Blue Hydrangeas and Youth Dew

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Memories of Mom Cutshaw on her birthday…

My mother-in-law, Mary Lynn Clark Cutshaw, was born on April 14, 1923, and like Pop Cutshaw, would be turning 91 on her birthday.  It seems impossible that she would be that age if she were still with us, and it seems impossible that she and Pop have been gone as long as they have.  They died less than 11 months apart, with Pop leading the way in July of 2000.  I know there must have been a reason for the timing of their respective deaths, but it was a hard thing just the same.

I don’t want to think so much about Mom C’s dying as her living.  She was one of the toughest, strongest, most determined women I ever had the good fortune to know.  She intimidated me for the longest time.  I felt like an interloper; I was stealing her baby boy, after all.  I was marrying the little brown-haired-brown-eyed child she loved so very much.

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When Jeff and I got married, she said that she only wanted one thing as far as our ceremony was concerned, and that was for Jeff and me to sing a song.  I knew I would be too preoccupied to sing well on the actual wedding day, so we arranged to pre-record a duet the night of the rehearsal. I adapted the words of The Lord’s Prayer to fit the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria” music, and Jeff and I recorded it between the rehearsal and dinner.  It was a wonderful gift to be able to honor her request and she was pleased with the result.

Once we were back from our honeymoon, she came up to our little rental house one day and helped me get things set up, including literally taking a knife and helping to scrape who-knows-how-many years of muck out of the oven!  She measured windows and made some of our curtains.  Less than a year later, when we were moving to Florida, she and Pop packed themselves up and made the move with us, spending the weekend (along with Jeff’s sister Bridget and her husband Michael, who lived in New Orleans and came over to meet up, share family time and help unpack) getting us bare-bones settled in.  I remember Mom C looking at all the canned food I had stockpiled to move down with us and telling me she was glad my Mama had taught me how to shop!  She had been worried that we would be moving down with no groceries of any kind to get us started.

Mom Cutshaw was a wonderful cook who made legendary pies yet somehow often scorched the green beans or burned the rolls.  It seemed like there was nothing she couldn’t do.  She knew how to sew and keep finances in order.  She was an Opti-Mrs. (the lady counterpart to The Optimist Club) and took care of children during Sunday school.  And she did more for Pop after he began suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, for a longer period of time, than was humanly possible, keeping him at home up until just the last couple of months before he died.

During this time, she gradually lost some weight, which was to be expected given the physical and emotional demands of being a 24/7 caregiver.  I don’t guess anybody really thought much about it, hoping that once things settled down, she could rest up and regain some of her physical strength.  As it turned out, just months after Pop’s death, we learned that she was experiencing a recurrence of the cancer that had shown up in her colon in 1997, this time in her liver.  Treatment was unsuccessful and she was placed on palliative care at home.  I remember asking her if she was scared, and she said she wasn’t afraid of dying, but she didn’t want to suffer.

She faced her battle bravely, just as she had faced everything else in her life.  She died in the wee hours of the morning on June 18, 2001.  The house was full of all her kids, 2 of the 3 kids-in-law and 2 of the 3 grandchildren.  I feel sure that she knew we were there, and I hope that it comforted her.

She has come to me many times in dreams.  The most vivid and telling one happened more than once.  The estate was in the process of being settled and their house was on the market for a while before it finally sold.  In my dream she kept quoting me a very specific number saying, “____ thousand and the house is sold.”  The number was low for a house and it didn’t make sense.  As it turned out, though, once the house sold and the proceeds were divided among the 3 children, the figure that came to each sibling was the number she had quoted to me in the dreams.  She knew and she shared it with me.  It still gives me chills to think about it.

She wore Estee’ Lauder’s Youth Dew, and to this day when I catch a whiff of it, I remember her… and smile.  She also grew lots of beautiful flowers.  Her blue hydrangeas were the prettiest I’ve ever seen.  I have a few dried ones in the china cabinet that came to us after she died.  Every time I see them I remember her…her strength, her beauty and youthful spirit, her courage in the face of adversity and her love expressed in meals cooked and clothing sewed, dream visits and oven-scraping with a new daughter-in-law.

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