Good morning, y’all. I’m going to start this retelling with a little quote:
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
– Marcus Aurelius
It’s good to “count one’s blessings” each day, it offsets the messages we get from Father Time reminding us that we are not as young as we used to be. In fact, I counted my blessings about 7AM on the morning, of February 1, 2015, and determined I wasn’t too much worse for the wear. It is moving day. Today, we are to bring about the move of my Mom from the rehab hospital, The Facility, to the long term care facility, Mountain View. The furniture has been moved, the money has been paid, and we are just awaiting a call from The Facility that the ambulance has arrived and that transport has begun. My brother Jackson and I are lounging about the living room of Mom’s condo, waiting for the morning coffee to take effect. Lord knows how I would hate to face the tribulations that we have encountered without being fully caffeinated. Without coffee, it would be like, World 3, Me 0, and I’m not good at coming from behind.
Transport is supposed to take place about 11AM and Jackson and I are just scatter shooting the odd little moments of the last couple of days. We are killing time, complimenting ourselves on changing the locks. We are still trying to weigh the information we received from Mom’s neighbor Louise the day before. I have always been convinced my sister Charlotte means harm, and Jackson is always the level headed objective observer. I don’t think Jackson is agnostic on the issue this time. I am trying to plumb the depths of Charlotte’s psyche, trying to give rationale to her behavior by virtue of her age, her fouled up life, her “certified brain damage”. Even if I allow Charlotte’s rationalizing that “Mom is mean to her”, it is still hard to come up with something that excuses the bad deeds. Charlotte is pathological, and fits all of the criteria for a sociopath. How much of that DNA is shared amongst the siblings is of concern to us all. It’s kind of hard to run from genealogy.
I used to joke about me and Jackson being raised by wolves until I saw a National Geographic special on wolves. Turns out, wolves are really good parents and are very protective of their young. I quit using that analogy out of respect to the wolves. Like Daddy used to say, “you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family”. Crude but true. The best you can do is isolate yourself to avoid confrontations and keep visits to a minimum. Christmas and Thanksgiving can be two visits a year too many in some years.
In the midst of our lighthearted reflections, Jackson’s phone rings. It is Mom. Christ on a crutch, what could Mom be calling about at 8AM? I can only hear Jackson’s side and he is working very hard to sooth Mom. Jackson reassures Mom that she is moving to Mountain View because she “needs to get her strength back”, before coming back to the condo. He relates once again that The Facility can only keep her for thirty days and that she doesn’t have to stay at Mountain View any longer than is necessary for her to get back on her feet. The conversation goes on for a painful five minutes with Mom boohooing loudly during most of it. Jackson let me listen for a second on his cell, my ear to his ear, for part of it. It was brutal. As hardened as my heart is towards my Mom, listening to her cry hysterically was soul crushing. What the hell happened to the happy mood Mom had about “graduating” from one facility to another on her path to wellness? I have to wait for Jackson to hang up before I get the details.
Charlotte had called Mom at the crack of dawn and just teed off on Mom. Charlotte raged about how selfish Mom was for moving into a swanky place that she didn’t need to be moving into. According to Charlotte’s diatribe, Mom was going to be spending all of Charlotte’s inheritance in the process. Charlotte continued her rant by using Mom’s own words against her. As long as I can remember, Mom has dangled the carrot of her estate in front of anyone who could possibly be influenced. Mom would wax about how she she had “worked hard all her life, saved, and done without” so that she could leave something behind for her heirs. Now, Charlotte was using Mom’s words against her in the most cruel fashion. Charlotte had raged endlessly to Mom about how Mom would, “spend every dollar she had”,”living the lifestyle of a queen”, while “leaving nothing”, for the poor people who had been so devoted to her. Like I said, Charlotte’s a sociopath. I’ll save you the Google search in case you don’t trust my unbiased evaluation. The key traits of sociopaths are:
- A disregard for laws and social mores
- A disregard for the rights of others
- A failure to feel remorse or guilt
- A tendency to display violent behavior
Charlotte had upset Mom to the point that Mom just wanted to come back to the condo and die in her bed, “if anyone didn’t want her anymore”. The open invitation to take Mom back home with us was left on the table by Jackson and I. My stepdad, George, used to use this peculiar phrase when he wanted to convey the most unimaginable pain he could conjure up. He used to say, “that would like being in Hell with your back broke”. Well, having Mom come live with you would be so, so much worse than being in Hell with your back broke.
While Jackson caught his breath, I called the Facility and was transferred to the nurse’s station. In the midst of my explaining the dilemma, the nurse interrupted me to tell me they were already aware of Mom’s distress. The food service person had found Mom hysterical when delivering breakfast. The nurses had been down to talk to her and Mom had calmed down some. I explained Mom hadn’t calmed down too much since she was calling my brother and begging to just be brought home to die. The nurse responded, “oh”, and I continued on. “I’m going to need you to give Mom something for her anxiety”, I say.
“Well, she’s already taking Ambien and I’m not sure what else we can give her”, the nurse responds.
“Look”, I say, “she’s going to be leaving in a few hours, and I’d like for her to be as calm and peaceful during the move as possible”. “I can’t do anything about what my sister has done, but I can see to it that Mom will get moved peacefully with your help.” “Is there anything else you can give her, some sort of anti-anxiety”, I implore.
“We’ll take care of it”, the nurse answers.
“And will you call me back when the ambulance arrives for transport?”, I ask.
“Sure”, she responds. I thank her and hang up. I am torn between going to my sister’s place and wrecking havoc or just breaking furniture in Mom’s condo. I am eventually persuaded to do neither. Many times in life, I find, doing nothing is the right answer.
Jackson has gone to that sad place where we wind up sometimes when we find our age has nothing to do with our emotions. Being sixty doesn’t stop your heart from breaking when your Mom is crying, begging hysterically to just be allowed to come home and die alone. Most times Mom’s histrionics can be played off through humor and diversion, this time was different. Dear sister Charlotte had shaken Mom to her core, and Mom was genuine in her pursuit to preserve Charlotte’s inheritance by coming home to the condo to die.
I try to engage Jackson to see if I can pick him up. “So, would it be better to call the Fire Department for an emergency inspection of Charlotte’s doomsday cache, or just built a fire under it like we did when we were kids?” I ask.
Jackson grins at the memory of the hardest simultaneous whipping we had ever gotten. We were about 10 and 7 and forced out into the cold, zero degree weather “to play” by our Mom, who was busy fixing lunch in the boarding house. Well, it was colder than a polar bear’s butt, and there’s just not a lot of playing you can do with it that cold and no snow on the ground. Taking matters into my own hands, we crawled under the crawlspace of the boardinghouse where I built a roaring fire to keep us warm. I did a very, very good job of it, and when the folks in the boardinghouse started smelling smoke it started the investigation. The investigation eventually found Jackson and I, toasty in our retreat. While one of the tenants put out our fire, we were drug out into the open with Mom splitting licks of the belt between us. As I recall the licks were unevenly distributed, about three for me to one for Jackson, which was probably about fair. It took a long time to live that one down.
I am glad to see that the memory of our pyromaniac past has made Jackson smile and I push forward. “So, what do you think, fireman or fire”, I ask.
“I guess I’m thinking we could leave the tub running in the apartment upstairs and it will be as damaging and less traceable back to us”, Jackson replies. So there it is, the survival instinct has taken over and the use of cynical humor is used as a shield against those who would do us harm.
“You’re right”, I agree, “and probably the fire department would get called too, so Charlotte’s cache of sterno, kerosene and other combustibles will be unearthed.” We grin at each other, laughing at a plan we’ll never put in place, but proud of ourselves for being “bad boys”.
A glance out the kitchen windows reveals a steady snow and I start to panic. I rush back to the TV to try to get a sense of what Mother Nature is going to throw in the path of our attempt at getting Mom moved. The TV weather drone reports that the city is going on Winter Storm Alert starting about 4PM and that accumulations of up two feet can be expected. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, can we not catch a break? If the prognosticator is correct, I need to have my butt across the mountain by 4PM. I guess that fits with my plan for turning myself back in the Union County jail, it just adds an element of urgency not there before.
It’s 11AM, and snowing to beat the band. I’m thinking that if this is not the winter storm they’re warning us about, it will certainly do until the other one gets here. “Hey, how about we go get lunch and then head to Mountain View to wait for Mom?”, I ask Jackson.
“I could eat”, Jackson says in his best attempt at a Jewish voice.
“Good”, I reply, “let’s square this place away and make like a camel turd and hit the dusty trail”.
Jackson gives me the polite laughter he’s given me since he was seven and first heard the joke. We pack up, hide the all important garbage key in plain sight, and put Mom’s other keys in a less obvious spot. We leave the condo and head up the hill to the confluence of Highways 40 and 240. We pull into the McDonalds parking lot with about 2 inches of snow on the ground and more falling. Jackson’s F150 might be a little light in the rear end for maneuvering in the slick stuff, but I am comfortable that my Trans Am will stay stable. Mickey D’s never disappoints, either in the food, staff and clientele. Within 30 minutes we are tanked up and ready to face whatever monsters we will meet at the halls of Mountain View.
As we head down the hill headed towards I26, it stops snowing. Honest to God, in the space of about a quarter of a mile it goes from snow to sunny day. I don’t know if I’m a believer in signs or not. If there is some entity in charge, and if that entity had a split second of its time to spare on me, then I would certainly have said that was the moment. It is as clear as a bell for as far as I can see ahead of me. All of the way to Blairsville, if I could see that far. I am feeling sort of anointed at this point, and my spirits have done a 180. I hope Jackson’s have done the same.
We arrive at Mountain View and check in at the front desk. Suzanne, the director, and Barb, Suzanne’s assistant, are both working. I feel comforted that the “A” team is on duty. It is nearing the lunch hour for Mountain View and the residents are milling about the dining hall ready for their lunch. It is disturbing to see the less mobile members of the crowd, but comforting to see the majority of the group. Will Mom fit in? Physically, for sure, mentally, probably not. We’re able to make this transition to Mountain View because of Mom’s diminished capacity. As Jackson and I joke about it, “Elvis has left the building”. If Mom’s lights turn back on, if “Elvis returns to the building”, then Elvis is going to want to know why in the hell he’s not at Graceland. If Mom regains herself, we will have to face her wrath. It is a double edged sword; do you want the easily controlled, but addled Mom, or the batsh*t crazy, “I’ll take care of myself” Mom? I wish the menu was ala carte, but it’s not.
We head down to Mom’s room and await her arrival. We are watching TV when Barb calls my cell phone to announce that Mom is checking herself in. I ask if we should come down, and Barb replies that they’ve gotten everything under control, and will be down in a few minutes. I give Jackson the heads up and we sit like two little school boys waiting for the teacher to return to the room. In about five minutes the door is bumped open by the wheelchair wheeling Mom to her new home. Mom’s got an IV running and her color is bad. The rings under her eyes give evidence that she has been doing a lot of crying. Her hair is disheveled and she is carrying a large brown paper bag in her lap. Mom’s lap is covered by the infamous fuchsia blanket.
I take the paper bag from Mom to help out while the staff gets Mom positioned to being placed in bed. The staff maneuvers Mom around to get her IV hanging just right and to position her where her call button is in her hand. Out of curiosity I look in the brown paper bag and find Mom’s food cache from The Facility. Two cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, one can of Vienna Sausages, and about a thousand hard candies of varying types and descriptions. Mom’s “survival bag”, as put together by Aunt Edna, served as reinforcement to me that we were doing the right thing.
The nurses were explaining to Mom that if she wanted anything, “a cup of coffee, anything”, all Mom had to do was push her call button and there would be somebody right there. Mom managed a weak, “Oh, ok”. I’m not sure that Mom was processing the situation. The nurses at The Facility had apparently understood exactly what I meant when I asked for an anti-anxiety. Mom did not appear to be anxious. Jackson and I were asked to leave the room while the Doctor performed a brief physical and we both took the opportunity to phone home.
My message was simple. “The eagle has landed”. Mulva was concerned about my mental state, and I told her I was ok, and, I really think I was. I told her I’d be leaving by 4PM and related that I planned on getting across the mountain before the storm struck. We might even have a moment for a bite to eat before I turned myself in.
The doctor left, and Jackson and I went back in Mom’s room to hear the nurse ask Mom questions about her medical history. Mom seemed to slip in and out of the moment during the questions. I don’t know whether it was the medications, or Mom just being coy with her answers. At one point I had to interrupt the nurse to explain to Mom that the nurse was asking about Mom’s continence. I think I rather gracefully rephrased the question to Mom as, “they want to know about your plumbing Mom, do you have any leaks?” Ok, not my best moment, but we were all under a lot of stress. Mom did understand my question though, and reported that she occasionally had problems at night. The nurse responded that they would be sure Mom had a full supply of Depends.
The nurse pointed out all of the features of the room and stressed again to Mom that if there was anything she needed, just press the call button. Mom responded that she believed she did want a cup of coffee and the nursing assistant took off down the hall to retrieve it. With the coffee delivered, the nurses left. Jackson and I were left with Mom, alone, in her room, at a long term care facility, surrounded by her favorite things. At least, I still counted Jackson and myself among Mom’s favorite things.
Mom was propped up on her bed and was fighting consciousness. I questioned whether she was fighting for, or fighting against, being awake. Eventually the coffee, or her desire to be the star of her own show brought her back around. When kitchen services came through at about 12:45, Mom was engaged enough to hear that she had the choice of three meat entrees along with about a dozen side dishes. While Mom declared that she could eat no sweets, “just didn’t have a sweet tooth at all”, she jumped on the blackberry cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. I have to admit, Jackson and I were breaking our arms patting ourselves on the back, albeit telepathically.
Mom’s color was returning to her face and she was surveying the room, a little at a time. She’d notice one of her favorite things and smile and mentioned the item, “Oh, you brought my Coret, and you’ve put it in the perfect spot. I can wake up in the morning and it will be the first thing I see”. “That was so thoughtful of you boys”.
“Well Mom”, Jackson said, “we wanted you to be surrounded by your favorite things while you get better”.
“And, you don’t have to worry about where they are”, I chimed in.
Mom was now conscious enough to give me a look of disapproval. “I wasn’t worried, were you boys worried?”, she asked.
“Yeah Mom, we were, are”, I responded. “There’s been so much back-biting and allegations going on that we just thought the easiest thing to do was to change the locks on the condo and try to bring everything you really love here, where it will be safe”.
“What do you mean, who’s accusing who?”, Mom’s sitting up straight now.
“Charlotte and Edna have been accusing Maggie of trying to take advantage of you, even carrying tales to your neighbor, Louise”, I say.
“Oh my Lord, why on earth did they even involve her?”, Mom asks as more color returns to her face, “there’s no reason for them to ever say anything about the baby”.
Mom has reverted back to the time when she referred to Maggie as the “baby”, and I don’t know what else to do but to try to clear up the story. I relate that Jackson and I had run into Louise a couple of times while we were coming and going from the condo, and that Louise had always asked how Mom was doing. I parse the story down to the fact that Louise had said that Charlotte and Edna had referred to Maggie as, “The Golden Child”, and they seemed generally dismissive of Maggie. I relate to Mom that I have a couple of hundred emails, a few dozen text messages and several voice mails, detailing from Charlotte the importance of keeping Maggie from the condo.
“It was kind of ironic to me Mom, ’cause if Maggie hadn’t had access to the condo, you’d be dead now”, I respond, “I don’t know what’s going on in Charlotte’s brain, but she is making the rest of us nuts.”
“That’s why we changed the locks, Mom”, Jackson jumps in, “only Bud and I have a key, so if something goes missing, you know who to blame”. Jackson gives his patented, guaranteed to disarm grin, and continues on. “We figured bringing your most valuable stuff here would enable you to keep your eyes on things until you’re back on your feet”.
Mom exhales and her posture relaxes a bit, “that sounds like good thinking, boys, I just can’t take all of this confusion right now”.”When I hear that my children are fighting over their inheritance, well, it’s just more than I can bear. I tell you boys, I just don’t want to go on.”
I feel the heat in my ears, so I know I’m in dangerous territory, but I can’t hold it in. “Goddammit, Mom, the only one fighting over your inheritance is Charlotte. Jackson and I are trying to help you keep your things. We’re still hopeful that you’ll recover enough to go back to your condo if you want to, but it’s ok if you stay here, if you’re happy here”, I answer.
Mom sits back up, “that’s something I wanted to ask you about, how I can afford this beautiful place?”, she asks, “This place must cost a pretty penny”.
“It’s not that bad Mom, I was very surprised. All we have to do is rent that top apartment you’ve been saving for ‘out of town guests’. If we rent that apartment, and just maintain your condo, you won’t have to go into savings at all”, I continue, “If we get pressed, we can rent the condo and be way ahead of the game.”
“Well, I don’t want to have to be living so tight I don’t even feel like I can buy myself a bag of candy if I want to”, Mom replies, “even if everything is supposed to be taken care of here”.
So, with a little flash, we realize that Mom is fully conscious and returning to herself. I get up and head over to the built ins on the wall that is the exterior wall to the bathroom.
“Look, Mom”, I say, “there are two lock boxes here. One is for your meds, and one you can keep cash and jewelry in”. “I’ve got a hundred dollars in twenties I’m going to leave in your box, and we’ll bring you more as you need it”. “The front office has a ‘house account’ that you can use as well where we can deposit larger amounts, if the need arises”. “Remember, there’s absolutely no tipping here, so you really shouldn’t need cash”.
“But what about if I want to go to the movie, or take Edna our for lunch, or something”, Mom retorts.
“Well, then you’ve got this”, I say as I waive Mom’s debit card at her, “I’m putting it right here next to your cash”. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got this covered to where all you need to do is to do your physical therapy and regain your strength”.
Mom seems less than convinced, which is another indicator she is returning to normal. Now, I’m not saying Mom’s normal would be normal for other folks, it’s just what we’ve come to expect from Mom, as normal.
Mom looks around the room and looks at Jackson and smiles. “You know, I’m proud of you boys, you’ve overcome a lot to be the fine men you’ve become, and I’m proud of you”.
Ok, let’s walk over to that Mason jar labeled, “Real Uncomfortable” and see if we can twist the lid off that sucker. Apparently Jackson and I immediately displayed our feelings in our faces. Mom came right back to it, hoping to clarify her remarks, or reinforce her position.
“No, now, listen to me”, she begins, “I knew that you boys going to live with your Daddy was going to be rough on you, but you have to admit, it taught you how to take care of yourselves. Even when things fell apart with your Daddy and you went to live on the farm with your grandparents, I knew they’d take care of you, and that you would be all right.”
Mom continues on, “And Bud, look what a fine job you did of taking care of Jackson, you should be proud of how well he turned out”.
Well, now I know what waterboarding feels like, and it wasn’t at the hands of the VC, it was at the hands of my Mom. I am gasping for air and trying to give the enlightened portion of my brain the opportunity to overtake the portion of my brain that has been taken over by the rage I feel for my Mother.
Jackson speaks first, “I’m always amazed that you can rationalize your lack of desire to be our parent, even when you knew the option was horrible, to be a part of some sort of master plan to make us tougher. Why didn’t you just take us down to the Marine Corps recruiting office and sign us up if the goal was to make us tough?” Jackson then answers his own question, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, I was just six, even the Marines knew I was too young to be on my own.”
“But you weren’t on your own son, Bud was there to look out for you, and I knew that when your Daddy failed that he’d take you to the Lites, and that you’d be safe there”, Mom replies.
Mom looks hurt by Jackson’s words and I can’t compose myself well enough to respond. The fact that we are discussing the crucible that fired Jackson and my failed attempts at having “normal” lives, while Jackson and I are exercising every precaution and care to provide Mom with as safe of an environment as possible, was overwhelming.
I can’t talk. We sit for a while in a standoff and finally I regain my voice well enough to announce my departure. I tell Mom that I will be out on the road for a while, tending to the vending machine business, and will be out of pocket. I reinforce to her that if she needs anything, anything at all, to call Mulva or Jackson. I promise to call as I’m able. Jackson walks out with me and we hug at my car. I don’t think we said anything, maybe, “love you, bro”, but then I was gone. I watched Jackson walk stoop shouldered back into the devil’s den.
I related earlier that I don’t know if I believe in signs, and that surely if I did, I’d be aghast at the great giver of signs having the time to waste a second on me. As I pulled on to I26 headed for home, “Motherless Child” by Richie Haves came on the radio. How could it be that this iconic anthem of my generation would be queued up at the same time that I am heading for home after confirming once again, I was a motherless child?
The trip back home is uneventful and I pull into Number Two at TackyToo to pick up my date for the evening. Mulva and I head into Blairsville and stop at the Waffle House for dinner. I am in desperate need of an All Star Special with a pecan waffle and biscuits and gravy on the side. This will be my last opportunity to order ala carte for a while and I want to take advantage of it. No point in counting calories or cholesterol now. Bud’s going all in.
Dinner chatter is just that, we chat, nothing heavy, nothing too specific. I leave out the part of the day where Mom reaffirmed her parental skills. Some bones will always be best left buried. I do tell Mulva to just forward Mom’s calls to voicemail if they become too frequent. I’m unsure of the Union County jail’s phone policy right now, so I really can’t offer Mulva any support with Mom. I just tell her to lean on Jackson for whatever help she needs with Mom. I’m sure our kids will be there for Mulva for everything else she needs. They’re good kids, in spite of the trials and tribulations their daddy befell upon them.
We drive the short distance to the jail and park in front of the building. With a hug and an “I love you”, I leave the car running while I walk inside. In what should be an overwhelming emotional experience, I am relatively calm. I guess that’s Mom’s parenting coming through. I prefer to think that it’s more a result of the fact that as I came through the doors, I’ve been hearing “He’s in the jailhouse now” by the Soggy Bottom Boys on a loop in my brain. Well, that settles it for me, “In the Life and Times of Bud Lite” the leading role will be played by George Clooney.
And so, by 6:15PM Eastern Standard Time, Bud Lite and his Momma are incarcerated in their residences for the required amount of time, whatever that turns out to be.