Her dusty-brown, just short of decrepit double-wide trailer hangs on the side a mountain in a place disingenuously called Brand’s Flats with a hundred or so others. The land is too steep to be of much use so the landlord hacked out notches big enough to hold a home and another trailer park was born. It’s not the location most people would make as their first pick of places to live, but to her it’s home. She often says the only time she’ll ever live anywhere else is when she is too senile to know any better.
Carol’s trailer is the only double-wide, but at 22 is older than most of the others in the neighborhood. Ants often make themselves at home as there are too many holes, small and large, to keep them out. Chemical sprays only slow the inexorable insect tide. Birds roost in the eaves where the boards have either rotted or fallen off.
Carol does not drive, relying on family as a lifeline. Most days are spent with books, or crossword puzzles or crime shows. The Internet is an unexplored mystery and likely to remain so. Most nights she falls asleep on the couch embraced in the television’s soft glow.
Last month her electric bill was $490 while her monthly income is only $700. Nonetheless, the last time I saw her she insisted on making meatloaf and potato salad. Like most Southern women (and perhaps all) she takes great pleasure in nourishing all that grace her doorway.
Carol, at 67, has already survived uterine cancer and she just recently suffered a very nearly fatal blood infection. The good news is the hospital stay scared her enough to quit smoking after more than 40 years, the bad news is she will be on oxygen from now on.
She has also survived a violently abusive, alcoholic father and two abusive, alcoholic husbands. Alcoholism is so commonplace it was expected of her children, and they more than lived up to the expectation. It has been said that her family tree is not a tree, it is a vine. She has wrestled with the demon herself. So far she’s got him pinned.
Despite the poverty, the poor health, the ghosts of abuse and loss that haunt her memory Carol is helping to raise her great-grandchildren. They are the children of her oldest grandson who is in prison, again. The three boys, the youngest is actually no kin but the son of their mother by another man, love her with the abandon and fervor of the young. To them she is love, she is protection, she is Grandma.
To me she is Mom.