LiliMae

Posted: September 25, 2015 in journal, Women, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

― William Wilberforce

Night Lines graphite on paper 8x10

Night Lines
graphite on paper
8×10….

…Back-tracking ….an aside that is part of the story…….

Beatrice was my grandmother’s housekeeper/maid. Beatrice cleaned house, washed clothes, helped cook and care for my grandmothers 9 children. Beatrice only had the one daughter, LiliMae, born about the same time as my aunt (circa 1924). Beatrice would bring her to work with her six days a week until she was old enough to attend school. Hence, LiliMae and my aunt grew up together.

I do not think LiliMae went very far in school for as Beatrice became too old to continue with the heavy daily work, LiliMae took over and when my grandmother died, she stayed on and worked for my aunt and other members of the family including my own.

The family took good care of Beatrice and continued her salary until the day she died and then paid not only for her funeral and burial but that of her husbands as well. LiliMae stayed in the run down rented shotgun home of her mothers, married a good and kind man and continued working six days a week. My aunt and Uncle took care of all her extra needs whatever they might be. This was all quite normal in New Orleans where slavery was still alive and well just hidden under the veneer of social correctness.

LiliMae, being 1 or 2 years older/younger than my aunt (I never knew for sure) was in her late 70’s when I arrived on the scene in New Orleans. Still working for my aunt but only every so often as she was quite frail and arthritic from all the years of hard work. LiliMae’s husband had long since departed and my aunt was “taking care” of her in the sense that she would take her to the grocery or just go buy groceries for her or to the doctor if LiliMae could not go by herself, and of course as tradition demanded, she continued her weekly salary.

With my arrival and the fact that my aunt was now getting a regular month stipend and had more opportunities to go out and spend her money in the social circles, she turned the care and feeding of LiliMae over to me, proclaiming in the classic southern princess tradition, that she “just couldn’t take it any more”.

Yes, LiliMae was a bit of a pain, a 4-foot 3-inch scrawny whirlwind of a woman, an incessant talker and complainer, she reminded me of my maternal grandmother, but I always had a tender spot in my heart for her and her plight in life and her ability to continue despite any and all obstacles thrown at her.

So once a week I went to see LiliMae. Now this was a very big thing for her and when I arrived she would come out of the house, before she would let me come in, and loudly make sure the entire neighborhood knew who I was and what I doing there and the fact that I (“a white girl”) was taking care of her “black ass” as she use to say. This would continue on for several months until LiliMae’s knees gave out and the doctor suggested a knee replacement. Medicare took care of most of the cost and my aunt (or rather Nan) paid the rest. The recovery was slow and so home health care was needed. But something else was going on and it was two months later when the second of the home health care agencies quit because LiliMae was beginning to prove to be “too difficult to handle”, that I realized there was a serious problem. I took her to another doctor and after some test she was diagnosed with bi-polar dementia. I managed to find another agency to help out and make sure that LiliMae was taking all the correct medications, to do her exercises so she could get out of the wheelchair, but it was becoming a downhill battle.

Of course I kept my aunt informed of everything that was going on except the fact that before her surgery, she had me take her to the bank one day and added my name to her account in case of an emergency. She said I was the only person she could trust not to steal her money. LiliMae knew my aunt larcenous heart very well and I could not, in good faith, tell her of this occurrence. Over the years LiliMae had managed to set aside over $20,000 from her salary and gifts and whatever, and she was afraid my aunt would take it all back.

A year passed and by this time my sister had her hooks deep into my aunt and along with my first cousin Nora they decided that LiliMae was a “family” concern and that “thank you very much” but she would take over now, and boom!, that was that. My relationship with my aunt was strained at best at this point and with my hands being tied and no voice in the matter, I stepped back.

One month later they, the family, put LiliMae into a State-run nursing home. My aunt being the closest thing to a living relative signed the papers and walked away. Within a week my aunt had made arrangements for all of LiliMaes possessions to be sold at auction. I do not know what she did with the funds.

No one asked me about anything, so I waited out of curiosity to see what was going to happen. Two weeks passed and my aunt called me saying, “The nursing home wanted to “talk to you”. When I asked about what she responded, “I have no idea”. I knew she was lying through her teeth as she always did when she did not want to face anything difficult. So my aunt and I went to the nursing home and we discussed the financials, I explained the situation and said of course I would turn over the account to the state for her care. My aunt never said another word except “well that’s taken care of”.

I would visit LiliMae once a week until she no longer recognized me; the home had put her in bindings to keep her from hurting herself, she was heavily medicated, and she would nonsensically rant to anyone who was close. My aunt never mentioned her name again; it was like she never existed.

LiliMae died of a heart attack about a month after I stopped coming to see her, I received a note from the Home saying they wanted me to know since I was the only one who ever visited her and that she would be buried next to her husband.

I laid a flowers on her grave and there was, like most things those days, a sad finality to it all, and perhaps I was the only person who shed a tear.

 

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