The phone rings.
“Mother’s in the hospital,” said my brother.
“I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“Brandon, Mamaw’s in the hospital.”
“Do you want me to go there tonight, Mom?”
“No. In the morning will be fine. Will you pick me up at the airport?”
“Bryant, Mamaw’s in the hospital.”
“How bad is she, Mom?”
“I don’t know. When I get there tomorrow I’ll call you.”
At 85 years old, her time come to go home. I hope, for her sake, it’s not a long, downhill slide. She still lives by herself, dependent on no one. To live otherwise will be intolerable to her.
Her tiny community depends on her; not because the dilapidated store she owns is needed, as in previous years. She’s a constant, a link to a simpler time when the General Merchandise store was what the name implies… from milk and eggs to livestock feed, and nails sold by the pound. The benches on the front porch and chairs by the ancient coal burning stove are still there. But, people no longer take time to sit and talk, and most of the old folks are gone. Now, she mainly sells cigarettes and sodas, with many bare shelves in the dark, drafty, cavernous building constructed in 1867. With no insulation or air conditioning, the summer heat makes it necessary to refrigerate chocolate candy bars to prevent melting. Sometimes, in the winter, sodas freeze and explode the glass bottles. The only days the store isn’t open for ten hours are Sundays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. People have to drive out of the isolated valley to find jobs, so they buy groceries and necessities elsewhere.
She is the third generation to sit in the family church pew every Sunday, accompanied only by two great-grandsons. The congregation is small, twelve to fifteen at most.
“Mom, I didn’t want to tell you ‘til you got here. Mamaw almost died this afternoon, but they were able to save her.”
“Were you there, Brandon?”
“They didn’t put her on life support, did they?”
“No. Uncle Robert wouldn’t let them.”
“Good. She wouldn’t want that. Is she conscious?”
“Brandon told me you were coming.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Just a little tired.”
“You can rest, now. I’ll stay with you.”
“Have you seen Patrick?”
“No ma’am. I came straight from the airport.”
There are just the two of us, my brother and me. When the grandbabies started coming, our mother hoped for a girl. At that time, knowing the baby’s sex before the magic moment wasn’t an option. There was boy after boy, a total of five: Patrick, Bryant, Michael, Brandon, and James. The next generation wasn’t promising, either, with four great-grandsons.
And then, along came Jordan, now three months old. The family matriarch has yet to meet her.
“There’s not much time, Bryant. We have to get Jordan here immediately.”
“I’ll have her and her mom on a plane in the morning. I’ll drive and be there Monday.”
My cell phone rings. “Mom. We’re at the hospital door at the end of the hall, by the back parking lot,” said Brandon.
“I’ll let you in. We have to be very quiet so the nurses don’t hear us.”
“Mama. Are you awake?”
“Here’s your great-granddaughter.”
“Do you feel like holding her?”
The old woman smiles and with gnarled, gentle fingers caresses her great-granddaughter’s face.
She drifts in and out of sleep.
“Bryant came to see me.”
“Did I miss Michael?”
“No, Mamma; he’ll be here later.”
“Is it raining?”
“Was James here?”
“No ma’am. He’ll be here later.”
“Mama, are you hurting?”
“Why are you moaning?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will Patrick, Michael and James be here?”
“They’ll be here later.”
“Dear God in heaven, why is this taking so long?”
“Mama, think about the happiest day in your life. Can you see it?”
“Let your mind go there. Remember how you felt, what you saw, who you were with. It’s okay to let go. Your work here is done.”
“I’ll try,” she said.
I held her hand and stroked her white hair. She closed her eyes.
I walk to the nurse’s station and wait until someone notices me.
“It’s over,” I said. “She’s gone home.”
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