Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Sometimes events in life can be so emotionally jarring that it's impossible to process them on the surface. I find it necessary to grieve briefly when someone dies, then file it all away to think about later when my heart is more settled.

About ten years ago, I met this guy, and before long, we were living together in my little duplex in the historic section of downtown Huntsville. For the next 3-1/2 years, we drank, ate, fought, made up, took a highly inebriated trip to New York City partially via the Blue Ridge Parkway, lost a barbecue contest, acquired a mutual dog, fought some more. After a few cop calls and threats from the neighbors, I threw up my hands, bought a house down the street, and moved out. Case closed.

Except it wasn't. I stayed with him as long as I did for one reason: his mother.

Polly and I hit it off the minute we met. I did the usual mother-in-law schmooze, flowers, a small gift of lace that I had made, but it was lost on her because she outdid me by a long shot. There was a cocktail in my hand before I could even sit down. All attention was focused on me and whatever was desired to make me comfortable and entertained. Anyone who entered chez Polly was treated as beloved royalty. The conversations were hilarious and stimulating and educational and erudite. And each time I visited her, up until very recently, the next day I could expect to find an eloquent, elegantly scrawled note in my mailbox exclaiming how much she had enjoyed the visit and would I please come back soon.

She had the worst case of rheumatoid arthritis I'd ever seen. Her hands were useless for most tasks, and over the last couple of years it was impossible for her to walk or even use a wheelchair, but she could wrap both arms around you and brush the hair back from her grandchild's face.

A true child of the south -- born and educated in southern Mississippi -- she had the audacity to marry a damn Yankee and have four damn Yankee children with him and live in Damn New Jersey for years, for criminy's sakes. Then, miraculously, she regained her good God-given sense and bought a beautiful home on the lake in Guntersville, Alabama. We would all spend weekends there sometimes in the summer. At sunrise, you could walk out on the back porch and look out over the water ... the way the mists rolled in at dawn might lead a person to think they'd taken the wrong turn and ended up in the fiords.

She drank 3-finger martinis into her 70's and smoked unfiltered Pell Mells in her younger days. She told me once that I was more fun that Wheel of Fortune. I've never felt so flattered, before or since.

She believed in books and God and family and precious children and good grammar and good manners and generous hospitality and big breakfasts and giving tons of gifts at Christmas and making absolutely certain that everyone got exactly what they wanted and then some. We shared many mutual hobbies and interests-- bird watching, flowers, discussing our suspicions about various shifty local politicians, and of course in the finest southern neighborly tradition, discussing it all over dinner.

She read everything. Every newspaper, book club release, magazine article. She knew more about current events and pop culture than I do. God help us all if she'd ever started a blog.

How was it possible that after spending an hour with a woman who couldn't walk or hold a fork, I felt like I'd spent all that time dancing?

Somewhere around the end of April, Polly's mental and physical facilities just flat-out hit the crapper. Every day, the children, her minister, neighbors, and I and my mother were at the NICU doors for every single visiting session. She opened her eyes once when I was there alone with her, just for a few seconds, and after they focused and she could see my face inches from hers, those sky-blue eyes visibly brightened. Then they were closed.

She's gone now. I will miss her forever. I will always love her. I am forever thankful for her. My heart, and this funny blue marble of a planet, are blessed for having her touch them for just a moment.


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