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Cheryl Hughes: My Career As a Woman

Forget-Me-Not: I spent last week in Alabama with my sister-in-law, Charlotte.  She had knee-replacement surgery and needed help for a few days.  After watching the hours of agonizing pain that particular surgery puts a body through, I’ve decided that I will have to be reduced to crawling around on the floor before I let any doctor inflict that kind of pain on me.

Charlotte is 57 years old, which is young in knee-replacement years.  She hurt that knee in 1976 while water skiing.  She had surgery then for torn ligaments.  Throughout the years since, the cartilage has worn itself out, and as a result, she has fallen several times, causing other problems like chipped teeth and a broken wrist, just to name a few.

She and I counted up all of the surgeries she has had during her lifetime, and the number is staggering.  She told me she read that every time a person is administered anesthesia, it destroys some of their brain cells, and as a consequence, some of their memory.  She says that’s what’s wrong with her.

By “what’s wrong with her” she means why she forgets so much information and loses so many things.  Her misplaced items are legendary among her family and friends.  One year, she lost six sets of keys.  By sets, I mean house/car/work keys.  Her then-husband would go on rants every time she lost a set and tell her how they were going to have to change the locks on everything they owned (he never followed through).  Garey, her brother, would tease her that everybody in Birmingham had a set of keys to her house, and she could expect homeless people to start showing up any day.

While I stayed with her last week, I served as the finder.  She had to move from room to room on a walker as part of her physical therapy, and as a result, she would misplace her phone or glasses or ink pen.  I could usually locate the items rather easily, so it was no big deal. 

Before the surgery, Charlotte’s doctor had written prescriptions for extra pain medication, so she had the prescriptions filled pre-surgery and hid them in a “safe” place in order to access them post-surgery, the only problem being that she couldn’t remember the “safe” place in which she had hidden them.  She remembered that they were in a Ziplock bag, and she thought they were in her walk-in closet.  I looked in every bag in her closet, but to no avail.

I extended my search to bags under her bed, as well as bags in the bathroom and in her dresser.  I moved on to the kitchen cabinets and from there to the entertainment center in the den.  For good measure, I checked the drawers of the sideboard in the foyer.  There, I found the napkins I had looked for since my arrival and the remains of a red velvet cake. 

“You can throw that cake out,” Charlotte said, “I stashed it there at Christmas to get it off the counter, and I forgot about it.”  I can’t tell you how much it grieved me to throw out one of Charlotte’s red velvet cakes.  She makes the best I’ve ever had—hands down.

I was at a loss as to where to look next when her son, Brad, walked through the door.  He resumed the search, and found the meds right away, in a shoe box on a shelf in Charlotte’s closet. 

“I never thought to look there,” I told him.

“No normal person would think to look there,” he said, “You have to think like Mom if you’re going to find something she’s hidden.”

Charlotte’s oldest son, Jason, stopped by to check on his mom the next day.  “I got you an Alabama championship sweatshirt,” she told him, “It’s in a bag somewhere, I just can’t find it.”

“Mom,” Jason said, “I wish you’d just give me the money instead, because one—you can rarely please me when you buy me clothes, and two—even if it is something I’d like, you can never find it once you’ve bought it.”

Jason has always been the practical child in the family, but what he doesn’t understand is how much it pleases Charlotte to give to others.  She is one of the most generous people I have ever known.  Yes, there are enough misplaced birthday cards in her house to start a Hallmark subsidiary company, but the point is that she always thinks of others. Anything she can’t use, she passes on to someone who can, and she is constantly going out of her way to help her mom and her kids and her friends.

The unfortunate part of it all is that people rarely go out of their way for her.  I think it’s because everybody sees her as totally self-sufficient, which in a lot of ways she is.  This fall, for instance, she built a dog house for her Lab and Great Dane, and installed a privacy fence around her rather substantial back yard.  But everybody needs help once in a while, even self-sufficient people, which is why I ignored her protests and traveled down to Alabama to help her.

When I left her house, Charlotte gave me some stackable shelves she wasn’t using.  I can’t wait to install them if I could just remember where they are.  They’re in this house somewhere…in a plastic bag, possibly…or maybe a shoe box.


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