March 13, 2012
We could hear her long before we would see them trailing down the dirt road together. “down and down I go, round and round I go, in a spin, lovin’ the spin I’m in, lovin’ that oooooold black magic called LOVE!” Her singing voice that never found the right key. Always a little off. Always loud. Joy filled. She could care less who heard it. Or, who complained at birthday parties when singing happy birthday became impossible to sing along with her. She would continue to the end of the song. Alone, after the rest of us would give up trying. It was someone’s birthday and she was going to celebrate that person for goodness sakes.
She sang like there was no one listening long before that ever became a cute quote.
We lived in the country-side of Statesville, NC at that time. Early morning walks were brisk. A ritual back then. Something the kids looked forward to every time she came to visit from Florida.
Which, was often. Every chance she could get.
She was their grandmother, but, they called her Momo. Like a tiny Pied Piper in sequin shoes. She’d lead the way with her little legs, with a spring in her step and with her horrible singing voice. Our five kids would trot beside her, holding her hands, her shirt sleeves and pulling the baby in a wagon. And, just like her, their faces up to the sunshine, arms swinging, knees high stepping, we could hear their voices, too. They knew all of the words to every Louie Prima song by heart.
Momo was magic. She would tie one end of the jump rope to the porch railing so she could swing the rope for eight year old Cassie. Teaching her to jump and sing rhymes Momo had jumped to as a little girl. She would insist on holding baby Michael on her lap. Help Michelle to put “real” baby clothes on her many baby dolls. Clothes that she bought for her because ‘doll clothes did not look real’. Teach Christopher and Trevor how to play poker. Playing with them, of course.
She would do all of this, at the same time.
The magic was that each child seemed to think they were the only one in the room with her. Each felt that they were her only grandchild.
I also felt that she was only mine. Momo was my mother-in-law. A dear, sweet friend, I had met two years before I met her son. She would slide into the restaurant booth beside me and that’s when it would start.
The art of asking questions.
An art, because she was far from being nosy. It was more like, an interview from the heart. Momo’s interviewing talent would put Oprah Winfrey’s to shame. Momo was just interested. Period. Truly and lovingly interested in people. All kinds and all ages. Especially, her grandchildren. Her “interviewing” with each of them started by the time they were two on long distant phone calls. I had never known anyone to be able to engage a two year old in a two hour conversation before Momo.
She taught me this. Ask questions. Listen.
I am not saying that I have accomplished this art. Not by a long shot. I still get excited and talk more than I listen. Momo never made me feel like I talked too much. I miss her. I am thinking a lot about her today. “Old Black Magic” played on the car radio on my way here. It was Louie Prima. He was singing for her. I know this.
Today is Momo’s birthday.
She would have been eighty-five. Still making friends. Still asking questions. Listening with all of her heart.
I don’t ask questions like I should. Especially in doctors offices. I had to bring Trevor with me during the first consultation with Dr. K in this radiation treatment center. Trevor knows I would not ask the right questions. I’d probably know everything about her family, her childhood, and her college life as a young doctor in training. Nothing about the radiation treatments I was embarking upon. That stuff just makes me nervous.
Trevor would be a calm presence.
When he was a teenager, I remember Cassie telling me how, anytime she felt stressed or worried, all she had to do was merely sit next to Trevor and just his presence alone would give her great calm. She said his soul was big, centered and sweet.
Dr. K said the same thing about him, the day of my first treatment.
She comes into the small examining room, shuts the door behind her as though she is about to tell me a big family secret. She walks to the computer stand, turns to face me, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this,” she leans her back against the wall as she rests her coffee mug on the examining table, “but, Trevor is one good-looking young man.” And, then, she heaves a hearty laugh. Knowing that it’s okay for women of our age to say these things out loud.
“But,” she quickly adds, “the thing is, I can tell you this, he is just as beautiful inside,” Dr. K sits and rides her stool closer to the exam table, still holding onto her mug. She makes me feel like we’re just a couple of friends, here to chat over tea. She reminds me a little of Momo this way. I could climb in a restaurant booth for long chats with Dr. K.
Today, I am here for my sixth treatment. Dr. K enters the room saying, “That’s all my daughter ever wants in life, she yearns for in life, is to find someone to love. She just wants a relationship. To find someone like Trevor.” She likes to talk about him, every time I see her now. My daily visits for radiation. Weekends off, of course. “He has a good soul.”
“Today, though,” she’s more serious and rolls her chair back to the computer stand, “we need to make a decision about what to do with you.” I already know where this is heading.
I had a dream.
“Dr. B ordered another series of chemo for me.” She looks at me with alarm. Wondering. How is that possible? We both know that Dr. B is out of the country. Back home in India with a family emergency. He will be gone for a few weeks. “Oh, I don’t mean that he actually told me this in person.” I swat at thin air, “I mean, I had a dream that he did.” I tell Dr. K that I often have dreams that are foretelling. And, I have grown to trust my dreams to lead me in the right direction whenever I am at a cross-roads.
In this case, I know without a doubt, that I should get more chemo.
“I agree.” She is now starring at my barred chest. Standing back, the artist examining her sculpture in progress. She comes in closer again, and rubs her fingers in circular motions around my boob. The bumpy one. The boob with new tumors that are growing rather fast.
I am wondering how much my new diet has had an ill effect on the cancer cells. Maybe I was feeding the last few cancer cells that had not yet been killed off? I have been eating meat again. I’ve also been making home-made yogurt utilizing cow’s milk—albeit raw. It was still cow’s milk. Dairy.
Of course, as soon as these tumors popped up, Greg was back at the computer, and at Barnes and Noble, researching. He comes home one day, alarmed. Guilty. He blames himself for changing our diets without knowing this one important item about cow’s milk.
I tell him not to blame himself. We both made this decision. Together. Now, we believe this was a mistake. A big mistake. Casein protein is in cow’s milk. Studies have shown that this particular protein given at 20% actually developed tumors in rats, and when dropped down to 5%, the tumor growth stopped. Brought back up to 20% in the diet, tumors developed again. Of course, these were studies we discovered AFTER we had added the milk , meats and fish back into our diets. But, I am convinced, for me, this is why the tumors so quickly developed.
Now, along with radiation, I need to go back to the full chemotherapy treatment. Not just Herceptin, but, the whole sha-bang. Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin.
Dr. K makes the decision. We shouldn’t wait for Dr. B to return to decide. “I’ll deal with Dr. B when he returns.” She orders another round and tells me that this pretty much sucks. Of course, not in those exact words. But, she and I both know that I am in for a tough time. “Radiation will not effect the chemo side effects, however,” I wait for her to finish sipping from her favorite mug, “chemo will certainly make the radiation side effects worse.”
Not to mention, I will lose my newly grown curls. Soft curls that are already an inch tall around my scalp.
I go back out to the welcoming lobby area to wait my turn on the radiation table. First, I visit with Sharrone at the front desk, get myself a cup of coffee from the stand and settle on the couch. A Fred McMurray movie is just starting on the lobby tv.
Momo also loved these old black and white movies.
She died a few years ago. Only seventy-six years old. We knew she had stomach issues for a year. Doctors did not diagnose cancer until one Friday in November. She died the following Monday. We did not even get to go to Florida to hold her beautiful little hand with her special rings. I will sing happy birthday to her. Right here in this lobby. Like no one can hear me. Like Momo would do.
My voice is just like Momo’s. Maybe even worse. But, I am not like Momo, not caring who hears, not worrying about judgement. I still have a lot of work to do if I want to be like Momo.
Maybe I will just wait to sing happy birthday until after my radiation treatment. Until I am alone in my car.
Emil calls me in over the intercom. I start singing as I walk down the hallway, “down and down I go, round and round I go…” I really don’t want to think about going through another round of chemo. Emil greets me at the end of the hall by sticking his leg out from behind the door-stripper fashion. He has a way of knowing. He knows ways to get anyone out of a funk.
I come out of radiation to see that Fred McMurray is still on the lobby television. Think I’ll stay to watch the end of the movie.