The year 1994 was life-changing for me and my husband, Mickey. We had moved from South Hill, Virginia and back to Asheboro, North Carolina. While our home was being built, Mickey and I lived with Daddy and Mama. It was nothing new for my parents, Arthur Vernon “Cap” Burrow and Mabel Victoria Smith Burrow, to accommodate boarders. Even after they had retired from long-term care of people with developmental disabilities and mental illness, they occasionally “took in” an elderly person. They had moved several times over the years, and had somehow ended up in a tiny house that was down in a valley and up the road from a bridge.
During the nine months that Mickey and I lived with Daddy and Mama, I suffered a couple of mental health crises due to clinical depression. After a couple of hospitalizations, one in the spring and another in the fall, I recovered with the help of appropriate medication and my parents’ prayers. Mickey traveled the state of Virginia during weekdays selling water meters and other supplies.
Daddy sat in his recliner and prayed a lot. He was a kind and humble man who loved the Lord and spoke frequently of God’s grace. He no longer played his guitar, but he enjoyed a good, old gospel or country song now and then. He often reminisced the days of the house or church being filled with joyful music.
Daddy, 82, was still slim and bald on top with a ring of thin, black hair around the sides and back of his head. He moved slowly and took short, little steps. While in his recliner, he was in the habit of checking his pulse to assure that his pacemaker was continuing to work properly. Daddy was feeble, but still ticking.
Once, during that year, Daddy fell in the yard. It took a long time for all the soreness to get out of his body. Preparing for bedtime was a ritual for him. The sheets had to be turned down just right and be perfectly smooth. We allowed him to do what he could for himself so that he could remain independent as possible as long as possible. He even did his own, little bird bath every day... slow as molasses, but privately and with dignity.
Mama and Daddy were always complete opposites in nearly every respect. Mama (74) was short and pleasingly plump. She never wore pants, always dresses. She had been raised by devout Christian parents, a pleasingly plump mother and stern father. My mother was a workaholic. Everything had always been immaculate in the house. If she had been able at the time, she would have grown a huge garden. She loved gardening. While Daddy was praying silently, watching “The Price is Right” or reading, Mama would cook the best southern meals you ever tasted. She came from a large family (13 siblings) of prolific gardeners and excellent cooks. Like her father, if Mama set her mind to do something, it would be best if you got out of her way.
Well, with me being out in left field during a large portion of 1994, my brothers and sister must have been concerned about the happenings at the tiny house just beyond the bridge. That fall, when Mickey’s and my house was complete, I was on the way to recovery. I can’t remember all the details, but my family, Mickey and I decided that it would be good for Daddy and Mama to move into the new house with Mickey and me. It was becoming too difficult for Mama to keep up the house, cook, do laundry and all the other chores. Yes, and, Daddy was feeble. So, our roles were reversed and we all excitedly moved to our brand, spanking new house.
Daddy and Mama were moved into the master bedroom with their own bathroom for easy and quick access. For comfort, they had slept in separate, twin beds for many years. Daddy’s bed was placed conveniently right next to the bathroom.
Both were accustomed to rising early each morning and enjoying a breakfast of eggs and bacon or sausage, sometimes with grits. Mama had always made perfect biscuits, but no longer cooked; it was becoming tiring and even dangerous. I found that my cooking didn’t measure up to Mama’s. One day when she was feeling better than usual, she cooked dinner for us. After we ate, she candidly said, “That’s the best meal I’ve had in a long time.” I still laugh when I think of that ever so subtle jab at my cooking.
Some days were filled with doctor visits. Their primary doctor was like an old friend. In the past, Mama had taken home-cooked goodies to the back door of his office every now and again to the delight of Dr. W. and his staff. Mama missed the days when she could be productive. Her mind was constantly “on” but her rheumatoid arthritis wouldn’t allow her to do the things she so desired to do. I think that Daddy was more accepting of getting older. They had ministered to so many elderly people, yet it was difficult to accept the inevitable process of aging that was taking place in their own bodies. Still, they both were in the habit of going to the doctor for nearly everything. Serious matters were taken to the Lord.
The spring of 1995, my brother, John Thomas, tilled and planted a large garden in the back yard. We had fresh vegetables every day throughout summer. Mama was ecstatic about the garden, and I couldn’t keep her out of it. One day, while I was running errands, it had been raining but Mama decided to go to the muddy garden. Our back-door neighbors saw her as she fell in the mud, and they assisted her back into the house. Thankfully, she was not injured.
That fall, my daughter, Melanie, gave birth to Tori. We were all so excited. I had begun taking care of Tyler, John’s little boy, during the day as well as Tori now and then. They provided entertainment for the family, and the house was abuzz with activities of a four-year-old, an infant and two proud great-grandparents. I can still see Daddy throwing back his head and laughing at the antics of the children.
One day, I announced that Tori had turned herself over in the bed. Mama came scuttering through the living room and into the hall. As she turned the corner to enter the bedroom, she fell. I knew immediately that her hip was broken. Such a joyous occasion became a sombre realization that months of recovery lay ahead for my dynamic Mama who had overestimated her ability to negotiate that corner. Life suddenly changed dramatically for the entire household.
I can’t recall all the details, but sometime after Mama’s hip surgery, my siblings and I met with Mama and Daddy to decide where they would now live. The family operates several assisted living facilities in North Carolina, so we had many choices to consider. Mama and Daddy chose Brookstone Haven in Randleman. The home primarily assists people with developmental disabilities and/or mental illness, but Mama and Daddy chose this home instead of one of the homes that assists the elderly. They would feel right at home at Brookstone among people they had once helped. Again, the table was turned. Now, Mama and Daddy would be the recipients of daily living supports.
My parents lived the rest of their days at Brookstone Haven, Daddy keeping employees and residents laughing and Mama serving as an honorary supervisor. She just couldn’t resist giving advice when she saw a need for attention to a situation.
In 2003, at the age of 90, Daddy passed into the arms of Jesus at the local hospital with all his children present. At one point during his passing, my sister, Lou, bent over our sweet Daddy and sang a song that Daddy had sung to the children many days past as they fell asleep. She sang, “Bye o’ baby bunting. Daddy’s gone a hunting...” Later, with tears streaming down our faces, we all said goodbye to Daddy as he took his last breath. Clayton, Lou, David, John and Kenny and I could hardly believe that the day had finally arrived when we no longer would hear Daddy’s sweet voice, but we knew that he was now celebrating in his new home with his Savior.
In 2004, Mama joined Daddy in Heaven. She had suffered a devastating injury to her leg when a tray table had fallen on it causing a huge hematoma. Mama, true to her usual need to get things done right now, had tried to get out of bed without assistance. After months of rehabilitation in a couple of hospitals and a nursing home, she developed sepsis. Once again, all her children gathered to comfort a parent during her transition to a better place. I remembered a day when I had visited her in the hospital shortly after the accident with the table. She said, “I just saw Mary and Joseph. They were coming through the crowd.” I said, “Mama, how do you know it was Mary and Joseph?” She replied, “I just know.”