Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Daughter’s Homage to Her “Barnstorming” Mother’s Spirit Even in Old AGE

Theasa Tuohy’s mother, Theasa Logan Tuohy, as a young pilot in the 1930s.
Mom’s stroke came on vacation in the Big Easy as we celebrated New Year’s with fried alligator and red wine.  Dialing 911 and praying that spelled help in New Orleans.  Careening through the French Quarter, siren wailing.  It was traumatic, dramatic, frightening. But that was the easy part.

For weeks, I dozed in Tulane Hospital chairs and slept on a cot.  Doctors said not to feel guilty about the fried alligator. "Things just happen," they'd say. Especially when you're an 84-year-old hellion. She flabbergasted those medics by rattling off her Social Security number.  Probing neurologists asked Mom what year it was, or who was president. She got everything right.

She begged to go home to Sissy, her schnauzer, unaware of my arguments with doctors and social workers who said home was no place for her, that she needed "managed care." Read that "a nursing home." Mom would not go into a "facility." The last person to mention "nursing home" was a home health care worker quickly out of a job.

Mom would not have any part of Meals on Wheels. "That's pretty silly, don't you think?" she asked, "for someone who reads Gourmet Magazine."

Mom told about her neighbor who asked how her art lessons were coming. "Not good," Mom replied, "I'm trying to draw a statue I have of St. Francis of Assisi and I can't get his hands right."

"Oh," asked the lady, "Is that where Sissy got her name? From a saint?" Art lessons helped keep Mom at home. But it took a year to discover that. Mom's short-term memory was tattered, along with her ability to do simple tasks. But she could reason, understand nuances, scheme.

Wanting a bottle of wine which no one would get, she grabbed the yellow pages, called a cab and headed for the liquor store. She paid the wine merchant and taxi driver with checks. On evening walks we'd see the city lights and a dark space, Louis Armstrong Park. Mom knew where she was. Once she brought up Louisiana's long-ago governor, Huey Long. "Who was he?" I asked. "A crooked politician," she replied. "But he helped the poor. The country people."

When mom came home I hired a young woman, Sally, for housekeeping and cooking. She lasted five weeks. Mom asked her to leave. When the girl refused, Mom began knocking on neighbors' doors informing them she had an unwanted guest and would call police if someone didn't eject same. My biggest challenge was food.  I'd come in and stock the freezer with her favorites – tomato soup and canned tamales.

I'd get home and call, and for five days straight, she said she was eating a boiled potato. She couldn't work the can opener. She had been an inventive cook who avoided frozen dinners. Now she talked big about meal plans but could only boil a potato or find fruit in the fridge. Two things fell into place simultaneously. I found the perfect caregiver, Jerry, who clicked with Mom – they grew to love each other. Then, we found the food solution.

A nearby cafeteria − that didn't deliver − had the city’s best cooking. Jerry would go and  pick up hot meals. Mom ate better than those with the crystal-chandeliered dining room, and cheaper. I located an Oklahoma artist to come in once a week, giving Mom lessons. She blossomed and planned all week for Wednesday. One of her pictures is framed and hanging in my bathroom. And Mom's rendering of Van Gogh's Room in Arles is hanging in my house in France.

When Mom found the painting in an Impressionist calendar I'd sent, she told her art teacher, Suzanne, that she wanted to copy it.

Mom called to share this big event. "I found it in that book you gave me. Remember? It's that guy's bedroom. It's a lovely picture. It looked familiar the minute I saw it."
"Van Gogh's room at Arles," I reply. "Yes," she says. "Blue, yellow, and red. It's lovely. Suzanne says it'll probably take several weeks. To Mom, drawing pictures was no big deal. Upon meeting Suzanne, Mom told her: "My daughter has it in her head I'm the next Grandma Moses. We should humor her."
Suzanne was flabbergasted by Mom's improvement, her sure touch with the brush. Her painting helped her concentration and focus. And she loved it. She even got over being angry at herself for having a stroke.
"I used to stand at the mirror," Mom told me one day, "sticking my tongue out at myself and saying, 'I hate you. You've lost your marbles.'"
The Christmas following the stroke, Suzanne gave Mom six hand-blown marbles with a card that said: You've got your marbles back. They're beautiful enough to paint.

More About the Writer Theasa Tuohy:

Tuohy was a pioneer and esteemed journalist who worked for several top daily newspapers over forty years across the United States.

“When the editor said he’d hire a lady and give a gal a try, I said, how heavy can a #2 pencil be to lift up,”  says Tuohy, who was hired as the first female assistant city editor at The Detroit News, one of the country’s largest afternoon dailies at the time.

She was also the first woman hired on the copy desk of the Newark Star Ledger, a journalist at Newsday, and an editor at the Associated Press for nearly 19 years 1991-2010.

At The Detroit Free Press she edited the “People Page” and wrote features of well known people including former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, National Review Editor William Buckley and Gloria Steinem. She also worked as reporter for the Gannett Newspaper chain covering the city of Yonkers, New York.

She is the author of “The Five O’Clock Follies: What’s a Woman Doing Here, Anyway?” a vivid, historically accurate novel of how the Vietnam War impacted the role of female journalists on the battleground and in the newsroom.

Tuohy is also a playwright who co-authored the book, or libretto, of “Scandalous: The Musical,”  an award-winning show about the life of D. H. Lawrence, author of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” ”Women in Love” and “Sons and Lovers.”

No comments:

Post a Comment