Monday, September 15, 2008

Celebrate the Living

“We celebrate the lives of the dead / It's like a man's best party only happens when he dies.” – Body in a Box, City and Colour
The reaper makes frequent visits to the critical care unit at Moses Cone Hospital. Yesterday, his presence cast a heavy shadow over Mom’s room. And even though he managed to break the spirit of the most optimistic of well-wishers, his intended passenger had no plans to leave just yet.
You can imagine my surprise when I walked in to see Mom sitting upright in a chair by the bed, laughing and telling jokes. “So you’re back from the dead again,” I asked. She just looked up and said, “You can’t get rid of a good mule.”
Mom knew a thing or two about mules. She grew up as the daughter of a sharecropper in Person County, NC. Her sisters, Phyliss, Brenda, and Joan worked the tobacco fields alongside her brothers Robert, Paul, and Ricky. They didn’t own the land, or the tools, or the mules that pulled the plow. But they worked it all to survive.
Faming tobacco is excruciating work. There’s the planting, the hoeing, the worming, the plucking, the tying, the curing… And breathing that red dust all day as the hot Carolina sun beats you down. It was backbreaking work. I got a small taste working Uncle Neil’s fields as a kid. But that was just a weekend job for me. This was a year-round reality for Mom and her siblings.
Grandpa’s plan was a simple one: more kids meant more hands to work more acres. But more kids also meant more mouths to feed. And when they yearly harvest came in, and the landowner was paid for the land, and the tools, and the animals, there was little left over for the family. It was a losing proposition.
Mom saw marrying my Dad as a way out of the tobacco fields for good. Little did she know that her hardest labor was yet to come.
Mom’s brothers and sisters have been through some trials. But make no mistake – they embody the word “tough.” Ironically, the same hard work that would contribute to many of their health problems later on was the same hard work that gave them the resolve to make it through.
So there’s Momma sitting in the chair, chatting away. “We’re going walking down the hall tomorrow. And when I get out of here, we’re all going down to see Robert in Texas.”
It seemed impossible just hours ago.
Heart attack? Stroke? Pneumonia? Spinal fusion? That was yesterday.
Today the sun came up over Moses Cone, and with it a reason to celebrate.

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