16: Under Control

16: Under Control

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Under Control

Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls.

~David Thomas

Mom calls to let me know she is in the parking lot at the electric cooperative where I work. I walk outside to visit for a while and to see how things are going today. Each day is an adventure when it comes to my husband Jim, and Mom is his willing cohort.

Mom is parked in the shade of the Bradford pear tree with the driver’s side window rolled down. Jim is in the passenger seat. Although it is a pleasant fall day, his Levi’s jacket is buttoned to the top button. His ball cap is planted firmly on his head. As always, dark sunglasses hide his bright blue eyes. He happily munches on a spicy chicken sandwich and takes a sip of his Coke.

“He really likes those spicy chicken sandwiches.” My mom smiles as she pats Jim on the arm. “Don’t you, Jim?” He gives her a tiny smile and a nod.

“Indeed he does.” I shake my head. Jim, who used to detest fast food, has developed a taste for the sandwiches.

As usual, Jim remains silent.

Mom has driven fifty miles to spend a few days with us and keep Jim company while I work. I use a home health service, but they can’t furnish anyone full-time. Jim’s dementia has progressed to the point he can’t be left alone, so Mom has come to the rescue. Again.

My seventy-five-year-old mother is healthy and active. She’s neatly dressed in jeans, a lightweight turtleneck top, and a light denim jacket. As usual, she is in a good mood. She has other things to do, but willingly volunteers to spend two to three days a week to fill in for the hired caregivers.

Our house is in the country on a gravel road. My mom likes the solitude that some of the hired workers loathe. One caregiver refused to come back after one day on the job because she was afraid to be alone in the country. Of course, it creates a bad situation when a caregiver doesn’t show up, or shows up late. Because they are unreliable, I feel that I’m becoming an unreliable worker as well. I take it one day at a time, and today is a worry-free day because Mom is taking care of him.

When I get home from work, we have dinner and Mom brings out her guitar. She sits on a kitchen chair strumming and humming.

Jim plucks his guitar off its stand and settles in a chair facing her. He strums a cowboy song about having a bad day and sings a few lines. It seems to be about the only song he remembers.

“Hey, Jim, can you play ‘Buckaroo?’ ” Mom coaxes.

He strums the cowboy tune again.

“I’d sure like to hear ‘Buckaroo,’ ” Mom said.

Jim gives her a blank look.

Mom nods and smiles encouragement. “Buckaroo?”

Jim’s eyes light up, and he lowers his head as his fingers find the melody. The strains of “Buckaroo,” played flawlessly fills the kitchen. As soon as he finishes, Mom and I applaud. It is so good to hear his “signature” tune.

He puts his guitar back on the stand and saunters into the living room to watch television.

“How did things go today?” I ask Mom.

“Well, I’d say it’s been a good day,” she replies. “We watched several episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. He only took off down the road three times today.” The patience Mom learned from raising eight kids makes her the perfect caregiver. Chasing Jim down when he wanders out the door and down the road perplexes most of the hired caregivers.

Mom spends the night and is up and helping me get Jim bathed before I go to work. Her bag is packed and sitting by the door. The caregiver is due at 9 a.m., and Mom will stay until she arrives. I hug Mom, thanking her profusely as I leave for work at 6:30 a.m.

“See you next week,” she says.

I wonder what I would do without her as I drive down the road, my tires kicking up dust. I try to clear my mind for work.

About ten o’clock, my work phone rings. It’s my mom.

“Sharon called a little while ago and said she couldn’t come today. She’s having some kind of issue with her daughter.”

“Again?” This is getting to be a regular problem with this sitter. Of course, the service never has a backup. “Okay. I’ll take off the rest of the day and come home.” My employer has been flexible with me, and I don’t have anything under deadline today. They are aware of the trouble stemming from undependable sitters.

“Don’t do that!” Mom says. “I’ll just stay another day. At least he’s watching To Hell and Back today instead of Walker, Texas Ranger.” Jim has already worn out two VCR tapes of the Audie Murphy movie. “Then, I’ll take him for a drive. Maybe we’ll pick up some lunch in town. We’ll have a good day.”

When Mom stays with Jim, he usually does have good days. She has a way of coaxing his best behavior out of him. She uses patience, love, and an occasional bribe of a spicy chicken sandwich.

I swallow hard. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

“Love you too, honey. Gotta go! Jim’s heading out the door.”

I hang up the phone. I’m sorry that Mom is putting her own life on hold for another day, but relieved that Jim is spending the day with a woman who loves him like a son.

“Is everything okay?” a coworker asks.

“Yep.” I give her a smile as I turn to face my monitor. “My mom’s got the situation under control.”

~Linda Fisher

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