Donna Knight: Going through priceless memories
Recently, as I put my Momma to bed, we went through our nightly ritual. Mom is now 86 and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010. We have a nightly ritual of naming all her 10 children. Two daughters and a son died as infants due to RH factor complications, but seven of her 10 children grew to be adults.
Mom and I name each one of her children. She often needs help, but when I say the name, I still can see the recognition in her eyes. I do this because I am trying to keep those memories from slipping away from her like so many others already have.
I sometimes talk to her about the little white house we lived in on Palmer Street in Indianapolis. How somehow two parents and seven children lived in a three-bedroom house with only one bathroom until all the children were grown and left home.
Mom would get us up for school each day at Sacred Heart Catholic School one at a time by age (oldest to youngest) and we each got two or three minutes in the bathroom all to ourselves to get ready.
Mom cooked breakfast for us every day. Some days we had oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. Other days she made scrambled-egg sandwiches with cheese on buttered toast. But if we were really lucky, Mom would make her special buttered sugar-cinnamon toast under the broiler. It was better than any cinnamon bun could ever hope to be.
Since we lived in a three-bedroom house, Mom and Dad had their bedroom while the four boys shared a bedroom and the three girls shared the other. The boys had two sets of bunkbeds in their room and in the girls’ room, there was one set of bunk-beds for the younger girls. But because I was the oldest of all the children, I had my very own twin bed all to myself.
I just can’t tell you how jealous the others were of this fact. But that is one of the perks of being the eldest in a large family.
Of course, being the oldest came with lots of responsibilities as well as perks. I was the built-in babysitter, and I learned to help with the cooking and cleaning at a very early age. I can still remember very clearly standing on a stool and stirring pots on the stove while the rest of the kids were playing when I was probably about 5.
I remember that we didn’t have a washer and dryer in our house — those were luxuries at the time — but we did have a laundromat just around the corner on Meridian Street. So every Saturday morning, my brother Gary, who is one year younger, and I would load up our red wagon and he would pull and I would push the laundry over to the laundromat.
Nine people can make an awful lot of laundry in a week, and there were always cotton baby diapers to be washed as well as Dad’s work uniforms and our school clothes. It was an all-day affair to wash, dry and fold the laundry, then load it up in the wagon and take it back home.
We only used the dryers during the winter months.
But in the summer we would take the wet clothes back home and hang them on two clotheslines in our backyard held up by wooden poles so the clothes wouldn’t touch the ground.
It was a sweet, simple joy to hang out the clothes in the sunshine with a light breeze blowing and then to take them down and smell the freshness. Of course, now with all the pollution and car emissions it isn’t the same as it was back in the ’50s and early ’60s.
I try to jog Mom’s memory of how we would each get one dip of vanilla ice cream every Sunday night for our weekly treat. Sometimes we even had sprinkles or chocolate to put on top.
Mom also cooked a special dinner on Sunday as mostly during the week we had pot meals of vegetable soup, chili or sauerkraut and pork ribs. But on Sundays, we might have fried chicken or a roast.
Sometimes on a Saturday night, Mom and I would make two pizzas from scratch for a special treat. We couldn’t afford to put meat on them, but we used lots of cheese. To this day, a plain cheese pizza is still my favorite.
I know that eventually Mom will forget these memories as the Alzheimer’s progresses — at least that is what the doctor has told me. But for now I love how her eyes still light up when we have our nightly bedtime reminiscences.
Donna Knight is a columnist at The Courier and The Daily Comet in Houma and Thibodaux, Louisiana. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.