The Explanation of a Queef

It was a typical evening dinner at my parents’ house. My brother and I both were both in town visiting, so my mother did what she does and cooked a huge, tremendous meal. Really, it was full of love.

At my mother’s table, any topic of conversation can come into play. Having four brothers and too many nephews to keep count, the topics tend to lean in one direction. In typical Castle fashion on this particular evening, the conversation turned that corner.

It doesn’t really matter how the word queef was brought up. Actually it does, but some might take offense to it, so I’m going to leave that little detail out so as to not upset anyone.

But it happened. Someone said queef. It was my mom, and the boys in the house lost their minds. Multiple mouths spat tea across the table, plates upturned and a roar of laughter echoed across the golden plains of West Texas.

I looked down at my plate avoiding any kind of eye contact with anyone in my family. Anyone.

“What’s so funny?” My sweet mom asked.

My thirteen year old nephew whispered, “Nana said queef.”

I squelched the laughter I was keeping at bay.

Another nephew choked on his fried okra. I watched my brother beat him on the back while focusing intently on his corn on the cob.

“What is so funny?” Mom asked again, laughing along with the rest of us who had now lost any resemblance of control.

Tears poured out of my brother’s eyes onto his red cheeks.

My dad laughed his one-of-a-kind laugh. We were a mess. All of us.

“Is queef a bad word?” Mom said again

“Oh my god, Nana said queef again,” my older nephew said.

“Stop saying queef, Mom,” I managed to get out through bursts of laughter.

“Why? What’s  queef?” My mom asked.

The sound of laughter and silverware scratching plates ceased.

Everyone looked at me. The only girl.

Like it was my job to explain female bodily functions to MY MOM!

“I’m not telling her,” I said to my brother.

“You have to. I can’t,” he said, shaking his head.

“I CAN’T EITHER.”

“You have to, Mandi.”

“Tell me,” my mom said.

“No!”

“Tell her,” my dad chimed in.

“No, you tell her, Dad.” I said to him. He shook his head at me.

We were all still sporadically laughing at this point, but the mood in the room had gotten a little more…tense.

I took a big drink of my sweet tea (the strongest liquid courage you’ll find in my mom’s house) and walked over to where my mom sat at the table.

I leaned in and whispered, “a vaginal fart.”

“What?”

A little louder this time, “a vaginal fart.”

“Mandi, you’re gonna have to talk louder and quit laughin’. I can’t understand you.”

I cupped my hands around my mouth and said quietly into my mother’s 74 year old ear, “A queef is a fart that comes out of your vagina, Mom.”

Her blue eyes widened, and immediately, she filled the room with the best sound on Earth, her laugh.

I returned to my seat and started to put a bite of mashed potatoes into my mouth when my dad said, “So, what is it?”

 

head-in-hands

 

Be Still and Know

be-still-and-know

I talked to my mom today. I’m sure a lot of you talked to your moms today. It’s probably something as routine as putting on deodorant or brushing your hair.

But I haven’t had a normal conversation with my mom in a while.

She didn’t beat around the bush. I said hello, and she said she might not know who I am tomorrow, and as I heard those words, I sunk down onto the floor of my kitchen. I clutched the phone to my ear while squeezing back my tears, and I sat on my cold kitchen floor and reassured her that she would. That she will always know me, that she is the strongest person I know, and that she’s fought harder battles in her life.

She said she loved me at least three times, like she might never say it again. And I said it back, like she might not hear it again.

The following article has been edited but was previously published on Sisterwivesspeak.com. (No longer available.) I wrote this a year or so ago, maybe longer, and when I reluctantly hung up the phone with my mom, I remembered the words I wrote as they echoed in my head.

******

I save all of her voicemails. All of them. Friends call and say, “Your voicemail is full. I couldn’t leave a message,” and I lie and say that I’m too lazy to delete my messages, but it’s not true. I can’t delete them because one day they may be all I have of her.

I fear losing her. It haunts me.

Losing the mother who I know today, who’s really not the mother I knew three years ago, who keeps changing every year, whose mind might never be “normal” again, who one day might not even recognize my face.

Death would be easier. Death is final and sometimes even fair. But my mother has dementia, and her mind goes through cycles. Sometimes she’s (almost) normal. She’s our now normal, but then there are times when she isn’t. And one day those times will be all that I know.

Glenn Campbell wrote a song called “I’m Not Gonna Miss you,” a song he recorded shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He wrote the heartbreaking lyrics “I’m still here but yet I’m gone…” to help his family understand that the grief would be one sided, that he wouldn’t “miss” them.

I picture a day when I visit with my mother, when she doesn’t know my name, who I am, and it breaks my heart.

Shatters it.

But what’s even more difficult for me to wrap my brain around is that one day, she isn’t going to know who she is. She won’t remember having five kids and keeping an immaculate house. She may not remember how she never met a stranger, how no matter where she was, she could make a friend. She won’t remember that she had the best sense of humor, and her West Texas accent only accentuated her wit. She won’t remember that she could make a room burst into laughter with one of her lines like “madder than a piss ant in a pepper jar.” She won’t remember being a daring child who wasn’t afraid to ride a bull or a horse that hadn’t been broken.

She won’t remember her first kiss.

She won’t remember giving birth to her first child.

She won’t remember all of the funny stories from her childhood.

She won’t remember dancing with my dad.

She won’t remember when she kissed me goodnight.

She won’t remember when she walked me into kindergarten and told me to be brave.

She won’t remember when she whispered in my ear just before I got married that no matter what ever happened in my life I should put myself first. Always.

She won’t remember.

She won’t remember.

She won’t remember.

And what terrifies me more than anything is that she might be scared, and who will be there to comfort her if she doesn’t know who anyone is, if she doesn’t even know who she is?

There’s a song that a friend introduced me to a while back. It often randomly plays from my music library, and every time, it gives me this strange sense of comfort.

I want to comfort her. I want her to know I am always here.

I hope that when she is in that dark and scary place, she can just “be still and know.”

Changing of the Guard

I hold an envelope in my hand. I know what it contains, but I hold it between my finger and my thumb, staring down at it, willing it not to exist.

I visit my parents every summer. I pack my children in the car and drive six hours due West listening to complaints of “are we there yet” and “I’m bored” so that my children will make memories in my childhood home. I lived in the same house from the time I was four until I went to college. My parents are still there. It will always be home no matter how far away I move or how long it’s been since I used the address.

This week, as I drove the straight and narrow highway, my mind drifted to my mother’s house. A house where everyone was always welcome, where the smell of fried okra lingered in the air outside the kitchen window, where coffee was always brewed and ready to be poured for anyone who stopped by. Visible from the major street, it’s always been a beacon of warmth to anyone driving by. Often times, my family (all four brothers, their wives and children, my parents, and I) would be sitting at the table piled high with my mom’s semi famous home cooking with sweet iced tea in every glass, and a random friend or family member would walk in the door without knocking having passed the house and seen several cars parked outside.

My mother never hesitated and would jump up from her chair and set an extra place or two. Her cooking style always offered enough for one or two more, and if you knew my mother, and you happened near her house at dinner time, you too would stop in and “pull up a chair.” Dinner was an event, and though her house was small, she could feed a small army from her stove.

Some of my sweetest memories were made at my mother’s house at her kitchen table, and driving home, I looked forward to sitting there with her, drinking my morning coffee and visiting with her and my dad.

As a teenager, it always annoyed me that I could see my mom in the kitchen window when I pulled up to the house, but this time, seeing her peeking through the curtains made my heart smile, and I practically leapt  from my car to run and meet her.

I walked into the house, and breathed in that consistent familiar scent. Home. I would make it into a candle if it were possible and call it “Comfort.”

My dad greeted me with a hug and as I squeezed him back, I noticed that he was even smaller than the last time I saw him. He stooped down and hugged my kids, and I caught sight of the new age spots forming on his bald head. I pulled my mother into an embrace and held her for a little while until my kids could no longer contain their excitement and wanted Nana’s attention all on them.

I unloaded my car and delivered the bags to my mother’s room where the kids would sleep. I dropped the bags in the doorway and stood aghast as I took in what was before me. A walker. My parents are in their seventies, and my mother’s health hasn’t been great in years, but this was a first, and my mind drifted back to my grandmother’s house where first there was a walker, then one of those portable hospital potties, then a wheelchair. Then a nursing home. Then a funeral home.

My mother called my name , and I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. I followed her oxygen tubing to her living room and found her comfortably sitting in her rocking chair, a pretty blonde little girl bouncing happily on her lap. They both looked up at me, two sets of identical blue eyes beaming with love. “What do you want for supper,” my mom asked.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and in my mind said “chicken fried steak “ or “pot roast” or “chicken and dumplins” (they’re not dumplings in my mother’s house). But I knew that was out of the question, and so I simply said I wasn’t hungry and sat on the couch. We ordered pizza and enjoyed it almost as much as if she had cooked. (The next day, she surprised me and made a ham, a Sunday afternoon staple in my home, and it tasted as delicious as it did in my memory.)

I slept in my childhood room and woke looking up at the purple and red checkered ceiling my brother built for me when I was 8. I rubbed my eyes and listened to my parents laughing, enjoying their sweet and playful conversation with my children. I took advantage of the kids’ distraction and opted to shower. I opened the shower door and held my breath once more at what was in front of me. Handicapped bars. I recalled a conversation with my dad where he told me he installed them to make showering easier for my mom, but the visual of those bars cemented something I’d been ignoring for some time. My parents’ aging. I traced my fingers along each one of them, feeling the cold metal in my hand, and before I realized it, I was holding onto them for support.

That day, my dad and I took the kids to an outdoor museum that required lots of walking. I couldn’t help but notice how many breaks my once spry father took during the walk. We lost him during one of those breaks and found him back inside. He hitched a ride on a golf cart, too tired to walk back on his own. The rest of the day, he was spent, completely exhausted.

Throughout the rest of the week, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle differences in my parents. Tiny little things like movements that once were easy, took more time, and it wasn’t unlikely to find one or both of them quietly napping in their chairs.. I looked around the house and wondered how much longer they would be able to keep it, and I had to squelch the thought that one day I might not be able to go home.

I don’t remember when they got old. It’s like one day they were shiny and young, and the next they were tired and gray with age spots and walkers and handicapped bars and oxygen.

And this envelope.

This envelope that holds the information I will need when they can no longer make decisions for themselves, and as I read the words, my resolve breaks and I weep, dripping giant drops of tears onto the paper.

I will hold on to this envelope and its contents, and when it comes time, I will do my part and carry out their last wishes, but in the meantime, I will hold on to my memory, to the smell of my mother’s kitchen, to the sound of my dad’s laughter, and I will treasure the time we have left.

Time – it’s our most limited resource. Don’t waste it.

mom and dad young

 

 

 

Be Still and Know

I don’t always listen to lyrics. I admit it. I love music and often get caught up in the instrumental parts of the song, dissecting each melody. I rarely ever sing the correct words. I’ve been known to just insert whatever I hear. For example, when I first heard U2’s “Mysterious Ways,” I immediately loved it and went to buy the album. When I walked into my local music store and asked for “Mr. Eastways,” the salesman looked at me like I wore a straitjacket. I sang the line, “She moves in with Mr. Eastways,” and he laughed. True story. Continue reading