CHRISTMAS LETTER – 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

In order to keep you entertained, we are resuming our annual holiday newsletter.  There are exciting things happening with the Schmalshofs in GA.  Following the sale of our house and retirement to the lovely land of campfires and cheap living, we traded our years-long, tangle-fraught relationship with DirecTV in favor of no-commercials, instant-choice Neflix [cheap also].

We became obsessed with medicine before we realized what had come over us.  We started innocently with Nurse Jackie.  Following 60 plus episodes we were no longer innocent, in every way.  Wow, those TV medical professionals have a lot of on-the-job leisure to “engage”, so to speak.  Next we took a sampling of British medicine with Doc Marten.  His bedside manner really appealed to Deb. She is not your first choice, or second or third, for sympathetic medical attention.  Following an ambitious run with Grey’s Anatomy, then Private Practice and Royal Pains, we realized we had actually earned an Associates Degree in Medicine virtually by osmosis.

We were delighted at all we felt qualified to offer any time an emergency occurred.  You can imagine how relieved the paramedics, called for John, became when we gave symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for the drive to the local ER.  If you had seen their faces, you would have really enjoyed their enthusiasm.

As we immersed ourselves in Royal Pains, we came to realize that all those expensive hospital machines were as portable as a power tool but quite a bit more expensive.  It was a light bulb moment for us when we decided to DIY the ones we deemed most useful.  I mean we ARE project people.  Why not build our own mobile units?  No need for manuals or training, we can just adjust as we build, trial and error.  [trial and error – MAGIC WORDS].

Our defibrillator is fantastic [and they use them so often on all those medical shows], one of John’s new favorite tools.  Deb wasn’t as enthusiastic during the trial phase, sort of on and off, so to speak.  She’s more enthusiastic now……well, more alert.  The design is quite simple for any DIYer.  You need a 12V car battery [Any brand is fine. John adds that for kids, you probably should use a lawn mower battery – size is important], jumper cables modified with metal kitchen spatulas [the BBQ kind are great, again find smaller versions for the kid size unit], in place of the alligator clips, an adjustable volt meter wired between the jumpers and the battery and a tester.  Deb recommends an inanimate object if at all possible.  Once you have it adjusted, it works great.  I mean it really makes the patient jump up and take notice.  We can ‘save’ several people at a time if we lash their wrists together ‘in series’.

We are currently [don’t you just love puns!] working on a portable Xray machine.  It is not fine-tuned, but close.  John used some microwave components, an oscillator from one of his golf club greens fans, a couple of small hydraulic cylinders and just for visual effect [no help to the patient, but they are a bit dazzled] a portable strobe unit.

We have resourced a large animal vet sling to modify for our mobile CAT scan.  We are searching for a used global altimeter/boat propeller/gyroscopic potentiometer John can incorporate onto a ramp style open trailer for portability.  We thought of using an enclosed trailer, but realized right away that the radiation wouldn’t be able to escape, so an open trailer was the answer.  Just need to think these things through and we are great at that.

We had Joan and Robert [cousins on the Schmalshof side] visit this summer on their way to Florida.  Knowing they were coming, we were excited to try a couple of our DIY devices on them – just for demo purposes.  Surprise, surprise, Joan explained that they were the ‘perfect picture of health’.  Most people have an ache or pain somewhere, but she was right.  We took them out for Thai food and to get ‘ions’ off some huge waterfalls while driving the most curvy mountain roads and they didn’t even get a tummy grumble.  Sadly we didn’t get to show off our projects.

We are going to finish the mobile CAT scan and take on a couple more things.  If you are traveling and feeling poorly [or want to], please stop by.  We will be ready and waiting.  We are DIY specialists and cannot take insurance. Cash or personal check is fine.

Merry Christmas,

Lots of Humor and Love……Lots of Love,  Deb n John

WARNING ! – Nothing Subtle Ahead!

[Preface: Living away from the home and family crowd has it’s share of missing out on a lot of things. It has it’s perks too. I’m a pretty happy person and I spend time wondering about the lives of people in my circle. Are they also happy? No worries? Are there big life events like new twin babies this week? Are they excited, successful, even missing me?  How do I connect? Well I read FB and message some.  I mail pillowcases or small gifts that make me think of them. I wonder if something I know will help them with something they are struggling about. Should I say or not? How will they know I think of them, if I don’t say.  I was brought up short this week by a pronouncement that apparently “I think I know everything and always have”. At almost 70, I know a little about a lot, but not everything about anything. I know how to be helpful and KIND and honest and truthful. I also know that saying you’ll do something is a far cry from doing it. I know that I was raised with “you’re in charge” and “work everyday [there was a list]” and I often wish someone had offered some advice or a good book, that might have saved me grief.  Advice offered is not advice taken. But it might be ” thinking of you” advice. I’d rather someone thought I cared enough to spend some time on them as opposed to never giving a rat’s ass [as Carrie would say].

Oh, and I learned that BE KIND is way more “crap” than caring!]

 

So……

“In  a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

“You never know what people are going through. Just remember to be kind.”

“Be thoughtful, be genuine, be thankful, be kind”

“Life is difficult for everyone…just be kind”

 

BE KIND ….  is code word for  “Say ONLY what I want to hear!”

BE KIND – I’m having a bad day, so pat me on my back and whisper platitudes of adoration. [ You spent time thinking of me and wondering about me? And you think that counts? Wake up!]

BE KIND – Encourage my bad behavior with abundant and gushing pride in me. [ You don’t think I’m great when I can’t tell the truth or keep my word, so what!]

BE KIND – Shower my inexperience and stumbling with praise so i can ignore any outside help or concern. [Better yet, who are you to help me?]

BE KIND – because being kind is a one way street and I will mow you over if I don’t think you are “kind” or “kind enough”!

BE KIND is plastered on Facebook. I see it on billboards, shop signs and marquees. “Be kind, you never know what someone is going through.” It’s a plea. It’s a reminder. It’s a request. It’s actually a WARNING! BE KIND or else!

It pretty much means, coddle me, stroke my ego, pamper me with praise and comfort, don’t say anything that might offend me today or yesterday or tomorrow …. or else!  Be Kind doesn’t mean “that’s what I can do for you”, it means “that IS WHAT you can do for me!”

On the Phone:  I’m not interested in you as a customer. I’m not interested in your service need. I’m not interested in even returning your call and I am not interested when you are upset with my lack of concern – BE KIND!

On Facebook:  I’m having a rough week, life is cruel, I’m not going to even post the details, but believe me, I need help and prayers. You just need to hear me whine cause life is sooooo hard and no one understands what i can’t talk endlessly about – BE KIND!

In Business:  I’m a professional but i expect exceptions for anything that goes wrong. I know exactly how things work on my terms. As a customer, you have no idea how hard this is. I’ll get it right when i get it right and DO NOT offer help or concern – BE KIND!

In Families:  Sure we’re related, bottom line, but that is all. I can lie to you about anything AND everything and you don’t get to call me out. I make no apology for my insincerity. I can hurt you, exaggerate, dismiss and shit all over you and you ….. you can just BE KIND!

See a pattern here? I do!

BE KIND, the latest catch phrase, means YOU BE KIND and I’ll dictate the terms and parameters and if you get it wrong, I certainly won’t remember the term “KIND”.

BE KIND….my ass!

 

MY FAVORITE SEASON IS FALL – IN ILLINOIS

What I miss most about “home in Illinois” is Fall.

It is marked by the turn of the crops and the maple trees flashing their riot of color. Fall means farm equipment moving about in preparation for harvest. Fall is long sleeve mornings that turn to t-shirt afternoons.  Wagons and combines move from field to field. Lights glimmer in the fields, late into the night, as the harvest pace holds steady. Farm wives hold supper or carry it to the field.  Farmers no longer tarry at the café for lunch. Parts lines are long and sometimes short-fused. Hurry is in the air and you can smell fall as the crops being to fill the wagons. Drivers wave as they sit in the elevator lines. Fall means happiness when things are dry and breezy and nerves when the rain is endless or the wind is mighty.

Fall in Illinois is piles of leaves of every crayon color. Fall is mounds of snap, crackle and pop, raked and raked and raked to be scattered by kids and winds, in a burst of delight, during cool weekend afternoons. Fall is sitting on the steps or rocking on the porch in the early evenings.

Fall starts when the high school band spends practice hours outside before or after school. Fall is homecoming and festivals, parades and hot dogs and marshmallows and pumpkins and bales of straw and roasting sticks. Fall is the last few tomatoes, crisp red apples and piping hot chocolate. Fall is football and bundling up to watch the game.

Fall is all I love about home and my heart is there come harvest season.

The last two mornings in Georgia have been cooler – it’s a sign to start missing my Illinois Fall days

 

OUR FRIENDS, MARCIAL & MARIA

This is a hard story to tell. There are so many bits and pieces that are essential to understanding how things came to be. The bits and pieces are pertinent to the understanding, in our house, of the current immigration crisis.  I’m not sure where to start and all my facts came to me in no particular order.

Before we moved to Georgia in 2004, we lived in central Illinois among farm fields of corn, soybeans, winter wheat and alfalfa hay.  We weren’t particularly living in a diverse culture, but we were and still are, thoughtful and compassionate people.

When we settled in Georgia and John found his dream job as equipment manager for a private golf club, his workers were a blend of American and Mexicano, mostly Mexicano.  Most spoke little English and John spoke nothing but “Midwestern farm boy”.  His personality and non-judgmental ways melded both nationalities into a working team.  They liked him and he liked most of them. Like people everywhere, a few bad apples get sorted from the crop of genuine keepers. As he worked daily with them, their stories emerged; how they came to the USA, how they got to his golf course, who was left behind, a tapestry of illegal life with, for them, American abundance.

I met them and his favorites became my favorites.  It’s hard to admit, but early on they were all one. Since I didn’t work with them and saw them only periodically, they seemed to pretty much look the same. They wore the same work clothes, had the same swarthy dark tan, mostly black hair and of course, they sounded the same, either speaking Spanish dialects or attempted English.

Some facts:  Most of them weren’t interested in speaking English fluently; they learned enough to get by or used a buddy who was better at English as their personal interpreter.  We have never met a single illegal who wanted to become a US citizen and become American.   They simply wanted to earn their pay to send home for family or their future when they could return home.  If they do want to stay in America, it’s because they have a child born here that they wouldn’t want to leave behind. They don’t mind that their child is American, but it doesn’t entice them to become American for themselves.

Most have family in Mexico – wives, children and / or parents, family they haven’t seen in years.  The phone is their lifeline home along with their wire transfers on paydays.

Their underground system in the US allows them to buy vehicles, secure license plates and produce documents when necessary.  If they are stopped by the police for a traffic violation, fines are high at $750 for a minor infraction.  They have a network of connections to pool cash, pay up and be released.  One of our acquaintances was sentenced to community service hours. So as not to lose his job, he hired a friend to work his service hours.  Either our police knew and didn’t care or they weren’t efficient, to say the least.

One of our friends told about his first impression of the United States. He thought all our trees had died and that it was a very desolate country compared to his home in Mexico – he had arrived in winter.

His brother came a few years later with a 15 year old girlfriend. This brother wasn’t the hard worker of the two. When his girlfriend became pregnant, he shipped her off to her mother in Pennsylvania [how that came to be, I have no idea].  After the baby was born and a few months old, she returned to him in our area and we met his ‘family’.  The father was most impressed that ‘all babies in America are given a Snap card with money deposited every month”.  We explained, probably to deaf ears, that most babies in America are taken care of monetarily by their Mothers/Fathers, NOT by the government.  [How many people in Mexico believe by word of mouth, that America pays for all new babies – milk n honey – tell the world?]

John sold one of his co-workers a 1994 Chevy pickup. John had taken great care of the truck, it had high miles, but several years later this amigo got his truck and himself back home to Mexico to stay. He is still driving the same truck today.

To say that our immigration system is broken is so understated – fact is we have a broken government system and the hope for repair is beyond expectations.

The gentleman who bought the truck had a wife and family in Mexico. One of his children followed in his father’s path, paying a coyote to get into the states…..at 15 years old.  [We don’t have a dozen 15 year old males anywhere that I can fathom who could traverse thousands of miles alone – I am amazed at their courage]

Somehow this boy made his way to South Dakota [what a dramatic change from Mexico]. In South Dakota, he was picked up by the police as an illegal…..but somehow [remember we are talking government here] they learned his father was in Georgia and so they sent him by bus to his father. [I find this so governmental – illegal means illegal, probably son AND father. On a bus….like they expect him to just STAY on the bus for the duration? When they could have sent him home? Question after question?]  How was he picked up in South Dakota? He was sitting in a parked car, in a driveway, at his girlfriend’s house, trying to fix the car radio?  And this warranted an arrest?  Who knows!

Anyway this boy arrived in Georgia and went to work at John’s golf course. He went to night school to learn English. He worked hard and he and John [the Mechanico] become good friends.  He learned a lot from John and we learned from him.  His Father returned [with his truck] to Mexico and Marcial stayed here and along came his cousin, Alonzo, to work at the club also.  His girlfriend, Maria from South Dakota, moved to Georgia too.

Illegals have a great comrade system, pooling resources to conserve money and look out for each other.  Marcial, Maria, and Alonzo shared a small apartment. She worked, the boys both worked and probably like clockwork, they all called home each week to stay in touch with loved ones.

When John’s golf club was in the throes of being sold, he took on another private club looking for his talents and he, in turn, took Marcial and Alonzo along to work at this next golf course.  We are sort of always looking out for them all; John, as the father figure, working with them every day. He diagnoses truck troubles with them and offers advice and teaching moments.

Marcial and Alonzo had plans to return to Mexico at some point, but only just plans. One evening in 2012 a torrential rain came as everyone was driving home from work. The boys, who rode to work together, in Marcial’s truck [which was in Maria’s name – she being a US citizen] lost control on a mountain curve and ditched the truck. Someone stopped to check on them and routinely called 911.  When the police arrived the boys identified the driver as Alonzo [NOT] and he was promptly ICED away.  Alonzo wasn’t on the police radar up to this point, as Marcial was when they sent him to Georgia.

ICE planned for Alonzo to be returned to Mexico within days. No opportunity to collect his belongings, no chance to say goodbye – just gone. He could have visitors while in ICE detention, but probably better not be another illegal seeing him off!

This put Marcial and Maria in a bind immediately as they couldn’t afford their rent on two incomes.  Marcial came to John with his dilemma. John came to me and we agreed they should come and stay with us. We had spare rooms, extra bath and Marcial could ride to work with John, keeping him off the roads with no license.

We certainly enjoyed having them.  Maria hardly ever spoke except to answer any question we put to her. We invited them to join us for meals and they did, rarely! They had a private bedroom and bath, use of the kitchen and laundry – it was like having kids again and we loved having them. They came and went in their free time, and we were happy to know they were safe and looked after.  We also knew that Marcial really belonged back home with his family and we encouraged his plans to return.

I don’t think Maria ever planned to go with him. We didn’t ask. It was a private thing for them to determine. They were a sweet young couple, devoted to each other, making monumental life decisions. What could we possibly know to offer advice to youngsters who had defied huge obstacles and faced the same again?

As months evolved, Marcial set a date in November to reach Laredo, TX.  Their network of information allowed him to know where, when and who in Laredo to secure the documentation required to pass across the border to Mexico. He just had to get there. Maria’s mother was coming from South Dakota to take her back home. That left Marcial with the task of getting his [her] truck to Laredo without getting stopped by police for any reason. Another local amigo had signed on to travel with Marcial back to Mexico. Driving the truck to Laredo was going to be dicey. Should they be stopped for any infraction, there would be two Mexicanos with no official id in a truck licensed to a girl in S. Dakota…..not good, not good, not good.

John decided the best plan was to drive them himself. He had Maria sign and notarize a note authorizing John to use her truck. He would drive the boys to Laredo and fly back to Georgia. It was a working plan to safeguard them as best we could.

The morning arrived when Maria’s Mom drove in to pick her up. Our hearts were seized with the enormity of their loss, their irrevocable plan of parting as it played without any cover of privacy. We could only watch and sob and hurt for them as the break was wrenched from their hearts. [I cry again just remembering]. I so wanted her to go with him and I so knew she belonged where she was heading. Such a grievous weight for all our hearts to endure.

After packing and repacking the truck a number of times, all of Marcial’s American life was secured and the travelers left under the care of Marcial’s Mechanico for their last trek in America. He had been gone from home 15 years. I cried for his leaving and cried for his Mother’s reunion – pain and joy of immense proportions.

John arrived at the Laredo airport around 6AM making Georgia late afternoon. As it turned out, it took the boys longer than that to cross the border even with all their ‘official’ paperwork. They had to empty the truck entirely for inspection and the red tape to pass back was daunting.  The hardest part was Marcial’s unfamiliarity with the Mexican side of things after 15 years in America – the driving, the signage, trusting the right authorities, recalling the dialects etc. etc. They had some questionable obstacles before arriving home safely.

As it turned out, he was probably adjusting for a good year or more to his native life. Maria must have suffered the same anguish for months and months herself. Was he safe? How was he fairing? Did his heart hurt like hers? Phone calls were probably reassuring and heart rending.

We see their lives have recovered and progressed. We see  photos on FB and we instant message from time to time. Each has family. Each has married and welcomed babies. We know they both have a secure place in their hearts for each other.

Each is missed dearly in Georgia every day. We were so blessed to be part of their life journey. We will love them always.

 

FOR AUNT LOIS [and Don]

There’s a large old farmhouse.  The paint is worn away in places on the wood siding, other places it peels.  The windows, both upstairs and down, haven’t been washed in a real long time. The open porch has a washtub on the wall and some of the porch floor cracks are much bigger than cracks after all.  It’s surrounded by a grass yard of rolls and dips, with scattered  beds of  flowers on their last leg of blooms to seeds. There’s a weathered gray chicken house over there. In that corner is an open shed that ends the gravel drive where the car gets parked inside. The truck can park outside.  There’s a garden shed and a root cellar with a scattering of canning jars and an old kettle on the broken and crusty shelves. The steps down to the cellar grow up in random grass clumps.  There’s a fuel tank on its frame legs.  A  pump handle stands over an old concrete well platform. You can remember the taste of the cold cold water. Some scrap metal sits in a pile mixed with a cluster of old bricks.

All this life is surrounded on three sides by fields of tall corn, tassels dark and ears full, as the color drains and the testing commences. You peel back the shuck; are the ears full? Are there two to a stalk? Does it feel too wet? Is there rain in the forecast? Did we have a good breeze today?

Good looking ears make it to the house.  Three steps up to the porch, open the screen door and never notice the familiar hinges creeking. The chore boots aren’t noticed like the sweater and jacket on pegs aren’t noticed, but the aroma of supper amid a lazy movement of air from the fan in the open window draws you into the kitchen, corn in hand, to pause together and consider what’s to come at harvest.

Hands are scrubbed, food is dished, the blessing said and the meal commenced. The day is winding down, nowhere near done, till the clearing and washing  and drying  are finished, but getting there.

This only sounds familiar, achingly familiar, to a farm generation who have become orphaned with the loss of their final parent, either the matriarch or patriarch who has been keeping things as usual, as possible.

We long to know it all again and know that the longing is for something that would never be the same.  We have to know  it and learn it and grow with it so that it becomes a part of our soul,  a part of our being.  We might long to know it all again, but we do…..know it as well as we ever can….now….today…..for always. We can’t teach it or pass it on or tell of it enough to reach another soul.  It’s lonely because we each hold this picture differently.  It’s  a comfort like nothing else that will ever comfort us.  It  is reaching  into our hearts and holding  a living  whisper of eternity.

FUNNY STORIES, Dear to My Heart

An anecdote is a funny little story; an antidote counteracts poison, you can decide about these!  [In no particular order].

 

John’s Mom, his son and two of his sisters came south for a visit, particularly so his Mom could visit where we had moved. Living in a bus for two, we rented a nice woodsy cabin that would accommodate all, for the duration of their visit. John was a tour guide in a previous lifetime. He can spiel with the best of them and he wanted to show off the woods and waterfalls that abound, so he was running the ‘tour’ while I organized the food brigade.  John’s Mom was using a walker by that time and our forest paths were out of the question, but one really great waterfall was visible from the blacktop road with lots of easy parking. It was in Tellico Plains, TN. It might have been an hour ride by major roads, but taking the ‘scenic’ drive was every bit of two hours.  No one was antsy, but we had seen most of the Appalachian trees of the south by the time we were within a couple miles of Tellico Plains.  Seeing what looked like smoke ahead, we rounded a rural corner to find a vehicle in flames in the road.  Stopping was our only option.  We could see that no one was hurt, one other car was pulled off and assisting and so we waited. And waited. And waited.  Finally emergency personnel began to arrive, donning gear from their trunks and mostly watching the vehicle become engulfed.  After what seemed an extreme amount of time, a fire truck came to save the day.  We commented that the firetruck seemed to take far longer than expected to arrive, when John’s sister quipped, “well, look how long it took us!”

 

When I heard that Donald was in the nursing home for rehab, I talked with him on the phone to see ‘what happened’.  At first he said he was having trouble with words. He couldn’t remember words and was a bit confused. In reality, he had mixed up his medications and fallen and now they were getting him back on track.   [A note for any oldster or care giver, too many meds, are ridiculously confusing. Find a pharmacy that will do “pill packs”.  For an extra $10. or so, they will package prescriptions into packs for AM<NOON>PM.  No more endless and hard-to-open bottles that lead to confusion. We loved Axline Pharmacy in Bloomington for this service.] Back to my story, I told Donald I would leave for Illinois the next day.  Wanting to take some sort of gift to him, I went to the local DG and bought a package of recipe cards and a pretty gold gift box to hold them. At home, I cut the cards in half and using black marker, wrote a word on the back of each card.  Any word that came to mind – random, uncomfortable, interview, Sinorak, dishtowel, artificial, masterful etc. etc. etc.  When I got to the nursing home the next day, I gave Donald his gift box. He wanted to know what it was. I said I brought you a box of words. When you have trouble with a word or forget, you can just reach in and pick a word.  He had a great sense of humor and showed off his ‘words’ to the staff.  When he was released a few days later, he left the box for the therapy department.

 

Another time I got a call in Georgia that Donald was back in the hospital. They had installed a pacemaker.  [This set the example to follow, a couple years later, when my John also had one installed – if Donald can do this, so can you].  Not wanting to visit the hospital with no gift and knowing full well there isn’t a damn thing Donald ‘needs’,  I went again to DG and found a lantern battery, the big square 6 inch long battery and a card.  When I gave it to Donald at the hospital, I told him if his pacemaker battery failed, he would need to have a replacement at home and handy!  [For John, I just reminded him that I could provide if he needed.]

 

Many, Many years ago, when games were becoming popular to play on the computer, I got a Disney game for Baby Hannah to play on our computer. She was maybe 2, so just a few minutes of play was always enough.  John’s oldest son, had a youngster and he was a kid at heart, himself, so he had told John about some game or other that he had for his computer.  John decided he needed a game, too. He found a “big-game-hunting” DVD at Walmart. I don’t remember all you could hunt on this game, but he was pretty excited and got right to it at home. The setup was much more lengthy than he expected. He had to choose everything you would need to go on a full scale hunt; Weapons, camping gear, ammo [kind and how many], travel gear, clothing and of course, your intended game species; bear, elk, Dahl sheep, buffalo etc.  As a tour guide, John feels confident, as a mechanic, he excels, on the computer – not good, not good, NOT good.  After spending far too long on the setup, he then has to master which keys trigger [pardon the pun] what responses during the game play.  Finally, the hunt commences and he hits a few keys, there are some noises and a gun fires and the game responds “you are not supposed to shoot your horse!”  Through peals of laughter on my part, John boxed up the game and it was returned to Walmart.

 

Years ago, when Travis was a baby younger than one, and showers instead of baths hadn’t come into vogue, his Dad filled the tub for a bath one evening and suggested I bring Travis in for a bath with him.  I was in the kitchen on supper detail when I heard loudly “son-of-a-b…..”, then Travis crying.  Running in  I met with this picture – Travis’ Dad was standing in the tub looking mad, with a crying Travis held out in front of him, water dripping off both of them.  Travis had pooped in the tub. There it floated as they stood.  Taking it all in, I could hardly breath for the gails of laughter I couldn’t suppress. No more sharing baths ever again…..but so worth my idea of GREAT humor!

 

When my daughter was about 6 or 7, at supper one evening we were talking about my Dad.  He had died when she was just 14 months old and she wanted to know if he “knew her”.  We assured her that he DID know her and Travis.  Then she wanted to know how old he was when he died.  I said he was 47 and her Dad said “No, remember he was 46 when he died, because we buried him on his 47th birthday.”  Misty’s reply to that, “You mean you kept him that long”.  Gales of laughter from everyone, but her!

 

I  had a hair appointment one summer day and took Misty with me to the salon in Armington.  All the time that Bonnie was trimming my hair, Misty was critiquing that she didn’t like my hair, as only a probably 9 or 10 yr old can do.  On the way home, though, she seemed to change her mind.  “I do like your hair”, she said, “It makes you look like that girl on TV”.  [One of my favorite beauty shop lines when asked how I want my hair cut is just to say, “Make me look like a movie star, I’ll be happy”.]  So now, I‘ve gone from not so good to looking like a movie star. Woo Hoo!  “Which star, Misty”?  She says, “That girl on Facts of Life, Blair’s cousin”.  At that time, a young girl with cerebral palsy is playing Blair’s cousin with cerebral palsy.  So, I have gone from not looking good to looking like a girl with cerebral palsy and I am hysterical with laughter – the tears-running-down-my-face laughter.  Then Misty is crying because I am laughing so hard [at her, she thinks – true]  Needless to say, arriving home, both of us in tears, was priceless!

 

When my two farm youngsters were about 10/11 and 13/14, public TV previewed an upcoming show on human childbirth.  I thought it would be something they needed to watch – educational, a tad bit different than rabbits, pigs, cows  – you know, good for them!  They resisted and I insisted.  I was thinking …. Well, I wasn’t thinking, really!  I didn’t expect the program to begin with discussion of birth control options.  Things were terribly quiet as we watched together. Things covered in this first segment included among other things, mention of a diaphragm.   After several minutes had passed, Misty casually asked if “a diet plan will really keep you from getting pregnant”.     Parental FAIL AND FUNNY!!!!

 

Travis was maybe in 7th grade and he had a crush on a leggy, long haired blond a year ahead. She belonged to a neighborhood, long-time farm family. They may have thought of our family as farmer wannabies [we were] or maybe I just felt a little inferior to their community standing. Travis informed me he wanted to get his “friend” a birthday card and that evening was awards night at the school, so he could give it to her then.  I gave it no thought and waited in our car while he went in the store to get his card. Later that evening, at the awards event, Trav presented her with his card. She opened it and shared with her folks. Just not sure what they thought of my son and his sense of humor.  The card read: When I realized I’d forgotten your birthday, [and inside ] a guy balancing a stack of desk drawers, it continued: I almost dropped my drawers. Travis.  They were certainly a bit surprised and I knew where his humor gene came from!

 

 

GILBERTA, My Mom

If you read about Donald, my stepdad, then you know a bit about my Mom. Her birthday was August 26, every year!

She was the baby of three in her family, a family with some daring stories.

Mom threw a knife at her sister, when they were in a climbing tree. It just grazed the side of her sister’s eye.  Her brother tied their Mom to her chair with her apron strings, while home from school for lunch. When the three of them returned home after school, that day, she was still tied.  Someone stretched a bicycle inner tube between the sidewalk gate posts at night and a sister returning from a date, was tripped and face planted on the sidewalk with a mild concussion.  While doing dishes after supper one evening, a fight ensued and a cast iron pan of gravy was heaved across the kitchen. Their dad planted saltine crackers on the stairway when they were late for curfew.

Nothing like any of these episodes would have ever occurred at my house, growing up.

Gilberta’s parents, after living years in Atlanta, Illinois, decided to run a boarding house in Chicago.  And they decided to do this while she was still in high school and they let or left her to rent a room in a local house, to finish her schooling. According to one of her best school and lifelong friends, she ended up renting a room in two different houses before graduating high school.

She dated my Dad, who lived on a tenant farm south of town, near Lazy Row Rd. They married on June 11, 1948. He wore a black suit. She wore a grey suit. It was at the Methodist parsonage with a reception at a farm house on the edge of town.

For a girl who went from school to wife, as was expected, she had an independent side and a nurturing side. The nurturing side was most evident when someone was sick or dying. It wasn’t very evident during the regular days. What I am saying is she was a great nurse without being taught “how to nurse”. Her grandmother suffered a stroke and was confined to a bed or wheelchair, the old cane woven wheel chairs, for several years. She had no speech left, but worked hard to be understood and Gilberta was her caregiver – the one and only.  Later her own Mother suffered a stroke and although living at her sister’s house at that time, I think my Mom helped as much as she could. I like to think so anyway.

Mom was great when we kids were sick with the measles, mumps, chicken pox, tonsillitis, etc. My sister had rheumatic fever one year at Christmas. They thought she might die. I thought it was shitty timing, since our Christmas was put on hold.

Gilberta nursed her husband, our Dad, through his cancer and death, when he was a young family man of 45/46. I had no idea how she did it, until she came to my house to live, when she had cancer. I am NO nurse. Everyone will tell you so. I did what I thought was right, but the burden was carried best by my daughter, a licensed LPN, and my daughter-in-law, the most caring nurse I have ever known and a hospice nurse by trade.  The biggest mistake I made was in my thinking. I forgot that she came to my house to “live”, not to die. I could have done better. It has been a hard lesson.

When Mom was diagnosed with cancer, Donald wanted no part in making the hard decisions and was glad to have me handle what was necessary. My siblings all lived in other states and they were also glad to let me handle the issues. They helped when they could. They stayed in close touch with Mom. Finally the time came for her to leave her house.  Gilberta Young was extremely stubborn, and never prone to change her mind.  She had made up her mind that cigarettes did NOT cause my Dad’s cancer, or hers, for sure.  Regardless of the fact he gave them up when he was diagnosed, she continued to smoke “as was her right”. If you said that cigarettes were no longer allowed someplace, then she didn’t go to that place.

I had been a smoker for years and I know now, that she considered that a “bond” of sorts.  When no one else smoked, we did.  However, when I began to approach my early 40’s and realized how terribly young my Dad was when he died, I thought if I didn’t quit smoking, I could likely die young too. I loved smoking and I QUIT.  It didn’t make my Mom too happy.

We were never close and this drove us a little farther apart.  She favored my brother – “boys are easier to raise”, she said often and in front of her girls. She favored my next-in-line sister, named for my Dad, and everyone always babies the last. I had been raised to “raise” the next three. When the youngest went to school, my Mom went to work full time. She was HUGE on lists and there was one almost every day from that point forward – things to be done before she got home from work and who was responsible for doing those things and I was responsible for seeing that her list was carried out, every school day and every summer day. No extra-curricular activities for me, no paying summer jobs for me, my job year round was the “daily list”.  Nine months of the year my list started with getting three kids up and off to school and continued after school with the chores on the list. During summer, we had lists that included laundry, house cleaning, preparing suppers and having coffee ready when they got home from work and overseeing three restless and uncooperative kids. None of this “killed me” and I’m a firm believer in kids having chores [duh!], but the stage was forever set.  We were just never close as Mother/Daughter.

When Mom came to live at our house, I just naturally fixed up the spare bedroom.  No more play area for our grandkids. We made it as personable as we could, with all the hospital equipment that comes with cancer. She was only feet from our living room and had a walker and wheel chair, but she was also expecting an on-call nurse.  And I wondered who she thought that might be.  She also thought that even though we didn’t allow any smoking on our property or in our house, that she would naturally be the exception.  While emptying her house of personal items, she one day made the comment to me that “she would not smoke at my house”.  I was shocked and thrilled to have her say it out loud and I had some silly idea the subject was miraculously resolved.  Was I ever wrong?

First she told me in no uncertain terms, she would never have said that and now my house was hers and she would smoke all she pleased.  Donald brought her cigarettes as usual, and while I was at work and someone else was with her, she smoked. When I found out and the SHTF, my husband told Donald on the side “no smokes, period”.  Donald immediately quit bringing her smokes.

My Mother was deteriorating before our eyes day by day, physically, but not mentally. One day we got into some argument and she announced she was leaving.  She called Donald and he wouldn’t come and get her…..mostly because he didn’t know where to go with her….certainly not to his house.  Her car was parked at our place and she determined to take it, except I refused to give her the keys. It was not a pleasant argument, even as I tried to stay rational and calm. I called each of my siblings as she watched and fumed, to explain our situation and then handed her the phone to talk with them.  That really pissed her off. Nothing pacified her and so she ended up going to the hospital for a week, by ambulance.

She wasn’t hospital sick and didn’t want a nursing home and after talking to Donald, therapists and others, she agreed to come back, but didn’t want to be left “in the back room” anymore.  What could we do about that?

Oddly, our large garage was carpeted, with a nice piece used for an expo and discarded. I parked on it every day and the grandkids played in our garage on rainy or winter days.  We abandoned the parking, disconnected the opener, and installed all the bedroom furniture and hospital items. We blocked off the back door and installed a large gazillion BTU air conditioner. Our garage had an entry to our spare bathroom and laundry and an outside door.

It became the cancer ward apartment, although we never called it that. It did work great. We could all come and go. She could see us. She came home with staph infection from the hospital and was kind enough to give it to me as well.  I was so sick; I wanted to die before her.  Being in the garage, we could keep the grandkids away from the contagion with a baby gate.

Life moved on with visitors, small parties and kids coming home as often as possible.  Her cancer progressed, she grew frail and we managed one last big weekend with everyone home and surrounding her. There was a little wine, lots of hidden tears and laughter – our family staple. It was necessary and a real accomplishment to pull off.  She seemed to wait until news reached her that each child had gotten home safely before she passed away a couple evenings later.

We are small town people and have always been small town people. We grew up knowing our local everyone including our undertaker.  After my Mom died and Donald had come and hospice had done what hospice does, it was time to call our friend, the undertaker. It was a drizzly summer night. I didn’t want her face covered when he took her. I said to him, “When you come to get Mom, just back into the garage. That is where she has been and we can just open the big door and you can back right in.”

Humor has always been our relief valve in my family. Not that Mom would have seen the humor, but we always laugh when we talk about having the hearse back into the garage for Mom. We were just being helpful.