I reflect back a few weeks ago when the word “caducity” popped up in
something I was reading. Not being a word that was familiar, it was quickly looked
up in my dictionary. The meaning described something as being perishable; the
weakness of old age; senility.
This sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Most of us will end up in this category to
some degree some day. All of us probably know a person – a relative or friend –
that we have been close to during this part of their life. I was reminiscing and
trying to think of anyone in my history….a personal lesson to learn from this human
condition…even a bit of humor about this particular time in our lives? It did not
take but a moment to reflect on my very own precious mother and the life lessons
she instilled in me.
Annie Marie Richardson was born in Robstown, Texas in 1920. She was the
third of four children – all girls; also the largest baby, weighing in at 10 pounds,
and ended up as the “runt” of the litter, so to speak. What a cute and feisty girl she
was, with her dark eyes, long lashes, short bobbed haircut, and a splash of freckles
across her face to add that touch of wholesomeness.
Hers was a good life growing up, however, she did nearly die at the age of
five from scarlet fever. Although her family went through the Great Depression in
the 20’s, it had a very small effect on them. My Grandpa was a farmer and a very
wise man. They always had an automobile, modest but nice home, lots of good
food, and decent clothing….albeit, Mom was reduced to two pairs of shoes
during those hard times, one pair for school and the other for Sunday school.
Being a bit sneaky, she often took both pairs to school, one on her feet and the other
in her lunch bag. Making one quick stop after getting a few blocks from home, she
would sit under the same tree every day to change into her Sunday shoes, and then
back to the same tree on the way home to change back into her school shoes. How
she did it without her sisters knowing is still a mystery to me.
The family went to church every Sunday and again on Wednesday evenings.
Her father was a loving but strict disciplinarian and raised his family by the Bible
Mom said she could remember being thumped on the noggin when she
misbehaved at the dinner table, commenting that this is probably why she ended up a little
goofy! Nevertheless, there was always a lot of love and camaraderie in her family.
They vacationed together every summer and had fun as a family.
Ruthie was her youngest sister. They were the best of friends and always together. Her fondest
memories were that of playing paper dolls under the front porch that went across
the front of the house. The houses in that part of the country were built up off the
ground 2-3 feed and it provided a cool place to play out of the hot Texas sun, and to
keep them dry should there be an unexpected rainstorm.
At the age of fourteen Annie met George, my father, her first true love. At
the age of eighteen they were married. During the years together they had three
daughters, traveled all over the United States and Europe – as my father was an
officer in the Air Force. Unfortunately after twelve years of marriage they were
divorced. It was certainly the biggest tragedy in my lifetime. I guess you could say
that for me it was my first experience with caducity…a marriage and family that
became fragile and crumbled.
Mom was a fighter, a survivor, a momma bear when it came to taking care of
the three little girls she was left with. The four of us went through many years of
hard times, but she took care of us with a fervor and dignity like no other, while
working long days and sometimes nights. Her first job was as a secretary in a
detective agency. Later she purchased a small tavern and then a Mexican restaurant. She
would come home tired to the bone, but cook and clean house and go back to work
the next day.
Mom was such a comedian. If that is what a thumping on the noggin did,
well it was all to our benefit! Through all the difficult times she could still tell a
good story and have us rolling with laughter at her antics. I remember times when
she would be such a cutup that she would dance a jig and make silly faces just to
keep us happy and full of giggles.
When our family first split up Mom used her musical talent to ward off her
depression. She could play a mean accordion! She had taken lessons after
purchasing an accordion when we lived in Germany. I can remember that during
the first year after the divorce she sometimes spent four hours a day sitting at our
little yellow chrome kitchen table practicing. Despite the fact that money was
scarce, she managed to find a teacher and take a few more lessons. That was her
therapy. She was amazing, going from difficulty pieces of music to fun pieces like
the Beer Barrel Polka. She was an entertainer all the way! It seemed like our home
was always filled with music, friends and family when she wasn’t working.
We had a great extended family that lived in the area. Family reunions from
both sides of her family had yearly potluck picnics out at the little town park where
Her mother and sisters still lived.
I married at the age of eighteen and moved at the age oftwenty to my husband’s
home state of Oregon . Because Mom wanted to spend time with her
first grandchildren, she opened offices in Washington and Oregon for the national
company she was working for at the time. She stayed in Portland for sixteen years
until retirement, then moved back to Texas to be with my sisters.
After retiring to Houston, she took up oil painting. Who knew that she was
also a talented artist, as well as being musically inclined? And what an artist she
was – setting up her canvas on the beach at Padre Island and in the bluebonnet
fields in the countryside, painting the beauty she saw as she drove her motor home
around the state. She would park, paint, and play her accordion. She magically
applied her oils, creating pictures of rolling hills covered with those tiny Texas
bluebonnets, an old barn or windmill, or a pelican at the beach. She became so
versatile that she painted anything and everything that struck her fancy - portrait
of an Indian chief with a weathered face of wrinkles and colorful feathers, Raggedy
Ann leaning against a wall, the Alamo with all the intricate details. She made extra
money selling many of the over 500 pictures she painted. Of course, many paintings
are on walls in the homes of family and friends.
All the hard work and stress over the years took a toll. Annie now began
showing her own weathered face of wrinkles. Her colorful feathers were beginning
to molt. Her back began to hunch over from the many times she moved from one
house to another in her lifetime…pushing, pulling; lifting furniture, boxes, washers,
dryers. Most of the time it was Mom and the two or three of us girls. There were
just too many times without the help of a man around, for she remained single most
of those years.
Time began to really make a difference. Caducity was very evident. She
moved in with my single sister in Houston until she could not feel comfortable
going to work and leaving Mom alone all day. Would she come home and find she
had fallen and been injured? Would she find the house had burned down? Mom
never gave up smoking and now that she was taking oxygen for lung disease, it
became a serious problem. You can not imagine how many cigarette burn spots
were in her bedroom. Every windowsill showed evidence of torture, not to mention
the carpets. Mom thought she was being that sneaky little girl again by putting
down little area rugs to cover up her “naughtiness.”
The circle went around. She ended up coming back to Portland to live with
me, her married retired daughter. What an interesting time of my life, living with
Mom again. Here she is, barely able to walk but wanting to tap dance, and tripping
over her oxygen tube in the process. Still quite a character!
When the hospice doctor came to visit she told him she would give him a run
for his money if she were a few years younger. He was gorgeous! Then the hospice
nurse was the “butt” of one of her jokes during a delusional moment. She told her
that her knees looked like a baby’s behind. Well, there was no truth to that, just
more proof that senility was setting in. So, we had a big laugh and also did not take
her seriously when she said she was pregnant and expecting twins.
Time was just a word at this point…today was yesterday or five years ago.
Tomorrow was not even a day of the week or a date on her calendar. What was
known an hour before had been forgotten. What was done as a young child or
young adult was as though it happened yesterday. Life was simple! Life was
confusing! It is not an easy thing to let your grown children parent you, to 100%
depend on them for your “Depends” and every other need.
Caducity. What is one to do? Love them with all your heart and soul, show
them tenderness and kindness, give them lots and lots of hugs and kisses, for they
live as though their life was starting over. Treat them as you would any small child
that you love and care for. Remember all the wonderful times from the past, the
sacrifices and love they showed to you over the years, before the end, for caducity
does not last forever. Having my mother with me at this time in her life was a
treasured loving and learning experience for three months and then it ended the day
before my birthday on November 2, 2003.