Monday, May 14, 2007

Virgie Skinner 1911-2007

Last Sunday, my mom called to update me on the status of my grandmother. She has lived in an apartment attached to my parent's home (part of her apartment was my old bedroom growing up) for the past 10 or so years. For the past several years, her health slowly deteriorating, my parents (and sister and bro-in-law) did an amazing job of taking care of her. In the last little bit, that had become almost a 24-7 task for my mother. Anyway, two weeks ago, after a stint in the hospital, it was determined that she probably had liver cancer. Perhaps for some time. The prospect of any significant recovery for anyone wasn't good, much less for a 96-year old. Deep down, we knew what was inevitable.

My Mom seemed to know even more. Her phone call on Sunday was to let me know that if I wanted to have one last moment with my grandma, I should consider coming home soon. I was already planning a surprise Mother's Day trip, but after hanging up the phone, felt compelled to gather some clothes and go right then.

I can't tell you how glad I am that I did. I had the blessing of chatting with my grandma Skinner that evening and off an on Monday. But without a lot of detail, suffice it to say that things happened quickly. We called the ambulance at around noon Monday, and she passed away Tuesday morning at around 1:30 am.

My grandma's mind was sharp all along. While being wheeled out of the house by the ambulance crew, while gasping for oxygen, she had the wherewithall to remind my mom to grab a sweater, reminding her that she was cold last time in the hospital. She was a model mother right up to the end.

While in the ER, during a moment when she was quiet and still, she looked right at me and asked out of the blue if "that girl of mine was still sewing" (grandma was quite the seamstress and made tons of quilts, afghans, and the like - they had purchased my 10-year old daughter a sewing machine for Christmas, and had helped her create an outfit, purse, etc). A little later, as though she was building up the energy for another sentence, she looked at me and said "let's make sure she learns to crochet." I didn't understand much more of what she had to say, though looking back some of her efforts to communicate make perfect sense.

I have many memories of my Mammaw Skinner. Going to her house was always an adventure. As a kid, when we missed school because of snow (often a week at a time in KY), I spent enough time there to get hooked on soap operas, and get my fair share of Bob Barker and other daytime shows. I remember the hours I spent mowing her lawn, always for a fair wage. I always appreciated the simplicity of her life. Not that it wasn't complicated. But she lived simply. Family was her most important possession, and I am blessed to have been a part of that. (One of my favorite stories was from the early 90's when my wife and I lived in Ohio. They were visiting with us, and we were having lunch at a Red Lobster. She opened her napkin to get the silverware out, and said "Law, they gave me two forks." She didn't get out much to places like that, and it was one of the things about her that I found so endearing. That stuff didn't seem to matter much to her.) Her deep concern for family is perhaps the best lesson I could have possibly learned. It's part of her legacy. It's part of who I am. And for that I'll be forever grateful.