I have enough memories for us both

This week, I’ve laughed and cried at the many Mother’s Day memories shared by our readers.  I am truly inspired by the strong, good Christian mothers who have left their mark on this community.  As a mother myself, I hope I am remembered as fondly by my own child.

Funny, as I have spent the week immersed in memories of local moms, I realized that it is the lack of memory that makes my Mother’s Day bittersweet.

You see, my mother is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. 

I’ve read that some refer to Alzheimer’s disease as “the long goodbye,” and I think that is the best description for this horrible disease.  For the past 10 years, I have watched this disease reduce my mother from a beautiful, vibrant lady to a mere shell of herself.  It is as if that light that always seemed to surround her has been extinguished.

She can no longer remember my name, but there is recognition of me in her eyes like she knows I belong to her.  She is confined to her bed and under the care of round-the-clock nurses.

Oh, we are blessed with glimpses of her former self every now and again.  Sassing my dad or her nurses, rolling her eyes at my sisters and me when we get too loud, and smiling broadly when she sees her two grandsons – these are the moments we hope to capture in our hands and hold tight.

I now categorize my mother’s life into two phases, “before” Alzheimer’s and “after” Alzheimer’s.  And as great as it was “before,” I wouldn’t give anything for the “after” because I still get to hold her hand, watch “Law and Order” marathons with her, see her smile, tell her I love her, and if I’m really lucky, she will tell me she loves me.  And there is nothing sweeter to me these days than hearing her say those words.

It is hard to narrow down a handful of favorite memories of my life with Momma, and “before” Alzheimer’s she would probably kill me if I told some of them.  But in all of my absolute favorite memories, we are laughing about something.

For my family, laughter is our life force.  We can find humor in just about everything – the good, the bad, the inappropriate.  Sometimes, you have to laugh to keep from crying, and those are the memories that will define Momma in my mind forever.

When I was about eight-years-old, an aunt asked Momma if she would relocate four of her cats to our farm in Eudora.  Momma thought the cats would be a wonderful addition to our myriad pets, and they could keep the hayloft of the barn and grain silo free of vermin.

So with Momma and me and my two sisters all piled in the cab of Daddy’s new pickup truck, my aunt gingerly handed four very nervous cats through the window for us to drive the 30 miles from Southaven to Eudora.  There was no cat crate – this was the 80s for goodness sake.  My sisters and I planned to hold the cats the entire way -- in shorts while stuffed in the cab of a truck.

Long story short, about 15 minutes into our journey, one of the cats climbed up on Momma’s shoulder and threw up.  Momma braked hard, further aggravating the cats.  Alright, the cats went plain crazy – shredding our thighs while boomeranging off every surface of the vehicle.

Momma finally got the truck pulled over and mistakenly opened the door.  That is the moment the cats tried to stage a coup and escape, and hilarity ensued.  Needless to say, those cats figured out really quickly who was in charge. 

Now this didn’t stop them from pooping all over the cab of the truck before we got home, but thankfully for those 1980s model Ford trucks, you could just hose them out.

During my childhood – and adulthood for that matter -- “Don’t tell your father” is something my mother said quite a bit.  Let me just say that my father was not exactly a gullible fool.  Actually, he is the only man on earth who will actually notice if you got an eighth-of-an-inch of hair cut off.  So, I’m not delusional enough to believe that Daddy didn’t notice that my homecoming gown cost three times what it should or that purchase at the toy store was for someone’s birthday.  No, he knew, and like any intelligent man living in a house of four females, he picked his battles wisely.

When I was in my 20s and working for a non-profit, my beloved Scottish terrier was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and Momma went with me to the veterinary oncologist in Memphis.  Duncan wasn’t just beloved by me, he was the dog that stole the entire family’s heart – including my father’s.  There was just something special about him.

The news from the doctor was grim, but there were chemotherapy treatment options, although they were so very expensive.  When I heard the price for a month of treatments, I felt completely hopeless.  It equaled 40 percent of my monthly salary.

I remember sitting in the exam room and holding Duncan with tears streaming down my face, knowing there was no way I could afford that.  And then Momma threw her arms around me and Duncan and said, “We are going to fight this.  Duncan’s a Sexton, and Sextons are fighters.”

At this point, we were doing that screaming-talking-crying thing – the ultimate ugly cry -- and I am sure everyone at the clinic thought we were complete weirdos.  But we scheduled Duncan’s treatments, with Momma helping me when I needed it, with a wink and a “Don’t tell your father” thrown in for good measure.

I love to entertain, something I got honestly from my mother.  In her entertaining heyday, Dot Sexton could whip together a three-course meal for 24 from scratch, clean the entire house, arrange the centerpiece and lay a perfect table, and look utterly spectacular while doing it.  Momma made it all look so dang easy.

When I first bought my house in Carrollton, I gave myself a deadline to have all my boxes unpacked and the house in a perfect decorated state.  I had two months from the day I moved in to the day I scheduled my annual Christmas party, and like with most of my deadlines, I was cutting it really close to the guests’ arrival and still hadn’t met the deadline.  Honestly, I was at the meltdown stage of the deadline process.

After admitting my lofty aspirations to Momma over the phone, she went into full party-planning furry.  She and Daddy loaded the back of his truck with everything I could possibly need to unpack, arrange, completely decorate for Christmas, set a beautiful table, and prepare homemade heavy hors d'oeuvres for 75 of my closest friends and neighbors.

Oh, we made deadline, and I believe that was the most successful party I’ve every thrown.  And after every pickled shrimp was snatched and every bite of onion soufflé was scooped, I learned a very important lesson.  Never underestimate a Southern belle armed with a glue gun, a string of twinkle lights, and a cookbook passed down from her momma.  World peace could be achieved and civilization might return to civility. 

I learned a little something right now as well, as I write this column.  In all the memories I recounted, Momma was doing something to help me or someone else.  That is my Momma in a nutshell, and that is something she instilled in me, my sisters, and my nephew.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, and as a mother myself, I get the privilege of doing whatever I want for the day.  Well, I’m planning on visiting Momma.  I, like the rest of my family, take comfort in just being near her, and if we are lucky, we might get a little glimpse of “before.”


Amanda Sexton Ferguson is editor and publisher of The Winona Times and The Conservative.