The best medicine often doesn't require a prescription.
Over the past three months I've had to familiarize myself with a myriad of multisyllabic words plastered on various pill bottles, pouches and vials while trying to assist my mother as the cancer she fought off years ago rears its filthy face for one last battle our family has been forced to accept that it will win.
As I spent last week with her, administering medication four times daily plus discretionary dosages in between, an ice-cold Dr Pepper mixed with peanuts did as much for her well-being as anything she ingested while I was home.
Pleasures come few and far between for Lila Cathey, who grew up in McAdoo, a speck of dust that barely managed not to blow away on the West Texas plains. Death lurks nearer than ever, and she knows it. One night as I sat with her, she told me she wasn't afraid to die.
“I just can't stop thinking about what's going to be on the other side.”
Despite a lifetime committed to faith and service to Christianity, her proximity to death reduces my mother to a little girl speeding through the myriad of wonder of what might be gift-wrapped under a Christmas tree.
Death doesn't scare her, but guessing exactly what lies on the other side has taken her imagination hostage. Television is little more than noise that lights the room after sundown. Phone calls are most often a reminder of how seniors are the primary target of predatory phone solicitors. Those who ring the doorbell are almost certainly delivering a prescription.
Her sense of taste is the only one she trusts for respite. When she eats now, she clings to the flavor. When I got home last week, the first thing she asked me was if I would make “that squash and corn” dish I'd made for her back in the fall. She was talking about calabacitas, which consists of squash, onions and a little corn sauteed in butter. I told her of course, and that I was glad she liked it.
“Taste is the only thing that makes me feel,” she told me through the consternation of words coming to her much harder than normal.
I made her calabacitas until she got sick of it, and surprised her with the treat that was part of every road trip my family ever took, Dr Pepper and peanuts.
When she saw the miniature long-necked bottle brimming with peanuts, she instantly turned giddy. Mom drew long on the ice-cold bottle, did best as she could with faltering teeth on the peanuts, swallowed and sighed the sigh of the satiated. She looked over at me, reality's gloom briefly replaced by a modicum of the sparkle that made her the center of attention of any room she ever entered.
“Idn'that gooood?” she said.
Mom only had one because more than a 6.5-ounce bottle of soda pop would play hell on her carefully monitored blood sugar. But that one peanut-laden beverage sparked long dormant memories. We pulled out photo albums and relived the joy and tragedy each image depicted.
For an afternoon, she stopped wondering what was on the other side and remembered where she'd been. I couldn't have spent a more fruitful New Year's.
Later that night, alone with my own thoughts and fears, I went back to the fridge and found another small bottle of Dr Pepper, popped the top, took a healthy sip and carefully funneled peanuts down the neck. On an unseasonably temperate evening under the central Texas stars, I drank Dr Pepper and peanuts. I texted my son Luke to let him know about a drink he should try. He texted back it didn't sound very good.
I remembered thinking the same thing the first time I saw my mother pour peanuts into a bottle of Dr Pepper. I texted back he'd be surprised how good it was.