MAMA WASN’T PERFECT BUT SHE WAS MY MAMA.
I didn’t have very many years with Mama before she had her first episode of Bipolar Disorder. It was called Manic Depression back then and medication to treat it was not discovered until after Mama had committed suicide.
At the time of Mama’s first episode I was in grade school. Can’t remember what grade. Maybe 3rd grade.
I just remember coming home from school and my grandmother was there. Unusual.
Grandmother said that she was in the hospital.
Grandmother said that Mama worried too much and it made her sick.
Mama worried because Dad wasn’t a Christian. After she came home from the hospital, she never went to church again. Not sure if it was the Doctor’s orders or Mama’s decision.
Mama never went to church but she insisted that I go to Sunday School every Sunday. She also insisted that Sundays were not for any other activities besides church. No movies. No frivolous activities. Sundays were pretty boring.
My brother, Ted, was 5 years older then me. My brother, Jeep, was 6 years younger. They had to have been in the home when Mama had her first bipolar episode, but for some reason, I cannot put them in the scene. Because of the age differences I often felt like an only child. Maybe that’s why I can’t see them there.
Mama was a very smart student in school. She skipped a grade, twice. She graduated high school when she was only 16 years old.
Mama expected good grades from The Pylant Kids. Because of the age spread among five children, there were Pylants constantly in the Ardmore school system for 31 years.
That’s a lot of years for Mama to monitor grades.
Mama did not allow fake illness so that you could stay home from school. My brother Ted graduated high school with 12 years perfect attendance. Mama was awarded the Twelve Years Perfect Attendance Award at Ted’s graduation.
I, also, had perfect attendance for 9 years which were all the years I attended school. I think I would have had 12 years also if I had been allowed to continue school after I was married.
Mama grew up poor. Her childhood could not have been easy. Mama’s father was an alcoholic and committed suicide. His death left a widow with six children. I’ve often wondered how my grandmother managed financially in those days.
It’s only one of the questions I wish I had asked my grandmother while she was still alive.
Because of her Dad, I’m sure, Mama never, ever allowed alcohol in the house. Mama had a real fear of alcohol and of drunken men for all her life.
Mama was terrified of cats. More than terrified. She had a phobia about them. I can’t be sure if it was Mama or one of my aunts that told me that when Mama was a child, the neighbor boys thought it was a big joke to hand Mama a cat and then let dogs attack the cat.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, Mama arranged piano lessons for me with a neighbor, Mrs McFarland. Mama paid for my lessons in exchange for fresh eggs. Not unusual. Dad paid for my birth with ice.
In a short time, she convinced Mama that I had talent and suggested a piano at home so I could practice between lessons. I have no idea how Mama convinced Dad to buy a piano but she did.
I took piano lessons from Mrs McFarland for eight years and Mama came to every one of my probably very boring piano recitals.
After eight years with Mrs McFarland, Mama decided to find a more advanced teacher for me. With the new teacher I was practicing for my private recital when Mama had her second bipolar episode. I had to quit piano lessons because I had no one to drive me across town.
Dad sold my piano and afterwards it was like I wiped ‘all things piano’ out of my mind. Totally. I cannot play the piano today. I might be able to find middle C.
Mama taught me to read when I was five years old and found out I would not be starting first grade that fall. My sixth birthday missed the November 1st deadline by 23 days. I cried, cried, cried because I wanted to go to school so badly.
Dad bought my books and Mama taught me to read.
Mama let me ride the city bus to town when I was only six years old. She went with me the first time to show me where to get off the bus when I got downtown and on which corner to catch the bus to come home. I went to the movies every Saturday after that. Times were very different in Small Town, USA, when I was six years old.
All the neighbor kids were allowed to play in yards or at each other’s houses until dark. Everyone except Laura Carol and Mary Elizabeth Scrivner who lived directly across the street from me. They were never allowed to leave their yard. Mama and Inez Scrivner were good friends but I never thought to ask Mama why Laura Carol couldn’t leave her yard. It was just the way it was.
Mama was a strong believer in good manners and etiquette. She had rules:
– Always say please and thank you.
– Never stay at someone’s house when they have to go in to eat.
– When visiting a home, always first say ‘Hello’ to the parents.
– When leaving a birthday party always say ‘I had a nice time’.
– Never, ever sass a teacher.
My best friend in the neighborhood was Linda Beaver. She had to move away to Waurika when we were in the first grade. Mrs Beaver invited me to come visit. Mama allowed me to go to Waurika and stay a week. It my first away from home visit. I was seven years old.
Mama never let me have a birthday party. She didn’t approve of ‘asking for gifts’ but she did let me have the neighborhood’s first night-time party. It was a Valentine Party and a big hit. Mama did all the planning and preparation of course.
Mama always made sure that every person in my class at school got a Valentine on Valentine Day. No favorites. “No one should ever feel left out”, Mama said. She always encouraged me to be extra nice to the kids who seemed to be left out.
When I told Mama that there were kids in my class who had never ridden a train, she arranged a train ride for anyone who wanted to go. In the ‘olden days’ it was easier to arrange. No permission slips, insurance, etc, etc. Just ‘Do It’. We rode the train to the first stop in Davis, OK. There Dad picked us up in his truck and brought us back to Ardmore.
I had chores to do at home. One of them was to feed and water the chickens and to gather the eggs. I was afraid of the chickens. Mama was sympathetic but Dad was not. Mama tried to change Dad’s mind about the chicken duty. No luck.
Dad thought I was just trying to get out of my chores so I very carefully explained to him how the rooster would stalk me. The rooster acted like he wasn’t paying any attention to me but that he was actually watching me out of the corner of his eye. The rooster acted very nonchalant until he got me where he wanted me. then he would run and flog me on the back of my legs.
Dad wasn’t buying it until he happened to see the rooster attack and flog me. He then hit the rooster very hard with a board. It left the rooster so goofy that he couldn’t find the henhouse at dusk. Dad then had to go every evening and put the rooster in the hen house. To this day, I am certain that chickens are dangerous, devious and deceitful. I’m sure of it.
My little brother Jeep wanted to be a singer on TV. He was only six years old and he went around the house singing all the time. He had a favorite song that he sang over and over. I have to admit, he was very good for a six year old. He always watched a talent show on channel 10 in Ada and begged Mama to take him to Ada so that he could sing on TV. Mama arranged it and off they went. Sadly, Jeep froze when he got in front of the cameras and he did not become a TV star.
Jeep was born with an injured arm. Seems the doctor had tried to pull him through the birth canal by his arm. Mama noticed his lifeless arm right away. She took him to orthopedic specialists in Oklahoma City where the doctors put baby Jeep in a cast from the waist up, his little arm raised above his head. The doctors told Mama that she would need to bring Jeep back for a new cast as he grew.
After Mom got home and thinking about Jeep’s future, she was convinced that Jeep’s arm would be atrophied after years in a cast. Mama decided to remove the cast.
I went into the bathroom to see Mama kneeling beside the bathtub with baby Jeep soaking in the tub. Mama said she was going to soak the cast until it was soft enough to cut off. It took hours. Mama was not daunted. She eventually got that cast off baby Jeep.
I never heard Mama say ‘I love you’ until she was dying.
When Mama shot herself in the forehead it only knocked her out. When she came to, she picked up the gun and shot herself again in the throat. The second shot didn’t kill her either but instead paralyzed her from the neck down.
The doctors in Ardmore said she should go to University Hospital in Oklahoma City where she could receive long term care that the Ardmore Hospital was not prepared to give.
Dad said I should ride in the ambulance with Mama to Oklahoma City. We went all the way under lights and sirens. When we arrived at the hospital she was taken immediately into the ER. Later, the Doctor came out and said, “You can take your mother home now”.
I explained to the Doctor that he didn’t understand. That we had brought Mama to be admitted to the hospital.
The Doctor said, “No, YOU don’t understand. Your mother is dying.
She can either die here in the ER or she can die at home”.
Waiting for the ambulance to return for Mama’s trip back to Ardmore, I called Ted in Arlington to ask if he could return to Ardmore. I called Jeep in California and held the phone to Mama’s ear so he could speak to her.
Then I told Mama how much I loved her. It was then that I heard Mama say for the first time “I love you too”
I asked Mama if it would be ok with her if I went on home instead of returning to Ardmore. I could not watch her die but I needed her permission to not be there. Mama gave me the permission I needed. I went home and waited for the call that Mama had died.
I know in my heart of hearts that Mama would be proud of what I have accomplished in my life.
I can hear her saying, “You go girl”.
– Sue Williams