Just a few short months ago, Mama was truly declining. And then, a couple weeks ago, not long after I wrote the last blog piece, Mama got up from her chair!
Mama didn’t like that motorized wheelchair. Her physical therapist told her if she didn’t want to use that, she better get in gear and exercise those legs! I heard her when she made her first trip to the kitchen sink and did kicks and stretches for fifteen minutes. Then I heard her again the same day. She started walking laps around the apartment with her walker.
She didn’t say it to me, but I heard her. “You just wait and see what I can do.”
After about three days, she started dressing herself in the mornings, cleaning if there happened to be an accident in the night. She layered on the Thrive Causemetics eyeshadow stick to match her shirt, penciled in her eyebrows, and fluffed up her hair. About two days after that, she went to the kitchen and poured her own Gatorade (her way to start the day) and got her pills from the daily box, put her eye drops in, and ate her probiotic gummies.
Then, and only then, did she call me to come up from my downstairs office. (I call it The Study. Dave calls it Your Cave. I try to make it down there by 6:30.) It was close to eight o’clock, which means I have almost an hour and a half to take care of some kind of business before caretaking duties begin.
Now, when I greet Mom, it’s only to finish up daily cleaning tasks in her bedroom and make us both a cup of coffee. Well, she drinks a homemade instant mocha mix that we strive to keep enough of in her canister. We visit about this and that, mostly her reporting what she has learned on the phone with friends and family or the TV. I do housework and laundry in between tales.
On shower day, she helps as much as she can. I wash her back and make sure her hair is rinsed well. We both dry her off and get her ready for the day.
I go back to give her some lunch, or some days, she reheats leftovers from the day before, and I sit down to eat lunch with her about three days a week. About five, I return to make a light supper and do her “turn-down service.” I lay out her gown and night socks and a couple pairs of underwear on her bed, check her c-pap to make sure it has enough water, and place her evening pills in a shot glass on the kitchen counter.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. My mother has been bouncing back her whole life.
March, it turns out, is Women’s History Month and one of March’s days, the 8th, is International Women’s Day. I thought I’d tell you a little story about when Mama made her stand for her rights and equal pay with her male colleagues at Texas Boot Company.
When a new Department Head came in a few years after Mom began her stint as a Regional Credit Manager, he interviewed all the managers, sort of a getting-to-know-you outreach. His name was Jim, and the departing Head, Bill. At the end of their talk, he said, “And I’m going to continue Bill’s work on trying to get your pay up to the men’s.”
I can just see Mom’s eyebrows. “Oh?” she said. “Just how much do ‘the men’ make?”
He said, “I’m not sure of each one, but I can find out.” He reached behind his desk to the credenza, pulled out a black notebook, and thumbed through until he landed on the right page and put it on the desk in front of Mom, upside down, and left the room.
Mom could always read fast, especially if she was looking at numbers, and she got what she needed to know in the few seconds the book lay open.
She called me the next day and described what she saw.
“Do you know a lawyer who would take my case?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “but you really need to file a complaint with the EEOC.”
“Alright. How do I get started?”
“I think I’d just call their office downtown and ask what you need to do.”
She did. It didn’t take long for her to get an appointment. She called and asked if I could drive her to downtown Nashville. Always ready for a fun fight and rarely finding one, I was happy to take the day off and oblige.
I’m surprised they let me go into the meeting with her but there I was, listening to Mom give voice to a wrong, headed toward the right.
When she was finished, she crossed her hands in her lap and let out a long sigh. “Do I need to find an attorney?”
“You have an attorney. He’s coming through the door.”
Both of us sized up a very tall, muscled black man standing in the doorway. He introduced himself.
Mom said, “Nice to meet you,” and I said, “Likewise,” and we shook his hand in turn. Mom said later that she was thinking, “Well, if they don’t give him what he says, he could just beat it out of them.” It made me laugh.
Texas Boot was owned by General Shoe Company. Both the EEOC attorney and the General Shoe attorney, a woman, arrived the next day. The EEOC man came first and called General Shoe. The company’s attorney was in New York but arrived just after lunch.
The General Shoe attorney’s assistants started pulling personnel files, Mom said, to try to find something against her that they could use for leverage. There wasn’t anything there.
In less than three weeks, Mom received a check for several thousand dollars from the company’s treasurer, accumulated underpayment for years of service as Regional Credit Manager for the West Coast. Harry Vise, the former owner of Texas Boot, and now GSI’s head of the Lebanon plant, called Mom to his office. He said he wanted her to know there were no hard feelings on his part.
Then they talked about old times. Mom and Dad went way back with Mr. Vise. Both had worked in the factory many years before when he owned the company. Dad had been a Cumberland University married student with a wife and two children and needed part-time work to help support the family. Mom’s income as a fancy stitcher on Western boots was their main income. Mr. Vise, who was Jewish, knew Dad as a minister and called on him often when someone in the factory needed guidance or spiritual help. There was always room in some department when Dad had hours he could work.
At Christmastime, Mr. Vise insisted on a company party, where there was a small show and the singing of carols. He always requested Joy to the World. (We never understood that.) I remember singing for that party when I was about eight years old. I think I performed my rendition of I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas. At the end of every party, every employee received a gift basket from Mr. Vise. There was always a turkey in the basket—and a ham.
The local head of human resources asked Mom if she was really staying with her job. She said yes, and he asked if she would like to be Jim’s Assistant department head.
She wondered aloud what kind of increase in pay might be at hand. He said none, but the duties would change some.
She declined on the spot and said if the company ever intended to pay for a real Assistant Head, she’d like a shot at it.
The General Shoe attorney called every morning for several weeks to ask Mom if she was being treated well. Mom said she hadn’t noticed any difference, that she’d always got along well with all the men.
She kept her position, receiving regular raises until she retired at age 67. She kept in touch with several of the men she worked with and talks to her old department head every couple of months just as she did with Mr. Vise until he died in 2015.
I’ve loved Women’s History Month so far, learning about, or remembering, women who have made rich contributions to life in these United States. This morning, on The Kelly Clarkson Show, a guest said he would like to go back in time — I can’t remember how far — to experience life before technology and such.
“Wouldn’t you?” he asked.
“Well, no, I wouldn’t,” Kelly answered quickly, “because I’m a woman!”
Mom and I both laughed and cheered. Mom said she didn’t want to go back to any place in time because she loves right now and is excited about what changes come in the next few years.
No wonder she’s my International Woman of the Year. Forever.