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Daughter shines in her mother's twilight years

TEMPLE TERRACE

Two years ago, Judy Dennis packed up her dining room and put it in storage.

Her mother had suffered a stroke.

Every day since then, three times a day, pureed potatoes and eggs and yogurt and fruits are spooned to Annie Lee Enfinger, who sits propped in the bed where the table had been.

Life unfolds around her. Meals are eaten in sight. News and cooking shows play on the living room television.

"How do I look?" Enfinger asked her daughter last week.

"So pretty, Mama," said Dennis, who is 61. "Those pink polka dots bring out your rosy cheeks."

Dennis cleans her mother and doles out medications and curls her hair and paints her nails. When Dennis goes to work as a sheriff's deputy at the Orient Road Jail, her husband, David, fills in. At night, their son, who lives upstairs, keeps watch from the loft.

Some days, Dennis' sister comes over.

Their mother is never alone.

Enfinger was born in Georgia in 1925.

She married at 15, and about 10 years later moved to Tampa. She kept an immaculate house on Emma Street in Seminole Heights and later in Brandon.

She's just 4 feet, 11 inches tall, but her four children knew better than to sass her.

"You didn't mess with Mama," said Joann Buie, 64. "She was tough, but she had a heart."

Besides raising a quartet of children, Enfinger helped with eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

She dressed her two daughters like twins, in polka dot dresses. She never left the house without makeup on and her auburn hair done up. For a time, she worked the cash register at Eckerd drugstore.

She was a master at corn bread, using cornmeal and peanut oil from Alabama. She starched and ironed their clothes, even the sheets. She nursed them when sick and made them her life.

When her daughters married and started their own families, Enfinger became a shopping partner, especially for shoes and pocketbooks. As a mother herself, Dennis came to appreciate her mother even more.

"I did not realize how much work my mother did," Dennis said.

After the stroke, Enfinger went under the care of Lifepath Hospice.

She has stayed in the program, with extensions, because her health continues to slowly deteriorate. She has dementia and can only move one arm and sometimes acts like a toddler.

When David Dennis comes home, he sometimes asks her how her day was and she tells him she was up doing laps around the pool. He laughs.

She's holding on.

"I've been sick a long time," Enfinger said. She fiddles with a necklace of three diamonds, a gift from her husband, as well as his wedding ring on another chain. He died almost a decade ago. They were married for 65 years.

The daughters packed up all Enfinger's things and put them in storage. Their mother likes knowing her things are safe.

"You never know when you might move, right, Mama?" Dennis said.

Taking care of her mother is a labor of love, she said. And it's nothing more than her mother did for her.

"It's a big job," she said. "You can't just trust it to anyone."

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

Daughter shines in her mother's twilight years 05/11/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 3:33pm]
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[The New York Times file photo]