And, with that, after four months in Indiana for a fabulous teaching gig at the Earlham School of Religion and five weeks of not seeing Precious, MayBelle walked up the brick steps to the green door with the brass fox knocker and into the arms, and paws, of her beloved. Now she will get some rest, and give thanks, and begin to unpack her car, which should keep her busy until around Wednesday of next week. Thanks to everyone who made her Indiana adventure possible, with a special tip of her hat to Mary-Milam Granberry and Sheri Malman: the happy boxes made all the difference. More to come…
In an attempt to be one fraction as crafty—and by that MayBelle means talented, not sneaky—as the fabulous Mandy Ford over at mandyford.blogspot.com, MayBelle jumped at the chance to work on an artsy project when prompted by the equally fabulous Keetha Moseley at keetha.com to join her in a monthly creative challenge.
The first assignment involved paper, and MayBelle does love her some paper stuff. She freely admits to having an office supply and stationery store “issue,” so she had plenty of supplies on hand. And seeing that she’s teaching a class on “the writer’s voice” as we speak, MayBelle decided to honor that endeavor thusly, and she hopes to make each student a similar version if she doesn’t run out of time or energy. Or glue sticks.
Yesterday was the first Mother’s Day that MayBelle’s mother might not have been aware of. Sure, MayBelle sent a card. And her sisters took their mother out to lunch and presented her with a basket of happies.
But it’s anyone’s guess how much their mother actually took in, now that they’ve gotten the diagnosis of dementia.
She’s still funny, still proper, still recognizes her children. But the memory comes and goes, and not in a “where did I put my glasses oh they’re on my head” kind of ha-ha way that so many of us resort to now that we’ve hit middle age and we can’t, well, find our glasses. It’s serious business, this dementia, and it’s taking some getting used to on everyone’s part.
So yesterday, when MayBelle called to wish her mother Happy Mother’s Day, who knows what it sounded like on the other end of the phone? But here’s what came through loud and clear to MayBelle, out there in Indiana, from a middle-aged daughter to her ninety-two-year-old mother and back again: “I love you.”
Maybe you don’t need memory to hold on to what really matters in the end. MayBelle, for one, is banking on it.
MayBelle realizes the chances are slim that she actually saw a beaver dashing into the hedge as she finished her walk in Richmond, Indiana, last night, but that’s what it looked like to her. It was not, she told Precious when he questioned her after she reported the rare sighting, a cat or an opossum or a raccoon. It was bigger and bushier and browner. She’d really like to say it was a platypus but she knows that would give Precious reason to suppose she’d gone around the bend for sure, having been separated from him for so long and all. So instead she simply asks that you not harsh her buzz, and allow her this foray into her imagination. She quite likes it in there, even if she is seeing things.
Because MayBelle couldn’t snap a photo of the rapidly moving, mysterious wildlife in the hedge, she offers you this picture of goldfish in a pond, which she took outside the Warm Glow Candle Company in Centerville, Indiana. At least she thinks they’re goldfish…
MayBelle is not one of those people who can never say she’s sorry. (Please excuse her double negative, if that’s indeed what that was.) In fact, MayBelle is the kind of gal who apologizes early and often, even for things she had no part in, maybe didn’t even witness. Just hearing about some atrocity on the news is enough to make MayBelle consider taking the wrap.
She’s not sure how this habit began, but she suspects it’s related somehow to the time when she was a kid and her parents lost sight of her while they were touring the battleship over in Mobile. Is it MayBelle’s fault her mother and father weren’t paying attention to her, so taken were they with the maritime history of Alabama? No, it is not MayBelle’s fault, but she’s been glad to carry the guilt as if it were for some thirty years now. Oops, make that forty.
And so it was that MayBelle found herself apologizing yet again over the weekend, for something for which she was not remotely responsible. Everybody in the room looked at her like she was nuts when she spoke those two words: “I’m sorry.” (Please note: This is not the time to debate whether MayBelle may, indeed, be nuts.)
The difference, though, is that MayBelle is catching on. She is realizing, after lo these many years of self-examination, therapy, and misplaced utterances of regret, what’s “on her” and what’s not. What she can be held responsible for and what she has no control over. What she can claim and what she can cast off.
MayBelle had rather err on the side of politeness, naturally, as she is her mother’s daughter. But now that MayBelle has reached the age of gray hair and bifocals, she’s grown tired of lugging around stuff that doesn’t belong to her. So if you’re in need of some extra guilt, just let MayBelle know. She’s getting rid of a batch of hers, and it’s going cheap.
“Be where you need to be,” said the yoga instructor last night, as MayBelle let out a yelp while struggling to keep her balance. Relocated temporarily to Indiana for work, MayBelle is working with a new instructor, one who doesn’t know MayBelle feels compelled to moan when she does anything remotely related to physical exercise. Back home in Tennessee, her friends call her the “moaning yogi” she makes so much noise.
MayBelle pushed through to a respectable twisting triangle pose (probably not its technical name), and managed to finish the class without many more outbursts. She wasn’t the most coordinated woman in the room, nor was she necessarily the least fit (if she does say so herself). Smack in the middle, really, which is where MayBelle usually finds herself in life. Extremes are not MayBelle’s strong suit. She often thinks back to the time her father said to her, probably when MayBelle was complaining about how all the girls at school were prettier/smarter/more popular/insert your comparison here: “There will always be someone prettier than you, and someone less attractive. Someone smarter, and someone dumber. Richer and poorer.” His approach might have lacked tact, but MayBelle got his point. She loved that about her father, how he shot straight to the heart of things.
And so, on the floor of the BeaTree Yoga Studio in Richmond, Indiana, legs crossed and eyes closed, MayBelle offered up her “Namaste” and gave thanks for being right where she needs to be, even if she’s not always sure exactly where that is.
Word has come that two friends of MayBelle’s have died: a male college classmate, just 51; and a 92-year-old woman named Jeanne. She hadn’t seen the man in years, but remembers him fondly. They kissed once after a fraternity party. He was graduated with honors and then went on to become a doctor. The woman she knew several years back when they attended the same church, and MayBelle came to love the woman, who was a fine example of what it means to live with faith and gratitude.
MayBelle is shocked by the news about her college friend, cognizant that time is scooting by with seemingly increased vigor now that she is in her fifties. And she is grateful that she hears of Jeanne’s death in time to make it to her funeral, which turns out to be a celebration of life indeed.
Lately there have been other reminders of what it means to age: a nephew turning thirty and getting married; her mother’s health in rapid decline; MayBelle’s List of Dreams still calling out to her. Sometimes it is almost too much for MayBelle. But one thing growing old has taught her—and there are many such lessons—is to reach out for help when she needs it. She has learned, over and over again, that going it alone is not all it’s cracked up to be, and most of the time no one’s paying attention to how independent you think you are anyway.
So she calls a friend, and they tell stories from their college days, remembering their classmate with kindness. And MayBelle feels better, at least for now.
Tomorrow she’ll write the man’s parents a note, telling them she is glad to have known their son and that she is sorry for their loss. She’ll make a donation to charity in Jeanne’s memory. She will check on her mother. And MayBelle will meet her trainer at the gym for their hour-long workout, in the hopes she can develop the strength–and the abs–to get one more dream accomplished.
MayBelle spent a good deal of the weekend in tears. It started on Friday, when she opened the card and gift from her husband, Precious, in honor of their tenth wedding anniversary. It’s not really unusual for MayBelle to tear up when she thinks about Precious, because it still surprises her when she finds him next to her in bed in the morning. On occasion, the first words out of her mouth are “What are you doing here?” That’s how convinced MayBelle was that she’d never get married; remnants of her single life still creep in now and again.
The tears continued later that day, when MayBelle walked into their room at the fabulous Stone Fort Inn in Chattanooga to find flowers, and chocolate-covered strawberries, and champagne, waiting for her.
Saturday was a tear-free day, unless you count the minor meltdown MayBelle had when she saw a man on a street corner who appeared to be homeless. Sometimes MayBelle does not handle reality all that well.
And there were a few more sniffles on Sunday morning, when MayBelle entered the dining room of the inn and Van Morrison was playing on the sound system. One chorus of “Have I Told You Lately,” and MayBelle was a goner.
“It’s like they knew you were coming,” said Precious, smiling because he knows what a fan MayBelle is. In fact, with all due respect to her fellow Episcopalians, MayBelle likens the time she heard Van Morrison at the Ryman to a religious experience. Really, it was that amazing.
And when, on the ride home to Nashville on Sunday, MayBelle was overcome with a feeling of sadness she couldn’t quite place, it wasn’t until her stepdaughter called to wish Precious a Happy Father’s Day that MayBelle realized it had been eleven years since she’d had the pleasure of calling her own father, the first love of her life. Eleven years since she’d heard him thank her for whatever gift she had sent, certainly a token too small to honor all he did for MayBelle over the years. (MayBelle is reminded here of Billy Collins’ poem poem “The Lanyard,” which celebrates the idea that a lanyard made at camp might be enough of a thank-you to his mother for giving him life. Read it, please, if you haven’t already.)
So the Sunday tears were a little sadder, a tad saltier, than the ones MayBelle shed earlier in the weekend. But they represented a lot of love, just like the joy-filled tears, and for that MayBelle is one grateful middle-aged goober indeed.
Here is a tip from MayBelle (you can thank her later): If your new neighbor introduces herself to you as “Susan,” don’t spend the next thirty minutes referring to her as “Lois.”
If you were to describe how MayBelle looks, you might mention her wide hips, green eyes, and preference for wearing linen. If you were Precious, you might also make note of her “perfect ankles.” You would not, however, see a green thumb.
Over the weekend, when MayBelle and Precious made their annual trek to local nurseries, MayBelle felt a little guilty spending money, yet again, on flowers and potting soil and fertilizer, when she knows full well most of these blooming lovelies won’t last past July under her care. Then, as she was weeding and planting and sweating, she found this:
And she was reminded that hope springs eternal.