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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Saturday, September 01, 2012

98 and still a good neighbor

My mother is 98 years old and has a clear mind but limited mobility. We have round-the-clock-care for her in the northwest corner of Johnson County in a community known as Buckeye.

Long an active and energetic woman, she was always at my dad’s side wherever he went. She managed the home in the traditional sense, which meant that she was responsible for the cooking, washing, ironing and house cleaning as her standard routine. But she also helped out in the field, with jobs like picking cotton and tending the garden. When my dad headed to the woods in early fall to cut firewood for the winter, she often went along. When he cut the wood into the desired length for the fireplace, she would load it on the truck.

Didn’t matter what needed to be done, she always pitched in. An excellent seamstress, she always found time to make clothes for my sisters. Then the grandchildren became the beneficiary of her handiwork. As each grandchild came into the world, she made a small quilt for the newcomer. She would be doing that today except for failing eyesight.

Had Parkinson’s not claimed my dad at 92, I am sure he would be looking after her now and driving his pickup truck. My parents were the best at making do. They never had any excess money for anything. They never went to movies, not even when a ticket cost no more than 25 cents. On top of that, Hollywood, in my dad’s view, was the domain of the devil.

When he died five years ago, I thought that my mother would not last very long, but it looks like she will live past the century mark and beyond.

For years, I tried to call her several times a month as I traveled, but with her impaired hearing, it became difficult to converse. First it was the cell phone and the noise of the car as I traveled, which made it impossible for her to understand what I was saying. Now when I call from a land line, she still has difficulty understanding.

This summer, she met my grandchildren for the first time. After a July 4 function in my hometown of Wrightsville, I took my Athens grandchildren, Sophie and Penny, to see her and pose for a photo. Then my son, who lives in Dallas, recently drove his children, Alex and Zoe, down to visit her for a brief visit and a photo.

If ever there were people who practiced the good neighbor policy, it was my parents. They always had an expansive garden and shared with their neighbors from what they grew. If God loves a cheerful giver, then He had to take note of my parents' way of life.

When I see people choosing to take handouts with no thought of working, I think of my late father. Life was hard for him, but he found a way to survive. He would have spit in your eye if you had suggested he take any kind of transfer payment. That notion made his blood boil.

Recently, I got a note from a young man who worked in Sports Information at Georgia while earning a degree from the Henry Grady School of Journalism. Cody Chaffins now has a job with a TV station in Jacksonville. Here is what he wrote:

“I just heard a story that is too good not to share. Recently, I interviewed a group of fraternity boys from Western Kentucky who were riding bicycles cross country to raise money for Alzheimer’s. I asked them about their trip through Georgia. They told me they ran out of water in the middle of nowhere. They said they went up to the first house they saw and asked for water. Turns out it was your mother’s house, and her caretaker brought them in to meet her. The boys told me they never would have expected a 98-year-old woman to let nine stinky college kids to come into her home for water but were thankful she did.”

Naturally, I am thankful, too. What I am most thankful for is that my mother has no need to benefit from the fund-raising mission of those fraternity boys and that her longstanding good-neighbor policy is still underscored even in her aging, feeble state.

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