It’s somebody’s birthday today…

Jennie Cooper Davis McHugh-"Calm as a hurricane."


My brother Rushton played music at the Flora-Bama Lounge for over twenty years. When I have the time to make this site music ready, I will share with you some of his tunes…they are irreverent, clever, with a catchy tune. ” I get my women at the Waffle House” comes to mind. ” I get them when they walk out the door….they’ve already eaten, paid the tip and are already fried.” So my mother who used to brag about, ” I have never had a headache. Don’t know what one is John!” was preparing to go down to surgery for a giant aneurysm of her brain, I asked did she need anything or did she want to say anything. ‘John, if I get through this, I want to go to the beach with the whole family and be with Rushton.” Man did my mother love Rushton. Rushton was a beautiful person. Never did he ever utter an unkind word to me or my mother, or anybody for that matter. He was a sweet person. So for several years until mother was not well, we’d go to Orange Beach, Ala for a week and while we were there we’d go see Rushton play. All my children and those of the brothers would pile into the lounge for hours and watch his performance.  On numerous occasions he would let my son, who was about9 at the time, sing his favorite song with Rushton playing the back-up. I distinctly remember Sam singing Crackers, “Low,” at age 9 in the Flora-Bama.  It was an odd scene, a bar with motorcycle types, burnt intoxicated vacationers of all ages and persuasion and then us with about 10 of my mother’s grandchildren. Mother liked to drink….so the trips to the Flora-Bama worked out just fine. That was a special time for my mother and our family. 

In time the surgery and mini strokes took their toll and mother at age 76  moved to a nice nursing home facility in LaGrange, Georgia. It was a place next door to the West Georgia Medical Center where I had worked as an orderly when I was in college. I’d go over there from time to time from the hospital to give baths. I was good at giving baths and I gave good ones….very thorough. I’d even shave patients if they asked. Anyway mother had been in the facility for about two years and I decided I’d drop by and get her and go to Orange Beach and visit with Rushton. Mother at this time was about 50% herself. By that I mean I used to call her everyday on the way home from work and would love the conversation, but by this time a meaningful conversation was difficult and I called  less frequently. It really became pointless, she’d forget what we had talked about in the previous sentence. I really wasn’t talking to the mother I had known. I’d test her  acumen from time to time by saying, ” You love Georgia Tech not the Bulldogs don’t you mother?” It would always reassure me  when she would violently object and say, “No, No, heavens No!” This little test, which did often, always made me feel good when she would react and let me  know we were still at 50%. 

My mother had had a mastectomy for breast cancer many years ago, so when my wife’s mother got breast cancer I thought that telling her would make for a good conversation, one she could participate in from the standpoint of a survivor. “Mom, Mrs. Johnson recently found out that she has breast cancer.” Surprisingly my mother became very emotional. I think that comes with the mini-strokes. ” Oh no! Oh my God! I am so sorry. Poor thing. I hope she does okay. This is terrible.”  

“Mom,” I say, ”  She will do alright. You had breast cancer and you did fine.”  

“I had breast cancer? Oh no, yee  gods, not breast cancer. I had it? Oh, oh, oh, no, no…. How did I do? Am I okay?”  

Back to me picking her up at the nursing home to then take her to the beach. My wife and son Sam and a friend all went as well. As we are leaving and I am pushing my mother out in a wheelchair, a nurse stops us to go over the medicine list and how to take everything.  

“This is Mrs. McHugh’s blood pressure pills, you take them two times a day with meals. And this is coumadin…it is a drug that…”  

My mother who seconds before seemed docile in the wheelchair and oblivious to anything, violently looks up at the nurse and says, ” Ye gods women,” staring at her indignantly.” Don’t you know he’s a DOCTA…!” And then off we go.  

At the beach, my mother who was incontinent and wearing diapers was a hand-full. In addition to changing and discarding her diapers and her wanting to drink beer, she incessantly wanted to be outside in the sun. I tried to give her non-alcoholic beer but she wouldn’t have it. “I want the real stuff. Not this near beer junk.” She may have used the S word, in fact she did. She absolutely would not allow sunscreen. “Give me a beer and push me out on the deck, now.”  One time in response to my  concerns about me taking my mother back with a hang-over and sunburned she said, ” John, this is boring. I wish I hadn’t come. I have more fun than this at the nursing home!”  

She got her beer. She also got really bad sunburned. “Mom we really should push you back inside…you are getting red.”  

“I don’t burn!”  

Mom used to not burn. She loved pools, water and being brown. Three years in a nursing home had taken its toll on the skins ability to brown. She had forgotten that.  

When we return to the  nursing home  floor with my mom in the wheelchair and as red as an apple, guess who the nurse was that greeted us? That’s right, the nurse that was scolded for giving directions to a “DOCTA.” I know exactly what she was thinking and in fact I was embarrassed to bring mother  back that way. ” She just wouldn’t come in out of the sun,” I said to no avail. The expression on the nurse’s face said it all, ” Some doctor you are. Can’t even keep your mother from getting sunburned.”  

It’s a funny thing. Prostate cancer was the furthest thing from my mine when the above picture was taken, but the second I found out that I had it….I was so glad my mother was not alive.  I remember thinking about my mother on many occasions during that time and would remind my self that she was dead and that I would not have to call her and be relieved. I debated whether if she was alive, would I tell her and decided that I would not have.  The thought of having to tell her something like that would just kill me. I put in my book that funny emotions take over when you are told you have  cancer. I honestly felt remorse and sadness that I had let my family down, that I was damaged goods somehow.  

The passage under my mother’s picture in her senior year  LaGrange High Grangers annual read …..” Calm as a hurricane.” 

 Boy did they get that one right.  

Happy Birthday mom. You were, indeed, something else. 


2 Replies to “It’s somebody’s birthday today…”

  1. Mothers are special. My mother was a real lady, the best manipulator alive, stubborn and smart. Could put anything across in such a way to completly confuse the issue. She won and got her way most times.
    Here’s to mothers; bless them all.


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