My mother lives in a world of her own. Now, I guess, if we are to be absolutely honest about it, all of us live in our own world. We interpret what we perceive through our senses. Our interpreted perception is then our reality. Oh, there may be some real facts about what actually happened or how things actually are, but for each of us individual human beings, reality is what we think we saw, know, heard, or felt That’s why eye witness testimony, while compelling, is one of the least accurate bits of evidence. It’s much better to have fingerprints, pictures, or DNA evidence to prove someone was someplace doing something than it is to have someone see them there doing it. Ask any police officer. Moreover, human beings being what they are, it is important that your world approximates the one in which everybody else thinks they live. Conformity is key. Non-conformists to the World View Norm are uncomfortable to have around. Extreme non-conformists are dangerous. If you can’t get at least one other person to agree with the world as you see it, you’re a lunatic.
My mother’s world is one of the ones that might just possibly earn you canvas strapped nightwear. It’s hardening of the arteries that’s at fault: a family thing. Oxygen doesn’t get where it needs to go and you get a one-way trip to beautiful, downtown Dementia. Her father had it. Two of her siblings had it. It’s Ensor Roulette — guess who of the blood of the Ensors will develop it next! If you’re of the Ensor clan, it really makes you nervous, when you forget things, even if you’ve been doing that all of your life. Actually, though, it is not the forgetting of things which creates the problems: it’s forgetting where they belong. A few years ago, Mom wanted to go home, back to Kentucky where she was born. My sister took a week off work and took her there. Within a day, she wanted to come back. She hadn’t wanted to go to a physical location. She had wanted to go to a Kentucky of seventy years ago, when she lived at home with her parents and siblings on the bank of the Tygert Creek near the south shore of the Ohio River just across from Portsmouth, Ohio. Eighty-six years worth of memories flow over and around her in no particular order.
I know, actually, quite a bit about that world: that world of Kentucky in the 1920’s through the 1940’s. I have listened to numerous family stories, of course, but am indebted mostly to the American author, Jesse Stuart. He’s a distant kinsman and he wrote about his life there as an educator in rural America. If you’re familiar with his work, my mother attended the one room schoolhouse in Sunshine where Jesse taught eight grades under one roof and had to fistfight a six foot tall, 180 pound third-grader for the right to continue teaching. She attended McKell High School while he was principal there. My relatives are scattered through his short stories. As I sit and listen to her talk, I sometimes recognize people and places from the pages of Jesse’s work. She will see something that calls up a memory of some past place full of long dead people and I am transported to another world with her. It can be a pleasant and a scary place to visit.
One constant in this world of hers is God. She was born into a family that was close to God. Sunday mornings were a mix of singing hymns and getting younger siblings ready for church She grew up attending a white-washed, clapboard church down by the railroad tracks in South Shore, Kentucky. I don’t have to have that church described to me — it was still there when I was a boy and constitutes some of my earliest memories of going to church. As she has done for her own four score years and more, she still calls upon God to be with her and give her strength in her trials. It is a sermon in itself to experience the strength of that chain and anchor — the only one she has left that can hold her steady in the confusion and mystery that most parts of her life have become. She can still find in her memory the words to those old hymns and bring them up when the tune is played, even when she cannot reliably identify her own children. I have several times called this place where she lives and often think of it, as a world of her own. I’m sometimes sad she has to dwell there alone. I may be wrong. Where she dwells may not be hers alone. Where she dwells may be Heaven.
~ Kurt Hendrix