Yellow Dress

The first time I met Lois was Thanksgiving Day in 1982. I was “the new woman” in her grown son’s life. Buck was Lois’s only child and she intended to take my full measure.

As for me, I was scared to death.

When Lois suffered a major stroke in November of 1990 she learned soon enough that her independent life was forever changed, that she had to trust Buck and me to take care of her. As time went by she learned we did not extract any sort of price for this, no diminution of her pride, and Lois was liberated to love us.

Notes:   Lois was discharged from Baptist Hospital in December and came home to live with us. She returned to the hospital on December 27 for several days to have a pacemaker implanted, then again for two weeks in April after suffering a several trans-ischemic attack which left her with further deficits. Dealing with Lois’s moment-to-moment well-being, physical needs, and mood states have been the dominant fact of ours since November 9.

Over the nine months since Lois’s initial stroke she lived with us in a bedroom just down the hall from our own. Some of our thoughts about options for the future are written here:

1. Lois ever being able to return to her Syrcle Drive home on Navy Point doesn’t seem viable to any of us.

2. Staying as we are — now that Lois seems stabilized and has improved a great deal — seems too close for the long-term comfort of any of us (living quarters).

3. Adding an apartment-type suite to the house. There still would be strangers, plus Lois in the in the house, and as she weakens, around the clock workers living in. This doesn’t really help us, but rather institutionalizes our lack of privacy and demolishes our honeymoon lifestyle during our peak years together.

4. Building a house on a nearby lot, within sigh of the deck, and staffing it with a paid live-in, with additional assistance from a caregiver’s company.

5. Now that Lois’s mental state has vastly improved and her physical condition stabilized, there is no reason to think she will not be able to live with a reasonably high quality of life, albeit much more narrow than before, for years to come.

6. To look at it any other way seems like we are impatiently waiting for death. We must move on, knowing that death may come at any time for any one of us, but nonetheless we must all live each day in the expectation of life.

7. This is a tough experience.


Lois’s last day:    It was June 15, 1995. Sandra, an LPN at Azalea Trace, called at 3:00 a.m. to say Lois’s condition was rapidly deteriorating. Her pulse had been at 120 for a long time, then dropped to 80, and she was struggling to breathe.

We dressed and came over. We believe she was are of our presence. Anticipating a long, tough day, Buck called his office to tell them he wouldn’t be in.

We lost Lois at 1 p.m. Shad had an oxygen mask on, but simply stopped breathing.

Later that day, I saw it. A new dress the color of sunshine, a happy dress, hanging in Lois’s closet at The Trace. “I don’t remember seeing this one,” I said to Buck as I went over for a closer look. “That’s strange,” I murmured.

“What’s strange?” Buck asked.

“It’s not Lois’s size. It’s  my size,” I said, turning to him.

We stood close together, looking at one another, our eyes slowly filling with tears. “It’s for you. She ordered it for you,” he whispered, wrapping me up in his arms. “Lois always said you wore too much black, that you should have a yellow dress.”

Vignettes to Write

“I love what you do for me, Toyota!”

“Well, she’s had a nice life.” (nurse at Navy Hospital)

Explaining to doctors that life was still worth living to Lois and that they shouldn’t stint on medicines or procedures that would improve her longevity and quality of life, despite whatever emergency of the moment was occurring. One of her doctors, Keith Sherlock’s partner, wrote this insight down in his patient notes, saying to Buck and me, “I’m glad you told me that. It makes a difference.”

“Twitchy Baby, I’m about to die,” scenes at our home on Williams Ditch Road.  “Well,” Lois announced one day when she was sitting alone at the mahogany dining table. “This is it. I’m going to die now.” It was a tragi-comedy, like, “Okay,” I might have thought, “you said you dying in the next five minutes. That was two months ago. What do we do now?” See what I mean? We had to find a way to move forward.

Marguerite’s visit.

Baths and lotions by the staff at The Trace.

Her own furniture.

Crossword puzzles in pencil (big eraser).

Weekend visits with Buck and me when she felt like it.

Cooler of shrimp and near beer we brought to her at The Trace.

Me crying in hallway of emergency room when Lois was on a gurney and nurse was having to stick her several times for a deep arterial blood gasses check and had trouble finding a spot that would work. “You’re making me feel terrible,” the nurse said. “This is the first time I’ve had a loved one cry while a patient was getting stuck.”

Karma — making up for neglecting my own mother.

What Do We Know, and When Do We Know It?

About 3 in the morning, a rusty old file cabinet in my brain squeaked open. A memory from 1995 came floating out like  haunting music on an endless loop.



 It was Lois, my late mother-in-law, calling me early in the morning from the nursing home, as she often did. “I dreamed about Ben!”Ben was her handsome brother who died during open heart surgery at age 42.

“You did?” I asked.

“Yes, and he told me to watch out for a black dog. That it would be on my doorstep soon. I told him I hadn’t seen a black dog.”

Inexplicably relieved, I said, “Well, that’s great, you haven’t seen a black dog, then?”

“No,” she said. “But I didn’t tell Ben about the white dog. He was on my bed this morning.”

Anger, Infertility and the Alchemy of Love

Restored from lost archive. Original post: October 27, 2003.

Mother. Now there's a loaded word. HCG, BBT, IVF, GIFT — acronyms of infertility, an arcane language of hope and disappointment.

Eleven years ago, dark drops of loss signaled an end to the campaign. My grief was formidable; frenzied physical labor my way through the pain.

Cleaning out the old detached frame garage of my ill mother-in-law's about to be sold house, I approached a heavy, homemade work table. Octagon shaped, its surface was an avalanche come to rest of ancient window casings, screen doors, metal and a small mountain of irregular wood pieces. Feeling strength and determination that I failed to identify as anger, I began pushing and tugging on the heavy pieces, throwing them from the table carelessly, with no regard for bruises, cuts or splinters. The storm subsided. I stood there panting and sweating, a dull ache beginning to move from my neck downward. I thought, "Where did that frenzy come from?"

My loving husband ministered to my battered feelings as only he is able. I consumed my hurt in caring for my dear mother-in-law, Lois, after a cruel stroke stole her ability to live independently. In the process, I finally learned how to be a true daughter.

Through the mysterious alchemy of love, by the time Lois died that June afternoon eight years ago, she had become my own little girl and I had, at last, become a mother.

Miracles Around Her


Lois sat silently in a burgundy velvet chair at the empty dining room table that early Spring afternoon in 1991. She was wearing a cornflower blue dress with a prim white collar, her porcelain hands spread out flat along the grain of the mahogany wood.

The dining room and living room were open to one another, delineated by archways and a change from carpet to tile. I was curled up with a book in a comfortable armchair in the living room, keeping one eye and an ear on my mother-in-law.

A major stroke had taken down this brilliant, tough woman several months earlier. Once she was released from the hospital, she came home to live with Buck and me, to continue her recuperation. 

"Well." I raised my head as Lois spoke.

"Lois?" I called to her. "Do you need something?"

"Today's the day," she said, leaning heavily on her elbows toward the table top, her fine, wavy silver hair shifting like falling water.

I was on my feet and reached her in seconds.

"The day for what?" I asked, touching her shoulder lightly.

Lois twisted her head up to look at me directly. "It's time," she said, her fingers splaying in an explanatory movement that suggested I was a simple child. I watched as the arthritic Herberden's nodes on her fingers glowed pink with gathered blood, ineffectual warm stars.

The microscopic anxiety spiders that sleep in my ears woke up and began running all over my head.  I couldn't help myself. "Time for what?" I asked, trying to find an inner calm.

"Well, dear," Lois began. "It happens to everybody. Today's my day. It's time for me to die."

Before I could protest, Lois stood up abruptly, looking down from her 5 foot 10 inch height onto my 64 inches, and said, "Will you take me to the bedroom so I can lie down?"

We walked slowly down the hall to her room. I helped her sit on the bed while I took off her shoes. I fluffed up two pillows, eased her down and stretched out her legs. Lois folded one hand over the other on her chest and closed her eyes.

"Can I get you anything?" I asked.

"No, Twitchy Baby," she said, calling me by an affectionate nickname, "but you had better call Buck."

I reached Buck at his office and explained that his mother believed she was about to die. He hung up to come home and I went back into Lois's bedroom to check her blood pressure. She had fallen asleep and seemed to be breathing normally. Her blood pressure was right in the circle of where it ought to be. Other than her words to me, there was no outward clue that she was in any physical distress.

Buck and I sat together by the bed and watched her sleep for more than an hour, trying to decide whether we should take her to the hospital. Suddenly, Lois's blue eyes snapped open, she gave us both a look, and then sighed deeply and said, "Well, I guess I may as well get up and eat some supper."

Lois's true time came in June of 1995. In the five months before she died, I was witness to her extraordinary dreams and visions. Lois gradually seemed to be less confused, but more strange.

During this time, one day we were laughing together about some of her dreams and hallucinations.  She said, "I sure do have a lot of miracles around me!"

I agreed then, and it is even clearer now, from the vantage point of almost fourteen years past.

The week Lois died, she talked to me about her late husband, Earl. "He is just growing and growing," she said,"and I am shrinking all the time."

I said, "It sounds like you feel you have alot of catching up to do."

She smiled. "Yes! I sure do."

The day before her death, when she could still talk a little, Lois held my hand and said, "Twitchy Baby, it's time for me to go on. Sometimes you just have to let go."

But, you know, I'm not so sure Lois was right about that.  I'm not so sure at all.




Lois’s Dreams and Visions

During the five months before Lois died on June 15, 1995, her dreams and visions became extraordinary. A January journal entry notes that she seemed less confused, but stranger. Things she said: “I sure have a lot of miracles around me.” “It’s time for me to go on. Sometimes you just have to let go.” She talked about her late husband Earl and how he was just “growing and growing” and she was “shrinking” all the time. At this, I said, “It sounds like you feel like you have a lot of catching up to do,” and she responded, “Yes! I sure do.” There were times during this period when she was confused, virtually delirious, with visual hallucinations, no logical thinking or ability to focus. She would become agitated in one moment and giggly the next, using strange pointing gestures. Her balance was very poor, and the nurses tried to get her to use her walker. Kidney damage was taking its toll. Dr. Keith Shearlock (nephrologist) was concerned about her creatinine clearance and tried to keep her meds fine-tuned to improve mental clarity. He said decline in kidney function was the culprit. Dr. Shearlock reduced the Bumex and Aldactone, took her off sinequan and replaced it with haloperidol in an effort to change her habit of wakeful nights and sleepy days. He also gave instructions that no meds be given before 7 a.m. Previously, the staff were waking her up between 5 and 6 a.m., further screwing up her chances of a decent night’s sleep. Shearlock continued to press Buck and me to consider dialysis. Whether it was due to the doc’s change of meds or a gift from God, Lois came back to us in March and had a few weeks in the sunshine. Her mental confusion was gone for awhile, she was getting dressed more often, and had gotten interested in her clothes catalogs again. she even looked for an Easter dress. I remember a beautiful coral-colored pants outfit that she wore. We sat on her patio in the sun together and enjoyed the lovely spring weather. But April, oh, April was a tough month for Lois. Buck and I were in Tallahassee quite a bit because of his work with the legislative session, and so we didn’t see her every day. She had brief, intermittent episodes of shortness of breath and racing pulse. She had on-again, off-again pain in her shoulder which she thought was bursitis. She also had several episodes of agitation so severe that the staff doctor for Azalea Trace, Coy Irvin, prescribed Tranxene (which Lois called “my little blue pill.”) We began to find her in a deep sleep each time we came by, no matter what the time of day. One day, when I found her asleep, looking as though she was about to fall out of the bed, I got concerned about the tranxene and whether it was the cause. Shearlock modified the dosage so she would get one in the evening. Before, it was as often as every four hours, prn, and she was requesting it at most shifts. The change helped. She seemed content and was awake, or at least easily wake-able, when we came by. Around this time Lois went on a clothes-buying binge via catalog. she didn’t have strength to try very many of them on. On Easter Sunday, Buck and I had planned to take Lois to her former church, the Presbyterian one in Warrington, then to lunch, and our house to spend the night. But she called about 8 a.m. that Sunday morning, said she had thrown up. Later in the day, it appeared she might have had another trans-ischemic attack. When I called on April 19, she was very confused. “I’m just about to head out,” she said. When I asked where she was heading, she said she was going downtown to buy Darryl some clothes; that she had finally gotten all the family settled into a motel. The family members she referenced included Ann, Marguerite, Ben, Karen and “the two Carsons,” Earl, her mother and father, and Darryl. She had some awareness that it might be, or must be, a dream, but was still not quite sure. The toughest blow to Lois came when Marguerite was hospitalized in April for several weeks and then passed away on the 27th, making Lois the only surviving sibling. It ate away at Lois that she was too frail to attend services for Marguerite. That Friday when I visited with Lois, she talked about funeral practices, about what kind of flowers she would like, and how she might go ahead and order them and make arrangements for her own funeral. She said she would like lilacs with little white flowers. Saturday, the nurses were concerned because they had such a hard time waking her up. Sunday, her hands were very cold.

May, 1995

It was the final week of the legislative session. I spoke to Lois on May 1 from our hotel room.  I was worried about her. I felt her drifting away. She told me she was sick, was nauseous and had not eaten anything at all. She said her pacemaker was not acting right; that sometimes it was racing. I asked if there was anything I could have someone get for her.

“Yes,” she said. “About half a dozen of those little blue pills.”

I had read that in the later stages of uremia there are periods of agitation alternating with periods of stupor, ultimately leading to coma. Lois was roughly following that sort of pattern.

Marguerite’s death was an awful blow.

That night, May 1, Buck and I called her when we got back to the hotel from dinner. It was an alarming conversation. Lois said Dr. Irvin and another doctor had been in and “had to cut her.” I asked where. She said “my vagina.” She said there had been terrible pain, but she was okay now.

When Buck talked with her, they talked about her conversation with Marianne, when Lois broke in and told him she was expecting a call from her doctors at any time, that they were probably trying to get through at that very moment, so he said, “Okay, bye,” and she hung up.

We called the nurse’s station and spoke with Trig, the head nurse. She said Lois had called the front desk to tell them she was having extreme pain in her shoulder, so Trig had called Dr. Irvin and gotten permission to administer Darvocette, which Lois told Trig had helped. Trig went on to say that she thought Lois was “really going down fast” and that the only thing that could be done short of dialysis (which Lois had rejected) was to keep her comfortable.

On May 2nd a nurse named Amy told me that Lois said she had gotten the best night’s sleep she had experienced in a while and felt better, however she did make an odd remark to Amy. She said, “Well when are we moving over there?” and sort of giggled about it, but didn’t mention it again.

When I spoke with Lois later that same morning, she told me “they moved Azalea Trace” last night. She said she guessed they did it while she was gone last night, and that almost everything is identical, “but prettier.” She said they “were having a time moving everything; just working their heads off.”

. . . something left out here in old copy . . . .

Marguerite. (In fact, the note said, “in loving memory.”) Maybe Marianne recounted some of Buck’s words of comfort to her in their telephone conversation, and Lois translated that to a note on a card. She said that when she complimented Buck on his words, he had said he tried to do it to the best of his ability. She talked about how the bouquet from her had lilacs in it and some tiny white flowers. This is the exact description of a photograph of a basket of lilacs which she has admired in  one of the catalogs.

She was still “certain” that she was visited by Dr. Irvin and another the night before (she wasn’t) and that they performed some type of procedure on her. She said she wasn’t sure “what got touched, but something did,” and said, “I feel greasy all over, but I’m not bleeding.”

When I told Lois I was going out for awhile to get some lunch, she had forgotten that Buck and I were in Tallahassee and didn’t know where we were. I told her we would be home in a couple of days.

Lois said, “Oh. You won’t be back for two days? Two days is a long time to live.”

Me: “But you can do it, can’t you?”

Lois: “Oh, well, I’ll have to, won’t I?”

Me: “Yes, because I’d be very upset if you didn’t. You have to wait for us to get there.”

Lois: “Okay, we, thanks so much for calling.”

Late that afternoon I tried calling Lois three times, letting the phone ring for a long time. When there was no answer, I called the switchboard and had someone go to her room to check on her. She found Lois in a very deep sleep, lying on her right side, and noted to me that other nurses and staff had reported that Lois was experiencing confusion last night and that day.

When I spoke to Lois on the 4th, she said she had done a lot of dreaming the night before. She dreamed that “Daddy and Ben were here” and that she got a note from Ben. The note said: “Be careful. Don’t be surprised if there is a little black dog on your porch.” She said she was “scared to death” the rest of the night, but that there wasn’t a black dog on her porch this morning. However, later she talked about how the little black dog was in her room all night, that he kept almost hitting her foot, but at the last minute veered away and didn’t hit it.

We couldn’t get back home for another day, and so I called her pastor, Rev. Bob Hornick, described some of our concerns, and asked him to visit her.

Later he told me they had a good visit, that she was “very perky” despite a few odd comments. She said something about “pancakes downstate” (apropos of nothing) and talked about some black dog on the TV screen, also that when she was walking down the hall, she saw herself on TV. But these oddities aside, he said her color was good.

Buck and I talked about it all and agreed that in these final times it’s positive that Lois is able, with minimal pain or discomfort, to dream and communicate in her mind with her family members such as her Daddy, her Mama, her brother Ben, and the rest, and to feel lonely to be with them, to prepare herself for that transition. Buck observed that she appeared to be enjoying this dreamlike state, and upon reflection, I find I agree.

, , , more missing words (maybe a page, hard to tell). . .


Note – write a paragraph or two about Marguerite’s visit with Lois at Azalea Trace in October of 1994.

April 4, 1995

. . .  (missing phrase) . . .  legislature is in session).  I spoke with Marguerite’s daughter, Marianne, at her home. Marguerite is being given morphine for comfort. Of course, it also decreases respiration. They expected her to go last night. Marianne says her mom is “mad that she’s still here,” that she said goodbye to her family. Marianne said Marguerite is “trying hard to die,” but her body won’t cooperate. Marguerite has requested that a small service be held at Marianne and John’s house.

April 5, 1995

(11:30 a.m. The Sheraton, Tallahassee) I spoke with Lois and explained that Marguerite is very ill, in the hospital, on morphine to keep her comfortable. I didn’t tell her that Marguerite is extremely unlikely to make it out of the hospital. Lois said she wanted to talk to Marguerite and to Marianne.

I passed this along to Marianne.

Lois got another Tranxene about 2 a.m.; siad she couldn’t sleep after that; referenced some difficulty in catching her breath. I tried again to reassure her that she has shortness of breath sometimes, but does not have emphysema, and that her situation can be remedied by oxygen or an adjustment in medication, so it’s important not to ignore it.

My thought at the time was to find out who had prescribed the Tranxene, and whether the help is greater than the harm.

Inguinal Hernias and Pulmonary Edema (older entries here)


I got home at five from errands and visiting Lois. Joe Cotti, Dr. Shearlock’s P.A., confirmed that Lois has two inguinal hernias. He theorized they may have occurred because of the strain of coughing. Surgical repair is not advisable because of her abdominal surgery history, age, and cardiovascular condition and would only be undertaken in an emergency, i.e. if her intestines herniated and became “incarcerated” or “strangulated,” a condition in which gangrene can develop rather rapidly.

Joe told us several ways to massage the small intestines back through the muscle wall while Lois lay in a prone position. He said sometimes a warm cloth helps, but that the main thing to watch for is sharp pain in the area. He advised if the intestines couldn’t be massaged back into their proper place within 2-3 hours, to get her to Baptist’s emergency room.


A lot has happened since my last entry. Lois’s abdominal problem continued to worsen until on December 21 she was admitted with acute diverticulitis and a peritoneal infection. She spent a rugged nine days at Baptist Hospital. She had to endure a frightening blood transfusion on Christmas Eve late at night, intravenous antibiotics and no food for several days, then a liquid diet, CAT scans, many x-rays and a barium enema. On December 30, she was released back to Azalea Trace with a month’s supply of the fierce antibiotic Flagyl.

She was exuberant to leave and hospital and return to the Trace. She seemed so happy to see the employees, her room, and especially the birds at the feeder. But in the following days, she continued to stay in her gown all day and barely leave the bed.

She was weak and complained of her tongue being sore and swollen. Then on Thursday of the same week, she developed a peculiar complaint. Her left arm was swollen, particularly between the elbow and hand. It felt very warm. Actually, she felt warm all over. Her blood pressure began to creep up and she seemed intermittently confused.

On Saturday morning, January 4, Buck was deer hunting just over the Alabama border about 25 miles away. I called Lois shortly after nine. She was very distressed. “I can’t pee,” she said. “My arm is huge. Nothing is working.” I called the front office to get a nurse in there. When they checked her blood pressure it was 200/84 and she was running a fever. The staff called an ambulance, I left a note for buck, and took off for the emergency room.

The diagnosis was volume overload or pulmonary edema (water on the lungs), basically an impending congestive heart failure crisis. The doctors drained a lot of fluid from her lungs using massive doses of diuretics. Fortunately, Lois didn’t develop pneumonia. The worst part of her stay was the daily painful needle sticks to check her arterial blood gas level.

Lois was released from the hospital on January 8. As of the 30th, she had not gotten dressed in street clothes a single day. She grew progressively weaker and anorexic. For several days she didn’t even eat any breakfast, always her favorite meal of the day. I made double beef consomme, took it in a thermos, and tried to feed Lois teaspoons at a time with only a little success.

Lois’s weight upon entering the hospital was 146, higher than normal because of retained fluid. Upon discharge, it was 130, but dropped to 127 within three days. Dr. Robert Harris (Shearlock’s partner) ordered the diuretics suspended and further blood testing.

By the weekend she looked and sounded much better. One of the nurses even commented that Lois had some pink back in her cheeks. By May, she was much better. I even noted in my journal that “we’ve had some miracles” with Lois.


Buck and I closed the sale of Aladdin Communications on July 6, 1990. We flew to Maine the very next day, staying for a fantastic two weeks, ten on a blueberry farm near Machias and three in a condo at Southwest Harbor.

Returning home, we enjoyed being alone in our home for the very first time: no more employees arriving at 8 a.m. Our other business, a dry cleaning shop, was in trouble as usual, and Buck and I got involved on a daily basis. He was still working as Director of Public Affairs for champion International, so I was at the dry cleaner during the work week, and we were there together on the weekends. He came as often as he could, too, during the day and at closing time. At home, we counted the money, check the receipts and figured out how to grow the business and sell it.

And then a bombshell exploded. Buck was in Stamford, CT on Thursday, November 8. I was packing to get ready for our trip to our vacation timeshare in the mountains of north Georgia scheduled for November 10. Lois enjoyed watching ESPN on television. Her TV wasn’t working properly, so that Thursday I planned to take her one of the extra old videocassette recorders form the business we had just sold so she could connect it to her old set and use its tuner and remote to access ESPN.

When I called Lois that morning about 10:30 to confirm I would be over with the VCR around 3, she said she hadn’t slept well and didn’t feel well. She said her right leg was cold all night and she just couldn’t seem to keep it warm. I suggested we could make my visit another day, but she wanted me to come along and said she would fix a Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pie for us.

When I arrived, Lois was sort of leaning against the wall, just in the space between her bathroom and closet. She looked sheepish somehow, as though she had been caught at something. I noticed she was holding her foot at an odd angle and asked her what was wrong.

. . . missing sentences . . . and gone to lie down in bed, still not feeling well. When the oven timer buzzed and she started to get out of bed, she said her right leg had “gone to sleep” and she went down to the floor, spraining her ankle.

Lois was certain we should apply heat to the ankle. She was chilled all over, really. I found some electric warming slippers for her feet. She sat in her usual chair and we shared some pumpkin pie and a glass of water. She seemed her usual self, just with a bruised ankle. I left about 6:30, after Lois assured me that she would be very careful, and didn’t plan to do anything but eat a piece of cold chicken and go to bed.

The next morning, I went to work at the dry cleaner. There was a break in the action mid-morning and I called Lois to check on her. The phone rang and rang and rang. I tried again five minutes later. Still no answer. with a stone in my belly I called Buck’s assistant, Jo Ann, to ask if she had a key to Lois’s home. Jo Ann heard the fear in my voice, said she would pick me up in a few minutes, and we would go over there.

We pounded on Lois’s door and then stood on the picnic table bench to try to see into the bedroom through its high windows. Just as we were about to find a way to break in, a pale, wretched-looking Lois staggered to the door. Jo Ann and I virtually carried Lois back to her bed. She tried speaking to us, but in a voice so thick and slurred that Jo Ann whispered a question to me, wondering if Lois might be drunk. I said no, and really began to worry.

Lois was able to tell us that she woke up ill some time during the night or early morning, vomiting, with diarrhea and a bad headache. She was very dehydrated, but was afraid to drink anything for fear of getting sick all over again. She seemed to be partially delirious, and at times appeared to lapse into near unconsciousness.

I called her regular doctor and spoke with his nurse who suggested we bring Lois to the Navy Hospital emergency room to be checked out. I didn’t know anything about the symptoms of stroke and was thinking it was something like a severe stomach virus. I remember wondering whether the chicken she had planned to eat for her supper the night before was spoiled. One thing was clear: she was extremely ill and getting worse by the minute.

The night before, when Buck had called me from New York, I told him about Lois’s accident with her foot. We agreed then that I would pick him up from the airport Friday afternoon and we would go straight to Lois’s house and check on her. Given the situation with Lois, I sent Jo Ann to meet Buck at the airport. We held off taking her to the hospital until Buck could get there and evaluate the situation.

Shortly after he arrived, we took Lois to the Navy Hospital emergency room. By then, her heart rate was unstable, her mental alertness was varying from moment to moment, she was experiencing chest pain, and she looked dreadful.

Lois was checked in,  with suspected bacterial meningitis. The doctors were wrong, and valuable time was lost.


That Vile Jiggly Stuff

Note: This is a great example of how goofy memory can be.  In the second paragraph, I wrote about how my mother made Jello popsicles. Un uh. Sometimes she made regular old Jello with canned fruit cocktail in it, but the base for the 'sickles was something like canned frozen orange juice concentrate.



Natalie Goldberg knows how to help me pull memories and feelings out of those rusty old file drawers between my ears. She said "give me ten" on Jello. 

My first thought is a positive memory. Mother would make Popsicles for us kids using fruit cocktail and jello. Once it began to gel, she put sticks in them and stuck them in the freezer. They were made in small paper cups. What a creative, clever treat for a hot day – especially good after we had been playing in the hose or the water sprinkler.  


The second one, not too pleasant.  Lemon or lime jello are your evening entree when preparing for a colonoscopy. Red is not allowed. It might show up as false blood traces.


And finally, a very negative association: my late mother-in-law Lois hated that jiggly stuff. It’s the main reason she wouldn’t go into the Azalea Trace healthcare center dining room. The one time she did, after the Activities Director and others had cajoled her into trying it, Lois’s sharp eyes saw all those impaired old folks, even in the nice setting, and lost her appetite.  The coup de gras came with desert. It was jello, crowned with a stiff clump of white artificial topping. Lois's  post-stroke tremor failed her as she tried to guide the quivering fork to her mouth and the jello wound up in her lap. Humiliated, she never returned to the communal dining room, and she never again ate that vile concoction.


We are now told that it’s a dastardly lie to say that Jello is made from horse’s hooves, but I still believe it is true and I am not going to eat it even if it will make my fingernails strong.



Reading Obituaries

It may be an old South kind of a thing. Or that notion may be a conceit. Maybe, instead, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who read obituary notices and those who don't.

I read them everyday. Mostly, thank God, they're written about people I don't know and have never heard of. Occasionally, I get an unpleasant surprise when a person I have met turns up dead, and then I stop reading, feeling a little ashamed, like I have been eavesdropping on a private conversation.

Lois got me started reading obituaries. Lois was Buck's mother, and before she died that June afternoon 13 years ago, she and I would spend many an afternoon in her nursing home room dissecting the day's obituaries. I would help her get propped up just right with several pillows at her back, and then sit in the upholstered blue rocking chair beside the bed, making our usual comfortable small talk as she folded the local section of the newspaper to the death notices and adjusted her eyeglasses.

I would sit in that cool, semi-dark room and rock, waiting for her to begin. She always started with a few monosylables: "Hum." "Oh, Dear." Then, warming up, "Now, that's an old Pensacola name."

Somewhere in the day's column of losses, Lois would find a tale to tell, something to prod one of those old file cabinets where stroke-induced lightning had flashed, and the memories would come rushing back in as though the stone had been rolled away from a dammed-up spring.

I read one this morning and a line jumped out at me:

"She was a good mother, rarely demanding, always loving."


The White Dog: What do we know and when do we know it?

IT WAS THREE IN THE MORNING when a rusty old file cabinet in my brain squeaked open. It liberated a memory from 1995, and replayed it on an endless loop.

It was Lois, my late mother-in-law, calling me early in the morning from the nursing home, as she often did. “I dreamed about Ben!” (Ben was her handsome brother who died during open heart surgery at age 42.)

“You did?” I asked.

“Yes, and he told me to watch out for a black dog. That it would be on my doorstep soon. I told him I hadn’t seen a black dog.”

Inexplicably relieved, I said, “Well, that’s great, you haven’t seen a black dog, then?”

“No,” she said. “But I didn’t tell Ben about the white dog. He was on my bed this morning.”