I’ve already written extensively about my Momma here, but this time of year I always get to thinking more about her. On March 27, 2007, it will have been six years since she died of esophageal cancer.

This was after spending ten years as a head trauma victim – the result of a tragic car accident late on a Monday night, January 7, 1991, on an icy road. I have to admit during our own ice storm here last week I was brought back to that night. She had called me at work to say she was going out with some girlfriends even though the weatherman promised an ice storm. I tried to convince her to stay home but couldn’t. The next phone call I got was in the wee hours of Tuesday morning from my father saying she was in intensive care at MCV. She had hit a tree less than three minutes from her house.

I hate to belabor stuff, but it sure seems hard not to in this case. In my process of “letting go” through writing in this blog, these memories are the hardest.

Between January and March each year, I seem to relive all that stuff over and over again. She had her accident in January 1991, she was diagnosed with cancer in January 2001. She came out of her coma in March 1991, she died of her cancer in March 2001. Ten years of surviving with bookends of that one life-changing accident and her final death, and what I feel was a release of pain and holding on. When she died she was finally able to just quit trying so hard and rest.

So now, every time there is bad weather or it just happens to be January, February or March, I remember. I remember my sister knocking on my door with her husband and all her kids in tow making a face-to-face visit to tell me that Momma had cancer.

I remember driving in the ice storm down to the hospital at 3 in the morning. The whap-whap of the windshield wipers.

I remember the brightness in my mother’s eyes when she first came out of her coma, like the world was all shiny and new.

I remember seeing my Momma jogging down Woodman Road in the middle of winter through the snow and the slush – she ran marathons, and trained, no matter what the weather. I was usually on my way to high school and often passed her on the road, giving a little “toot” as I drove past, but wishing she wouldn’t run so close to home – I got embarrassed when my teachers and friends would point out they saw her running too. Now I’m damn proud.

I remember Momma telling me that if I wanted to kick my bad mood I should get off my butt and exercise, that it was the best thing for depression. I would just roll my eyes and eat another potato chip or go into my room and slam the door. But now I know she was right.

I remember the smell of the Neuro-ICU, a sick, sour, smell like turned milk. With an undertone of medicine and old, unwashed laundry. The first time I had to deliver something to the ICU when I temped there that smell hit me like a tsunami, and I was taken back to that night. It was so unsettling.

I remember the fear in my Momma’s eyes as she lay dying of this horrible cancer – she looked so frail, and small, and afraid. My sister and I climbed in the bed with her, one on either side, and held her, and talked to her in soft tones.

I remember how my Momma’s breath smelled when she lay dying – like death, the worst, most horrible smell ever. I wanted to rip it out of her. It made me so sad to think that she had to go through this on top of all the other indignities she had faced.

I remember how happy my Momma looked when we put on “Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits” her old spark came back and she looked like she wanted to dance in her bed.

I remember the joy in her face when I took her hand and told her I’d be married that fall in Florence, Italy. We were running away, eloping. “Of course you are sweetie,” she said. “That’s wonderful.” When I told her I wish she could be there, she replied, “I will be.” And she was.


All these gray, gloomy, cold days make me think of all the things I *haven’t* done in winter because of it. I have S.A.D., I know it. When winter comes I hole up like a bear, and you really don’t see me until Spring. That first day of spring I always call in sick to work, go get a big KFC bucket, and when I used to live in Richmond, go to Maymont Park with a book and my sunglasses to melt the winter crust off.

That would be mid to late April usually, but here in Pittsburgh, we really can’t expect a day like that until late June – if we’re lucky. So here lately, I’ve been forcing myself out of the house, but it’s hard. The pull of the comforter is so strong. I’m like a plant – without sun I don’t flourish.

When I was a Junior in high school I checked out that winter so bad I didn’t even turn in a term paper, which was probably the most blasphemous thing you could do at Hermitage High in 1984. I just pulled a Bartleby and stated, “I prefer not to,” when Mrs. Rasnake ordered me to write a fifteen-page paper on the Circus Maximus. I’m sorry Mrs. Rasnake I prefer not to. I’ve written 15 gazillion notecards on something I could give two farts about and as for creating something legible out of all this mess in the thick of winter and the sun hasn’t shone in three months, uh, sorry, no.

“But Juh-nell, you’ll fail English!” she gasps clutching her pearls (okay, I added that for effect).

“Uh, Mrs. Rasnake, I don’t have an ‘L’ in my first, middle, or last name,” I retorted. She points her finger out the door ordering me to the office.

Okay, I made that last part up. Mrs. Rasnake did call me that the entire school year but back then I never had the nerve to call her on it. I always wanted to and in my mind made up various clever, snarky remarks I would make in response and other more devious scenes where she would end up looking like an ass and I would finally get the attention and “coolness” I wanted. But I was always too much of a chicken. I would just sit there and Bartleby my way through the rest of the year of English – I ended up with a “D” for the semester which ruined my GPA – a big deal back then.

Those of you who spent high school competing with one another for the highest GPA’s will know what I’m talking about here. At my school your GPA meant the difference between UVA and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College down the road. And we were all just poor enough to really want that scholarship. Isn’t it amazing that something that meant so much back then is like ashes at the end of a cigarette now? Remember when crap like that was important? Weird, huh?

Why do I remember this? It always amazed me that a teacher could go 180 days and not learn a student’s name or even something that was remotely close to it. So when I became a teacher, it was the first thing I did. Learn their names and more than that, learn who these creatures were in the desks before me. More than just bored eyes and tapping fingers and shaking, bored feet in Etnie shoes. They’re not just grades in a book, they’re people.

But I digress. I suppose I’ll never flourish in winter. I’ve got a sunbox now, and at least it gets me out the door – I don’t call in sick like I used to. I slog to work with the rest of the lemmings. But I still think bears have it pretty good.

Snow Days.

So today it’s snowing, it’s actually been snowing for two weeks. Battle-gray skies for two weeks. And it’s really starting to affect me. I don’t want to leave the house because that will involve putting on a huge, to-the-floor down coat, but first wrapping my nose and chin in a tight scarf and pulling on gloves. I feel only slightly like that poor kid in a Christmas Story. Then I’ll tramp down to my car and scrape and scrape. Then hold the wheel in a death grip and hope I get where I’m going without killing myself.

You see snow here isn’t all that special – in Richmond when I was a kid, snow meant something because we didn’t get it all that much and when we did we usually got dumped on. A lot. So we’d at least get a delay of some sort. Or more than likely a snow day. There’s nothing like that feeling of waking up on a Monday morning and hearing – nothing. Because when it snows a lot and you’re a kid, you notice how quiet it is, unusually quiet. It’s so quiet it’s deafening. So you peep through the blinds and the whole world is white. These days you can jump on the Internet and find out if your school is closed but back then we’d sit by the radio and shush people when the commercial was over and they began to list the school closings. They’d say, “Albermarle………Charles City, Chesterfield, Hanover…….then a little pause that seemed to take forever. Then jump for joy when they said, “Henrico County Schools – closed.” Yippee! Back to bed to sleep some more.

We’d spend the day sledding, well, more like pulling each other around on sleds because where we lived was flat. Then throwing snowballs, and drinking lots of hot chocolate. Didn’t matter that it was dried up old Swiss Miss and the marshmallows were like little pieces of gravel, it was a snow day. It was like a surprise holiday out of the blue. You were forgiven your sins and didn’t have to do schoolwork, or chores, you could eat junk food. It was like God wagged his magic finger and said, “Everybody gets a day off today – nobody’s going nowhere, stay home and rest.”

My freshman year of high school it snowed so much we were out of school eight days in a row. I didn’t care that we had to make up the time in the summer – cold, crappy winter was when I felt like staying holed up in bed all day. It was just before exams and I’d spend every night studying up for geometry only to find out that we had no school. Yay, one more day of reprieve. Eventually, they canceled exams altogether and I was ecstatic. It was the only time in the history of our school where they had done that or would ever do that again. It was awesome. I was failing geometry and now I didn’t have to take an exam. Thank you Jesus.

I miss snow days. Adults need them too sometimes. Here it snows just enough to make it a pain in the ass, but not enough to keep anybody from doing anything. People just make do and scrape their cars and drive like normal and have a shitload of accidents as a result. They should just do like we did, and take a snow day. When you have to go out in it, it takes all the enjoyment out of snow. Maybe this is why a lot of people who used to love snow as a kid, now hate it. Because now they have to actually go out and deal with the snow. I’m one of those people. I hate snow now – and I know it’s because I have to dig, and scrape, and go to work anyway. I never get a chance to just stop everything for a moment to watch it fall.