Fragility and Spirit

Fragility and Spirit
February 24, 2009 at 8:38pm
I stopped to see my mother at Garden Courte Memory Care today after class and on my way to Tacoma. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of weeks. She’s lost more weight. She was in bed. That’s what she wants, to stay in bed. She has to be urged to get up, to eat, to move at all. Her eyes finally opened and she saw me. Her eyes. They are still very bright and blue. But it is impossible for me to tell what she sees. I always touch her, rub her arms, smoothe her hair. I sit beside her, both of us silent, and look at photographs these days. Old photographs she kept in albums and that are still in boxes on her night stand near the bed. The one I have in my hand now is of the Welsh May clan, my mother’s mother’s family. The Mays stand together in this picture, all smiling and touching one another. This photograph, a sepia snap probably taken by my grandfather Zora Pleasant Davis, dates to sometime in the early 1920s. Mary Jane Owens May, my great grandmother (whose Welsh speech caused her to be teased unmercifully..all those gutteral sounds cracked the May clan up no end) was widowed. Her husband had a heart attack in a West Virginia coal mine. He came to her (yes he did!) as she sat calmly rocking on an Ohio porch swing. He told her he was dead. So she took up ironing and cleaning houses for people in order to raise my aunts Bee and Matilda (Toadie) and my uncle Lawrence. In the photograph Lawrence’s wife Bess is on the far right. Her daughter’s hands rest on her shoulders, the daughter who believed that she was unable to walk and ended her life in a state mental institution, a double amputee.The doctors joined in her delusion and made it a fact. But in this photograph, everyone is smiling and still walking and the men look relatively sober. Even Uncle Lawrence who once told my 9 year old brother that if he wanted to be a good baseball player he had to chew tobacco, drink good liquor, and run with women. Then he showed him a box of photographs with pictures of women he’d “known” in India and Bolivia and Southeast Asia while working for Marion City Steam Shovel company. I still have the doll he brought me from Bolivia when I was two. And a marble elephant from Delhi. My grandmother, Lelah, is the woman on the left. She is happy on this day. By 1942, her only son would die in a plane crash, a First Lt. in the Army Air Corps. And Zora, a concientious county prosecutor, would die two years later from the stroke he suffered shortly after watching his son’s plane lifted from the swamp near Kitty Hawk where it, with him, had fallen when he lost his bearings. Probably the result of the dizziness he suffered periodically after a football head injury.

Mother kept this picture in her box along with a letter from Mike DiSalle, the then governor of Ohio, inviting her to his office on who knows what pretense. And in the box also is a newsclipping announcing she’d been offered a post with the department of aging in Greene County, Ohio. She declined the summons, choosing, another article said, to stay with Dr. Vernier as a receptionist in his office in Fairborn, Ohio. What mysteries.

About Llyn De Danaan

LLyn De Danaan is an anthropologist and author. She writes fiction and nonfiction. Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay was published by the University of Nebraska Press. She is currently a speaker for Humanities Washington.
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