Last Saturday was the three-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I debated writing something then, but decided I’d rather celebrate her birthdate and her life than commemorate her death.
Wanda Chloe Davidson Strain would have been eighty today. She was one of twelve children, born to a preacher and his incredibly hard-working wife. (Grandpa worked hard, too — he held various jobs during the week since not all of his churches could afford a full-time pastor — but Grandma kept house in the days before modern conveniences and raised all those kids. Heck, she was raising her youngest at the same time her oldest was raising her own babies.)
Mom in high school
Mom was an incredibly hard worker, too. Like Grandpa, she held a lot of jobs, and like Grandma, she took care of my sisters and me, but her passion — beyond God and her family — was working in the yard. She loved flowers and plants and had a huge vegetable garden when I was a kid that I don’t remember fondly. (Hoe, hoe, hoe . . .) Even into her sixties and early seventies, she could run circles around her kids and grandkids.
She and Daddy had wanted a son but had only daughters. One of her biggest regrets was that my dad didn’t live to meet his grandchildren. He would have loved the girls, she told me, but he would have loved the two boys. (Good thing I was a tomboy, since I was his last chance for a son. He taught me to shoot, let me work on cars and took me hunting with him.) Years later, she also told me she was glad she had girls, since the last thing she wanted was a daughter-in-law. Sons-in-law were much easier, she insisted. I’m not sure what she based the comparison on, though, since she never had a daughter-in-law. :-)
She was a regular at church; if the doors were open, she was there. She loved studying the Book of Revelations. She was so flattered when the Bible study group asked her to teach them about it.
She was incredibly hardheaded. My sisters tell me that she had an incredible temper when we were little. I don’t remember that, though I do remember enough of our stunts to know that any anger she showed us was well-deserved. We were . . . Heathens isn’t quite the right word; we spent a ton of time in church, too. Hooligans? Wild children?
Mom with her grandkids
She could also surprise the heck out me. One day a year or two before her death, we were coming back from a doctor’s appointment and she said, “Can I ask you something?”
You know that question never leads to anything good. But I said, “Sure, what do you want to know?” There’s not much I won’t tell people who ask.
She sat in silence for a moment or two, then asked, “What is the ‘c word’?”
This from a woman who chastised me when I was in my fifties for saying “butt.” (“Bottom” sounds so much better, she’d say.)
Clenching the steering wheel tightly as I steered at 65 miles per hour down the highway, I casually (sorta, kinda) asked, “Where did you hear that?”
Turned out, she’d been watching Dr. Phil. Ah, the things that pique your interest on TV.
I told her, and she nodded. Said she’d been wondering about it for a while. Now she didn’t have to wonder anymore.
(My sisters both said, “Better you than me.” Cowards.)
The last photo I took of Mom, with her great-grandson Gavin
When she went into the hospital in August 2009 for back surgery, I wasn’t overly worried. She’d had it before. Her neurosurgeon was one of the best. The prognosis was good. Unfortunately she acquired an infection while she was in the hospital, which led to more surgeries. The antibiotics for the initial infection caused another infection, and after nearly four months in and out of the hospital and thanks to malpractice, mismanagement and neglect, she died.
All my life, everyone, including Mom, pronounced her middle name as “clo” — rhymes with “slow” — instead of Chlo-ee. The infections made her do some pretty strange stuff in the hospital, and one time I chastised her by using both names (any time I heard “Marilyn Jean,” I knew I was in trouble!). “Wanda Clo!” I said. And she gave me a narrow-eyed look and very snippily said, “My name is Chlo-ee.” The only time I ever heard her say it that way.
Those last few weeks were terrible. The doctors kept saying, “She won’t last more than thirty-six hours.” We stayed with her twenty-four hours a day, getting a room in the hospital and sleeping in shifts. My son came home on emergency leave from Louisiana; the kids rearranged their schedules; my aunts and uncles came as often as they could.
Then a few days later, the doctors said, “It won’t be more than a day or two.” Then, “Forty-eight hours.” After two weeks of that, the palliative-care specialist came in that Tuesday morning, the eighth, and asked, “Do you want to take her home? I think that’s what she’s waiting for.”
She was ready to die. She’d never had any doubt she would be in heaven with my dad, her mom and dad, my nephew Kevin. She’d planned her funeral years ago and made peace with the fact that someday it would be her turn. She just wanted two things: not to be alone and to die at home.
Less than twelve hours after we took her home, she died in her sleep, in her own house, and she wasn’t alone. Three days later, the day before her birthday, we buried her.
Did I mention she was hardheaded?
Happy birthday, Mom. Have a great one. And give a hug to Daddy and Kevin for me.