My mom came into my room for the second time that morning, “Your father says if you are going with him you need to get ready now”. Since this was the second time I figured I should wake up and get dressed, I did tell my father I wanted to visit my grandmother before I left. I look at my cell phone- I had two missed calls from my father and a text stating “I am going to Ft. Pierce need to be there by 9:30 are you going with me.” I kept telling them that calling me does not “wake me” because I am a pimp and my phone stays on silent. I got dressed and rolled into my father’s room. He was on the phone talking to someone about a morning appointment. We finally got on the road and headed to Ft. Pierce. The whole time my dad kept pointing out how the “boys” were out, as we got over to exit the highway one of the “boys” clocked my father- he claimed my dad was doing 85mph or something. Not true.
We pulled into Ft. Pierce a city that holds so many childhood memories for me but is currently more like a ghost town in my head. We passed where R.J. Gators used to be…where the Orange Blossom mall- the place my grandmother would drag me to get dresses and when I was a little older I would go on those Black Fridays after church. I pointed out to my father the direction of a church I remember being at as a young child for mother’s friend Vicki’s funeral, he told me the direction was right but it was further back closer to my friend’s Tasha house. That brought back whole other set of memories. We picked up my Uncle Allen who was mad at me because I had been ducking his calls for a couple months. I brought back 3 souvenirs from Central America in total, I gave him his shirt and the man’s whole demeanor changed. I was his favorite niece again. As we drove my father and his older brother would point out things- remember that used to be this or that and blah blah lived there and so and so died then. A few blocks later we pulled up at “Sarah’s Memorial Chapel,” the local black funeral home. As we waited for the funeral director to see us for our appointment my father and uncle talked to the staff about their kin folk. Telling the funeral home director’s nephew how much he looked like his father and asking what his mother was up to now. Small town talk, while I just sat. Mr. Rufus Jerry Alexander III the licensed funeral director was finally ready for us and we went and sat in his office. I would later learn that Rufus used to be my father’s protector from older boys when he walked home from school. This man’s office was filled to the brim with all kinds of “stuff”. There was two couches one directly in front of his desk and another next to it closer to the door as well as a loud AC unit. For the next hour or so he gave us the run down on funeral arrangement, told us about packages, showed us different programs and caskets, flowers and music and gave us price breakdown. While I am able to bet serious money on the fact that I have been to more funerals than anyone reading this, I had never been on the planning side. I sat their quietly watching my father and his brother listen to this man tell them about this casket and that. I thought about how it must feel to know that your mother death is in very near future, I thought about others that I knew personally who were probably in this same room after their mother’s death making the same arrangements. I thought about having to pick out my own parent’s casket. And I really thought about how ridiculously expensive a casket- that people would see for 6 hours max was. Just burn my body and scatter it in the ocean or something and do something useful with the money you save. The man would occasionally say something to me like about getting pictures for a memorial DVD or something technologically related. I had trouble hearing him because of the AC and because I was in my own world. When he finished he gave my father the printout and said he would not put “mother’s” name on it, since we were just talking and she was still with us. We left and dropped my Uncle off at his house. As we drove to my grandfather house my dad pointed out other places in Ft. Pierce. A couple blocks from my Uncle’s house is the site of Zora Neale Huston’s grave. I asked my dad what ever happen to the man who ran into the church and shot a preacher because his wife was spending too much time there. Ft. Pierce is death and long church services to me.
My grandfather was outside in his garage as always. He like my grandmother looks frailer and wearier every time I see them. Once such a big man- I am talking 300pds, my grandfather is now significantly smaller, walks with a cane and very hard of hearing. My father went in to use the bathroom as I open the car door for my grandfather and helped him in. You know I got those pimp skills. We drove to Vero Beach to go see his wife. Each of the previous two times that I have been to the nursing home were on Sundays, I was not prepare for the hustle and bustle of a Tuesday. We signed in and went to her room, the previous times she would be in one of the common areas- never in her room. I think I forgot to say that she was just released from the hospital, part of the reason we came was to talk to the nurse about her status. My grandmother was sleep, her 80-something pounds curled up with some sort of IV wrapped up around her arm. Her hair was white and wild; the picture of frailty.
Her eyes got noticeable brighter and she began smiling. Not speaking but just smiling at this man. As he keep repeating “Kayeola, do you know who I is”. I doubt she would have been able to say remember his name, but the love in her eyes and in her smile said she knew who this man was. I am not a fan of marriage for a lot of reasons and most people would see this display and think aww so sweet. It is sweet. But I would never want this in my life. I would never want the person that I been with for years not to have the ability to say my name or not to remember my love’s name. For me this is just one more reason why I never want to get married.
We spent the rest time just hanging in the room. There were several baby dolls in the room, I would later find out they are used for to help Alzheimer patients in “baby doll” therapy. My grandfather held a doll for the whole visit. Remarking how much he liked the doll and how he wanted one. He would tell my grandmother look at his baby, while holding and playing with it. This sounds quite odd but dolls have been shown to be soothing to seniors. Especially those who can no longer take care of themselves, it gives them a sense of importance and responsibility.
My grandmother would occasionally talk but her voice was so low, I could barely hear her. She asked me questioned and what I could not understand I made up in my head. She was on a lot of medication so she would slip back to sleep occasionally. When she was up sometimes she would look at me and just smile. We sat with her or a while, waited for her to go back to sleep and before leaving. I gave her a kiss and left. Very much aware that would quite possibly be the last time I would ever see my grandmother alive.
I posted part one on last Sunday night/ early Monday morning. Monday I talked to my father and he told me they were going to probably put my grandmother in hospice. I had a “sleepover” Monday night. My guests were asleep in the living room. I was in my bed and glanced at my phone, it was around 7ish in the morning. I had two missed calls, Jeremiah (my brother) and my father. I called Jeremiah back first and the first thing he said was “You talked to dad?” Immediately I knew that my grandmother had passed. I asked “She’s gone?” which he affirmed.
Two weeks to the day that I had last seen her-was the last time and I did know. She was the only grandmother that I have memories of and I am thankful for those memories. I am thankful for my nana. I am grateful that I got to see her and her smile one last time. I am appreciative that she transitioned peacefully. I am exceedingly blessed to have known Kayeola Chester as my nana (Special shoutout to her collard greens).
This version with Anthony Hamilton and The Blind Boys of Alabama is how I remember hearing this song growing up.
However I really like the arrangement that The Staple Singers version uses.