A Tribute to My Mother
Family Matters -- an e-mail diary of a family's confrontation with death.
Electronic Lifeline--support--moral and spiritual--from friends via the Internet.
On January 13th, 1996, Dorothy Susan McCroskey (known as "Sue") passed away at her home in Riverside, California.
So the obituary reads. She'd been ill--heart trouble, diabetes, eye trouble--for nearly two years. My sister-in-law Gloria had taken the lead in seeing to her needs. Her frequent visits, along with Marty, a home-care worker, Ken the pool man, and the yard man, were Mom's only exposure to the world. She lived as she chose, alone in her house with her memories and fears. I defended her right to do so, not, as some may suggest, because it meant I didn't have to deal with her condition, but out of love and respect for her. She'd lived a long and sometimes difficult life and she deserved to do whatever she wanted with it.
There was never any doubt that Mom would always do exactly what she wanted. Before she grew ill she was independent and strong. She despised weakness. And as it overtook her she fought not to dispise herself. We all knew of her fears, of enemies real and imagined seeking to steal from her, to injur her. But I also knew her real fear, of her own mind and body's failure.
Toward the end, Gloria reports, she was not caring for herself properly. She was becoming more prone to injury and less willing to seek medical attention. Although Gloria certainly felt that Mom's life might have been prolonged had she only taken action, insisted that she be placed under round-the-clock care, taken her to the doctor the week before, when she told Ken the pool man that she was feeling ill.
Although not always what the mainstream world would call alert, she knew her limitations better than any of the rest of us. She abhorred the notion of a nursing home. I prefer to believe that Mom chose her time and place. That, although she did not want to die, in the end she chose it over the next inevitable steps of life. I support her choice, not because it removes the burden of her ongoing care from me and my siblings, but because it so exemplifies the life of a woman who never surrendered her dignity.
This note from my friend Elizabeth, intended to amuse and cheer me up, in fact did much more. It reminded me of one of Mom's long forgotten adventures and provided me with the spark for some truly meaningful reflection.
Date: Tue, Jan 16, 1996 11:55 PM EDT
Subj: Once again I chased the Garbage truck.
Yes I have this... how shall I put it nack. The first time I chased the garbage truck I was eating breakfast in the kitchen and they were early. I grabed that smelly bag and ran out the front door. Not only did a miss the truck but I had left my keys on my kitchen counter and was locked out. this happened in November.
Today As I got out of the shower at 7.45 I heard the garbage truck, yet again banging down the street. It usually gets here after I leave for work around 8:30. Well today they were early and they were two houses away.
Thank god I bagged the trash last night and it was waiting in the Garage. I tossed my clothes on, skipping my under wear, grabed my coat, and sprinted to the basment. Hit the open button and flew down the drive way with two bags in hand. As I returned with the third bag the truck was just leaving, but yes I got that bag right into the back of the truck. And I was on time to work as well.
Now if I had been thinking, I would not have sprinted down an Ice covered driveway. Shit I could have really killed myself, or at least broken a leg. Besides my Garage is so God damn cold I could leave dozens of bags there for months, and not even the rats would know.
I am assuming that you flew out to California, since your answing machine is not on. I'll keep you in my prayers and hope that you and Bruce can together work through it all. Don't take any shit or chase a garbage truck that is not worth catching.Ciao for now Elizabeth
Mom was known for telling the same stories over and over, but her garbage truck story was one that I hadn't thought of in years. As I read Elizabeth's note I realized that Mom's adventure was one of the best examples of her and the way she lived her life. On my flight to California I wrote it down, and later edited it for her memorial service.
Earlier this week my friend Elizabeth sent me an e-mail about how she'd chased the garbage truck, bags in hand, down her icy drive that morning because it was early making its rounds.
In her kind attempt to brighten a difficult day she unwittingly reminded me of a story that I'd like to share here. It was my Mother's story, just as it was her adventure, but I don't think she'd mind my borrowing it.
When I was in elementary school, Mom and her friend Mary took classes to learn to make hooked rugs. One morning Mary's husband dropped her off early at our house, and rather than carry her rug, supplies, and loaves of fresh bread for the class inside, she left it all in the the driveway next to Mom's car.
They were enjoying coffee--caffiene wasn't a sin back then--when Mom heard the garbage men rattling and banging in the driveway.
"Mary, where did you leave your rug?"
"Beside the car."
"Beside the trash cans?"
"Well, I guess so . . ."
They ran out to the driveway and found--nothing. (Garbage men were less picky about special bags and cans with lids back then.)
"Your rug!" cried my mom.
"My bread!" Shouted Mary.
They ran down the driveway, but the truck was out of sight.
"He can't have gone far," Mom reasoned, so off they went, driving around the neighborhood following the sound of crashing cans.
At last they waved down the truck. They explained the problem to the two men collecting the trash. The driver, once he understood, removed his hat, threw it down, and followed it to the pavement in the middle of the street. According to Mom, he kicked his heels on the pavement muttering, " no, no, no ..."
His partner remained a little more rational. When he realized that these two women would not be put off, he explained that the only way to retrieve Mary's belongings was to dump the truck.
"Fine, go ahead," said mom, "you should never have picked up that rug in the first place."
"Lady, the only place I can unload is the dump."
Well, neither Mom nor Mary was afraid of the dump.
"Fine, we'll follow you there."
He tried to talk her out of it, Mom was not to be put off. All the time they argued the other guy lay kicking on the ground, "no, no, no ..."
Finally the garbageman reluctantly agreed to drive to the dump, got his partner off the ground, and lead the way. Mom and Mary followed in Mom's '68 Mustang.
The garbage truck entered the dump, Mustang right behind, and stopped at the edge of a hillside of reeking trash. Mom, Mary, and the garbage man stood back as the truck disgorged its load.
Finally, from amid the dripping bags and mashed leaves Mary's rug and contorted hooking frame emerged. Mom plunged in to sort out bags of dyed wool and scissors from bags of kitchen trash. Mary was more concerned with another package, and kept searching after the rugs had been retrieved.
"My bread!" she wailed, holding up a sodden, flattened paper bag, "do you think it'll be okay?"
My mom chased a lot of garbage trucks. She won a lot of the small victories that are the fabric of every day life. She often struggled with what other people might think. But she rarely let it stop her.
That was her greatest gift to me: When others lie Kicking in the street, press on.
It takes the same courage to chase a garbage truck as it does to face all of life's adversities.
She would say to Elizabeth, to me, and to all of you: "Stop kicking, get up, and go after that truck."
For the past 18 months my mother faced life's most difficult, inevitable challenge. I will forever admire her strength and independence and thank whatever trick of genetics or nature or nuture that gave some of those qualities to me.
And I will forgive her for finally giving up the chase. It was her race, not ours, and who are we to say whether she won or lost?
But I am left pondering one thing: Mom? Is the bread okay?
Despite my efforts at composure I had a difficult time delivering this eulogy. After the service my brother Bruce gave me a hug and whispered, "I think the bread's just fine."
I sent Elizabeth the story to thank her for being my muse, and she replied:Date: Wed, Feb 7, 1996 11:32 PM EDT
Subj: The Garbage truck
I really love the stroy about your Mom. In a very active voice it lets the reader know exactly who she was. She was not afraid to be different and she always fought for what she believed in. She was a strong and oppinonated woman, who cared about the people around her greatly. Describing her would not have given the reader the same sense of the indiviual.
I guess the best gift a parent can give a child is the strengh to go into the world and persure their dreams, along with the skills to do it.
.... chat later... Elizabeth