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Monday, November 28, 2005

Great Aunts - Frankie

Frankie Mae Robinson was born on October 5, 1921 in Mount Vernon, Georgia. Like all of her siblings, she was delivered at home by a mid-wife. She was perhaps, the most reserved of her sisters and always very discreet. When she loaned money, if the borrower didn't tell, it was never revealed. Nearly 40 years after the fact, I found out that she loaned my grandparents the down payment on their first home. They never got around to paying her back and she never spoke of it. At 20, she became pregnant by a local school teacher who may have been married. She never spoke of it. In fact, her son was in his 40s when he learned the identity of his father. No one could speak in hushed tones like Aunt Frankie. One of her most uttered phrases was, "Don't talk so loud."

Around 1944 she left her young son in care of one sister and, with another joined the migration. They made their way to Nassau County, New York and worked as sleep-in domestics. Though she didn't have a home of her own, Aunt Frankie sent for her son and boarded him at the home of some church members who had children his age. It was not far from where she worked so she was able to see him very often. Still she harbored some guilt at not being able to have him with her and he harbored some resentment. She overcompensated by giving him more than he deserved. He grew up to be what my aunt, Jane, refers to as a "jack-leg preacher." He was brilliant, but just a little crazy. Despite the embarrassing moments he created, she stood by him. She was the very best mother she could be.
Although Aunt Sarah eventually moved to New Jersey to be near her family, Aunt Frankie remained on Long Island. She'd built a very nice circle of friends, her son was firmly established in a good school system and her employer was appreciative of her service.
In 1972 Aunt Frankie married Martin Warren and they enjoyed almost 25 years together until he died in 1985. I have great memories of them traveling to our home on the shore for the annual holiday cookouts. They always traveled with a bottle of brown liqour. Mr. Marty referred to it as his "eye opener" and he used it every morning (and most evenings) during those visits. I'm sure it was normal practice for him. Aunt Frankie would have a cocktail too, but neither of them ever got pissy drunk. She was a real class act. In fact, I was grown before I found out she was a domestic. To me, she was my rich aunt who lived in New York that never came to visit without gifts. She would remember my birthday like it was her own. I always thought that she and I had a special relationship, but as I got older I realized that all her nieces and nephews felt the same way. She made us all feel special.
After being diagnosed with emphysema and placed on oxygen, Aunt Frankie came down to the New Jersey for a recuperation period. She stayed with Aunt Sarah, who has a tendency to be a bit bossy. Needless to say she drove Aunt Frankie crazy to the point that she vowed NEVER to come again. It made me believe that she was very smart for remaining on Long Island. The distance allowed her to have a very good relationship with her siblings. Just as good fences make good neighbors, distance can be beneficial to certain relationships. Even after the diagnosis, she continued to smoke her Winstons. One of my cousins in the south would bring her a carton periodically.
This past June, we received a call from her neighbor, Pearlene. She said Frankie was disoriented and "talkin' crazy," which was something I could not believe. I got on the phone and called her myself. As always, she talked like she had plenty of sense, but for peace of mind, I told her I would drop by the next day. As always, she protested. She thought the hour and a half we had to travel to get to her was a great distance and she never wanted us on the road. I squashed all that by telling her I had to come up there because I was catching a train to Chicago, the next day, which was true.
We sat across the table from each other and chatted. There was a half smoked cigarette on a saucer. Sitting next to it was her inhaler in its sealed packaging. She looked real tired and her color was off just a little. We talked about the dreams (hallucinations) she had been having. She articulated that the last episode had really scared her. I asked her how she felt about coming to stay with us in New Jersey for a couple of months. After making sure she wouldn't have to stay with Sarah, she agreed. I was a little uneasy because the decision was clearly made out of fear. The latest episode had really shaken her up. We agreed that when I got back from Chicago the following week, I would bring her home with me.
The next night I received a call in Chicago that she had been taken to the hospital and placed on a ventilator as her lungs were operating at about 30% capacity. When I returned, I went to the hospital to the heartbreaking sight of my Aunt Frankie connected to this huge machine in order to breathe. She was trying desperately to speak and we were trying to understand, but the attempt was futile. The only thing that she was able to make us clearly understand was that a sister was hungry. The next week her doctor told us that he wanted to give her a tracheotomy through which the respirator would be connected. In addition, he talked of placing a feeding tube in her stomach and doing a biopsy to determine if she had cancer in her nose. We were all opposed to the surgeries. She shook her head no when we asked if she wanted to have the surgery. The day came that we had to make a decision. As next of kin, her granddaughter had to make the decision. She was unsure. My cousin, Marty, who had her power of attorney on matters financial was also skirting around the decision. I was the one to say, "Disconnect all that shit and let her go with dignity. Her quality of life is gone and she's lived a good 83 years. Let her go." They agreed and each of us signed the statement that would be reviewed by the hospital administration before they removed all the equipment.
Her doctor was vehemtly opposed to the decision. He argued that she could live for several more years with the equipment and I countered that she would not be "living" in the sense that she was used to. That was my final say. I left the hospital with the knowledge that she would probably be removed from life support in the next few days. As soon as we left, the doctor brought her up out of the drugged stupor and told her the situation. They were able to convince her to sign for the procedure. When I went back up and saw her after learning of her decision, I was amazed. She was totally different from the lifeless person I'd seen lying in the bed just a day earlier. She was animated and alert. I thought perhaps this was something she can live with and set about finding facilities near me to provide for her long term care.
After the procedure I went to see her. She was hooked up to the ventilator through the trach. She was still trying to talk to me, but that ability was gone. I just sat at the foot of her bed and talked to her, telling her that I was bringing her home. She kept looking over at the machines and tapping on the tubes that connected them. Three days later she was moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility. A day later she was dead. No one has articulated it, but I believe that she removed the tubes that were keeping her alive. I respect and honor that decision.
During his final years my grandfather started telling us things to which children and grandchildren should not be privy. One thing in particular was that when he met my grandmother and her sisters, "them girls was livin' out there in the country givin' out coochie from both panty legs." I was apalled. It's not that I hadn't already ascertained that my grandmother and her sisters were sexual beings. It was evidenced by the fact that nearly all of them had given birth to a child, without the benefit of marriage, but to have it explained in such crude terms was a little bit more than I needed to hear. When he said it, I could hear my Aunt Frankie telling him to hush and stop talking so loud.

Posted by Rodney :: 5:42 AM :: 4 Comments:

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