Published January 19, 2019 on the Ancient Paths Facebook page.
Addie Jones told how she grew up on a farm in Texas—“Dirt poor even before the Depression,” she said. “Sometimes we went weeks and months with nothing to eat but cornmeal mush”, and then she laughed. “They call it polenta now.”
Suzanne sat beside the hospital bed in the former dining room and knitted. As a Hospice volunteer, she came for an hour two days a week, time for the caregivers to get out a little, to run to the ATM or the grocery store, to have a smoke or check up on their kids.
“Still we were happy,” said the old lady. “Mama, Papa, me and my two sisters. We didn’t know how poor we were, because everyone around us lived the same way—but so many folks died young back then: snake bites, turned meat, lockjaw from stepping on a rusty nail.”
Really? Thought Suzanne, did that make it easier? She nodded and kept knitting. She was new to Hospice, and her husband thought she was crazy for taking it on. “You think you’re going learn something?” he’d asked. “Think it’s going to give you some great insight to make sense of it? There is no sense to it!” She told him what they said at Hospice, “Everyone deals with grief in their own way.”
This was her first time with Addie Jones. In the training they said some people were real talkers, that, “They needed to tell their story.” Suzanne didn’t mind listening. It was having to talk she couldn’t stand anymore—policemen, insurance agents, well-meaning friends, “But how did it happen?”
Addie said, “When Mama got typhoid and the doctor told us there was nothing more he could do, the relatives came in from San Anton. The neighbors brought food. Papa threw things, cussed God, finally sat in a corner and wouldn’t talk or eat. Aunt Clara made us go upstairs to bed that night when none of the grownups would be sleeping. We were youngsters, but we knew they were holding the death vigil. When we cried and hollered, wanting to go back to Mama, Aunt Clara told us to hush up and pray, to pray real hard. “Because that’s the greatest thing you can do for your Mama now.”
It was already dark, and we just had one kerosene lamp, but we put it on the table, and knelt on the big bed we shared, so big that it pushed right up against the window of that little room. We knelt on top of the covers, folded our hands on the windowsill so we could look outside, because we knew God was out there in the sky, in the night stars—and we prayed. We started with the Lord’s Prayer, and then Theola, being the oldest, recited every Bible verse pounded into her head by old Mrs. Jenkins, married to the preacher and one hell of a Baptist Sunday School teacher, then we said the “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and “Bless us oh Lord in these thy gifts,” and when we ran out of those, we just prayed, “God help Mama.” First we started strong, in rhythm like a hymn, then quieter and quieter, until we were whispering, “Help Mama. Help Mama.” Sometimes we heard them downstairs, moving around, grandma crying. We smelled Aunt Clara’s chicory coffee. The lamp burned out. But we never stopped praying.
We were sleepy, but we never fell asleep. We stayed kneeling on the top of that creaky old bed, our hands folded on the windowsill, staring into the night, whispering our prayer, waiting for God to heal Mama.”
She paused. Suzanne looked over and the old woman stared right at her. Her eyes seemed so young—a child’s eyes in an elderly face.
She said, “Then through the window came this light, but it wasn’t the dawn. It started soft at first, almost like moonlight and grew and grew until it flooded the room, and looking out we saw this beautiful shining woman with wings all the colors of church glass lit by fire, and she looked right at us and smiled and the light grew more and more until we couldn’t abide it and had to shut our eyes. When we opened them, she was gone, and the sun showed just above the corn field.
Aunt Clara came charging up the stairs—told us the fever was broke and Mama was talking and asking for food!”
“She lived,” said Suzanne.
“To be ninety-two, almost as old as me!”
“A miracle?” asked Suzanne.
The old lady’s chuckle sounded like the wind through a hallow tube. “You don’t believe me. Never mind Honey, most folks don’t. Three little girls, so filled with imagination. But you know, over the years, when times got tough, we’d say to each other “Remember the Angel,” and that always seemed to put things in their right place again. When Theola died, she wasn’t afraid, same with Clarice. And now it’s me, the youngest and the last, and I’m not scared, because once you’ve seen the angel, you know she’s going to be there to take you home.”
Suzanne’s knitting lay still on her lap. She said, “My teenage daughter died in a car accident last year.”
Addie Jones whispered, “Tell me.”
And Suzanne did.