Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Little White Cloud

My mom passed away in March, 2007 from breast cancer. In the ten years leading up to her death, she endured the loss of her youngest son Mark, her beloved sister Lila who was also her best friend, the love of her life (my dad) and finally, her eldest son, Robby. In the immediate days following her passing, I poured through her photos and writings, discovering a woman I barely knew. I was dramatically swept into the formative years of the woman that would one day be my mother.

Her later years were defined by grief; though you never saw her outwardly mourn. You could see the hurt in her eyes. There was a dullness to them letting us know that a considerable part of her spirit had died along with her loved ones. She wrote this poem on January 27, 2003, just one month after losing Robby.

Footsteps on the carpet
Loud and Clear
They are mine
No one else is here

Squish, squish, squish
Rings in my ear
The constant reminder
No one else is here

Where are they now?
Where will I be?
Unanswered questions
Wish I were free.

Free from the pain
What have I done?
Loved them too much?
Need the sun.

We all take a great deal of solace knowing that she is free from the pain, with those she dearly loved, and that she has once again found the sun. I was estranged from my mom for those last few years leading up to her death. In my eyes, she was so consumed with caring for the dying, she forgot she still had someone in her life who was living. I left Oklahoma in large part to escape the death march that stampeded through our family. After being with both dad and Mark as they passed on, I couldn't handle one more and I knew Robby was already on his way. Mom always understood this and assured me that we all have our "thresholds of pain". For instance, she wasn't able to sit with dad when the life support was shut off because it exceeded her threshold. She waited in the family room and later told us she knew when his spirit left his body because she felt him pass through her.

Looking back, it is clear to see she never recovered from the enormity of her losses. She was depressed and unable to embrace joy in her life. To this day, I feel a sense of being robbed for not having a mom in my adult life. When I see other women my age shopping with their mother's, my heart hurts. I know she allowed herself to die, perhaps she even wished it upon herself. What other reason could account for her ignoring the lump. Why else would she refuse to tell the doctors about it even after all other tests had been exhausted and no cause for her symptoms had been found? The cancer had metastasised into her bones. She was literally aching to her bones with pain so intense she could barely breath but she still wouldn't tell them she had a lump, a very large lump, visible to the naked eye. She had been living with the dying for so long, she was now dying to live with them again.

Mark Twain once said, "Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." I do not suffer any grudges against my mom. I miss her but I am not angry with her. On the contrary, I have journeyed back in time to meet the woman I barely knew. This is the woman I have come to know and love. She was vulnerable and innocent and yet fiercely strong and protective of her loved ones. She had to work extra hard on me, her only daughter, to "make me a lady" when all I wanted to do was act like my brothers. Morals, honesty and integrity were as much a part of her fiber as the love of her children and family.

She was a stunning beauty with piercing blue eyes. She played the guitar, the violin and the steel guitar. Her extended family members enjoyed coming to their small, white house behind the school every Friday night for a family hoe-down. They nearly all played an instrument. She dreamed of playing the cello but her family could not afford to purchase one. It was during this period of time she discovered what she called the “neverland of music lovers”. She had also heard it referred to as “another time and place”. She writes, “I was able to transport myself to this place with various artists. It has gotten me through many hours of intense pain”. Music was her salvation.

At the age of 17, she used to tag along with her sister, Lila, to a club called The Little White Cloud. The sisters enjoyed dancing and were known to be quite good at it. Mom marveled at her older sister’s ease and grace on the dance floor. They loved taking the free dance lessons to learn the hot new Latin dances of the time. It was during one of these outings, when her life would take an unexpected turn.

I convey this in her words: “The chemistry between us could not be denied. He was 24, tall, slender, tan and had the most beautiful hair styled in a duck tail. He was wearing blue suede shoes. He was, to use 1950’s terminology, ‘a cool cat’. He had hands that totally fascinated me and over the years I came to the conclusion they were a little magic. From the time of our first meeting, he became the center of my life. We eventually married and of this union, four children were born.”

Now of course, legend has it that Grandma Bea attempted to shoo this ‘cool cat’ right off her front porch when he came a callin’. After all, she was only 17. We have never been able to get a confirmation on this but after seeing the photos of dad during those years, we’re fairly certain it is an accurate historical account. In spite of Grandma Bea’s wishes, mom loved him. As we have come to know, when Joyce Macdonald loves somebody, there ain't gonna be no stopping it.

I wish I had a little more time with mom now so I can ask her more questions about those early years. I want to know what she was thinking in every picture. Did she realize how beautiful she was? Doubtful, she was too humble to think much about her looks, but she was indeed quite eye-catching. I want to know what color her dresses were in all those black and white photos. I want to ask her how she managed to curl her hair like that and what color of lipstick was her favorite. I want to see her again with these new eyes of mine. But most of all, I wish I could help her see herself through my eyes. The eyes that now see clearly the wonder of this woman.

As she was slipping away from us, we all gathered around her to give her our love. Earlier that morning she had whispered, “where we goin’, where we goin’?” We imagined she was talking to dad or Lila or one of the boys. We knew she was scared so we assured her and gave her our permission to go. As she drew in for her final breath, I asked her to look for Lila on the dance floor. I told her they would be dancing together soon. I pictured them standing under a sign reading, The Little White Cloud. I want to imagine it is Lila who first greets her as they find themselves on a dance floor, listening to the heavenly music, feeling once again transported from her pain………when in walks a tall, slender, tan man with beautiful, messy hair and magic hands.

Just as he had done so many years before, he immediately captures her, taking her in his arms. They are dancing. She is home. With a gentle spin on the dance floor she becomes aware of another person in the midst. It is Mark. He is healthy, strong and handsome with that beautiful smile on his face and a camera in his hand. With the second turn, she notices the heavenly melodies, stirring at her heart are being played by Robby. He is backed up by her daddy and the long line of musicians from which she came. One generation to the next, it is an entire orchestra of forefathers. She’s not immediately certain who they all are but she instinctively knows they are clan, her tribe, her people. Each new turn brings more family, more friends, more understanding of just how significant her time on this earthly plain was. Her nurturing spirit and gentle caring soul is now at peace.

Overwhelmed and slightly breathless, she feels she can dance no more. The divine harmonies are drawing her near. When she arrives at the foot of the orchestra, she notices an empty spot has opened up between Robby and Grandpa. She takes her seat and skillfully presses her delicate fingers of one hand to the strings of her instrument. It is a cello. With her other hand she smoothly caresses the strings with her bow.
She is once again beautiful, made whole, with the man she loves and those she had once lost. The light has returned to her eyes. They are together forever in a heavenly grace, free of physical and emotional pain, where souls are renewed and love endures for all eternity.

Rock on gypsy soul.
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into the mystic.


  1. OMG, I am sitting here bawling my eyes out reading this and I NEVER cry. Partly because I wrote a will and letters to my kids today "just in case" since my kids are minors and my daughter's dad "can't raise" her so I have to appoint a guardian and partly because I'll never love anyone the way your mother loved your dad and partly because I hope my kids love me the way you love her.

    I'm going to blow my nose now.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this comment to me, it means so much to me that my stories can touch others. I feel the same way about never loving anyone the way my mom loved my dad. I can't seem to last more than 10 years, much less a lifetime! I'm glad to have met you and look forward to exchanging many stories to come!

  3. Wow Angie! This is beautiful and I'm now sitting at my desk wiping away tears. I am glad my mom sent this to me and that you are sharing your beautiful writing and life with all of us. I love and miss you cousin and can't wait to read more!

  4. I know that I do not know you, but I am close with your nephew. I honestly think you are so eloquent. In the way you write, and I'm sure the way you live. Mema is looking down, proud. Of the woman you have become. --AJ


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