Five weeks ago the hospice nurse gave her 1-24 hours to live. Six hours after the call came, I entered her bedroom. She was sitting up, wondering what the fuss was.
She has moments, sometimes hours, of lucidity. Yesterday she was talking with Martha, the caregiver, about sewing. She loved working with thread. She sewed clothes for her kids, for the Padre, for just about everybody, and still found time to fill drawers with impeccable doilies, like snowflakes, no two alike. Her descendants are wrapped in her quilts, each a triumph of stitchery; marvels not necessarily of art, certainly of control. If ever a stitch or loop was out of place, all was unravelled and redone.
Her cooking? Less fastidious. Open a can of string beans, pour in some cream, a little pepper (not too much!), heat and serve. Her pies were great. Lemon meringue, coconut, chocolate. Her bread, too.
She wanted to become a teacher, but after her first year of high school, her parents sent her to work at her great-uncle’s house, a man with a vile temper. She hated living with him and his family, but there was nothing she could do about it. She doesn’t speak often of regrets, but that is one, that she was not allowed to finish school.
I see her weeding the cucumbers in the Kansas heat, her white skin. I see her embroidering a sprig of lavender on a tea towel. I see her doing the chicken dance.
She subsides into herself, her systems shutting down. Embers.
She didn’t often make her own clothes. She preferred shopping for them. Here she is walking the aisles at J C Penney’s, taking her time, Dad waiting in the car.
In her closet we found many cute hats. She looked good in nylons, and knew it, but you would not call her vain. She’d been a pretty girl; that was enough to carry her lifelong.
When she saw my father at the dance, she said, I want that one. The courtship was short, the marriage is going on 73 years.
All the theories were floated: she is waiting for everyone to arrive. She is waiting for everyone to leave. We are the ones waiting, such a while now, that when death arrives, it will come a shock.