75 years of Regeneration

“Regeneration takes a lot of energy.”My Octopus Teacher 

My mom, to the far left, with two of her relatives, Charles Paul and Jimmy Clarke.

My husband, John, and I were watching a popular documentary entitled, My Octopus Teacher.  While I could see where this movie would not be for everyone, as self-proclaimed nature lovers, John and I enjoyed it.  At one point during the movie, the octopus goes into long term hiding after one of its arms is torn off by a predator. The narrator explains, “Regeneration takes a lot of energy,” and I knew, upon hearing those words, there was a lesson for me.  

Regeneration is a word used in both biology and theology.  In its most basic definition, it means, according to Merriam-Webster, “to become formed again.”  It can also be described as a process of renewal and restoration.  Upon reflection throughout the following week, the concept of regeneration became more nuanced.  In fact, I began to contemplate the way in which I have observed forms of regeneration.

My mom, bottom row, second from left, with her older brothers; Leo, bottom row, second from left; Ralph, top row, third from left, their wives/kids; and her parents, top row, far left.

Mentally shuffling through life’s deck of cards, I began to notice all the ways in which various relations and friends have gone through numerous cycles of “forming again.”  My siblings, my parents, members of John’s family, and even John and I have experienced several crippling and/or painful stages that felt as if a limb were cut away only to witness the miraculous resilience of the human spirit once more begin to help each person renew and restore.

In fact, by the time you read this, Dear Reader, I will have, along with my three siblings and other family members and friends, created ways to help my mother celebrate her 75th birthday on May 7, two days before Mother’s Day.  Mom’s birthday was also her mother’s birthday, and I can’t help but notice, as part of the natural aging process, Mom not only looks similar to Grandmother, but also possesses many of Grandmother’s mannerisms.  

Mom’s mother, my Grandmother. They both shared May 7 as a birthday. Throughout her life, she experienced several life-altering events for which she had to regenerate.

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.”–Barbara Kingsolver

Like Grandmother, Mom has had to go through numerous stages of regeneration that I am only now beginning to appreciate in order to achieve 75 years of life.  Like all humans, Mom went through the obvious metamorphosis that is the infant through teen years, then into the young adult years, and the mid-life adult years. Now, she is fully immersed in those golden senior years for which Mom assures me aren’t always so golden!  

As her oldest daughter who entered her life before she began her second decade of life, I have been a partial witness to moments of time when Mom has been forced to restoration phases.  While it would be easy for me to offer commentary on these significant moments, I haven’t lived in Mom’s skin.  Therefore, I cannot pretend to know the level of upheaval or turbulence that certain events must have generated for her.  All I know is that if there is one thing Mom is good at doing, and thus modeling to all of her children, is the power of regeneration.

From left to right, Mom’s parents, Mom, my Dad (her first husband), and his parents. All of these beloved family member has/had to experience multiple times of regeneration.

“A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take.”–Cardinal Meymillod

On Mom’s birthday, I did something I had only done one other time this school year (and that was due to John having surgery), I took a day off work to help her celebrate her mid-septuagenarian birthday.  A few weeks prior, Mom invited me to attend her Friday morning Jazzercise class in Ironton, Ohio.  The music playlist of Meghan Trainor, as per Mom’s request, would be choreographed by instructor, Rita Isaac.  

“After all, I only turn 75 once,” my mom said to me with only a hint of heavy-handed inducement.  

To celebrate her milestone, Mom purchased cupcakes for her fellow Jazzercizers!

As I pondered my decision, I considered the past 17 months or so of Mom’s life.  Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, and due to the rapid progression of this disease, Mom was forced to make the painful decision to place him into an assisted living center.  This decision had to be made in the middle of the COVID pandemic/quarantine when patients in these centers were dying by the thousands.  Thus, it was by no means an easy choice.  

This was followed by a succession of deaths, including one fateful funeral in which Mom, and several family members in attendance, contracted COVID.  The virus clung to Mom like a wine stain on a favorite shirt–there was no quick way to wash it away.  Afterwards, came more deaths of loved ones, never-ending quarantining, and a winter that would likewise regenerate in unexpected ways.  

Through it all, I witnessed Mom scratch, claw, and climb her way through each blow that life offered.  Thankfully, she had, and continues to have, a devoted support system of friends and family to lend her a hand and/or an ear.  Additionally, there was, and is, a professional cadre of further support at Marshall Health Senior Adult Care.  Nonetheless, these past months required much internal restoration that only Mom could do for herself, and that Dear Reader, is the lesson to this story.

Several of her Jazzy friends left early, so unfortunately, I wasn’t able to photograph everyone in a group. Mom is center, and to the right of her is the instructor, Rita Isaac, who created and choreographed the Meghan Trainor playlist/workout!

The latest regeneration of Dolores, my mom, is flourishing as I witnessed on May 7 in her Jazzercise class. Once she was able to get vaccinated, and restrictions were lifted, Mom became the proverbial butterfly flitting and floating in the grassy field that is life on the other side.  Watching her dance, bop, and clap her way through her Jazzercise class with smiles for miles, I couldn’t help but admire her renewed exuberance and vibrancy.  Seeing her surrounded once more by friends and acquaintances in her various community and social circles reassures, that indeed, there is a dawn after night, and there is joy after the pains of birth, or in this case, rebirth.

Happy Birthday, Mom!  May you continue to find ways to renew and restore, and may your story remind others that regeneration of the human spirit is indeed possible! 

A Handful of Mother’s Day Love

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! (And while I have you, quick apologies for ages 13-21)–PureWow

Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

As I get ready for work in the morning, I often notice my maternal grandmother’s handkerchief draped over a framed print on a dresser.  It was a gift from my mother several years ago.  Recently, as I took in its gentle embroidery work, I picked it up and sniffed it in a futile attempt to pick up the scent of Helen, my grandmother.

Grandmother, whose scent was a unique blend of Folgers coffee, Avon cream, peppermint, and Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew, was always reassuring.  This morning, I was fatigued and feeling particularly nostalgic as I held Grandmother’s kerchief.  Her scent would have at least provided some small measure of comfort.  Instead, I was left to trace the delicate stitching.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed what appeared to be a stray pencil mark or two and I was taken into the past.

My mind drifted to that fundamentalist, country church of my youth.  I often begged my mom’s permission to sit with Grandmother and Pappaw.  Grandmother’s handbag, the size of a shoebox, was always well-supplied for church services that were sure to be long.  Unclasp the top, and inside, one could find mints, assorted candy, gum, pencils, pens, and old C & O notepads from Papaw’s time of working on the railroad.  While both my grandmother and my mom expected that I stand and hold the hymnal anytime we sang, grandmother permitted me to continue holding the hymnal on my lap as a makeshift desk in order to write, draw, or even play the dot game or hangman with a sibling or cousin–if they were seated with me. In this manner, I was able to remain respectfully quiet, which was also expected by both of my “ruling” women.

If the sermon offered to the attending flock hit a certain emotional note, or if someone sang a special song, such as one originally performed by a popular gospel group at the time, the Happy Goodman Family,  “What a Beautiful Day,” “God Walks the Dark Hills,” or if the congregation simply sang, “Amazing Grace,” I would often see tears stream down Grandmother’s face.  She’d reach in her purse for a handkerchief, dab at her eyes, and continue to hold on to that handkerchief, squeezing it as if her life depended on it.  Looking at the handkerchief, I suddenly remembered with great realism, Grandmother’s strong hands squeezing mine.  It was faint, and then it was gone.

I looked at my own hands.  They are the hands of mother’s and my grandmother’s.  Already, at age 55, they are starting to slightly misshapen from squeezing/holding too tightly onto things.  My fingers, like the women before me, are short and wide–nothing like the Palmolive hand models of long ago commercials. However, like both women, my hands are strong as I am typically better at opening jars and bottle tops than my husband. 

Grandmother’s own hands were strong from years of manual labor.  She single-handedly ran a grocery store and managed/cooked/served for its lunch counter, butchered the store’s meat, maintained and sliced it’s deli cheese and lunch meats while also raising two young boys.  (She would not have my mother until over a decade later.) Later, after my grandparents lost nearly everything in the flood of 1937, they moved to higher ground, left the grocery store business, and Papaw began working exclusively for the railroad.  Grandmother then became a full-time devoted housewife and mother.  Those hands of hers ran a precise schedule for daily, weekly, and annual cleanings, cooking, laundry, ironing, and so forth.  In fact, looking at her handkerchief, I can tell it has been worn thin from repeated washings and ironing.  If there was one thing Grandmother knew how to do well, it was to create a reliable routine and schedule.

“My mother menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”–Buddy Hackett

My mom likewise employed her mother’s ability to create a reliable daily structure with my three siblings and me. We got what she cooked (although Grandmother was far more indulgent with her grandkids), and we cleaned with regularity.  In fact, every Saturday we were expected to strip the sheets off our bed, remake our beds with clean sheets, and then dust/sweep our bedrooms.  Later, when we were older, we were also assigned another room in the house to likewise clean on Saturday.  It wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized very few of my friends had the same expectations!  In fact, one of my sister’s friends once shared, years later, that she drew inspiration from my mom’s Saturday schedule when raising her own children.

“I especially loved that when I spent the night with your sister, one of the siblings had to pick up her chore for that morning.”

In Grandmother’s daily routine, and later,  in Mom’s schedule, there was also set aside time for rest and relaxation.  You worked hard, when it was time to work, but likewise there was built in time for reading, relaxing, and rest. Grandmother’s house, and later my own childhood home, was filled with books, magazines, and, of course, several bibles.  Perhaps, it was because Grandmother’s 8th grade education bothered her, even though she was more educated than Papaw, reading was especially important to Grandmother, hence reading was also important to my own childhood home.

Recently, my mom has spent a good deal of time talking with me about her church.  She states that one of her friends at church loves Vestal Goodman, and all the rest of the Happy Goodman Family, whose songs were frequently sung at my Grandmother’s church.  Mom additionally has played Facebook videos of the church pianist who performs the ol’ time gospel tunes of Grandmother’s long ago church, and praises the pastor who knows how to touch her both intellectually and spiritually.  I can’t help but be reminded of Grandmother and secretly wonder if my mom carries a hanky to church too.

Preparing to write this piece, I clicked through a few youtube videos of the Happy Goodman Family, remembering their albums echoing through my grandparents house as Grandmother dusted and swept.  It wasn’t until I paused long enough for the entirety of “God Walks The Dark Hills,” that I noticed that Vestal was holding a handkerchief. As I clicked back through previously viewed videos, Vestal indeed was holding a hanky in each one!  I walked back to my bedroom and once more to pick up Grandmother’s delicate hanky.  Holding Grandmother’s handkerchief, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I saw both my mom’s and grandmother’s faces staring back at me.  

“It’s not how many years we live, but what we do with them.  It’s now what we receive, but what we give unto others.”–written by my grandmother, Helen Slater, on November 13, 1957 in my mother’s autograph book

Grandmother Helen, thanks for the “handy” reminder of the importance of faith, family, and all of those intangibles that I once took for granted.  Even now, you’re still giving me a hand. If you can see me in heaven, I’m sending you a hand-ful of gratitude on this coming Mother’s Day.  

And, Mom, I know that I was a hand-ful, so I’m especially sending you these words of Mother’s Day appreciation along with much love. You taught me not to start a sentence with “and,” but you know I often struggled with obedience.

P. S. This quote is for you, Mom . . .

“When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no.  You’re going to get it anyway.”–Erma Bombeck

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