Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two Words

My mother was born in 1920 and is going to turn 90 on March 15, 2010. Vivian Arlene ‘Koch’ Schuyler did not complete high school in her hometown of Bethlehem, PA. By the time she was 24 she had borne 3 children – my beautiful siblings. This was in the middle of World War II. I wasn’t around yet but I’ve been told that our dad was a bit of a drinker and was not always present nor was he particularly responsible. He was also a high school dropout from the same era. So my mom made sandwiches every morning – lots of them – and carried them around to a few mills in the neighborhood and sold them to workers to make some necessary money.

At some point between that moment and June, 1952 a few significant things occurred. My dad stopped drinking, my mom joined Calvary Baptist Church and I was born. Sixteen years later my old man was making a pretty good living at The Bethlehem Steel and mom and dad started looking around for a nicer home. I would go on these afternoon drives when they looked at homes in some very nice neighborhoods. Things were really looking up. Six months later my dad died of lung cancer. He was 47 and my mom was 48. My siblings were married and having children of their own. My mom was beautiful, shy, young, depressed and heartbroken. She had just spent 6 months taking care of her terribly sick and out-of-control husband in our home. I watched it happen – it wasn’t pretty.

Months later suitors began to call. This embarrassed her. She never re-married. She took a job cleaning and cooking for a professor at Lehigh University. Then she took a job cleaning floors, windows and bathrooms at The Bethlehem Steel Company. After 10 years she was laid off with no benefits.

My siblings and I did whatever we could to underwrite her challenges. Eventually she moved into a high rise for the elderly and has remained there since 1984 - content in her surroundings – a one-bedroom apartment on the 7th floor.

She spends 2 hours of Bible reading, devotions and prayer every morning. She sends her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren birthday cards without fail graced with a ten-dollar bill. She voluntarily gave up her car about 10 years ago because she knew she wasn’t driving well. She supports missionaries overseas with modest donations. She lives on Social Security.

In the past few years she has lost a granddaughter and a devoted daughter – in circumstances both unexpected and shocking.

Last week my mom had a doctor’s appointment. Some specialist came into the room and began an experiment. The first thing she said to my mom was, ‘In a minute I am going to tell you 2 words that I want you to remember.’ Then this specialist mentioned those 2 words. Following that she had my mom draw a picture of a clock and asked her to make certain hours of the day on the face of the clock. She performed this task perfectly. Then they talked about a variety of things. Then the specialist asked my mom what the 2 words were from the beginning of the session. She remembered one: orange; but she couldn’t remember the second word.

A few days later they called my mom and told her they were concerned about dementia because she couldn’t remember that second word. My mother has since been distressed beyond comfort. I will talk to this specialist this week. I have 2 words for her to remember – and I think she will.


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