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Choose your mother carefully, Part II
By Don McCauley

     Marie and I, with our children, were visiting one of my brothers and his family when he said, “Don, we’re going to have company in a few minutes; Mama and Daddy. Don’t panic, they know you are here and want to come over and meet Marie.”

     “What! Mama has refused to even talk to me on the telephone for seven years, and she’s coming over here to meet Marie? What about me?”

     “Yeah, you too. And the kids.”

     “Wow! I’d better warn Marie.”

     “Just try to accept her. Wait and see how she acts. Don’t prejudge her. She’s changed—well not much, she’s still Mama—and she may be ready to tolerate your family.”

     When the door opened, awkwardness filled the room. Everyone waited to see what Shine was going to do. My father was there but invisible. All eyes were on Mama. After a silence of several minutes, her eyes started to water and she was soon racked with sobs. Marie made the first move. She walked over to Shine, put out her hand, and said, “I’m Marie. You know, the witch from Baltimore.” That brought a faint smile from Shine through the tears and began a relationship between the two that lasted until Shine’s death. After all the berating she had given Marie, eventually Shine got along with her better than anyone else, even her own sons. Marie said, “I kind of like that nasty old woman.”

     Mention three words, cigarettes, coffee, and solitaire, and anyone who knew her would know you were talking about Shine. From early middle age on, she sat at her favorite table, an old antique, black with layers of stain, varnish, cigarette burns, coffee rings, and the patina of ages. Arrayed in front of her was a spread-out deck of cards, a pack of Kools, an ashtray with a smoldering cigarette, and a cup of lukewarm coffee. She played solitaire for hours at a stretch. Thousands and thousands of games of solitaire. Enough coffee to float a battleship. Cartons and cartons of cigarettes.

     Most of her adult life, Shine had been warned about what the heavy smoking was doing to her body, but of course, she paid no attention. Doctors, friends, family; no one could convince her to stop or even slow down. After repeatedly ignoring all the warnings, when she was in her sixties, her doctor told her bluntly, “You have emphysema. If you don’t stop smoking, it will kill you!”

     “Don’t be ridiculous, smoking hasn’t hurt me so far, and I’m not stopping now.” And she didn’t. Not when her coughing got worse. Not when she couldn’t breath. Not after she was unable to take care of herself and had to be taken to a nursing home. Not in the nursing home where the whole staff tried to stop her.
Shine was the worst patient the nursing home had ever had. Not only did she refuse to stop smoking, she quickly alienated everybody who came in contact with her. At least she was fair. She treated everyone the same; she swore at doctors or floor sweepers alike. Fellow patients faired the worst; they couldn’t go home at night like the employees. The nursing home tried to match her up with a compatible roommate with consistently disastrous results.

     The cigarettes coffee and solitaire continued at a small hospital table as long as she could sit up. She grew weaker and weaker until she could no longer get out of bed, so she moved her cigarettes, coffee, and solitaire to the tray holder counterlevered over her bed. She fitfully continued to play solitaire for hours, seldom completing a game, but the cards were always spread out in front of her. The hospital staff was afraid she might drop a cigarette and start a fire, but she never did. She hung on to her cigarettes like life itself. 

     Finally, she died, her way, smoking. Spread out in front of her was a nearly empty pack of Kools, an ashtray full of stubbed out butts, a half-filled cup of cold coffee, and a half-finished game of solitaire. The attending nurse said Shine stubbed out her last cigarette, her heart stopped beating, then she exhaled one last wisp of her beloved Kools. 

© 2001 Rev. Ron R. Jones All Rights Reserved.


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