>My Life

>On August 6, I wrote my second ever blog post and called it “These Are My People.” Because I was taking another big step towards re-embracing my roots by attending the first Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi.

Since then I’ve returned over and over to (Oxford) Mississippi for monthly meetings of my writers critique group, workshops, and regular visits to my mother, who lives in an assisted living home in Ridgeland, Mississippi. She’s at a stage with her Alzheimers where she’s more comfortable staying in her “small world” at Ridgeland Pointe rather than coming up to Memphis for Christmas, so I made a pre-Christmas trip to see her this week. More about that later in this post.

First I want to talk about reconnecting with my best friend from childhood. Jan and I became best friends in 1960 when her family moved to Jackson from Memphis. We were 8 and 9 years old. (I’m one year older.) Last night I searched for photo albums but couldn’t find the ones that showed us at Daphne, Alabama, where her family owned a summer home on the Mobile Bay. They taught me to water ski. And crab. And play poker. And eat homemade pickled watermelon rinds (the best). We haven’t seen eachother much since 1969, when I went to college. Except that she was Maid of Honor in my wedding in 1970. (Yes, I already loved hats!) We were 18 and 19. Then our paths pretty much parted for most of 37 years. She lived and worked in Atlanta, DC, and Nashville. Until she moved back to Jackson to take care of her mom, one of my mom’s best friends, a few years ago. (Her mom also had Alzheimers, and died in 2006.)

Oh, and she came to my brother’s funeral on February 1, 2007. And we started emailing more frequently. Her dad lives in Memphis (he’s 84) so when she called to ask me a favor the other day (to run some faxed papers out to his apartment) she invited me to stay with her when I came down to see Mom. She lives about a mile from Mom. So, I said yes.

What a trip down memory lane. As I walked down the hall to her guest room, I stopped in my tracks, captivated by the photos on the wall. Pictures of me when I was 9 or 10, on a ski boat at Daphne. (That’s me, with the criss-cross straps on the back of my swim suit. A picture of a picture, hanging on the wall, so the quality is pretty bad.) Pictures of my parents when they were young and beautiful, also on a boat, on the deck and in the cabin at Daphne, in the late 50s. My mom was always wearing HATS! I didn’t remember that about her. Of course, it was the 50s, and maybe lots of women wore hats then.

Jan and I were cheerleaders together in junior high school. But mostly I remember the fun, crazy times at her house. They had a pool table. And her stepfather would stay up all night with all us kids, cooking steak at 2 in the morning and playing games with us. It was the antithesis of my home, where everything was always so uptight. So… we drank wine and talked about the good and the bad things about our childhoods. And how sometimes they were the same thing. Because people aren’t all good or all bad. Just all human.

This is a fuzzy picture taken by her TV repairman (yes) on Wednesday night at her house. We both look just a bit older than we did back in 1970, you think? Sigh. And we’re both looking so much like our mothers. (a good thing)

Oh, and the next day Jan came to Mom’s apartment and visited with her, which thrilled Mom, once she figured out who Jan was. Jan will visit her again on Christmas Day, since I’ll have a house full here in Memphis. What a treasure to rediscover this dear friend so many years later. She’s My People.

Pre-Christmas with Mom was really fun. I took her some Ugg boots (I love them!) because her feet are always cold and she loved them and wore them around the facility showing them off. After lunch the daughter of another resident was playing the piano in the upstairs lobby, so we gathered around and sang and danced to her beautiful Christmas music. This is me and mom with her best friend, Elizabeth (in red). And with the piano-playing daughter (who lives in Los Angelos and came home to see her mother for Christmas) and another resident here. Yes. LA. Makes me feel better about living 200 miles from Mom!

Sitting in her apartment earlier, Mom had said, “I’m really happy here.” (She’s been in assisted living almost two years.) I can’t remember her ever, ever saying those words. “I’m happy.” That was probably the best Christmas present I could ever receive.

Driving back to Memphis yesterday afternoon, I was listening to one of my Iris Dement CDs, “My Life,” and especially to the cover song, “My Life,” when a dear friend called in tears. One of her children had a medical emergency and she was asking for my prayers. It always seems that the Christmas holidays are charged with more intensity about family situations. I think she mainly needed some comfort. I don’t know if my words helped her or not, but I hope so. Iris’ song says how I feel about my friends… and my mother. They save me from myself. Over and over again. You can listen to it here.

My life, it’s tangled in wishes

And so many things that never turned out right…

But I gave joy to my mother
And I made my lover smile
I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting,
I can make it seem better for a while.