Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Gift From God

Maggie or Ma as I knew her was a combo of old fashioned Southern gentility with enough childlike qualities to make her fun. She was the heart of the family and made everyone who came to their home feel very welcome.

Every woman looks for her soul mate and Ma was no different. She found hers in Pop. I used to see them walking together hand in hand after decades of marriage. When most couples drift apart they never did. Pop loved her like the treasure that she was. Money was always tight because being a grove caretaker he only got paid once a year when the crop came in. But, that didn't stop him from surprising her with wildflowers he picked on the side of the road or a small piece jewelry that he had used his lunch money for. When they were together no one else was in the room with them. We all should wish for this.

Next to Pop, her kids were her pride and joy. They raised 6 kids on a big piece of land. My best friend, Georgia was their 5th child. She used to tell me how Ma would always manage to sew she and her sister school clothes. Their brother was the only one who got store bought. Even then her creativity in sewing was outstanding. She made each dress from one pattern but made it unique for each daughter. Ma was also the bookkeeper for the business and they always managed to make it on what Pop earned each year.

When I met Ma, she was beginning her love for crafts. From her I learned to knit, cross stitch, needlepoint, and quilt. If you wanted to talk to her you would have to go to her sewing room to see her. Quilting became her passion. She started out on big quilts for everyone but as time went by they became smaller and smaller. Her miniature quilts were something to behold. She took such pride in them that she loved to show them off to people. I am lucky in that she gave me some of them and I now treasure them in my home.

During her crafting period is when I really began to love big band music. She always had music or an old radio show on. We would sit there and talk and listen to Glen Miller, Benny Goodman or the Andrew Sisters. One day she said I had to listen to this radio program. She started it up and it was Orson Welles doing War of the Worlds. I now understood why people panicked so much. This also lead to the rebirth of my love of older movies. I grew with a mother who loved the classic movies but I stopped watching them until I met Ma. She was crazy over them. We all would scour the video stores to see what we could find for her. My favorite to watch with her was Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier.

Her talents weren't just restricted to crafts they extended to her cooking and baking. I grew up in the Midwest, and Southern food to me consisted of fried chicken and corn bread. Was I ever wrong. Ma taught me how to make greens. chicken and dumplings from scratch, real cornbread, etc. I will admit this woman who wasn't Italian at all made a very good lasagna. I learned so much from her especially that you could have fun while cooking. She would put music on and dance around the kitchen. We all laughed and to this day I really miss those moments. Sometimes I put on Glenn Miller while I cook and just imagine her dancing around.

Ma had grown up in an era that didn't know about skin cancer. She loved the sun. One day she noticed a growth on her upper lip and had it checked. It was skin cancer. She had it removed an we all thought she was safe. She warned me to be careful in the sun. I always thought I was safe since I had dark hair and olive skin. She became a mother hen making sure I wore a hat and put on sun screen.

The years went by and like everything the fear of cancer went away. Ma was an active woman and one day she started having problems with her lower back. She ended up having to use a walker. Her doctor just told her it was age and to not worry about it. Pop wouldn't let it go. He found another doctor who immediately did tests. He told them they need her to go to the hospital for an exploratory surgery. It was during this surgery they discovered not only huge gall stones, a cyst on her ovary but cancer in the bowel. The doctor operated on her while we all waited to hear. He told Pop and Ma that the cancer was related to her bout with skin cancer. They would do treatments to make sure they got it all. Like Pop, Ma never complained, she accepted and went on. It amazed me how she never ever moaned about what was happening to her.

She went through the treatments and we thought she was in the clear. She was still quilting but was having trouble seeing also she was getting bad headaches. When they became more frequent, Pop insisted she go back to the doctor. The doctor checked her and said he wanted to run more tests. It was then he discovered the cancer had gone to her brain and there were two brain tumors. The doctor said he wanted to perform surgery to see if they could be removed. They agreed and the date was set. We all felt like we were on a roller coaster and couldn't get off. Again, Ma kept her spirits up by saying God would take care of her and we were not to worry.

I took the day off from work so I could be there. The family was gathered at the hospital to give support to Pop. We all went to see her before she went in. She was smiling and joking with us. If she was worried we never saw it. She went in and all of us went to the waiting room to wait. It seemed like forever before the doctor came out. He didn't look happy and took Pop to the side. He told him that they were inoperable and she had only months left. Like her Pop held it together for our sake and Ma's. They told us she was back in her room and we went in. Pop asked how she was feeling and she said like Hell. After she said Hell, she apologized for cussing. You see, this woman never cussed in her life. She felt ladies should never use foul language.

The doctor didn't know how strong she was. She could no longer see well enough to sew her quilts but she could still read her books with the help of a magnifying glass. Soon that was at an end when her eyesight dimmed more. Pop solved that issue by getting her books on tape. I would still come over and sit and talk to her. Christmas was coming and that was her favorite holiday.We all decorated the house so she could enjoy it. She hated being in bedroom so hospice arranged for her to have a hospital bed in the living room. I remember the last Christmas well because I stayed up all night finishing an afghan I was knitting for her. It touched my heart when she was so excited to see it. She used it everyday and now that she is gone it is on my couch.

She made it past New Years and we thought the doctor was wrong. But, we were the one's who were wrong. Georgia was helping Pop get Ma's breakfast ready on Easter Sunday. They had gone to wake her up when she drew her last breath. Pop was naturally distraught and Georgia took the hard task of driving to find her siblings who were at church and tell them what happened. She stopped by to tell me and I felt like my heart had been ripped out. The heart of the family was gone. But, what a beautiful day to pick to go back home, Easter Sunday.

People often wonder if they were loved. Ma knew she was loved by family but she would have been surprised by the outpouring of people at her funeral. People talked about how she did little things for them over the years that they never forgot. We all said our good byes and then everyone went home. Pop had people with him so I knew he would be all right. It seems like yesterday instead of the 11 years that has passed. Pop is gone now too and a day doesn't go by that I don't miss them both.

I was sitting on my couch trying to think of a title for this post, when it hit me. She was a gift from God. You see, I lost my mom when I was 15. God through Ma let me see what it would have been like to have a mom as a grown woman. I will aways and forever be grateful for that.