Monday, December 29, 2014

She Did it Her Way

Sunday Gazette-Mail, December 28, 2014

More than this, she did it her way

By Peggy Toney Horton

Special to the Sunday Gazette-Mail  

 My mother smoked cigarettes.
She started experimenting when she was about ten years old and was still pursuing the habit when she died at 85.
 Like many elderly people, the older she got, the more crotchety she became. Sometimes it was amusing.
 After her health began to fail, I, her only child, had to take her for every doctor appointment. I once took her to her ophthalmologist for an exam. She had terrible eyesight; already having dealt with cataract surgery in both eyes and still struggling with poor vision due to age-related macular degeneration.
     The doctor became a little short of patience with her when he asked, “Have you quit smoking?” and she replied, “No, I haven’t.”

     His speech went something like this: “I’ve told you over and over again, Mrs. Toney, you may be able to slow the progression of your macular degeneration if you stop smoking, but if you continue, you’re going to be blind!”
     Trying to look innocent, she said, “I think they gave me some pills the last time I was in the hospital that made it worse.”
     “Oh no, they didn’t!” the doctor shouted emphatically.
     “It’s your smoking. You didn’t listen to me and now, there is nothing more I can do for you!”
     With that, he turned and stomped out of the room, leaving us both with gaping mouths. I felt sorry for her and wanted to run after him and tell him he shouldn’t talk to an elderly lady like that, especially my mother!
     But part of me knew he was right. She needed someone to bring her to her senses so she’d dismount the self-destructive merry-go-round she was on.
     She cried pitifully all the way home in the car.
     She said, “If I told a doctor my big toe was hurting, he’d say it’s because I smoke. They blame everything on smoking!”
     I stifled a giggle.
It must have seemed so to her. Every doctor wanted her to stop, but she refused.
    When we reached her house, I helped her out of the car and into the house. She flung her coat off and plopped down in her favorite chair. Pulling a tissue out of the box on the table, she dried her tears and quickly lit a cigarette.
 What can I say? This woman who raised me from a baby had never done anything she didn’t want to do and she wasn’t about to start now.
 She was never health-conscious, as people are today. She ate what she wanted. Drank what she wanted. And never bothered to exercise except for the work she did. That was plenty.
 I’ve seen her work like a man and get mad at my father because he didn’t do as much as she thought he should, even after he’d had a heart attack.
 But working served her well until she was past eighty. It was only then her health began to fail and she had a heart attack.
 She fought it all the way, refusing to obey doctor’s orders. She was sure she knew best. Perhaps she did.
 Just before she died, she was on the verge of a second heart attack and needing another stent, but, according to doctors, she was too weak for the operation.
    She had a broken hip, a broken vertebra, COPD, which is a serious lung disease; she was deaf and legally blind. On top of all that, she contracted pneumonia, and it was over.
 If ever there was a woman who lived life to suit herself, it was my mother. She did it “her way” throughout her life.
 And why not? She lived to be 85 years of age without giving up anything she enjoyed.
 As I think of her tonight, I can’t help but wonder how many years she would have lived if she had made even the slightest effort to take care of herself?
 I wish she had.

Peggy Toney Horton lives in Nitro and is a frequent contributor to the Sunday Gazette-Mail “Write Your Own Column.” She can be contacted via email at

This story was also published in "Bewildering Stories" in 2012.


Helen Hendricks said...

A touching story Peggy. My mother was stubborn too. I have an idea what you went through.
But we love and miss them when they're gone just the same don't we?

Denise J. said...

Beautiful and funny; I love this story Peggy.

Dennis said...

Obviously, a heartfelt account of your time with your mother. Beautiful!

Susan said...

Beautifully written Peggy. I love it!

Drema said...

Our mothers were alike in many ways, mom didn't smoke, but she did what she wanted to do even if it meant she may hurt herself, very independent ladies. They taught us that hard work didn't hurt you and to make your own way.

Peggy~ said...

They sure did Drema! I loved my mother, yet, in the "growing up" years, I sometimes thought I hated her. But I wouldn't trade the values she gave me for anything!

injaynesworld said...

85 is damn impressive. And all on her terms. I would have liked her.
My mother died of cancer when she was only 54. I was 23. You're very fortunate. Very nicely written piece.

Peggy~ said...

Thanks, Jayne! It must have been difficult losing your mother at only 23. I suppose I was fortunate to have kept mine so long. And, yes, I'm sure you would have liked her. She was an unapologetic liberal, too!