Thursday, April 05, 2007

Who I am

If you go down to a certain courthouse in TN, you will find my birth certificate on record. I was born at St. Mary's Hospital behind Bailey Park in Humboldt, Tennessee in 1965. I am not Catholic, but it was the only hospital in town. So the nuns held my mom's hand as she labored and told her what a good patient she was while the woman next to her moaned and spat curses all night. Mama, ever the lady, just bit her lip. St. Mary's is now a nursing home. We Southerners recycle everything.

I can walk barefoot on gravel, hot pavement, and through a blackberry patch with ease. My daddy had three girls, but was in denial about it, so we broke his horses for him and helped him build his barn. We got BB guns for Christmas one year, which we proceeded to fill with red ants and shoot at the older neighbor boys. Well, my baby sister didn't get to shoot BBs. She had to settle for an air gun which she promptly stuck in the soft ground and made dirt pellets to shoot. No back seat for her. She could hang with the best of us. She did one day get mad at us for not letting her play with the us older kids and said she was running away from home. We promptly helped her pack her knapsack and tie it to a long stick and watched her head down the road. She didn't get far.

I was raised on "Peminnah-N-cheese" or peanut butter banana sandwiches. No uppity Yankee watercress for us.
Most of us younguns drank Kool-Aid from the silver Kool-Aid pitcher just like the one on the commercial. Daddy drank buttermilk and crumbled cornbread in it--or biscuits, or cake, or whatever he had on hand. Mama handed him a tuna salad sandwich one night, to which he replied, "What the **** is this mess?"
Mama replied, "It's all we got in the cabinet. Eat it and be grateful."
"Ain't ya got some brown beans or white beans or somethin'?"
"In that case, it's mighty fine eatin'."
And he never said a word about what she put on the table ever again.
My favorite memories are of painting the long white fence around our property--getting the paint all over our clothes and in our hair and slapping it on each other. "Take pride in your work," our Daddy said. "Do it right the first time."

We grew a garden every year. One year was particularly hot, and so when we finished digging potatoes, Daddy took us down to the Forked Deer River for a swim to cool off. Even Mom went in.
Then we would come home and go for trail rides. I never will forget my Daddy bringing home Shorty at 11:00 one night. He was a very tall black pony. I rode him around in the yard that night in my gowntail. These are the memories I choose.

I was there when both my parents died. My dad died t 51 after a five-year illness that involved arterial brain disease. I watched my mother give up her life to care for him rather than placing him in an institution or nursing home. One of his last days at home I wheeled him out to the yard to enjoy the fall air. He sat in the wheelchair, my mom in the yard swing. And he smiled at her. I knew then that no matter what hell he ever put her through that he loved her...and she loved him. They planted buttercups one Saturday along the bank down by the road...lots and lots of buttercups. Because Mama loved Buttercups. She loved Dahlias. She loved roses. The roses were few, the thorns many. But she had buttercups...The bank is full of them yet today. I will always have that memory.

I sat and held my mother's hand as she succumbed to breast cancer at 61. She died in the bedroom they had shared, in the home they had lived in since I was 2. She did not get to graduate from the Baptist Nursing Program. She kept the acceptance letter all those years in her cedar chest. She opted to marry and have dad's kids. And that was the life she chose. In the end, I suppose she did get to be the nurse she always dreamed of. But she was so much more. She was the woman I'll never be. She took me to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. She made sure I was clean and well fed and knew right from wrong. She sacrificed more than one woman should ever have to. But she did it, and in the end I don't think she regretted the life she lived. I think she died with a clear conscience knowing she gave Dad everything she had. I know she loved him.

I don't know if I can be that kind of wife, be that strong and supportive...and forgiving. I don't know what I am willing to sacrifice for the sake of my child. what I'm willing to give up or do without. But I do know that whatever happens in my future, I will survive. Because she taught me that. They both did. My daddy would say, "You don't have to take a back seat to anyone. Hold your head up and be proud of who you are." No matter what else I learned from my parents, I learned what love is and what it isn't. And so I walk this road of discovery, learning every day who it is that I really am...and learning a step at a time, to hold my head up and stop saying, "I can't." But, "I will." I am who I am. If you love me, love me for the me I am today...not what you want me to be. Because I may never be able to live up to your expectations. Love me because you choose to, in spite of my faults and failures--in spite of how I disappoint you...or in spite of even how I treat you when I'm hurt and angry. Love me because you want to...not because it's expected, required, or even returned. Without love, we are nothing...our relationships are hollow and meaningless and a mockery of what they were intended to be. And if there's anything that scares me it is the coming to the end of my life and knowing that I wasted it. I want my life to count for something.

I want people to look into my casket and know that the person lying there gave life and God everything she had. That it was a life well spent and not in vain. That she loved God more than she loved anything else in life...and was proud to be called His daughter. That I did my best in spite of what life handed me, I chose the good..whatever that may be. I want to be remembered as someone who loved.


Sista Cala said...

A fitting tribute to our parents, and to putting into practice all they instilled in us.

Delia said...

This is a truly beautiful post!

Thank you for sharing your memories and a piece of who you are.

Gretchen said...

Yes. This is very beautiful. Probably my favorite post of yours:-)
Gretchen Lavender

Saija said...

memories live on forever ... and you shared these in such a wonderful way ... thank you ...

Idgie @ the "Dew" said...

Hi! Idgie here, Editor of Dew on the Kudzu. I love your Who I Am post. As a fellow Peanut Butter and Nanner Sandwich eater I can relate to all of it!

You say you're an aspiring writer - let me know if you would like to submit a story to the Dew. I like the way you write and would love to share it with others!

Anonymous said...

You have a wonderful way with words. You truely are a writer. I would love to put my memories in writing like this, but mine sound blah,mine wouldn't sound great and touch a heart like you have.