, “I guess just do what you would normally do if you hear somebody breaking into a neighbor’s place”. “She can’t legally get a locksmith to open the door, but legal doesn’t get in her way anymore, so I guess we’ll just hope for the best”. I finish the conversation with, “If you could call Jackson if you do see that they’ve gained entry, that would be really great”.
We say goodbyes and Jackson and I use the new key on the new lock to gain entrance to the condo. Showering simultaneously doesn’t strain the condo’s hot water system too much and we change for dinner. We are headed to Fishbone’s, a nice place to spend my last night of freedom. The meal is excellent and I have a full and almost happy feeling when we get back to the condo. I call Mulva, and give her an, “oh so abbreviated” version of the day’s events. Mulva is appropriately sympathetic and I count my lucky stars again for having found such a wonderful woman.
Counting stars is a great way to go to sleep, and Jackson and I head off to our respective perches. Jackson has decided to camp out on the floor in Mom’s bedroom using the bedroll and pad he uses when hiking the Trail. Short straw has me drawing the bed of nails in the guest room. Tonight I will have no trouble falling to sleep.