Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Day, Y'all


I'm well aware today is July 4th, Independence Day, America's birthday. But for me, this day is a summer edition of Thanksgiving for several reasons. As with that November holiday, there are no gifts to buy on Independence Day. The emphasis is on getting together with friends and/or family, eating (and perhaps drinking) too much, and hanging out. My kind of holiday.

Unlike Thanksgiving, however, on July 4th I think about independence--mine, to be specific. At this stage of my life, I have a great deal of freedom. I'm old enough to know what I want and young enough to expend the energy to get it or do it. I'm fortunate to enjoy good health, which is essential to complete independence. My relationship with Nick is an easy one that continues to grow more rewarding, and we don't try to 'control' each other. I've been self-employed for 18 years, so there's no one telling me what I can and can't do. Like everyone else I know, I have money concerns, but I'm not hurting for the comforts of food, clothing, and shelter. 

All that is my way of saying that giving thanks for personal independence is important. It's something to be acknowledged, savored, and celebrated, because it can be fleeting. Without notice, our independence can disappear, often the result of major health or financial conditions. Or it can be taken away, piece by piece, over time, until there's none left.

For example, there's my mother Ruth. She married early (at age 20) and almost immediately began raising kids--a total of five, born over the course of 17 years. She took care of a loving husband during a 52-year marriage, nursed him through his year-long illness, and mourned his death for years. Four years after my father died, Ruth's mother became ill and died.

A few months later, Ruth was at last fully free and independent for what I believe was the first time in her life. To celebrate, in 1998 she bought one of the first Volkswagen New Beetles to roll off the production line using money she'd inherited from her mother. Ruth was never happier than when she was tooling around town in her adorable white car, which--due to its scarcity at the time--got a lot of attention.

I was with Ruth one day when a stranger approached us in the Beetle and asked, "How did you get that car?"

My mother, who was 79 at the time, smiled mischievously and said, "My mother bought it for me."
I combined two of Ruth's paintings, of her Beetle and a purple cow, and Photoshopped them together with her photo.

Sadly, Ruth's independence lasted only a few years. By 2003, her sister was dying, and Ruth was once again in a caregiver role. And then, over the next two years, my sisters and I began noticing our mother's memory lapses.

Upon a doctor's advice, we had to take away the keys to Ruth's beloved Beetle--a wrenching experience for everyone involved. If that weren't enough, later that year, my sisters and I had no choice but to force Ruth from her home of nearly 50 years.

By that point, Ruth's Alzheimer's had progressed, she'd fallen several times, she'd nearly caught the kitchen on fire; you get the picture. Her continued existence in that big house was a disaster in the making. And so, again upon her doctor's advice, we moved Ruth to a retirement community where she could be safe and secure, and we hired our niece Marcy to be her caregiver. Four years later, after Ruth had wandered off at night more than once (perhaps looking for her Beetle), we had to move her again. Today she lives in an Alzheimer's facility where you must press buzzers and punch in codes to come and go--the exact opposite of independence. 

And so, on this 4th of July, as the fireworks rise, explode, and quickly fade, I'll be giving thanks for the independence I enjoy today, because I know that, like fireworks, it can't last.

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17 comments:

  1. Oh, bless you both. You're a wonderful son for recognizing the gifts that your mother gave so many.
    She is a wonderful mom (for so many reasons, I'm sure!) but for all that she did to teach you the importance of being independent.

    Here's to Ruth!

    PS - While celebrating, you need to celebrate the fact that you don't live with that crazy old cow McCorkle!

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    1. Amen to the Miss McCorkle independence, JuJu!

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  2. Happy Independence Day, Jim!

    So poignant and so self-aware; that's part of the reason I love your posts so much.

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    1. Thank you, Claudia. That means a lot to me.

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  3. That was absolutely beautiful. You are so fortunate to have your mother but more she is truly blessed to have you as her son.

    Have a wonderful Independence Day!

    ps...My family and I are hiding out on Elizabeth Street while our landlord is supposed to be doing some things to our home. I may have to take a quick jaunt over to the McCorkle joint!

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    1. Thanks Colleen. But if you go visit McCorkleville, watch out for falling 'eh conditionuhs.'

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  4. I really don't know what to say about this post except that it took my breath away and made me laugh and cry at the same time. Life can be beautiful and life can also be ugly. I'm glad that the beautiful was included in your post. I also have to say that your creativity with the paintings was adorable. Hope it brings a smile to you everytime you look at it.

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    1. Thank you so much, Paul. The painting does make me smile and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  5. Nice piece, Jim. Sweet and thought-provoking. Think I"ll call my mom.

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  7. After reading this, I think I shall try and be a little less selfish today, and buy the way take a spin in my little new beetle I have had for so long...
    Thank you so much for sharing this story...

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    1. Thank you as always for your support, Theaterdog!

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  8. Happy Independence day Jim. I am blessed to have a mother that is still living independently and functioning on a much higher level than me. I needed this reminder to remember how lucky I am.

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  9. Hope you and Paul had a great 4th, Bill!

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  10. I am so sorry to hear this story about your mom. My dad too lost his independence a few months ago after having a mini-stroke and having his license revoked by his doctor. He also had to move out of his home and now lives in an apartment a few blocks from my job and a few blocks from my brother and his wife. Between the three of us and grandsons and granddaughters we manage to take care of him. It's been really hard on dad as he still has his mental faculties and understands that he can't come and go as he pleases. He tells me that sometimes he forgets and finds he needs a screw or a bolt and gets ready to head out to Home Depot in his truck and then realizes he doesn't have it any more. It's so sad. I can truly sympathize with you.

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    1. Thanks Alicia. It is truly sad and I'm sorry to hear about your Dad. He's fortunate to have a big, loving family to help me maintain at least some of his independence. You're a good daughter.

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