Tag Archives: Arkansas

C H R I S T M A S T I D E

A Merry Christmas
Cleone’s favorite holiday song was Joy To The World directed by the Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She’d begin playing it as a daybreak reveille on December 12th and continued through the morning of her birthday, December 27th. We were reminded of the fifteen day musical salute while driving Elizabeth’s mother back to Arkansas in November 1990.
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“How come I don’t remember this tradition, Mom?”

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“You’re never home for the holidays more than a day or two, Elizabeth Ann. Besides, your daddy and I only began it after you left home.”

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During those long gone 30 years, Elizabeth’s father died and Cleone remarried several times. As a southern lady born and bred in Montgomery, Alabama, she was raised to believe a woman’s life wasn’t complete without a man in hand. Her current husband, Bill, was confined to a nursing home, diagnosed with violent hysterical dementia. He hadn’t recognized her (or anyone) for six months and never would again, but that didn’t stop Cleone from visiting him daily, ignoring his foul-mouthed curses and dodging food flung in her direction.

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We promised to stay with her through Thanksgiving, but those plans changed after she asked me to sort through stacks of personal papers to determine if any needed keeping.

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The first item of interest I came across was Bill’s membership in a local white supremacist group. He kept propaganda, recruitment paraphernalia and a loaded .38 in his desk drawer next to a box of hollow point bullets. I immediately disposed of everything burnable and buried the gun in his asparagus garden. Other discoveries were as serious.
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“Mom,” I tiptoed, “it says here Bill used your Certificates of Deposit and savings as collateral to purchase this house.”
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“He promised they’d be safe until the house is paid off.”
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“You’re 83 and he’s older. The mortgage is for 30 years.”
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“I guess.”
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“Who pays the mortgage?”
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“It’s automatically deducted from my social security check each month.”
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“You have your own direct deposit checking account?”
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“Yes. Mine pays the car loan, utilities, and property taxes, too.”
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Why isn’t it all deducted from his account?”
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“He pays the insurance, charge cards, grocery account, and incidentals.” I hesitated just long enough for her to ask, “Why?”
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“Well, what’s important is, I can tell you how to fix what I’ve found, so there’s nothing for you to get upset about. Since you have his health proxy and financial power of attorney — over his very sizable bank accounts, I must say — it’s merely a matter of shuffling funds.”
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“Meaning?”
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“You have the authority to write checks.”
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By then both Cleone and Elizabeth were eager for details and had pulled chairs up to the table where I was working.
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“Mom, your name isn’t on the mortgage, deed to the house, or car title. If Bill should suddenly die, the house and car go directly to his son. His Will leaves his savings and all his belongings to his son. The executor to his estate is his son. His life insurance policy names only his son.”
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“What about me?” Cleone asked, matter-of-factly.
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“He made no provisions for you, Mom.”
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“Do you think his son knows any of this?”
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“According to these letters, he does.”
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I let that sink in between mother and daughter while I ran some figures and finalized a plan.
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After breakfast, the three of us dressed for success in matching hot pink sweatsuits and strings of vintage pearls before descending on the bank where Cleone paid off the mortgage and car loan from Bill’s savings account. Once her CD’s were released and there was no longer a lien on her savings, she transferred all automatic deductions from her checking account to his. Finally, she removed his name as survivor from her checking and savings accounts and left the bank, unencumbered.
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“How do you feel, Mom?” Elizabeth asked.
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“Free,” she answered.
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We stayed on until the 9th of December, gadding about town, buying and wrapping Christmas presents, lighting her ceramic tree, delivering frosted cookies, addressing cards, and confirming plans for Cleone’s move to Florida to forever share our home after the first of the year.
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“Are you sure you don’t want to drive back with us now,” Elizabeth hoped.
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“No, dear. I want to spend the holidays here with my Bridge club and church group. It gives me time to say a more leisurely goodbye.”
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“Are you okay?”
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“Better than okay, Elizabeth. I’m having fun.”
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It took us three days to drive home. We arrived on Cleone’s birthday to a cheerful message from her, left on our answering machine. I immediately dialed her up, putting the phone on speaker.
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Cleone’s next door neighbor answered.
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“Your mom called for an ambulance. The driver swore he got here within a minute. He knew her from church and around town. Everyone loved your mom.”
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Knew.
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Loved.
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We sped back to Arkansas, arranged for her funeral, and hosted a large reception before having Cleone’s casket returned to Montgomery where a second funeral was attended by 135 of her friends and remaining relatives. Internment was next to Elizabeth’s father in a small, historic burial ground where all their ancestors also rested. A second reception followed.
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The next morning, Elizabeth and I returned to the cemetery a final time.
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It was a quiet, cool, sunny December day with no breeze blowing nor snow on the ground. We marveled at the height and width of a mountain of fresh flowers left on Cleone’s grave, in stark contrast to the other 300 tombstones, void of any signs of recent visitors, decorated with weatherworn plastic plants, faded flags, or no remembrance at all.
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Instinctively, we began to take fresh flowers from her mother’s final resting place to adorn surrounding graves, one-by-one, until every site in the cemetery had a bouquet.
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Then we rolled down all the windows in the car, popped in a cassette, pumped up the volume to maximum, and slowly drove up and down each pathway playing — and replaying —

Joy To The World.
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# # #
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.
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Thank you for reading CHRISTMASTIDE
by Marguerite Quantaine © 2018.
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