Chasing Matisse: The Book
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Beth's Travel Diary
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June 26, 2003
It was 7:15 A.M. when our phone rang. My brother, Blair, was calling to tell me that he had some really horrible news. Our mother was dead.
He gave me the details which I didn't hear. Or, I guess the words went in my ears, the syllables, the phrases, but there was no comprehension. I simply couldn't believe it. My mother was dead. The shock was overwhelming. It didn't seem real.
When our father died almost 34 years before, it also was an awful trauma. His death was an accident, a house that dropped upon us. He was scuba diving with a new contraption that was all the rage. An air compressor floated on top of the water with hose and mask connected to the divers underneath. He went down too far (he was spear fishing, and we believe he was after a big one). It turned over, and he came up too fast. It was a Sunday afternoon, and our neighbor called to tell us that he'd heard Daddy had died at the lake. I was 15 at the time and paced the family room floor wringing my hands, worrying about the teenage flak that had been flying between us. My mother, Bobbye Ann, said, "Maybe it's not true." Shortly after, our minister drove up and knocked at the door.
That was a Sunday afternoon in August. This was an April Sunday morning for me-a Saturday night for her-a week before my birthday and what would've been my parents' 51st wedding anniversary if they had lived.
We didn't expect this phone call. Does one ever? Even when my younger brother, Brent, died in 1990 of AIDS, we didn't expect his death at the time that it came. I hoped beyond hope that his body could find a way to beat this illness and live. Today he probably could have, but not then.
Bobbye Ann had high blood pressure and cholesterol, and she did need to lose weight,
but she lived a busy, vital life and looked beautiful. People never thought she was as old as her 74 years. She always told us she would die young. Her father and brother passed on in their 50's with heart attacks, and her father's mother, her favorite grandmother with whom she spent lots of time, did too. Of the others-the women-my mother's mother is still living at 96, and her mother lived into her 90's as well. Bobbye Ann said her mother would outlive her, but we just pooh-poohed. We thought she had the genes with long life. Did she know, or had she created her own reality? Perhaps it was simply time for her soul to go. The time she'd contracted for when she came into this life was done. Mission accomplished. All her lessons learned.
A doctor friend of mine thought death was random, but then he killed himself. There was no randomness to that.
Basically, what I found out later was that Mother called Blair and told him she didn't feel well. She had a headache (which she never had) and was sweating. He offered to take her to the ER, but she said no and took an aspirin. When he talked to her a short time later, she said she felt better. Then he heard her hit the floor. The paramedics said she probably died instantly. A couple of doctor friends of ours said it sounded like an aneurysm.
Jim had been right about the raging wind that howled the night before. Our house had been blown apart.
I called my older daughter, Blair, and gave her the terrible news. I couldn't reach Bret, the younger one. Then I phoned a couple of old and good friends who'd known Mother well and with whom I could voice my disbelief, horror, and pain, and they would understand. News travels fast in a small Arkansas town, and my friend Libbi, who grew up with me in Batesville, already knew even though she lives in California. Her mother, Polly, had called to tell her. Bobbye Ann and Polly had been friends for 50 years. Like Jim and me, my friend Dianne couldn't believe the news either. She'd seen Mother about a month before. It was reassuring to talk to both of my girl buddies.
We spent the rest of the morning trying to get a flight home on Delta Airlines. We already had return tickets for May which we actually hadn't planned to use. Now they were our way home for my mother's funeral. Marseilles was the closest airport, so we would drive there, leave the car, and fly to Paris. We couldn't get there in time to get out of Paris that day, so we would spend the night at our wonderful Hotel Saint Germain (the staff there immediately offered help) and leave Paris the next. These were Frequent Flyer tickets, and even though Delta had empty seats, they wouldn't give us earlier flights because the empty seats weren't assigned as Frequent Flyers. We couldn't believe it. As people in crises, this made it 100 times worse to have to deal with. It was an inhumane and ridiculous situation that no one we talked to on the phone would alleviate. Then as we were trying to get Bret to Arkansas from Virginia another Delta ticket agent wouldn't allow her to use our credit card number for her plane ticket, because she didn't have the credit card in hand. Of course, it was with us. We even talked to the woman who stood at the desk in front of Bret. The woman had dialed our number herself and knew we were in France but was afraid of getting in trouble. She wouldn't charge the ticket. Again, for people in crises, this made our trying to get home so much worse. If this is Delta policy, it is terrible. And when the employees are afraid to do the right thing and help their customers in need, it's even more deplorable. We have been loyal to this airline, and it was inexcusable to be treated like this.
But the French Delta employees at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris were wonderful in the face of our grief. When our plane was delayed, they moved us to an earlier flight to be sure we'd make our connecting flight in Cincinnati. Then our flight staff also went an extra mile to help us by moving us from the middle of the five person row to empty seats in Business Class. These Delta employees did the right thing when we were in need, and we were grateful. I wish I had all their names to commend them.
The staff of the Hotel de Cacheral outside of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer also were great. They immediately said we could leave all of our things there and helped us move them to the owner's house in a guest room, so they would be safe. We so appreciated all the kindnesses from the French who bent over backwards to help with our tragedy.
When we finally arrived in Little Rock, friends Dianne and Patti met us and we were thrilled to see them, to be with people we cared about and who cared about us. We drove on to Batesville, and by the time we got there, Blair, her fiancÚ Josh, and Bret were already at Grandmother's house, the house where I grew up, the house that my mother and father hired an architect to plan and build. My mother made sure the builders did their best work and assembled the house that she wanted. We moved in when I was seven years old.
It is a fine and well-thought-out house that my mother filled with tasteful antiques that she searched the countryside for, that she satiated with savory and sweet smells from the delicious meals she cooked every day of which the food all was homemade. No cookies were bought in packages at the store. Ours were baked in her oven along with her pies. Her strawberry preserves and blackberry jams were perfectly jelled. She made me some of my prettiest dresses until I got too know-it-all. She washed and curled my long hair, so I looked the proper and well-kept little girl. We picnicked and played croquet and badminton in our yard, drove to the lake every weekend to swim, ski, and play.
My parents let us be wild and free, which was quite a gift for us though not for the other people at the restaurants whom we terrorized and whose yards we ran through. She drove us to glaciers in Colorado and villages in old Mexico. She taught me the courage and fearlessness that I'm not sure she knew she had. She became a widow at age 41 with three teenagers to raise and didn't run away. She potty-trained my children. What else can I say? She was the President of her Scotch-Irish clan, Clan McAlister, and was proud of her name. Jim wanted to buy her a gavel. She was a smart businesswoman who managed her money and investments well, and what we heard over and over again in Batesville was that she helped people constantly and didn't expect acclaim.
Bobbye Ann lived at 1775 Maple for 42 years. That house lives and breathes her and is empty without her even with all of us there.
posted by Beth on June 26, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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