At The Head Of Her Class
"Teacher, I want you to bless me."
"Mama," I offered assistance, "Hassan goes off duty, now, for four days. And, he wants you to give him a blessing.
My words evidently reached through Mom's fog of pain and disability.
"Help me up," she instructed.
Hassan and I lifted Mom into a sitting position, swinging her legs to the side of the bed. Hassan squatted at her knees. Mom placed both of her frail, work-worn hands on top of the black curly-haired head.
"'The LORD bless thee, and keep thee," Mama quoted from memory. "'The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.' God bless you, Hassan. Thank you for all you do for me."
"Thank you, Mom," Hassan squeezed her hands gently. "I love you and I keep praying for you."
The health workers at North Ridge Convalescent Care Center gave our mother the perfect nickname, "Teacher." It was more than her social history, her lifetime of school teaching. She continued to teach to the end.
"We want you to lay down, Mrs. Thompson."
"LIE down," Mom corrected. The nursing assistants giggled.
"We don't ever get that right, do we?"
One day I joined her in the physical therapy department, to see how she was doing. The therapist instructed Mom, "Now, we are going to have you lie here...." Mom looked at her sideways, an obvious twinkle in her eye.
"You got THAT right!" she said with emphasis.
The therapist reacted, "Yes! Oh, I was so worried I'd say it wrong, again!" And we all had ourselves a good laugh.
Mom entered North Ridge suffering severe pain from spontaneous compression fractures of her spine. She arrived at just the right time, Autumn. We had little to fear about her adjustment to these new surroundings. This was her favorite time of year, the start of school. She noticed the bulletin board in the dayroom, decorated for the season by the occupational therapy staff. It reminded her of her own classrooms, and the monthly bulletin boards she so artistically and lovingly prepared. Out the large dayroom windows she could see the gorgeous changing leaves. And, railroad tracks a couple blocks down the road carried a favorite sound every time the train whistled through the area. This was as close to her ideal environment as we could have hoped to find for her.
It didn't hurt that we brought a huge bowl for Mom's room that we kept full of fun-size candy bars. I made a sign and taped it above the bowl.
"'Tricks & Treats' for Mom's care-givers. Give Mom a Bible verse, and get DOUBLE treats!"
The staff needed no excuse to flock to Mom's bedside. We were thrilled at all the attention she received. It became a very therapeutic situation, in more ways than one.
Tall, black-skinned King danced into Mom's room. "Hello, Teacher! 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth....'" and he plunged his hand into the candy bowl.
I laughed, "King, are you planning to recite the whole Bible from beginning to end for us?"
The young charge nurse came with Mom's medications. "Let's see, 'Walk with God.'"
"I think you made that one up," Mom chided with a smile.
When Hassan walked into Mom's room, and entered our lives, we knew we had found another brother. He recited more than a verse. Whole chunks of Scripture poured out of his heart and mouth. "Oh, I just want to preach the Gospel!" he said with such fervor, it sounded close to a groan.
Even though little children had been Mom's favorite (she said first grade could make all the difference whether a child would love or hate learning. Her classrooms were like a trip to Disney Land for her country school children), in her retirement years she continued to study and always had much she wanted to share with her numerous offspring, big and little. In fact, she could grow a bit irritated with all of us. "You aren't paying attention!" she often scolded.
Finally, one day, I reminded her gently "Mama, we aren't in school. This isn't a classroom, and we aren't your students!" Poor Mom! I think she secretly enjoyed being the center of attention. And, even though she was fun to tease, in the hearts of all her children she was always at the head of her class.
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