A High Cotton Life

Life is short. It seems like yesterday I was worried if someone was going to ask me to the Prom or whether Jesus would come back before I had a chance to have babies. Life moved at a lightening fast speed and my parents, who should be the age I am today, are senior citizens. I don’t want to say they are old. It hurts my heart and I wanna cry. I don’t want to think about how much longer I am going to have them with me here on earth. I never want to cope with the reality of my aging parents but it’s just a normal part of life’s journey. Since my younger and only brother died unexpectedly a few years ago, I’m alone walking this road with my parents. I hope I’m enough.

I’m in Missouri right now because my dad has been very ill. My momma has been his only caregiver for months and she is wearing down. Last week, Daddy was admitted to the hospital and both my parents gave me strict orders to remain in California. “We are fine, LeighAnn. Stay home and take care of your family. They need you”, they said. Like the good adult daughter I believe myself to be, I minded them. As the days blurred into a week, the phone calls with mom changed from an upbeat “I’m making money sitting in this hospital thanks to Aflac!” to a hysterical conversation about feces and a endoscopic capsule my dad wanted her to dig out and save for him. (I just can’t even.) So, I flew in to Memphis last night. I surprised my parents. I found myself watching my dad labor to breathe. He is sicker than I thought.

I was there when both doctors made their rounds. Still waiting on test results that would take days to locate, each doctor separately felt discharging him was in order. My dad’s face lit up. Both of my parents were ecstatic. They were going home.

My parents aren’t fancy people. They are the children of a butcher, a beautician, a cotton farmer and a farm wife. Their creature comforts are simple. Their kitchen is filled with my dad’s favorite foods which include fried baloney and cheese sandwiches, prepackaged peanut butter and crackers and multiple 2 liter Diet Coke bottles, my mom has a green robe no one outside the family gets to see her wear, their bed has a perfectly formed mattress which took them years to break in and my dad’s new lift chair he thought he would hate but now calls “a huge blessing” are all part of the things making them feel content. They are a product of the tiny farming community they were raised, the people in the community gave them their values and helped them set their dreams in place.

Branum family farm, Hornersville, MO 1950

After my parents left the hospital, my mom began the daunting task of running all the post hospital errands with Daddy in the passenger seat. I started getting phone updates from Mom. They went something like this:

“Your dad thought he needed a haircut today but the barber shop was closed two hours for lunch. I hope to heavens I’m not still running around this town with him two hours from now.”

“I just dropped off prescriptions. I’m going to go get his medical equipment, back to pick up the medicine and then I’ll be ready to leave.”

Between these tasks, my mom kept checking with my dad to see if he needed to go to the bathroom. He refused each opportunity. My mom stopped at a drug store in the middle of Poplar Bluff to get a shower chair in hopes the bathtub would be a more user friendly space. My mom made the purchase and as she was walking back outside, she noticed the passenger door was open. My dad was hanging out of the door. As she got closer, she realized he did in fact need to go to the restroom and had taken care of it using the urine bottle the hospital sent home with them.

In broad daylight.

In the middle of town.

Mortified, she softly screamed, “MIKE! You can’t do that in a parking lot! You exposed yourself!” To which my dad replied, “Connie. I had to go so I went. I mean, I used the urinal.” Thankfully, he didn’t try to pour it out on the sidewalk but instead, with unsteady hands, my father held the container as they drove to pick up his medicine and then all the way home. I imagine that at every bump my mom was worried about it spilling all over the interior of her Ford Flex. On a side note, when there are literally bathrooms everywhere, why do men feel the need to pee in public?

My parents, not long after they married. Branum family farm, 1963

My parents are in bed now, hopefully for the night. As I lay in this quiet room, with the foothills of the Ozarks to the West and the Mississippi flatlands to the East, with photos of all my ancestors adorning the walls, I can’t help but contemplate my 48 years as the daughter of my parents and the granddaughter of a butcher, a beautician, a cotton farmer and a farm wife. As I grew up, my dad was an ox of a man and my mom needed help opening pickle jars. Today, he’s fragile and she is steel. My parents, like their parents before them, lived a life of walking high cotton, no matter the circumstances, being wealthy in happiness, support and love. In the midst of health issues and an unknown future, they are still living it today.

There’s something about this part of Missouri I truly miss. It calls to my soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in California with its overabundance of palm trees and sunshine, but these are my people. This has always been and will always be my heart’s home.

When I’m on the West coast, where there is an excess of everything, it’s blatantly clear to me the people on this planet who are truly happy make their existence less about what they have and worry less about what people think regarding what they have. Happy people make others their focus. They find happiness in giving and receiving support and love.

We should all strive for a high cotton life, y’all.

A high cotton life.

To read a story about my dad being my hero when I was a child and how that helped structure my own parenting viewpoint read this: