It Was During WW II

I remember walking nine blocks home to check the mail and then nine blocks back. Looking for a letter from Forrest and unwilling to wait until classes were over.  Rain, snow, sunshine.  No matter the weather.  I wrote to him almost every day and lived for his replies, which didn’t come nearly that often.  Mail came twice a day back then and postage was five cents,  a penny for a postcard.

I walked down Benton, turned right on Central, past the library, the courthouse, Hamby’s restaurant where the aroma of fresh baked homemade rolls and fruit pies kept diners coming, turned right, past wooden houses with blue and yellow stars in the windows indicating family members who were serving the country or who had died in the service of the country, turned left at Main, past  St. Joseph Catholic Church on the corner of Main and Scott, past the school, more frame houses with stars and a church on the corner of Main and Scott, then my home. second house from the corner–609 West Scott.

I was seventeen and a freshman at Drury College   Forrest was my boy friend of five months who later became my husband.

The war ended while Forrest was on a boat being deployed to England.  By then, I had left Drury and entered nursing school at St. John’s Hospital.  I turned down a plebe Christmas –a week at West Point– with someone I’d met at Drury, Jack Wagner, to be there when Forrest returned from the service.  My grandmother had paid for a mouton lamb coat for the occasion and I was set to leave when I learned Forrest would be home.

After three years, we married and had four sons.

Forrest and three of our sons, Scott, John and Ken have died–Scott and Ken of suicide and John of colon cancer.  Forrest died of kidney failure.

Chris and I remain.


A Crack in the Heart

For some time now, Jenny has been on the decline.  She refuses her food more often and sometimes throws up.  She sleeps longer and deeper.  She is losing her sight and her hearing.  She gets diarrhea and has nocturnal accidents.  When she’s awake, she barks at everyone and everything invading her space.  Lately, she’s been limping.

Worried that her pancreatitis and kidney failure are worsening, I called Dr. Black who made a house call. She found that Jenny now weighs only 8.9 lbs (a loss of over a pound since her last visit}.  And her kidney blood levels are rising.

Remembering losses of other furry companions, and wanting time to prepare myself, I asked Dr. Black if Jenny was nearing the end of her illnesses.  I was stunned to learn that I probably have only about six more months to enjoy her company.

Funny, how the revelation I will soon lose my best friend changes my experience of her.  Now I live in the moment, holding her, stroking her, enjoying our closeness

Tonight, as the long day fades into night, I watch TV from my bed as Jenny lays her head on my lap and sleeps.  I gently stroke her back, letting her warmth soak into the mattress and my heart..

Living Together

Chris has a bedroom, music room and bath.  I have a bedroom and bath.  We both watch  TV in our bedrooms.  We share the rest of the house, but mostly, by choice, stay in our respective rooms with our dogs.  Once in awhile, we and our dogs sit in the living room or the sun room for a visit.

He has a job.  I do chores at home.    Monday mornings the housekeeper comes.  Tuesdays Helen does my hair at my home.  Once a week I order groceries to be delivered.  Chris and I talk briefly in the mornings before he leaves for work and late afternoons after he returns.

Our menus differ and we eat at different times.  We each fix our own meals.  On weekends he buys a lot of vegetables and I roast them during the week.  This is mostly the only food we share.  We both love vegetables.

He plays the harmonica and the guitar.  Sometimes watches a movie on TV.  I watch TV, mostly old sitcoms, Turner classic movies or the MSNBC news.  Sometimes I read.  Or write. Or watch the birds.

This way of life suits us.  We find it comfortable and relaxed.

The Day After She Left

I roll my wheelchair through the rooms of the house, Jenny in step behind me.

In the living-room, the empty couch where she slept.  Around the fireplace, a string of lights she installed one Christmas.

Through the sun room window, the hummingbird feeder she planted and filled waits for a visitor.

In the kitchen, I open the refrigerator door and look for something for breakfast.  Past the potato salad, lasagna, and cucumber salad she made, I reach for the peanut butter, placing it and the last banana on a tray.  I make a cup of green tea, then take my breakfast back to the bedroom.

I settle in bed, adjusting the tray across my lap.  Jenny sits beside me.  Cleo, the cat, lies at my feet.  Watchful of my every move, both wait for a morsel they believe is their due.  The flowers she gave me arranged in a vase on the off-white French bureau add an uplifting feel to the room.

Outside, a cardinal eats seeds from the window feeder she sent last winter.  Now a squirrel arrives,  frightening the cardinal away.  Cleo runs to the window and furiously claws at the glass.   The squirrel, unruffled, continues his meal.

After breakfast, I return the tray to the kitchen, rolling through the rooms once more, traces of her in almost every quiet room.



Waiting For Karen

She’ll fly here this afternoon.  She told me days ago that she would visit this week, though she and Wil will drive from Arizona for my birthday in July.   She’ll be a blast of freshness in my ho-hum life.  She said we’ll talk and go through photos and cook.  And whatever I want.  She’ll make smoothies and my favorite roasted tomato soup to put in the freezer for later.

When Karen is here, I do things I thought I’d never do again.  One night, after I’d stopped going outside because my wheelchair made it too difficult, I found myself sitting in a recliner on the deck with her, listening to the sweet songs of cicadas and breathing the warm night air.  It was just good to be there.  With her.  I wanted nothing more.

I’m usually uncomfortable when I need to ask someone to do something for me, but with Karen, it’s different.  I know she genuinely wants to help, even enjoys it.  She makes me feel loved and cared for.   And safe.  She stirs my heart with the big spoon of her love.  She’s my niece, but couldn’t be more attentive if she was my daughter.   She sends me care packages, flowers on special days, brings gifts of things she knows I like.  When she’s here, she looks around for things that need to be done and does them, doesn’t wait to be asked.

I know there’s a special place in Heaven for Karen.  How grateful I am to have her in my life!






Fear and Longing

I was a timid child.  I was afraid of the dark, an angry sky, the boogie man.  I longed for a feeling of safety and of being loved, but I expected rejection.  I learned early on that my fears were an intrusion on other people’s lives.   I couldn’t depend on those closest to me to save me from imagined harm; it was up to me.  And I didn’t feel up to the task But in order to avoid irritation, or ridicule, I kept my feelings to myself.

One of my earliest memories of being afraid was when I was staying with my maternal grandmother.  I was about three years old.  I don’t know why I was there, alone, or why the rest of the family was absent.

I slept with grandmother’s stepdaughter, Nancy, in the front bedroom.   This particular night, Nancy was out on a date.  It was a hot, sultry evening and the window was wide open.  The bed was next to the window.  It was very dark outside and I could see only the silhouette of a large tree.  Grandmother was sitting in a wooden chair across the room.  She said she’d stay there but I knew she was impatient to leave.   I closed my eyes and tried very hard to go to sleep.  Grandmother, thinking I WAS asleep tried to slip out of the room.  I cried, so she came back in and parked herself in the chair again.  I closed my eyes and we went through the same routine several times, until she finally lost her temper and spanked me.  My Great Grandfather, who happened to be sleeping on a cot in the dining room, called to her to bring me to him.  He held me in his arms and told me stories, one about a stork who flew through the sky with me until he found a momey and daddy who wanted me very much, so he left me with them.  I fell asleep in the middle of the story.

I think I knew that my Great Grandfather was an exception.  Back home, with a busy and impatient mother and a distant father, I learned to live with my fears.

As an adult, I still feel incapable of dealing with them, so I have adopted the solution of avoiding what I’m afraid of.  Which, of course, is no solution at all.

What am I afraid of?

Thinking About My Life

In my family, I was the ‘sick’ one.  Spent a lot of time in bed.  At almost 91, I’m still trying to overcome the fear and loneliness of being different.

It doesn’t help that from the moment of my birth I was a disappointment to my parents.  I was the first grandchild and everyone wanted a boy.  My brother, who arrived eleven months later,  got all the attention and admiration from our extended family.  I took it for granted I was definitely inferior and didn’t deserve more than what I got.

It also didn’t help that my mother was only seventeen when I was born.  She quit school and went to work after her father and brother died of pneumonia. She, her mother and her sister had to live with relatives.  She married my dad when she was sixteen and became pregnant shortly afterward.  She missed a great deal of her childhood.  Except for my brother, Buddy, Mother never liked children.  Nor animals.

It didn’t help either that I was never hugged, kissed nor told that I was pretty or good.  Neither Mother nor Dad were demonstrative.  They didn’t play with us or read to us.   Mother was busy having babies and doing housework and Dad was engaged with starting a new construction company with his dad.  Mother noticed me only to punish or criticize.  Dad didn’t seem to notice I was even there  But my parents took good care of us physically and they were not abusive.  Mother attended all the school performances.  She took good care of me when I was sick.  I just accepted that she loved me.

But I didn’t feel completely safe.  I seemed to realize there were areas of my life where my mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t, save me.

This feeling may be explained by something that happened a few short months after my birth.  Mother sent me out of state to live with my maternal grandmother until after the birth of my brother.  Then shortly after his birth, I was sent to live with an aunt while she had major surgery and recovered.  I don’t remember those times, of course, but the experience of being tossed from one stranger (to me) to another, must have done nothing to make me feel secure.  Then when I was settled permanently at home, Mother was busy with my baby brother.

My saving grace was that my maternal grandmother, Bertie May Smith, and Mother’s sister (my aunt), Ching, genuinely cared about me and made me feel special when I was with them.