A picture is worth 1,000 words [or in this case, 567]

There’s a lot to see in this image. 

It’s been a minute since I’ve studied the nuances represented in the steel of my mother’s countenance. 

A bit of background is necessary. At 26, my mother, Phyllis Kyser Kratochvill, developed a tumor on her cerebellum. After brain surgery in the spring of 1970, she was left paralyzed.

This September 1971 image, taken during a physical therapy session, illustrates resolve and a bit of hope and optimism that she would somehow regain her life. 

That didn’t happen, or at least she didn’t return to what life was like before the diagnosis. 

My sister and I were 2 and 5, respectively, and my father was 30 – a young family devastated by an insidious growth. While the tumor was deemed benign by doctors, it was malignant in its impact on our lives. 

After a period of intense rehabilitation that delivered some return of function of her upper body, my mother settled into Woodley Manor Nursing Home in Montgomery, Alabama. 

It was there she established a community. Her aides, June, Kitty and Maxine, come to mind. Mr. Brown, a special friend and a collection of elderly roommates whose lives intersected with hers for a short period. I wonder just how many people she shared space with over the three decades she lived there. It became a bit of a macabre joke when she would report that another one passed. She lived on the room’s window side and was considered a more ‘permanent’ resident. 

Anyone who visited saw what was important to her in the tiny square footage that marked her territory. 

Photos of sunrises and sunsets peppered the wall above the hospital-type bed. Mother loved these gifts from friends whose travels took them around the world and sometimes just to her beloved Mobile Bay.

Photos of my sister and me, a rotating gallery of school pictures, then pictures of grandchildren, five in number, crowded the top of the dresser. 

A small Land’s End tote with her initials held her Bible, hand lotion, and a few extra bendy straws hung on the bedpost. Within easy reach early in the morning, her habit was to turn to the gospel to start the day. 

An electric typewriter, later replaced by a Dell computer for ease of correspondence, occupied a prominent spot on her desk. She planned high school class reunions and corresponded with friends and family from that computer and an AOL email address. After she died, we learned of a pen pal from England. 

An electric wheelchair took up a large portion of the area beside her bed. In later years, it was her chariot; it took a long time to get the electric version for her. 

Her braces with sensible brown shoes attached stood sentinel at the edge of the bed, ready for Maxine or another aide to put on in the morning. After 30 years, her legs and feet atrophied. The braces helped keep this at bay. 

These artifacts from her life populate my memories. I have the Land’s End tote and recently turned to her Bible for another look at what passages were marked and what keepsakes she placed between pages. 

Searching for clues to my mother’s thoughts, I am ever curious about what motivated her to move forward. As I have matured and raised my family, awareness of her sacrifices grows exponentially. 

As does my commitment to sharing her story. 


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