The Robber

Pappaw and Nanny / Jess and Edith Crowell
Pappaw and Nanny / Jess and Edith Crowell

My youngest daughter, Amanda is expecting her second child.  My grandchild count is going up to number six and I am so excited.  I’m calling and texting; probably driving my poor child crazy!  As a matter of fact, I called her less than an hour ago for an update.  She had informed me earlier that she was going to get a massage, hoping that it would speed things along.  I wanted to know how it went.

I asked, “How did your surgery go?”

Amanda laughed.  “Surgery?”

I laughed, too…out of embarrassment.  “I meant to say, ‘massage’!”  I had already done this type of thing several times, today.  I hate to admit: it has become a daily thing.  It scares me.

I told my husband, James, “I hope I’m not getting Alzheimer’s.”

Really, it is a fear of mine. It is a back-seated fear that sometimes likes to hop up front and take me for a drive. When I tell people that I mean to say one word but another comes out and I don’t know why, I usually get a response along these lines:

“I do that, too.”

“It’s probably stress.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I wonder if it could be the chemicals that we put in my body to get rid of the leukemia.  I wonder if it is stress.  What I fear is the “A” word.  I’ve seen it up close and personal with my Nanny.  I know that I want no part of it.  Like I have any say in the matter!

We moved to a small farm east of Wolfe City, Texas when I was in the fifth grade.  Happiness oozed out of my pores.  I had wanted to live in the country ever since we had moved away when I was almost four.  Country life gets in your blood.  Even though I was young, I yearned for it.  I begged for it.  I prayed for it.  I wanted a horse.  I wanted to walk through the woods like I had behind my grandmother’s house.  Finally, my dream was coming true.  The joy was made even more abundant with the knowledge that Nanny and Pappaw (Edith and Jess Crowell, my father’s parents) lived inside the small town of Wolfe City.  Our house and six acres were a mere fifteen minute drive from them.  The church we would be attending was right across the street from their house on Sante Fe street.  I could walk to their house after school if I wanted and I did, many times.


My first memory of things going wrong with my Nanny was when she cooked dinner for us all, one night.  Nanny was an excellent cook.  She was a fast cook, getting a meal on the table before most people could even get their pans out.  She had cooked one of my favorites: chicken fried steak.  She had everything cooked and was getting it on the table.  She had this lost, worried look on her face as she paced around the kitchen, eyes scanning every nook and surface.  Someone asked her what was wrong.  She couldn’t find the steak she had cooked.  Our search for the missing steak seemed to last a long time, probably because I was hungry.  I remember thinking, “How could someone misplace something they had cooked?”  I don’t remember where we found the lost dinner, but I know someone did.  I didn’t starve.

Pappaw started getting blamed for lots of weird things.  Nanny became scared of him.  Now, I wonder how much of the stories were true and how many were a symptom of her condition, which was called “hardening of the arteries” at the time. I thought she would just be forgetful, like the steak incident.  I didn’t know what was to come.  None of us did.  We were not equipped with knowledge or skills to handle the years to come.  Our family had never heard of the word “Alzheimer’s”.  Daddy and his siblings decided Pappaw needed to be in the nursing home.  They were scared he was going to hurt Nanny.

Sadly, Pappaw didn’t live long in the nursing home.  He quit going to the cafeteria to eat.  He would beg to be taken home.  He cried that nobody loved him.  My uncle Billy thought he died of a broken heart.  Maybe, he did.  The day they told him he was going there, Pappaw begged my little brother, Brady, as he sat on the front porch of his home, not to let them take him there.  That day haunts me still.  Brady was in the third grade.  I wonder what Pappaw thought he could do about it.  I wonder what went through Brady’s young mind.  Pappaw was actually crying.  His generation didn’t do that much.  It was hard to watch.

Pappaw on his front porch swing. He spent many hours there, waving to people passing by.
Pappaw on his front porch swing. He spent many hours there, waving to people passing by.

As time went on, Nanny got worse.  One evening, she called our house in hysterics.  There were things crawling all over her walls.  She was scared.  Of course,  Daddy went to check on her, frightened himself of what he would find.  We all loaded up and went with him as either moral support or back-up.  I’m not sure which. When we all filed into her front door and the house had been thoroughly searched, it was decided that someone needed to stay with her.  Nanny had a glazed, kind-of crazy look in her eyes.  Daddy asked me to do it.  I was in the sixth grade.  I stayed with her.  I even slept in the same bed with her.  I laid on my back, staring into the darkness.  Every eighteen-wheeler that went down the street in front of her house reminding me that I was not in my own bed, shared with my older sister, Tina.  I was frightened.  What would I be able to do if something bad did happen.  I couldn’t drive.  She didn’t even have a car, if I could!

Eventually, she went to live with her sister-in-law.  That didn’t last long.  Eva Lee couldn’t handle her.  So, she came to live with us.

Our family lived in a small two bedroom, one bath house.  My brother slept on the enclosed back porch.  What do you do in a situation like that?  Well, in our case, Daddy moved Nanny’s bed in my room that was already shared with Tina.  He put Nanny’s on one wall, ours was pressed against the other.  All of Nanny’s extra mattresses were piled on both beds, “Princess and the Pea” style.  We had to climb up the mattress mountain every night after just witnessing the undressing of Nanny (a sight no child should see!!!).  I guess she lost her modesty along with her memory because she had no qualms about whipping off that massive brassiere without evening turning her back to us!

She became fearful of baths; trying unsuccessfully to use Johnson’s Baby Powder and Right Guard deodorant as her method of daily hygiene. Daddy would use every kind way he could think of to persuade her to bathe, but she was oblivious to the need.  She also became fearful of being alone.  My mother now had two shadows.  Nanny followed her everywhere.  The tension in our tiny house became unbearable and Nanny finally ended up in a nursing home.  Many times, she didn’t know who we were when we went to visit her.  It seemed as though she sank deeper and deeper into her past, rocking her tin box of family photos in her lap like her last remaining child.  The nurses said she would stand in the doorway of her room at night, calling for her young children to come in.  I can’t imagine the world her mind became.  I hope it was a happy one.

The disease may have a name, now but that doesn’t make it any more welcome.  It is still the robber in our homes; taking the most precious thing we own.

Nanny holding her dog, Pearlie. This was taken while she was living with us. Left to right: Me, Daddy, Momma, Nanny, and Tina with Brady and our dog, Buster in front.
Nanny holding her dog, Pearlie. This was taken while she was living with us. Left to right: Me, Daddy, Momma, Nanny, and Tina with Brady and our dog, Buster in front.

Grandmother: A Portrait of Goodness

Lois Marie Thomason / My Grandmother in her Wagner, Texas kitchen
Lois Marie Thomason / My Grandmother in her Wagner, Texas kitchen

My grandmother, Lois was a beautiful woman.  She wore simple dresses that she made herself on a old treadle Singer sewing machine.  Her thick, brown hair waved around her sweet face, except for the strands she managed to keep off her forehead with bobbie pins.  She had a figure any schoolgirl would envy: a stomach so flat her skirts hung from her tiny waist the way they would on a runway model.  The colors of her clothes, as well as their cut and form, were modest.  She tried not to call attention to herself.  She was quiet and hardworking. She was my definition of “Good”.  She was a Christian woman and she didn’t have to proclaim it.  You could see it, everyday, in her simple life as a farmer’s wife.  She was everything I wanted to live up to but always seemed to fall short.

Maybe, I have her built up in my mind more perfect than she really was.  Still, I like to keep her like I have her stored there.  She seemed almost angelic.  She suffered much in her short life.  The amenities that I take for granted, she never had.  I could fill a book on her life but I will try to tell the story I meant to tell: my last living memory of her.

Our family had gone to her house, along with my mother’s brother, Tommy and his family, for some holiday.  I can’t remember, now if it was Easter or Mother’s Day.  I picture the three women (Grandmother, Momma, and Aunt Wanda) along with my older sister, Tina and me.  We were in the west bedroom of her Victorian gingerbread house.  My grandmother had called Momma and Aunt Wanda in there to show them some pictures.  Tina and I had tagged along.  I sensed some importance in this meeting.  We circled the bed like tribal women surround a fire, eyes forward, ears listening.  I was the youngest.

Laid out on the bed were old, framed, black and white photographs.  Some were of my grandfather shockingly handsome and young with his basketball team all lined up on the black-land dirt.  Their uniforms neat and almost modern looking.  His hair in sunlit waves brushing the forehead above his sparkling, mischievous hazel eyes.  Some were of their small school; children lined up at its rustic sides according to age and height.  So few they were that the whole school could be fitted within the frame of the photographer’s lens.  Some wore fancy, frilly dresses with bows almost as big as their heads tilting heavily to one side of their wavy bobs.  Some wore overalls and freckles, but no shoes; toes displayed proudly.  The teacher stood off to one side; clean, polished, an example of the education they would receive and the ethics they would learn.

I realized how somber Grandmother was.  This was serious to her.  She pointed to a couple of pictures that I had seen lying on the chenille bedspread but had averted my gaze from.  Now, as they were forced to my attention, I realized the weightiness of the images.  There, in a fancy coffin was the creepy, emaciated  remains of my great-great grandmother.  I was revolted by the thought that someone would take a picture of a loved one in their deceased state. Why, I thought, would anyone want to remember someone that way?  Wouldn’t you want to remember them with a smile on their face and laughter in their breath? Momma and Wanda felt the same.  We were united in our disgust.

Grandmother spoke in her quiet way.  She told us that she had always hated the macabre pictures herself, but her mother had made her promise to take care of them.  She was a good daughter and had honored her mother’s wishes, storing them away out of sight.  This was what she had brought us together for: to exact a promise from her own daughter.  I was witness, along with the others, of the promise Momma made to her.  When she died, she wanted Momma to take the funeral photos and burn them.

This request was like an exclamation point on that day because it was on that day that I saw her take my mother’s hand and place it on her swollen belly.  I had not noticed in my youthful mind that there had been a physical change in her.  I had ignored her lack of energy and the way the natural dark circles around her eyes had darkened.  I saw, then, Momma’s eyes widen as she felt the knot beneath her hand.  Grandmother asked her if she felt it.  Momma nodded.  Wanda reached out her hand to feel as well.  She, too, felt the tumor.  In unison, they pleaded with her to see a doctor.  Soon, she did.  Our lives were never the same.

I vaguely remember going to see her as she lay in her eastern room, dying.  I’m not sure if it really happened or not.  I think Momma tried to protect us from witnessing  the pain she was going through.  Maybe she was caught up in taking care of her and didn’t realize we might want to see her.  I know I was not there when she passed from this world.  Momma was.  It was Momma’s birthday.  She came home from the hospital for the supper and cake we had made for her.  She returned to the hospital and was with her beloved mother that night when she slipped from this dark world.

I’ve run her passing over and over in my mind.  What if someone had been willing to loan her the money for an operation years before…what if they hadn’t been farmers…what if she hadn’t wore herself out taking care of everyone but herself.

This I know:

My grandmother took care of her mother when she was deathly sick herself.  My grandmother was a good wife.  My grandmother was a good mother.  I will continue to put her on a pedestal and try to be the daughter, mother, grandmother, and wife that she was.  I pray that the Lord would put in me whatever He put in her that I might attain it.  I love you, still, my grandmother.

Grandmother and Granddaddy (Bud Thomason)
Grandmother and Granddaddy (Bud Thomason)

Our Own Little Nests

My husband, James stood behind me, arms around my waist.  I leaned back into him and fought back the tears.  Texas country music artist, Zane Williams was singing his song, “While I Was Away”– a song about missing the special everyday moments shared by his wife and children while he was away trying to make a decent living for them all.

I once asked my daughter, Michelle to listen to the song and she could barely stand to hear the haunting lyrics.  That’s how close the words hit home.  Our little ones don’t just stop growing because we have other things to do.  In this, time is not our friend.IMG_1229

The next morning, I was thinking about the song, again.  It caused me to remember this story:

Once,there was a young man who had small children.  On a hot summer afternoon, he came home a little earlier than usual — not quite dinner time, and his youngest daughter ran to him crying, “There’s my Daddy!”  He looked down on her. Her hair hung in damp ringlets, for she rarely kept still.  She wrapped her tiny arms around his legs, undeterred by the filth of his work jeans.  Sweat and dust still clung to his clothes.  He had worked so hard that day.  He worked hard every day, trying to get ahead.  He had dreams of giving his family a better life than the one he had growing up.

He exclaimed in a fully animated way, “You are getting way too big!  If you don’t quit growing so fast, I’m going to have to take you to Belittle, Texas!”

The little girl’s eyes got big.  She could sense that her father was teasing her.  He liked to tell her tall tales.  “Belittle, Texas?  Where is Belittle, Texas?”  She asked.

He laughed and squatted to get down on her level.  “Haven’t you ever heard of Belittle, Texas?”  He asked.  She shook her head.

“Why, Belittle, Texas is a town that has this special place.  You can take your children there and they can make them stay little forever.  That’s why they call it “Belittle”.  You will always stay my little girl!”

The little girl laughed and said, “Nugh, ugh!  You’re teasing me, Daddy!”

“Oh, no!  I’m not!  You better stop growing so fast!”

The father began telling this story to all his children every time he felt time was passing him by.  They loved to hear him recite it even though they knew it wasn’t really possible. It became their term of endearment and they talk of it to this very day.

Well, you can figure for yourself what happened.  The little girl did indeed grow up, along with her sister and brother.  The father stayed extremely busy.  His ambitions, he told himself, were noble and yet, he missed so much of those little ones’ lives.  He missed their games.  He missed putting them to bed at night.  He blinked and it was all gone.

So many of us look on our children with our hearts exploding with love.  We truly want what’s best for them.  We see them playing with other children and we want them to have just as much as any other child.  We look after their safety.  We make sure to warn them about strangers.  We make sure their carseats meet all the safety requirements.  We make sure their day-care providers don’t have any criminal records.  We move to the safest neighborhoods we can afford.


I wonder if, while we are buckling them in that carseat, we remember to teach them to love God.  Will their providers or teachers make sure they learn to be kind? Who will make sure they know to love their neighbor as themselves? In a system that tells the children of our society that they can do no wrong, where the teachers are not allowed to punish a unruly child, can they learn the respect they will need for authority?

Please, remember!!!  Our children are with us for only a very short while.  Talk to anyone who has an empty nest.  Let them tell you with what speed their children grew and left them.  Mothers wake in the middle of the night, struggling to nurse a child who cries but seems unwilling to latch on to the the breast she provides them.  Toddlers defiantly poop their pants and rub its contents on the walls.  Teenagers look at you with a burning hatred because you told them to clean their room.  You think it will never get easier.  You will never get one moment to yourself to sit and think.  Believe me…you will.

There will come a day when you can go to bed at a decent hour simply because you have no idea where your children are.  They don’t live with you.  You don’t know if they stayed out all night, or not.  You say your prayers, asking God to put his wings of protection around them.  It’s the only peace you’ll have.

You’ll come home to an empty house and turn on the television, just for the noise.  That peace and quiet that you so longed for?  It will drive you crazy.  You’ll hear their sweet laughter as if in a faraway dream.  You’ll long to drink in their faces, but their lives are busy, now.  They will call you when they have time.  That time will be very rare and precious.

Young mothers and fathers, this time that you have with your children is the most precious time you will have on this earth.  What other pursuit could be as worthy as teaching and mentoring the young minds, hearts, and souls the Lord has placed in your care?

When my own children were young, I went to a community college for one semester.  I wanted to be a nurse.  Already, I was feeling guilty for the soccer games I had missed and the evenings I had been away from them.  Part of me loved that alone time with other people close to my age.  The teachers encouraged me.  It boosted my ego.  I pushed the guilt aside as I went to meet with my counselor for my second semester.

I will never know what led that kind woman in the words she said to me that day.  I was forever grateful, though.  She said, “Honey, your children are little.  It won’t be long until they won’t need you so much.  You have all the time in the world to go to school.  You only get this one chance to be with your children.  Can’t it wait?”

I thought about her wise words and decided it could wait.  I never did go back to nursing school, but I spent all the time I could with my children and I’ve never regretted it.  Sure, we sacrificed a lot for me to stay home with them, but God always provided what we needed.

I know there are many men and women who are led to a calling beyond raising children.  I know there are mothers out there raising children all on their own.  I know there are fathers doing the same.  It is a tough time to be a parent.  Many times it takes two incomes just to make ends meet. The world never seems to give you a break. We all have good intentions.

Just try sitting together each night at the dinner table and be truly interested in the tales your children tell you.  Read them a story, or tell your own, when you tuck them in at night.  Say prayers with them.  Take them for walks and point out all the wonders of God’s creation.  Remember the eyes with which you looked onto this world when you were a child.  The wonder of it all is still there.  You need only to look and listen.