First Conscious Memory

by Sally Hendrick

I beat my head on the top edge of the crib until there are bruises.

It hurts, but it also feels good. My mind is exploding with curiosity. I don’t want to nap. I want to be out in the kitchen with the light on.

But darkness envelops me.

Don’t close the door. Leave it cracked at least.

It doesn’t take me long to learn how to climb out of the crib, down to the floor where my toys are. If I am quiet enough, my mother won’t hear me.

But she doesn’t leave the door cracked, so I am in total darkness

…at least until my eyes adjust to the lack of light. I can see the shapes of things that I know are in the room. It is familiar and helps me calm my fears.

I crawl over to reach for something that I recognize. It is the wooden blocks. I try to stack them, holding each piece for a few seconds before I carefully place it on top of another brick.

After stacking a few, they fall and make a loud noise. I can hear footsteps coming down the hall. I shimmy over to the crib, grab the bars and climb over the edge back into the crib as if I’d never left.

She opens the door.

Mom picks me up.

She takes me into the kitchen, puts me in the high chair with the metal top, fastens it back down, then serves me some macaroni and cheese and Vienna sausages cut into small bites. I gobble them up in just a few minutes, as I am hungry. I don’t want the stream of food coming at me to end.

Mom tells everyone that I beat my head on the crib. I am no more than 18 months to 2 years old.

I look at Mom and wonder where she’s gone these days. Whatever happened to her fighting spirit? She always cared for me, though imperfectly. It’s hard to look at her as a pitiful child in a wheelchair, complaining about everything until she’s finally understood by the caregiver who speaks Spanish to her.

Don’t close the door. Leave it cracked at least.

She opens the door.

Mom has been going downhill for nearly 6 years.

Fortunately, the place she's in now gives her the attention she needs. She just wants someone to massage her back a little, put lotion on her legs and feet. Sonya gives her love.

She called me this morning, said she fell in the shower and Sam didn't believe that she was hurt bad enough to go to the hospital, but she insists, as do I. Her leg is hurting so much.

It is broken right across the center of her femur. She already can't walk. This is going to be a long recovery from surgery.

Oh Mom. Poor Mom.

Later on in the rehab, I worry that she won't recover. Every day I visit, take Facebook comments to her cut out into strips that make a paper chain. She can barely wake up enough to enjoy them, much less listen to me read them out to her. She can't understand me. The pain and pain medication are too great to pay attention to anything else.

She sleeps and sleeps. I go home.

That's when they call.

"Your mother has what may be fluid building up in her left lung."

"That's the only one she really has. Her other one was diseased with lung cancer and partially removed years ago," I reply.

"We can't start full treatment until Monday when the doctor comes, or she can go to the emergency room," the male nurse told me.

"No, don't do anything yet. I'm on my way up there now," as I start to drive right back to the rehab center.

Mom can't survive this.

It is all she can do to survive each miserable day. She isn't happy. Treating this onset of pneumonia would be fruitless. She'd end up an even weaker version of herself, and I can't bear to see her in pain any longer.

That's when I howl, a long, guttural cry from the depths of my soul in the hallway outside her room. I know what has to be done.

I walk into her room and gently sit on the bed.

"Mom, you don't have to do this anymore. It's okay. You can let go."

She is scared but nods in agreement. I call the nurse in, and he asks her a few questions. I can tell she is getting frustrated with him, and with an amazing strength I hadn't seen from her in years, she lifts her upper body out of the bed with her eyes wide open.

"I'm ready to die!" she says with force.

He says that it is alright, and he will give her the panacea she needs.

Family comes and goes over the next few days until Mom finally passes. It is a beautiful time with her as she leaves her broken body behind. I even crawl into bed with her and sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as she slumbers.

Somehow Mom depends on me to open the door this time...the door to let her go free.

So I open the door.


What you don't know about Jim Crow

by Sally Hendrick

Two little girls in rural West Tennessee are best friends but only in secret. Separated by a cotton field, their lives couldn't be any more different. Sudie's and Mabie's friendship, beautiful yet tragic, leaves a mark for generations to come.

Sally takes you on a journey back in time to the early 1900's Jim Crow South, as she imagines what life was like for her grandmother, Sudie, weaving together memories from her own childhood and stories from her family, even the black women who raised her.

Coming someday soon. Please enjoy this chapter for now.

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