Your phone doesn’t ring just goes to voicemail

Losing family can be difficult. Correction: is usually difficult.

I remember exactly where I was on the day before Christmas Day in 1995, when I heard that my father had had a heart attack. My mother and sister did not understand why I had to hang around until the 26th before I could leave Charleston and head to Philadelphia. There were things that had to be taken care of, or employees would not be paid at the end of the week.

It may have sounded cruel to them, but I had to make sure that if I was gone for a while — which I was — I would not be hurting others. Needless to say, I did not get back to Charleston until after the first of January.

I also remember exactly where I was on Valentine’s Day in 2005, when my sister called to say that our mother had just died. The details of that day have been written about elsewhere, so I won’t bother to repeat them other than to say that that day changed the direction of my life significantly.

I was born in 1957. My father was born in 1912 and my mother in 1916. His father was born sometime in the late 1850s. And his grandfather died in the retreat from Brandywine. My mother‘s family is even longer. In her mother’s branch, I am only eight generations from the founding of the Rhode Island colony in the early 1600s. Five of my ancestors are in the same cemetery on a hill in New Jersey, covering a span of exactly 250 years. I was there once, about 50 years ago.

The point of all this is that people usually live a long time in my family. So growing up, all my grandparents, most of whom lived into the 80s or 90s, were already dead. Funerals were not something I was used to attending. I am pretty sure that the only one I ever went to was my father’s.

And although my mother died in 2005, my sister and I talked for years about burying her where she wanted to go, but we never got around to it. Too many federal laws would’ve been broken to coordinate it easily. Unfortunately, her family cemetery is on a wooded hill in the middle of a federal park on land that they stole from our family. But again, another story!

In the spring of 2022 I had a heart attack. It was supposed to kill me, but it didn’t. About that time, my sister started getting ill. But she did not tell me because she thought it would get me upset. Of course we all know it is the exact opposite and I would’ve been less upset if I had known what was going on instead of having to search and call hospitals for literally weeks trying to find her when her phone kept saying that it was out of the service area.

I can say this about the hospitals in the Philadelphia area: they will not even tell you if someone has ever been a patient, but they will be very polite about it. It doesn’t matter how much identifying information you can give, they won’t answer questions. But fortunately one of them accidentally gave me clues, and I eventually found her. Somehow I managed to get in touch with my brother-in-law, who has a habit of changing his cell phone number every year or two, as did my sister.

She was in and out of hospitals all fall. They even had her in the University of Pennsylvania hospital for a while. It was something called EBV-associated A-plastic anemia. I had to look it up. Her body slowly ate itself to death. I don’t know much about blood platelet counts, but I know that they are supposed to be in something like the millions. Her’s got down to one. That is a numeric one, not 1 million. Then zero.

She suffered a long and painful death, possibly more painful for her husband and daughter, who had to watch. I never made it up there to see her. She died on January 11, 2023.

I have many memories of her when we were growing up. Some good, some bad, but many still vivid. We talked a lot on the phone the last few months of her life. We talked about some of her memories as a child and some of mine. Some that she told me I could not possibly have remembered but that I could clearly articulate to her amazement. We probably talked more in the fall of last year than we had across the previous 40 years combined, when she would always call me on my birthday, and I usually, but not always, on hers.

I remember very clearly as a small child, probably either three or four years old, sitting down on the couch, with my sister sitting facing me on some sort of foot rest that was there. Our mother had told her to teach me to read, so she did. Which is why, to this day, I can still read upside down and backwards faster than most people can read forward. Yes, she taught me to read facing me not next to me. An accidental skill that I took advantage of for decades in the business world. Isn’t it amazing how often somebody will just leave a piece of paper on the desk in front of them while they are talking to you, not realizing that you can read every word without them really realizing it? My sister gave me that skill.

The 8th of September would’ve been Margaret Louise [Flood] Mattox’s 68th birthday. I will certainly admit that I was affected, starting a few days before, and lasting more than a week.

I still have the last text message I sent to her on December 20 of last year: Your phone doesn’t ring just goes to voicemail

But I also have a lot of good memories.


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