Lannie Mae Richards for many years had embodied the rock upon which her family stood. Raised in a God-fearing household, she carried those lessons through her life and taught them to her children. She broached no compromise with the laxity she saw in “moderns,” as she called them. Now, for the first time in her life it appeared she would have to let others help her do what in her mind anyone could do with ease.
She’d fallen again, not to the floor, but against a filing cabinet. No one would have noticed except, curse it, she yelped. Stella, the Office Manager, heard her from the other side of the room and called to her.
“Mrs. Richards, you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she’d said, but by then Stella had crossed the room and Lannie Mae couldn’t pretend. Hurt like the dickens. So did her ankle. She wondered idly what she'd managed to do to that.
Stella helped her to sit on a nearby swivel-chair, and turning, said over her shoulder, “I’ll get your son,” and ran out of the room.
“No, no need,” but by then the lady had disappeared toward the president’s office. In thirty seconds, Lance appeared, assessed his mother’s situation and said, “We need to talk.”
All conversing done, today she sat in a wheelchair with a drab brown, careworn shawl around her shoulders; her favorite shawl and she didn’t care who knew it. With her head bowed, she waited for her son Lance to finish registering her for a suite of rooms at Brandywine, an upscale assisted living facility not far from the factory.
Tired in body and spirit, she didn’t want to come here. Nonetheless, she alone made the decision to apply. She gave Lance no voice in her decision. Her oldest son argued and even pleaded, suggested they would keep her at home, but in her mind being out of sight would take pressure off her family; the right thing to do. They would not have to live daily with a fear that at a wrong moment, she would miss a step and perhaps break something serious and permanent.
The wheelchair in which she sat spoke silent volumes about her pronouncement. She’d volunteered for a placement, insisted on it. She’d sprained her ankle, hence the wheelchair. The bruise on her shoulder, black and ugly, meant nothing. Now the facility doctor had her records and silently studied them.
A hairline fracture of the hip, mended, but fragile in the extreme with extensive osteoporosis the doctor mentioned briefly as he reviewed her x-rays convinced her. She asked the doctor when that happened and he looked at her curiously.
“You don’t know when it happened?” he asked.
“Would I ask if I knew?”
“Doctor, I’m in this world eighty-seven years and I forget nothing.”
“That’s astounding.” He didn’t believe her, so he waited.
“Life is filled with pain, doctor. I take it as it comes. Sometimes it hurts. I can think of a dozen times I could have broken something and sometimes I did, but the exact event that caused what you just told me is mixed up with some labor or other and therefore meaningless. I don’t have time to rest on my laurels. Work waits for no man. Doesn’t wait for me, either.”
The doctor looked quizzical, but had nothing more to say so he gazed at Lannie Mae’s son and Lance nodded.
“Well,” the doctor said, “I can do nothing for you, except to caution you about doing too much. I’d like you to remember that your body won’t take the strain you’re determined to give it and if you don’t ease up, it’ll be worse next time. Our Administrator will arrange for all the assistance you require.”
A couple of days before, at home, she had him make the calls that brought her here, she'd told Lance how she felt.
“I’m tired of the looks I’m getting. Stella follows me around like a pup and I know what she’s doing tailing me. You take me to Brandywine now,” she said. “You and your siblings can visit as often as you want or not, Lance. The business is more important than I am.”
“That’s not true, mother.”
“Thank you for that, but you know well enough it’s true. The town will disappear if the mill stops producing. You don’t want that, do you?”
“No, mother,” Lance sighed.
The mill earned millions and it was the family’s fortune - and burden - to have begun operation in the mists of the past and through good stewardship, caring managers and contented workers that it continued.
The brass plaque affixed to a large boulder at the side of the long drive to the facility proclaimed Milltown Textiles - 1740, mutely but proudly. It started on a shoestring like all ventures had back then. Men carved a place out of forested woods. They knocked down trees, moved rocks and blasted when the terrain wouldn’t give up to Man’s design. They built dams and waterwheels and other things with hands that sometimes bled. Their blood washed away in each rain, but their monuments of civilization stood and grew.
The clever and driven worked long hours and paid attention to business and they succeeded. Their survival took many forms two hundred and fifty years ago, but they never compromised the drive to better themselves.
A quarter of the population of Milltown owed its existence to the mill and the rest of the town relied in some measure on the people who produced products everyone needed. Food, clothing and shelter were the basics of life after which all other things followed. Milltown Textiles provided one of the three. Stores sold merchandise that flowed daily from the big warehouse doors and trucks rumbled through the town to distant destinations. Milltown Textiles made life good.
Lance Richards ran the multi-million dollar business, making decisions all day long, but he couldn’t get a thought in edgewise where it concerned his mother. Up to now, she'd been a constant presence that hung over everything. With the gut feeling that his mother’s life and that of everyone she had touched for the past seventy years must now change by her simple act, he completed the paperwork and held a clipboard for her signature.
She looked the documents over carefully, her half glasses low on her nose. Pointing at a place, she asked a question and another, reviewing thoroughly. Finally satisfied, she signed with her unique scrawl. Lance handed the clipboard back to the doctor.
“Mother, the nurse will take you to your rooms. I have to get back to the mill.”
“Of course,” she said, and patted his hand.
Lance kissed her on a proffered cheek. Always in control, he thought. Brandywine, you are all about a new experience with Lannie Mae Richards.
“I’ll check on you tomorrow. That special shipment has to get out and I have some paperwork the shipping supervisor needs on my desk.”
His mother waved at him dismissively. The corner of Lance’s mouth turned up in a quirky grin. Just like her.
As he left the building, he made it a point not to look back, an inbred and now involuntary habit of life. Outside the door, he lost the grin and allowed his brain to be assailed with the multitude of problems command generated. He focused briefly on his mother. Mother knew the score. She knew he could handle it. In fact, Lannie Mae had passed the mantle seconds ago. She’d never say it, but by taking herself out of the loop, she’d ratified his position as de facto president. He now truly ran the company.
At Brandywine, Lannie Mae looked up at her nurse’s aide.
“Show me my rooms, Margaret,” she said. “You play poker?”