My mom was one of eight children born to a coal miner in southeastern Kentucky during the Depression. When she was 12 her mother suffered a stroke and was bedridden for the next 14 years until her death. Mom had to drop out of school (she was in the 6th grade) to take care of her mom, dad, three brothers still at home and a couple of nephews who were living with them. As a tomboy mom had spent as little time as possible in the house, preferring to play with her brothers and nephews. Now she was suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver, housekeeper, cook. It was not an easy transition but she did the best she could. What else was there to do?
This during a time when southeastern Kentucky was still pretty rustic...outhouses, heating with coal, living on dirt roads, washing clothes by hand or with a wringer washer (which is almost by hand!), walking to and from the country store for anything and everything she needed, preparing all their meals on an ancient cookstove. I cannot even imagine the hardships.
Not to say that everything was doom and gloom. It was what she knew. Life was hard. There were also times when the family sat and played music together, mom no doubt contributing her off-key rendition of whatever song they were singing (she couldn't carry a tune in the proverbial bucket). Stories were told, practical jokes played, love shared.
By the time her mom died when my mom was in her mid 20s, all the boys had left home. Mom headed north where the jobs were, staying with cousins and waitressing. Not much a girl can do with only a 6th grade education. Mom waitressed for much of the next 15 or so years in burger joints, throughout several marriages and the births of two daughters. Right up until poor health stopped her in her tracks.
I remember that year with a clarity that surprises me. No other year stands out like that one. Mom got sick, then sicker. She'd sit up all night coughing, trying to breathe. I later learned that her doctor wanted her to go to the hospital but she wouldn't. Who would take care of her girls if she was in the hospital? She had double-pneumonia which triggered asthma that had apparently been dormant all her life. She also developed some serious allergies that caused her head to swell up, so she looked like the victim of spousal abuse -- although there was no husband in the picture by that time.
I know now that she really thought she was going to die. She got somewhat better but would push herself and have relapses. It became impossible to work; she had neither the stamina nor the ability to work without suffering asthma and allergy attacks. This was in the midst of her final, messy divorce and as soon as the decree was final she loaded us up and headed back to Kentucky. Her thinking was to be near family who would care for my sister and me.
But the asthma and allergies didn't kill her. Cancer did. About the time she quit school at age 12 to take care of her family she also began smoking. Even when she was in the hospital on oxygen -- right after the first biopsy -- she begged us to wheel her outside so she could have a cigarette. I know of nothing more heart breaking than to see someone you love killing themselves.
Because that's what it is. Smoking is a form of suicide through addiction.
The nicotine addiction was so strong that mom smoked right up until going into a coma two days before her death.
My mom lived to see both of my kids. She never had the chance to meet my nieces. She didn't get to see any of the grandkids grow up. She missed out on so much. And so did we.
Today's post is in memory of my mom, Georgia Loretta Shepherd.
I miss her.
Mom with Jon, her first grandchild, in 1984