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Mom was nearly eighty-five years old in the summer of ‘97 when she fell and broke her hip. What was thought to have been a simple fracture, repairable with somewhat minimal surgery was more of a medical threat than we could have imagined because her heart was too weak for any type of procedure where she would have to be put under anesthesia. Devastating were those words from the surgeon and the anesthetist who refused to put her to sleep. A second opinion was enlisted from doctors at a prominent Nashville hospital but the same conclusion was reached.
Then mom and the entire family was told that she could have about two years of life remaining and the probability of dementia sitting in fairly quickly, further dampened all of that news for me. Even when she stated that she had had a good life and was ready to go on Home when God was ready for her. I had hoped for the surgery and a full recovery but she informed us that she was tired and there was no pleasure left in her life. Her only regret was leaving behind our baby sister who was physically and mentally challenged.
Mom had seen her family all reach maturity except her baby boy who had died at the age of twelve from a very rare mosquito-borne disease known as encephalitis back in 1966. She was only forty-four years old when dad passed away and she outlived the three oldest children. But as devastating as losing dad and our baby brother Harold combined was, it seemed that having to give up the long-time matriarch of the family was even much worse.
But prior to this pronouncement mom was placed in a room with an elderly lady with a similar but advanced diagnosis who clearly was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and no longer responsive to her family, the doctors, nor to any treatment. I spent most every evening with mom as long as she was in that facility to see that she was eating well, had her own gowns, socks and the pillow from her bed at home. Within fifteen minutes on my first visit, the little lady in the room blurted out, “I Remember Pearl Harbor,” she said, with a very strong and distinct voice. She paused for a moment as I listened for her to continue on with details of her memories of that infamous day on December 7, 1941, but instead she stated aloud with the same intensity, “Thanks for the memories.” Those same phrases were repeated every twenty to thirty minutes all through the day and night I was told by the caregivers that came in.
After mom regained full control of her faculties, her attitude toward the situation was entirely different than what I had supposed that it would be and she found no ill favor in the news at all. “I’ve truly had a good life,” she said on so many occasions and declared that if she had only two years left, that she would try to make the most of them. I was clearly heartbroken but she tried each time that I visited with her to have me see that it was only the transition from this mortal being unto eternal life.
She insisted that we talk only of earlier and happy days the family shared together. “Just the good times,” she declared and that was what we did. I am sure that she thought her memory with fade quickly but each time I saw her she had another exciting time in her early life to tell me about. She really knew more about dads’ family than most of his blood relatives and she was aware how much that I enjoyed learning of the old Caldwell ways and traditions, especially about Grandpa Mel and Granny Mam.
It seemed that her favorite memories were of the years in the late nineteen twenties up through the mid fifties. There were the “Good Times” economically, all through the “Roaring Twenties” she said and there was never a dull moment while living with her grandmother, “Aunt Kit Meeks” (from the spring of twenty-six until mid nineteen thirty-two.) The stock market crash of twenty-nine brought a little challenge for “Aunt Kit” but things were still fairly good there in the hollow up until mid “Hoover Days,” she proclaimed. She first met Harbert Caldwell in 1931 but saw him only occasionally until the summer of thirty-two, at which time they planned to marry but the lingering depression halted their plans for several months. Dads’ reputation as a drifter and a hobo hindered his efforts to get work of any kind, but after many attempts for employment, he finally found a job at a coalmine at Ross’s Creek in the Clifty Community of old Gruetli.
Now after mom had stabilized and got familiar with her surroundings some and we saw no sign of dementia, I inquired about her roommate who seemed to have no family member ever around to check on her. The caregivers said only that she was a retired nurse. I often wondered if indeed, she was serving in the military at Pearl Harbor on that fateful day, December 7, 1941, and if she had heard Bob Hope sing that old song on stage, “Thanks for the memories” as he did so many times at hundreds of USO Clubs all throughout the war years.
Mom recalled how the scores of brave young men and women from Grundy County would leave the farms, coalmines and sawmills all around the plateau and volunteer to fight against the Japanese. “Remember Pearl Harbor,” some of them cried out while making their way to the draft board and induction centers, and later, “Remember the Arizona” was the call to arms. Many of the young men did go to the Pacific but the masses were needed in the European Theatre to take the fight against the seemingly, unstoppable German war machine. She recalled so many that gave all for their country. Grundy County lost many brave souls in World War Two and many returned to tell of the horrors and multiple atrocities of that bloody conflict.
Mom told of a house fire that destroyed everything that they owned in the early spring of nineteen forty-four shortly after brother Herb was born and an outpouring from friends and neighbors that helped them with some of the household necessities to get them back into a small, partially finished house. She and dad had to work very long hours just about every day to get the little place fixed up for the winter months and she had many stories to tell of Christmas’s past during those lean years of the war and the Great Depression. But her memories were always of close family gatherings, church plays and of special meals with wild game as the main entrée along with garden vegetables that she, dad and the older girls had canned or dried in the previous months of harvest. And there were always the fruits, nuts and berries that came from the nearby forest that made those gatherings around the dinner table even more special.
Mom went home to her reward in June of nineteen ninety-nine but she did put a lot of living in those two years, and I spent a great deal of time with her. I spent the full day with her on Sunday before she passed away early the next Wednesday. I could not detect any major signs of dementia. She would tell me of some incident more than once but I never got tired of her personal memoirs about “Aunt Kit,” my dad, the Great Depression, and of the heroes of World War Two. Just as I remember the stories told me by my mother, please don’t forget those fallen soldiers from our many wars. There are so many that remember December 7, 1941, the tragedy of Pearl Harbor 71 years ago.
Andthat was then, although before my birth, I will commemorate that day.