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Susana was born in 12/25/1912
She died at the age of 82 4/18/1995

Susana told Chip and me that she was our Other Mother. We laughed. But it seemed to me Susana needed mothering more than we did. Almost blind with one eye crossed, difficult to understand from her years-long deafness, and with a bad back and heart, I wondered how she could mother anyone.

I found out. It wouldn't do for us to always have her over for dinner; she had to invite us to her tiny immaculate apartment, where we squeezed in chairs around the kitchen table. And, since I had lasagna (something Susana had never tasted before), she served us the same dish -- with her own special twist.

"Susana, how did you do this?" I asked her, amazed. I knew she couldn't read a recipe.

"I just noticed what was in it, Johnny," Susana replied. "Then I made up my own." Just like that.

But an easy person? No. Susana demanded attention. She would come up to me at church, and whether I was talking to someone else didn't matter. "Johnny, listen to me," she would demand. And her shiny face would scowl until I did.

I never knew anyone to work as hard at communication. Most people, faced with Susana's difficulties, would have given up. Not Susana. She almost forced people to give her the help she needed; she counted on God to supply her needs -- using other people, of course. The funny thing is, I didn't know of anyone who resented her for this direct approach. People might shake their heads or smile, but when Susana told them to do something, they did it. She would go see the mayor, call the Governor, and write the President.

I suppose communication had been difficult for her for so many years she had learned not to waste words, or to say one thing and mean another. I never knew anyone with less guile or more faith in God.

I remember how angry Susana was when we didn't come get her for church one Wednesday night. "But Johnny," she said, "I called you and told you to come!"

"Susana, we weren't home, so we didn't hear you," I explained. This was before the days of answering machines. Then an engineer hooked up her phone to a light so she could tell when someone answered. Now we were truly without excuse!

After we lost our first baby, our doctor told us our odds for something going wrong genetically were three times higher than before. So after I became pregnant again, the nightmares started. They would end with me waking up crying and shaking; in my dreams, I'd lost our baby again.

When Susana saw me on Sunday she said, "Johnny, you look terrible." No mincing words for Susana.

"I've been having bad dreams, Susana," I told her, "about losing this baby."

"Johnny, don't you know the Lord won't let that happen again?" she asked, her visage clouded in anger.

"But the doctor said -" I began.

Susana snorted. "The doctor don't know. This baby will be good. I prayed about it," she told me with finality. And my faith hitchhiked on Susana's. The nightmares stopped. Six months later, Bryan was born.

Susana's on my mind because of the letter I just got from her. Her vision is going completely. The letters I send her every two weeks in expanded, double bold, double wide print she is able to read no longer. The letters she writes me in her large, ungainly script will soon stop. A church friend is working on getting the people from the Helen Keller Institute to teach her sign language that can be spelled into her hand.

Once before, when Susana was almost blind, she asked me to pray she would die first. So I know she's down. But not out; Susana's still trying to get the help she needs. "Dear Johnny, All my checks is cut off and I do not know what will happen to me. I am still very sick and weak - can't see anything much. I am so weak - I do not know what will happen to me. See about me please. Love, Susana."

Susana has no family to look after her; so I'll be making phone calls to Connecticut to see what can be done for my Other Mother. And I hope it doesn't affect your attitude to know that Susana is African American. If you plan to be in heaven, it shouldn't. Because if anyone else in the world makes it, Susana will be there - guaranteed. Her face shining in love, her voice and hearing and sight restored, her heart as healthy as it is big, she will be hanging onto the Archangel. "Michael," she will say, "Listen to me. I want to talk to you."

The story continues at Susana 2.