Black Eyed Peas

~ When the Philistines banded together
at a place where there was
a field
of lentils,
Israel’s troops fled from them.
But Shammah took his stand
in the middle of the field.
He defended it,
and struck the Philistines down,
and The Lord brought about
a great victory. ~

2 Samuel 23:11,12

It’s almost that time. In New York millions count down to the ball drop. Down home, Mobile counts down to the Moon Pie drop. The last time I watched either was 1999. I still smile at Prince echoing in my mind as I think back to the entire world waiting for the big Y2K.

Meir and I watched the new millennium roll through each time zone. Y2K came and went with much less fanfare than anticipated. And since we were still around, we made an entire day of football, parades, and food.

Meir prepared the customary meal: greens, cornbread, ham hock, and black eyed peas.

As Southern as I am, I must confess that I am not a fan of black eyed peas. But Meir was very traditional, and always made me eat them- at least one for every year of my age, plus one for the next year. I still get strange looks from the cafeteria staff at work when I insist they count my ration of peas.

The following year I moved much closer to home, and New Year’s Eve became my standard holiday to work. There is never a shortage of babies to be delivered during the last few days of the year. Other than football, and black eyes, I’d not paid much attention to the dropping of babies, balls, or Moon Pies. I was, as usual, scheduled to work the final nights of the year in 2004.

Meir spent Christmas Eve and Day with us that year. I didn’t really want her to be alone on her first Christmas without Pa. He’d only been gone a few months, and although she tried her best to hide it, I could see her pain.

Christmas Eve went pretty well. We had dinner (which she precooked, at home, in her skillets and pots, with her own ingredients- because they didn’t sell Kelley sausage or Aunt Jemima in Fort Walton Beach, obviously). We loaded up in the car and toured the Christmas lights, read The Night Before Christmas, stuffed my poor child into special Christmas pajamas, and let Meir rock him to sleep. We set out Santa gifts for the first time ever, and tried to sleep. I don’t think she slept at all.

Meir was up, fully dressed on Christmas morning. She sat back and watched my son open his gifts, which he piled one by one on her lap. She enjoyed his attention. When he exhausted himself for the morning, he fell asleep on the couch beside her.

We drove Meir home the day after Christmas, and she hosted a group of four fellow widows for a second, traditional, Southern Christmas meal.

On December 29, 2004, I came home from work to a sick little kid. He had a difficult beginning, and still had a sensitive little immune system. He was burning up with fever, and rattling with every breath. I called the pediatrician, but they were booked up with pre holiday appointments. I treated my son at home, with his standard medications and breathing treatments. I called Meir that night, she reassured me that I was doing everything right.

I was sitting in the ER waiting room the following morning when my uncle called my cell phone. He said Meir had gone to her local ER and was “not doing well”. He told me she was asking for me. And that the nurses were saying Meir was having a heart attack.

We left immediately, covering the 100 miles to my hometown in less than an hour. Somewhere along the way, I was able to reach my Daddy. When I arrived, my Daddy and step-mama were there. Meir was already admitted to a medical bed upstairs, waiting for an ICU bed to be cleared.

My nurse brain took it all in…Meir was lying in the bed, with two running IVs, one with a blood transfusion, another with saline and potassium. Her bare chest was covered in wires; her mastectomy scar was fully visible. Oxygen was connected to a non-rebreather mask. The portable monitor at her bedside registered no blood pressure.

My granddaughter brain finally took over, and I sank down on the bed. Her face was ashen; her lips were dry. She was awake, and looking at me. I didn’t even notice that she was not wearing her wedding band. I fussed over her for a minute. I covered the scar she had always been self-conscious of. She grabbed my hand. She was already growing colder. She spoke to me for the last time.

I’ll never forget her words. I pray I will never forget her voice.

She closed her eyes. She’d taken so much care in preparation, when I look back on it, I am absolutely sure she knew. But I still couldn’t sit there and watch her go. My daddy took my place on the bed and held her hand. Daddy held her hand until she was gone.

I had to call Mama, and it was the hardest call I’ve ever had to make. She’d lost both her daddy and mama just three months apart. Neither of us were prepared. Meir, though, certainly was.

Some hours later, I retreated to her house and discovered just how much she had prepared. Her burial clothing was pressed and hanging in the coat closet. The friendship quilt she’d made was tucked inside a pillowcase, with a note pinned on it, and placed on the shelf above the clothing. Neither of those things were in the closet three days earlier. She had written that she didn’t want to be buried with her ring, because Pa’s had been lost, and “rings don’t matter in Heaven anyhow”.

My heart was broken, because she was my glue, my prop, my strength, and my hero. My heart still aches, ten years in. A decade seems like such a long time, until you compare it with eternity. She knew she’d be passing through the gates, and she did not fear death.

New Year’s Eve is difficult for me, still. I make myself very busy, so I won’t have time to dwell on the loss of her. I eat the traditional meal, and faithfully count my black eyed peas. I try to not break. Meir wouldn’t want me to break. She’d want me to follow her example, and join her, some day, in eternal relief.

She won’t be disappointed. I have my eyes on the prize, and my spoon full of black eyed peas.

Happy New Year, Y’all. Be blessed.

 

(c) 2014, 2015