Saturday, July 22, 2017

Betty Jean Cotton

"At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built; not what we got but what we shared; not competence but our character and not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters."

I found this quote writtten in a letter I sent to my mother in law about two years ago at Christmas when she first became very ill. She kept it all this time.

I met Betty for the first time when Tim and I were on our honeymoon in California, September 1990. We had already been living together (in sin) for over two years before getting married so had gotten to know her through her weekly calls on Saturday mornings. She called all of her kids once a week.

By the time I finally met her, we were already great friends and quickly grew to love her even more.

We started our honeymoon in San Francisco, then went to Sausalito, Napa and then spent a few days with Betty in Sacramento, taking a trip together to Tahoe to gamble for a day. I bet Tim had to pull her off the tables three different times on the way out the door. The girl knew how to gamble. She insisted on driving our rental car  back to Sacramento since she was more familiar with the way. She gunned the little car onto the entrance ramp to the highway, quickly discovering she was on the ramp leading to the Burger King parking lot beside the entrance ramp to the highway. Tim drove after that.

I don't know how many times Tim and I have laughed about that over the years. Betty was a hot mess long before the term was ever invented. She was a delight to be around.

She couldn't care less about housework. Her house was tidy, just didn't really care much about vacuuming or dusting.

She lived with four big dogs, all giant schnauzers and standard poodles and trust me, they had run of the place. She and Tim went somewhere together one of the days we were there and were gone for most of the day while I stayed home to relax in the sunshine and read. I decided to clean her house for her, as a surprise. I spent about four hours cleaning from top to bottom, scrubbing bathrooms and the kitchen as well.

Betty never even noticed.

Tim and I have laughed about that one too over the years. It simply wasn't important to her. What was important was her yard, her dogs and her painting.

After retiring from the state she relocated to St. Augustine to be closer to her kids and grand kids. She a had a small house that was packed with antiques and was a bric-a-brac museum. She was in her sixties by then but strong as a work horse. She survived breast cancer and after a mastectomy had no qualms about having one flat side, rather wearing it as her badge of honor. She put up an entire six foot privacy fence around her back yard with just help from an old (feeble at best) man down the street. Then she dug two huge koi ponds, lining them and running water to them. Then she built a brook around the side and back of her house with water falls and more fish. She built benches and swings and chairs and awnings and the back yard was an absolute oasis. She had lime trees, lemon trees, a greenhouse she also built and had plants and flowers everywhere.

We'd go visit her every year when the kids were little. She was affectionately called "Grand Mama Mama" by all her grand kids. She always made us Bouillabaisse and we ate out back under all the trees with Spanish Moss dripping from them. It was her own little slice of Heaven. She owned two German Sheperds,  two Jack Russells, three Collies and a couple of mutts. She had about ten cats with about twenty more strays living out front of her front porch door and yard. Betty took care of any creature that happened by and kept them all fed and watered. I guess when you had six children to raise at an early age, animals were easy peasy.

You could have stuffed a king sized pillow with all the dog and cat hair but didn't bother her one bit. I knew better than to try and clean for her...learned that lesson on my honeymoon!

She'd give you the shirt off her back. She was the most generous woman I ever met. She lived a simple life and never wanted for more. She had a heart of gold. She knew how my own mother had loved antiques and gave me so many (really) nice things over the years. We have a storage unit here in Orlando packed to the gills with even more she gave us when she had to give up her house and go to assisted living.

She only came to visit us once in Georgia, too worried about leaving her animals for long but had a good friend come over to sit with the herd one weekend and came for a visit.

That was back when the kids were younger, TJ had just started high school. We had our first Boxer, Rosie back then and Betty was all excited to meet her. We invited all Tim's brothers and the grand kids over for a cook out one afternoon.

She refused to let us make Rosie get off that bench, she said she enjoyed having her grand dog so close. Looks like Rosie was enjoying it as well. I can't tell you how many times we've laughed about this too!

The past couple of years haven't been very kind to Betty. Cancer revisited her once again, this time in her lungs...her non smoker lungs. She never smoked a day in her life.

Massey, Zach and TJ went to visit her while I was still living in Georgia. She was too weak to walk so TJ simply scooped her up in his arms and carried her to his car, borrowing a wheelchair and putting it in his trunk. They took her out to eat at her favorite place and got her out for an afternoon. Have I mentioned what good kids I have?

Massey and I went to visit her a few months ago and she was too weak to even sit up in bed.

 Broke my heart.

Of course she was still alert as ever, sharp as a tack, just trapped in a crumbling body. She had a room mate, also a Betty. Their beds were about six feet apart with a curtain you could draw between them. Room Mate Betty was able to come and go, not bed ridden at all and wasn't there when we first arrived. After about an hour, Room Mate Betty came into the room and our Betty introduced me to her.

Seemed like a really nice woman, and they seem to get along well, which is a good thing when you live six feet from each other waiting to be six feet under.

So Room Mate Betty goes over to her side and draws the thin curtain, I suppose to give us some privacy. I was laying on the bed next to  our Betty, stroking her head and holding hands with her. I remarked how nice her room mate was. Betty didn't skip a beat, she said "You know, she's a Republican...but a nice one."

Jeez Betty! It isn't an iron curtain she drew shut.

But that was Our Betty.

You see, Betty and I have exactly the same political views. Tim is a Republican although lately has been leaning Independent. I'm so far left I'm almost back to the right! Tim and I don't talk politics, never have.  Well maybe a couple of times, but didn't turn out so well. We do our political talking in the polling booth, as it should be done.

I'll never forget the time we went to visit Betty when she first moved to St. Augustine. We pulled in her tiny driveway behind her little truck which had a bumper sticker which read "No More Bushit". I thought it was funny, Tim declined to comment.

Tim borrowed my brother's big Ford truck today and moved the last of Betty's things out of her room today. I didn't go. He told me when they were there, Room Mate Betty was beside herself crying about our Betty's death, and told Tim:

"She was my best friend in the world."

I think we could all learn a lot from how our Betty and Room Mate Betty (both white) lived together, in a tiny cinder block room in a tiny cinder block hospice which was formerly a tiny cinder block hospital for African Americans Only in St. Augustine in the 1900's. (another travesty)

We're all different, and should embrace that as a good thing instead of butting heads over it.

So happy for Betty's release and know for certain she's in a better place. She was a wonderful person with a wonderful spirit.

You will be missed by this world, which truly needs more people like you in it. You led by example and we should all stand by yours.

Till next time... COTTON

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ashes To Ashes

Tough week around here. Our kids lost two grandmothers in less than a week.

First was Elizabeth. Not a blood grandmother but pretty darn close. She was my Diddy's companion for years, right up until he died in 2002. We remained close with her and my kids grew up thinking of her as their own grandmother. Healthy as an ox and vibrant into her late eighties, when her body began to fail her while her mind remained sharp as a tack, which turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. She knew what was happening and am sure it tormented her daily. She had a horrible ending to a wonderful life and I was glad when God finally took her home.

Then less than a week later, Tim's mother died after a long battle with cancer. I was glad for her to be taken as well and certainly know she was.

She weighed even less than me when she died and was bedridden for a year, if not more. Her mind was also sharp. Pretty sad stories.

Although sad to lose them both, am so very grateful both are hurting no more. To be trapped in a broken body with a fully functioning mind must be awful to endure. You're simply waiting to die with plenty of time to think about it as you watch the clock on the wall slowly tick off the minutes remaining of your life.

I've thought about them both pretty much non stop this past week. The memories of them are all wonderful, except for they way they both died...not soon enough, considering their physical conditions.

Oh to be a Leach.

I've mentioned many times before that my family, the Leach family, takes the express checkout. My mother died at forty eight in less than thirty seconds. My Diddy, in excellent health, died in ten days at the age of seventy seven from West Nile virus.

If you gotta go, that's the way...short and sweet.

"Somewhere, a journey begins at the end of the worldly existence we know.
Somewhere, a path stretches over the stars, and rivers of memories flow.
Somewhere, a silence is heard far away and the brightness of day fills the night.
Where the trials of life are resolved into peace when a soul finds its way to the light."

Our new next door neighbors came over last night with a hot casserole and sympathy card which said the above.


Trials of life were resolved into peace and their souls found their way to the light.

I kinda feel like we ought to be giving them both a party, not a funeral.

I wrote my sister back home in Georgia a lengthy letter last night. I ran two pens dry writing it, not kidding. Granted neither pen was brand new, but still says something. I won't bore you with it all but a few things really stuck in my mind while writing them to her.

"I Thank God every day I was born a Leach. You and Chris are the best thing our parents ever gave me and were excellent with their uncanny foresight. Our parents always led by example. For all we've been through, for all we've lacked but somehow always gotten, makes me realize is totally all because we were born into the Leach family. It's a wonderful name to have."

I couldn't love my sibs more if you held a gun to my head...literally.

Of course, don't give them a gun, I'm the needy sib and they may want to cut their losses.

All of this comes about because of how much I've always wanted my own three kids to feel that same bond.

But they didn't.

Not at first. They fought like crazy and pointed fingers constantly. They formed alliances, sometimes switching teams. Massey and Zach went about five years without speaking to each other, except to say something ugly. TJ is the oldest so he (finally) came around first.

Massey is the youngest but grew up before Zach did. Boys take the long route.

It's taken until the past year, literally, but have finally started to and furiously.

Now I'm the outsider!

bitch, please.

But that's fine too. I just wanted my kids to feel the same way about each other like I feel about my two sibs.

Then, low and behold...

Just like that, it happened.

No more bickering.

Bickering was been replaced with unwavering support of each other in whatever path each one of them are choosing to pursue in life.

 With all said and done up to this point in my life, I'm a very lucky woman.

Have I had some tough times?

Who hasn't?

Have I ever felt abandoned?

Nope. Not once.

I took a few (lot of) steps back then took baby steps forward, which landed me in a different state and a fish out of water. (small pun)

At least we moved near to my brother after moving away from my sister. As long as I have one of my sibs close by, I'm okay.

Till next time, COTTON

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Checkout Line

When my Diddy died from West Nile virus in 2002, it was a hard pill to swallow. Granted he got to take the Leach Express Checkout. Went from perfectly healthy to being taken off life support in less than two weeks.

Once admitted to the hospital, started his "Ten Day Trip Down The Nile."

No  rehab, nursing home or hospice for this one. Whenever we'd (the three Sib's) call him "Old Man" his response was always "That's MISTER Old Man, to you."

As much as I miss him, I'm so very glad his journey was through the express checkout...just like our momma's.

She made it through the express checkout in one minute flat. That was a harder pill to swallow, especially at the age of seventeen but in hindsight am grateful she did.

I also call it the Great Escape. For some reason our family has been blessed with it. When it first happened in 1977, thought of it as a curse and spent decades beating myself up over all the "what ifs."

At the age of (almost) fifty seven, realize how lucky I've really been. So what I had to move away from my sister and leave the best job I'd ever had, raking in money hand over fist.

That job helped us to get where we are now. Tim had a more than a two year struggle to even find a job but now has a fantastic one, albeit four hundred miles from what I call home.

When our Diddy died, had been 'keeping company' (his term) with a sweet woman around his own age for more than a few years. She was sharp as a tack, went back to school in her sixties after raising three boys alone after her husband died at an early age to get her college degree and was the epitome of a southern woman. She lived right around the corner from him in East Point (our childhood hometown).

She owned 25 acres on a mountain in Blue Ridge, Georgia and she and my Diddy spent a lot of time there together, working on a little shack in the middle of God's country.

She spent those 'Ten Days Down The Nile' with us, me and my two Sibs. She was heartbroken when he died...just like us.

She did okay and we all remained close. She bopped along in life well into her late eighties, then hit a bump in the road. After going to the gym and working out started to feel pain in her legs. It escalated in twenty four months and wasn't a pleasant journey. First moving to assisted living (okay place but I'd kill myself...just sayin) then after a while couldn't even get out of her recliner so just slept there. It was a really nice recliner one of her sons bought for her, the  kind which tilts forward to help you stand up. The problem was now she couldn't even do that.

So she was basically sitting in a chair waiting to die. I wanted her wait to be over. I think deep down she did too.

Then she was hospitalized for too many reasons to go into, and it all kind of went downhill from there...not that she was on top of a mountain to begin with.

Through all of this and much more, she still kept a brave face on and accepted each new complication with more strength than I my age of fifty seven.

Then as if she hadn't been through enough, this past week suffered a major stroke.

As horrible as all this sounds (and is) was made even worse by the fact that she was still as sharp and mentally alert and unfortunately knew what was happening to her.

She was still a smart and intelligent woman... trapped in a body so badly broken and worn that without a miracle, wasn't going to get better but increasingly worse.

That just blows.

BIG time.

bitch, please...
  That was the only way to put it.

My sister and I prayed for God to take her sooner than later because in our book it was way overdue.

This wonderful woman didn't deserve this kind of life and simply couldn't understand why she was being put through such torture.

I was in the kitchen this afternoon cooking dinner for a co worker of mine and her family. Her mom has debilitating MS and dad is battling back from cancer. I had my Bose speaker cranked up with my new favorite radio station streaming from Cocoa... 98.5 The Beach. It's through my phone so when I get a text or call it notifies me with a ping.

At 5:09 my phone pinged. I looked at my cell and saw this message from my sister:

"Elizabeth is all well!!!"

I sent back:

"With our Mama and Diddy?"

She replied:

"Yes. Hallelujah!"

It's over.

And not soon enough.

She is whole again...smiling and can jump up, dance and sing!

And I'm dancing a jig here on earth for her as well.

Thank you, Elizabeth for coming into our lives. Thank you for making my Diddy happy. He loved working on that little cabin in Blue Ridge with you...and he loved you too.

My kids have fond memories of days spent there as well.

Before meeting you, my kids never knew you could drink water from a creek and it be more pure than what they got out of the tap at home.

Life is a journey, trust me I know...but never had to endure what sweet Elizabeth went through this past year.

I bet she's working the Front Gate up there right about now...after all she's been through, and should be. I hope they had her shade lipstick, she always put her lips on.

My own three kids were given their marching orders years ago. When things get bad for me or make things bad for them.

"Do it."

Just bring your dads' (seemingly) ten pound TempurPedic pillow and hold it over my face till my feet quit kicking.

Today makes me realize how extremely lucky I am, even with the ten year debacle we've been through.

Rejoicing for Elizabeth's release and continuing my journey on this long and winding road of life.

Till next time...COTTON