Cheryl Hughes: Comfort of the Familiar
My husband, Garey, has a tee shirt that has been worn and washed so many times it’s threadbare. There are at least fifty tiny holes along the neckband, and I look for the body of the shirt to let go and disintegrate into a heap upon the floor any day now. That shirt is Garey’s go-to shirt for gardening in oppressive heat, the kind we had last week. It is comfortable, and he depends on it. When it finally gives up the ghost, he will probably keep it in an urn on the mantel.
Last week, I stayed with my stepmom. She has been living with my sister, Lorrie, in Prestonsburg for the last year. Lorrie’s father-in-law is in the hospital with heart and lung issues, so she and her husband have been taking turns staying at his bed side. I went to stay with Mom, so Lorrie would have one less worry for a week, at least.
Mom is eighty-eight. She is in excellent physical health, but she is easily confused at times. She doesn’t like to read, and she only watches old black-and-white TV shows like, “Gunsmoke,” “Andy Griffith,” “Gomer Pyle” or “Green Acres.” It can be challenging to engage her in conversation.
She doesn’t sit for long before she is up again, walking through rooms, looking out the window at the restaurant across the street. She believes she sees my sister’s car go by several times a day, although my sister is in a hospital room with her father-in-law on the other side of town.
Mom remembers all seven of us kids, our children and our husbands. She keeps our pictures on her dresser and she can name everybody. She also keeps an aerial view photo of what she believes is our old farm on Ashes Creek. (It is actually and aerial view of the place where she and Dad moved to after Taylorsville Lake took the Ashes Creek farm.) She holds the picture in her hands and points to some of the buildings. “This was our barn, and this is where the mill was. They took our land,” she says sadly, as she sets the picture back onto the dresser.
In Mom’s bedroom at my sister’s house, she has four dresser drawers where she keeps her favorite clothes. She checks to make sure these clothes are safe in those drawers several times a day. She takes out the gowns and housecoats, lays them on the bed and refolds them one at a time, then puts them back into the drawer. She finds her favorite blouses and does the same. She has two favorite blouses, a green one and a purple one. Lorrie tries to get her to wear other clothes, but Mom says these two blouses are “contrable,”and that’s what she wears.
Mom has four necklaces that she keeps in an extra handbag in a chair. She checks on those several times a day, as well. “Did I show you these?” she asked me at least twice a day while I was there. I always pretended I had never seen them, so she could tell me the story behind each one. All four are beautiful. There is one with her birthstone, one with a cross, one with a heart, and one with a peace dove. Mom’s friend from church gave her the one with the peace dove pendant.
“It cost over a hundred dollars,” Mom said, “she told me it did. She said I was her friend and she wanted me to have it.”
By the looks of the necklace, it cost every bit of a hundred dollars, probably more. I thought about what that meant to Mom, that someone would give her a necklace worth a hundred dollars just because she was her friend. This woman who had farmed and worked at a sawmill, so her children could have food and clothing and a home.
I wonder what things I will return to over and over if I live to be Mom’s age. I wonder if, like Garey and Mom, I will insist on clothes that are comfortable. The familiar serves as a beacon twice in our lives—when we are very young and when we are very old. In between, we want challenge and change. In the end, we want the comfort of the familiar. Things we recognize. Things that feel good, like a green blouse or a tee shirt that is being held together by termites holding hands.