It was December and I was preparing to go on a cruise with my niece Taylor (finally celebrating her high school graduation that took place in June) when I got word that the decision had been made to stop treatments for my college roommate’s Mom, who had been suffering from multiple ailments for far too long. She was not expected to live much longer. As we drove to Charleston to board our ship, Ann was driving from her home in Tampa with her husband and brother, to her hometown of Wallace, knowing her mom was going to die soon. While I knew I needed to be on that cruise, I admit to being frustrated with God’s timing. Why was this happening when I could not be there, to comfort someone who has been my friend since the age of 18, and to pay tribute to a lady who had been a lovely part of my life since my college years?
I first met Ann’s mom when we paid a surprise visit to her one Sunday when we were in college. We were hungry, in need of home cooking, and Ann said “Let’s go home for Sunday lunch.” I was a bit concerned that we didn’t call first, that we would take her mom by surprise and there wouldn’t be enough food, but still hopped in the car with Ann and we traveled from Chapel Hill to Wallace. The concern was unfounded. Her mom was thrilled. The house was full of both people and food, but we were honored guests. The food was plentiful. I was a bit in awe of the spread before us. There was her mom’s amazing fried chicken, several other meats, potato salad and vegetables of all kinds, biscuits and fried cornbread and lots of sweet tea. I’d never had fried cornbread before and had not often eaten fried chicken (KFC was usually the only fried chicken consumed in our house. Except for that one time my daddy made fantastic fried chicken when my mom was in the hospital….but that is another story). My Welsh mother only slightly embraced Southern cooking.
Even we starving college girls were full at the end of the meal. Ann’s momma said “I love when someone comes for the first time and actually eats!” It was not a backhanded Southern insult. She really did take pleasure in the fact that the food she fixed was enjoyed so much that any thoughts of polite denials for second portions went out the window. That was the first of many times of eating my fill of her chicken and potato salad.
There’s a special bond with some of the parents of your close friends. On one hand you are just purely grateful to them for raising this magnificent person who is such a big part of your life. They’re grateful to you for being a friend to their child. There’s also a purity. None of the tension that is felt sometimes between parents and their children. They may have to tell you like it is (and most of the parents of my friends that I am close to are that type, for some reason), but you listen to their words with emotions that don’t get out of hand. You know they care for you and want the best for you, but that caring doesn’t seem to be conditional.
I’d last seen Ann’s mom in the fall, stopping for a quick Sunday visit on my way home from visiting friends. I was a bit nervous. I knew there were days she got very confused and I wondered if she would know who I was. I walked into the skilled nursing center she had been placed in, and she was sitting in a wheelchair, slumped down over the tray in front. I very hesitantly said “Mrs. Brock, do you know who I am.” She looked a bit stunned and confused so I thought the answer was going to be “no”. But she said “Kim!”, with pleased astonishment in her voice. Then “JC (Mr. Brock, Ann’s father) is going to hate that he missed you.”
We had a great visit. They brought her lunch in when I was there and she would barely eat a bite, even with my encouragement. I finally had to acknowledge that after a lifetime of her own cooking, this institutional food was lacking. Which got us talking about all the meals we had shared together. We found reasons to laugh. We talked a bit about her life now. I could tell she hated not being able to care for herself and others. She had never been in that position before, and I think she missed her purpose. As wonderful as the time with her was, it was difficult not to be sad on her behalf. Still, to me there was so much life in her. She always had such a spunky spirit, which she passed on to Ann. That spirit was still evident, but was also weary.
I still can’t conceive of the fact that I won’t see her again on this earth. That my dear friend no longer has her loving, but exasperating, mother.
It will be in the simple things I will remember her. I doubt I will ever eat fried chicken and potato salad without thinking of her, for instance. Possibly a strange memorial, but one that I believe would make her smile. There was love in that food and she passed much on to me.
Taylor and I left on our cruise on Saturday, Ann’s mom died Sunday morning. Ann and her brother Ronnie made it there in time. God knew the number of hairs on Frances Brock’s head and the number of days she would live on this earth. He knew I wouldn’t be there at the end for her or for Ann, and for whatever reason He allowed that to happen. He provided for them both quite sufficiently. But my relationship with Mrs. Brock, built on her kindness and her gift of hospitality, is part of who I am.
I thought of her often when I was traveling around the beautiful Caribbean. It was a reminder that life is short, and that we should fill our days with good people and good experiences. We should enjoy the simple times of good companionship, as we eat and drink together. Those are the times that fill us, not just with food and drink, but with love and memories. And that love and those memories, will outlast our life on this earth.
Dance with joy in heaven, Mrs. Brock. I love you! Thank you for the gift of your daughter and thank you for loving me.