Mother had risen early that day, put on her “yard clothes,” and driven into town to the local nursery. She methodically picked from the selection of evergreens and perennials, adding to her bounty several bags of topsoil and mulch. She directed the pick-up north along Highway forty-nine, then off on Lampkin Road towards the Yazoo River. Three miles or so down there’s a line of trees that mark the end of the neighbor’s land and what used to be Outlaw land, as far as you can see. As she pulled on to the gravel road that leads to the old home place, she smiled brightly.
She planned to unpot everything, set the various plants where she intended to dig and pour the topsoil accordingly. “Killer,” one of the men that help my dad around his pig barn, would come later to plant and mulch the new beds. She and Pop have been working slowly to turn a cabin into a charming country retreat. Having no need for extra bedrooms, they’ve even considered making it their permanent residence.
Mother, having been known to overheat, was careful to drink plenty of water that day. Once, several years back, I came home from college to find her sprawled out on her dressing room floor. “Oh Ed,” she said weakly, “I got dizzy and I thought, if I could just get in a cold shower, I’d be ok.” She, having sat under cold water for God knows how long, had crawled into the next room and covered herself with a wet towel. “Momma, you could have broken your neck!” I exclaimed, but it fell on deaf ears. No amount of scolding from my father could sway her either. If she set her mind to yard work, it would be an all day affair.
As she emptied the topsoil around the south end of the cabin, she began to feel tightness in her chest. Not long after, a familiar feeling of weakness and pain in her chest came on. Several years back, blockages had been found and stents had been put in. Every so often, one would develop scarring and have to be cleared, but this felt different. Panic began to set in, as she was miles from town and alone. Slowly, she made her way around the cabin and to the front steps to sit in the shade for a moment. Real fear set in when she realized she’d left her cell phone in the truck. She didn’t have to strength to get to the water hose to cool off, much less to crawl several yards to the pick-up for her phone. Then, alone in the country and afraid, my mother slumped to her side, the wooden steps keeping her from rolling out into the sun.
The night before, Mom and Pop sat in front of the television. My father flipped from one channel to another, until landing on an old western or a war documentary. Mother sat in her favorite chair and thumbed through the latest Southern Living magazine. Inspired by photos of a small cottage, mother began to make a mental list of things she needed from the nursery. Neither of my sister’s needed her help with the grandchildren, leaving her with a full day to play in the yard. Looking up, she noted the time. She hadn’t even thought about dinner. “Oh Papa,” she said sweetly, “I’m awful. I never cooked us dinner.” It’s rare for Mom not to put something together, even if it’s warmed up leftovers. “I ate some vienna sausages and crackers earlier, it’s okay Bonnie.” Pop replied.
Several minutes later, having begun to entertain the idea of a chili cheese coney, Mother glanced at Pop. “Sally, you know what would be good?” My father had been nicknamed “Sally” by his father. He’d been a toe-head as a child, and my grandfather likened his curly locks and rosy cheeks to those of a girl by the same name in Pop’s elementary school books. The name stuck and, to this day, there are old folk around Humphreys County that still call him Sally.
When my father awoke to find her already gone, he knew he was in the dog house.
Pop braced himself and replied “What’s that?” Mother cleared her throat and sat up in her chair. “I said, do you know what would be good to eat.” and smiled like a kid. “I have a taste for some Sonic!” The closest Sonic would be in Indianola, a sleepy Delta town thirty minutes away. “Bonnie, it’s almost nine o’clock. By the time we get there it might be closed.” That night, mother went to bed hungry and Pop fell asleep in his recliner. When my father awoke to find her already gone, he knew he was in the dog house. Later, as he worked around his pig barn, he thought time and again about not getting her that hotdog. Sure, it was a bit excessive to drive thirty minutes one way for fast food, but it would have been no trouble. He beat himself up all morning.
As Pop punished himself, my oldest sister spotted mother leaving the garden supply. Mother, so intent on getting to the cabin, didn’t even notice they had passed each other. Lacey picked up her cell phone and dialed Susan, my youngest sister. “I hope you’re not planning on needing Momma’s help with the babies this week.” she said bluntly. “Why?” Susan inquired. “Well, Mari Bess and I just passed her. She’s got a load of gardening supplies so big, the bumper is dragging.” Susan laughed “Oh Lord, she won’t be able to get out of bed tomorrow! What is she thinking?” My sisters and brother have, at one time or another, been forced to hose Mother down, fetch a banana for her cramps, drag her to the shade or just insist she stop and let us finish the yard work. Lacey had no idea how close to the truth she was.
Back at the pig barn, my father began to develop a plan that would benefit him in more ways than one. He decided a trip to Home Depot was in order. There were a few things he needed for the barn and cabin, and Mother could ride along. After getting the supplies, he’d treat her to as many chili cheese coneys as she could eat. He hopped in his pick-up and steered along the gravel road toward the cabin. His smile fell away when his eyes locked on my mother, slumped there on the cabin steps, and her ran to her not knowing what he would find.
Three hours later, after having been stabilized by paramedics and airlifted to University Medical Center in Jackson, rushed into emergency surgery to replace a blocked stent, mother sat in intensive care. Pop, Lacey and I were the first to go in to see her. Still under the effects of sedation, she smiled and focused on each of us as best she could. I held her hand and noted there was dirt under her nails from the flower beds. The surgeon informed us that she’d gone into cardiac arrest but they’d gotten her there within an acceptable amount of time. Tests showed no damage to her heart and he expected no complications. Pop leaned in to kiss her, then said “You want to go get a hot dog after this?”