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Reflections: A Mother's Day Special 'And They All Got Fixed'

My mother’s life spanned almost exactly the length of the 20th century, which gave her access to WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, the Korean Conflict and the major social and economic changes that occurred prior to the turn of the century.
She grew up in middle-class Memphis and took advantage of the city life. She applied for and received training in the Red Cross Nurses’ Program of World War I. As soon as the war was over, of course, there was little demand for nurses, and she enrolled in Nelson’s Business College, which—I have been told—was a forerunner of Draughn’s Business School.
While working for a Memphis judge, she met and married the love of her life, who had been released from the army, and moved with him to his home in Mississippi where they settled and had three children. Her husband died. A few years passed, and she married my father who was widowed when his wife died in childbirth, but who already had three children. She also lost my father when my sister was an infant, but not before they also had three children. With the three children from her first husband, the three children she inherited from the union with my father, and the three children they had together, she was now a single mother responsible for nine children during the early days of the Great Depression.
Mama was always convinced that she could do anything she set her mind to. Now she had to find a source of income to feed her family. Since she had received her nurse’s training with the Red Cross in World War I, she had always considered herself a qualified nurse and applied for a job with the county health department. She was hired, primarily, to work with the county schools, and she served as a county health nurse for many years. When I was still in school, she finally gave up that job and began working in department stores. She decided that she didn’t know enough about antibiotics, penicillin, insulin and other drugs that were developed after her “training,” and she was afraid of doing more harm than good.
She was a very headstrong, well-read person, who thought she knew the proper—and only—way to do anything. And I have to admit that she was usually right.
After she retired and as she grew older, well into her 90s, she refused to live with any of her children or have anybody live with her in her house “violating her privacy.” She would not lock her doors; she was never concerned about personal safety. However, she had a next-door neighbor who loved the unlocked doors and appeared every time Mama had guests. This privacy invasion occurred for years, and Mama was always polite to her. But one morning, she snapped.
She was in the kitchen when the back screen door opened and in walked the neighbor, uninvited and unannounced. Mama turned to her and said, “Marie, do you see that the blinds above my sink are closed?”
The neighbor said, “Yes.”
“You know that this window looks across the driveway into your kitchen window, right?” Mama continued.
The neighbor agreed.
“Then the day you look out and see that my blinds are open, you can come over because I’ll be DEAD; otherwise, leave me the hell alone!” 
We worried about her living alone and tried without luck to get her into a convalescent home. She refused to even discuss the topic with us. Finally, in her late 90s, she developed a hernia. Her doctor, who had been working with us for years to get her into an assisted-living situation, agreed that this was the perfect time to get her into a nursing home, and he very capably assisted us in convincing her that she needed post-surgical care. I reiterate that she was a very independent, determined lady who worked hard to see that everything ran according to HER schedule, and we were surprised that she had agreed to make the transfer.
We did not have her name on a waiting list in our town, but we discovered that a new convalescent center was being built in Tunica, a neighboring town where my brother had a weekend fishing cabin and could visit her often. The transfer between the local hospital and the convalescent center was arranged, and Mama gave orders that my brother and I were to be at the center when she arrived. She was scheduled to leave the hospital by ambulance at 10 o’clock to arrive at the center by 11 o’clock.
I drove to Tunica and joined the appropriate health-care professionals before 11 o’clock awaiting her arrival. Eleven o’clock came but no ambulance. This was, of course, before the days of cell phones. At 11:30 a.m., we were still waiting. Noon came, but no Mama. We were getting nervous.
The administrator called the hospital and was assured that the ambulance had left on schedule at 10 o’clock. At 1 o’clock, the administrator called the highway patrol but was assured there had been no wreck between the two towns. We were still on the “loading dock” when an employee shouted that an ambulance had been spotted on the highway coming toward the center. Orderlies gathered equipment to unload a surgical patient as the ambulance arrived at the dock. They opened the doors and faced the rear end of a “surgical patient” backing out of the vehicle, advising all to “get out of the way.” Over their protests, she refused the gurney but finally allowed them to seat her in a wheelchair for transportation into the building.
We later discovered that as the ambulance was leaving the originating hospital, a problem was developing there. An indigent patient was brought in and was denied admission to the hospital. Arrangements had been made to accept him at a hospital in the Delta, but no transportation was available. Mama demanded that HER ambulance go to the Delta hospital, deliver the hitch-hiking patient, and then proceed to the Tunica Convalescent Center. And they did. Nobody ever won an argument with Mama!
As a resident of the center, Mama thought she was still in charge of everything and everybody. She organized the patients and got herself elected chairman of the House Committee—composed of a group of patients who organized themselves solely to “advise” the center staff about how to run things.
Each time I would visit her, I would visit my brother at his fishing cabin, and I would also visit one of the casinos that had recently moved to the riverbanks of Tunica. Every time I would leave her, Mama would ask, “Are you going to the boats?” When I answered yes, she would lecture, “Don’t go there and waste your hard-earned money!”
One day, the center administrator called to ask permission for Mama to go with the House Committee on a field trip to the casinos. I was flabbergasted! She had reared us as strict Baptists, who couldn’t play cards or even shoot marbles for “keeps.”
I said to him, “If she wants to go, and you are willing to take her, have to it!”
But I was perplexed. The next time I visited, I asked her if she went to the casinos. She said she did and very indignantly added, “And they took ALL our money from us and gave us only $2 in nickels to spend. They took us to one casino, taught us to play the slots, and then fed us lunch. Then they took us to another casino, let us play the slots, and then treated us to dinner.”
“And,” she added proudly, “I came home with 70 cents of my money!”
Why was I not surprised?
Still trying to digest all I knew about her lifestyle, I asked, “Mama, why in the world did you decide to go to the boats?”
“Well,” she said, “everybody was always talking about the casinos, and I had never visited one. How in the world could I discuss something intelligently without seeing first-hand what goes on there?”
When our visit was over, I started to leave, told her goodbye, and when I was at the door, she asked, “Are you going to the boats?”
When I told her I was going, she waved goodbye saying, “Have a good time!”
She was in good health, mentally and physically, until about six months before her death. She was not sick, she was just worn out. A few weeks after her funeral, a friend asked me, “Are you still grieving for your mother?”
He looked shocked when I replied, “No, I am not grieving. She had a good long life. I miss her, but I am convinced that right now she is sitting at the right hand of God, pointing out to him a few things that are wrong with Heaven and trying to convince him that SHE is the person to fix them!”


Enjoy our “Reflections” post—one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This story is from Bettye H. Galloway. Some information from this story was previously published in “The Oxford So & So.”
Galloway retired from the University of Mississippi as executive vice president of an analytical laboratory. She can be reached at bhg568667@gmail.com.
If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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