Days Gone By

The Greatest Gift

I had to have exasperated and been a source of frustration for  my Mother more times than not.  She would never admit it, but finding out you were pregnant when you were well into your forties had to have been shocking and at least a little unwanted to say the least.  She never admitted that to me though and acted like I was nothing but a source of joy.  As strange a child as I was, that had to be a Mother’s love speaking!

I always felt different than my much older siblings.  They had it all together leading what seemed to me, perfect lives.  I was an adult raising six children by the time I was in my early thirties but I always felt so inadequate and  immature when I was around especially my two older, beautiful sisters.  Everything they did in their home, dress, finances, faith and work seemed perfect.  I often wondered why I was so different.  One time I heard Mother speaking to someone else and I heard her say “When Mary and Carolyn were little, by gosh, I expected them to be little ladies.  By the time Norma came around, I thought,  Pffftttt!  Kids will be kids!”  Aha! I thought.  That is why I’m so different!  Reading between the lines, I believe she was saying, by that time I was worn out and having a baby at that age was no easy task!  I told my sister Mary this story and she so kindly said, “Norma, that may be part of it, but Carolyn and I were teenagers and became adults in the 1950’s.  You were a teenager in the 1970’s.  It might have been only a couple-of decades, but the changes that happened in those two decades…..it was a whole different world.”  And she was right.  So that solved the mystery of why I was so different.

It could not have been easy for Mother to see me through my teenage years filled with mini-skirts and social changes.  How I must have broken her heart when I broke the news to her and my Dad that I was pregnant at the end of my senior year.  She had such hopes for all of her children to attend college.  She was unable to because of no money when she was young and to think they would have gladly been able to send me and I threw it away was something I don’t believe she ever got over.  Instead, two months after High School graduation, at the age of seventeen I got married.  Happily, we beat the statistics and Mark and I raised six children and just celebrated our 43rd anniversary!   Even though she was disappointed in me, she supported me fully in anyway I needed her. When I was surprised and not happy about a sixth pregnancy at the age of thirty, already having a nine-month old baby, I hid it from everyone as long as I could.  She was the first one I told and she reacted with such joy and excitement.  She told me as soon as the baby was here we would know it was the best thing we ever did.  She predicted it would be a brother for the nine-month old who was the only boy after four girls.  And she was right, on both accounts!

Another way I am sure I perplexed her was in the matter of faith.  Mother was a devout Catholic and her Catholic faith was very important to her.  I am sure it was a relief when the boy I married was also Catholic.  As the years went by, I began to have doubts about my childhood faith, a lot of it brought on by local things happening in our church and the behavior of the local priest.  Some of it involved the baptism of my fourth daughter and the extremely unprofessional way it was preformed.  When it came time for the next baby to be baptized, I had stopped attending church.  Baby Bryan was four months old, no longer a newborn and Mother reminded me how important it was for me to have him baptized.  I agreed, so I called a priest at the neighboring town and explained to him what had happened when my last baby was baptized and asked if instead of us having it done in our local church, would he would baptize my baby.  He said No, the other Father was his friend and he couldn’t do that.  I told him I understood.  After a few more weeks, Mother came to my house and gently nudged me to go see the local priest about making arrangements for Bryan to be baptized.  She and I did, he invited us in and just as soon as we sat down I told him why we were there, to see about having my baby, who was sitting on my lap, baptized.  He looked at me and immediately said, “Well, maybe I don’t want to baptize your baby.  Father so-and-so told me you said you don’t like how I baptize babies, that I said Blah-blah-blah instead of saying all of the prayer and I told you to get the kid up here because I was in a hurry.”  Which was exactly what he had done when he baptized our daughter Jamie.  I believe I stared open-mouthed at him for an instant, trying to take in the magnitude of betrayal I had just been a victim of.  He continued on, saying, “I’ll have to think about if I even want to baptize your baby.”  I found my voice and stood up so fast the chair crashed to the floor behind me.  I pointed my finger at him and said, “Don’t you worry about it, I’ll take care of my own baby!” and out the door I went with my poor Mother close behind.  I felt so sorry for her.  I felt like she had had the rug pulled out from under her witnessing what had just taken place.  I don’t remember our conversation on the way home to my farm but I know as we sat in the driveway she did her best to comfort me.  When she needed to go, she laid her hand on my arm and she said,  “Don’t you worry about it Norma.  You don’t need that church.  You just raise your children to love God.”

OH MY!  What a gift she gave me!  Permission and a blessing from her to go to a different church, one that I believe God used along with Mother’s kindness to draw me close to Him.  It was a gift she gave to all of her children.  The most important gift of all, a real, genuine faith, not in a certain church but faith in God Himself.

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Days Gone By

Pure Love

Mother, having lived through the depression, lived frugally, and most gifts she gave did not cost money.  However, she never came to see us without bringing stickers that had come in the mail,  little scratch pads or pens she had picked up somewhere, coloring pages her hometown was using for coloring contests etc.  My kids would sit down with their little bag of treasures and think they had hit the jackpot!  She would sew me new hot pads out of scraps of material.  She would cut up towels and sew them into dishrags for me.  Nothing went to waste she thought might be of use to someone she loved.  In a time when big expensive gifts is the norm, she was an example of a love that didn’t have a price tag.  And even though expensive gifts were not a part of her grandparenting, there was not a more loved Grandma ever, as best described by the words my daughter Karen wrote on the day she passed:

“My sweet Grandma is sitting with Jesus right now!  Not only Jesus, but also her husband and her son she has not seen for over 40 years.  Can you imagine?  Can you imagine the reunion?  Can you imagine leaving behind a 103 year old body which no longer functioned and stepping into a new, young, body and walking straight into the one that loves you more than you could ever know?  The one who created love, the one who created you?  And then seeing two people who were so dear to you and you had spent almost another lifetime missing?  I can’t.  I cant even begin to imagine what it felt like for her…. but I love trying!  I love the thought of this sweet, precious woman finally being there!  The tears are flowing freely this morning and I can’t decide if it is because I am so happy for her or if it is because once I heard she had passed, I realized the deep impact she had on my life. Grandma Terry was always there surrounding us with love and security.  She was not a flashy Grandma.  She rarely bought us things and did not have cabinets full of sugary foods, the only exception was a tub of sherbet in her freezer she always enjoyed sharing with us kids.  I don’t remember a single toy being in her house, but she had a bucket full of marbles we would play and play with.  We couldn’t wait to get our hands on those marbles and later my own kids ran for them when we went to visit her.  No, she didn’t provide tons of gifts or entertainment, but what she did give was love, unconditional love. The kind of love as you get older, you realize is the truest, purest form of love.  Anytime Mom needed her to come and watch us kids, she was there. Whether it was because Mom was going to the hospital to have a new sibling or was driving the tractor for Dad, Grandma was there, taking care of us. We would spend hours playing Yahtzee. Oh!  How I can still hear her voice when she would yell out YAHTZEE! and always with a giggle afterwards.  Every time she was there, she would gently remind us we needed to be helping our Momma more and would make every single one of us help clean up the house.  She was so full of wisdom and Godly advice, and she would deliver it with such grace, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear, you didn’t feel a bit offended.  When she would hug you and tell you she loved you into your ear, you knew she really meant it and you knew she had a deep sincere love for every single one of her 17 Grandkids and 60+ Great Grandkids.  She was the sweetest with new babies. She would just hold them and sing to them and it seemed she was just really enjoying meeting them and was trying to weld into her memory this newest person of the generations below her.”

My daughter’s words, but they could have been written by anyone of her children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  Another memory we all hold of her simple love of family fun was our Thanksgiving Day BINGO!  She had us all bring “white elephant” items, things we no longer wanted at home, and they would become our BINGO prize table.  She was always the BINGO number caller and tears are falling as I type this recalling her enthusiastic B-14! or I-25! ringing through the kitchen at the end of Thanksgiving Day.   A memory my daughter Jamie cherishes is being at Grandma’s house and Grandma would put one of her old-time music records on from the forties and Jamie would dance and dance in her living room.  And for dinner, they would always have a simple potato soup made with potatoes, milk, celery and cheese.  Jamie says it is her favorite food ever!

In this day of crazy spending in order to parent, grandparent or stay entertained, in this day of more and more technology, I think my Momma, a member of the greatest generation had and still does have, a lot to teach us about living, loving and raising kids.  As Karen said, the truest, purest form of love that she freely gave involved neither one.  It did involve time and commitment, something too many of us are not willing to give, but she gave abundantly.

Days Gone By

Our Little Energizer Bunny Gets New Knees

One thing Mother never was, was still, she was always on the go.  Even when she came to see us, it was hard to get her to stay for very long.  She had to get back home to do this or do that.  When I was young, as soon as supper was over and the dishes were done, she’d ask me if I wanted to go for a walk to the creek a half mile from our house.  We would take turns hitting a can down the road as we walked.  One day she got the idea to make a Tee-pee of sorts by the same creek, by leaning long sticks against a fallen tree.  The neighbor kids and I spent many afternoons adding to it and playing in it.  She would help me fly kites with what seemed like miles of string.  Once, all by herself, she carved a whale out of a huge snow drift that had settled by our house.  She frugally hung her clothes to dry instead of using her dryer.  Her flower gardens were beautiful, she grew most  of her own vegetables and the huge cherry tree in her back yard was stripped bare of it’s cherries every year.  Not one of those red little jewels were allowed to go to waste.  She was in a bowling league and bowled several times a week, even traveling to state bowling tournaments when her teams qualified.  She definitely was not a “sit in my rocking chair and watch the world go by” gal!

Eventually, like I think will happen to all of us, she started first feeling the years in her knees.  She never went very long without taking an aspirin to curb the pain.  When she was in her eighty’s and we could see the pain was getting worse for her, we would try to talk her into seeing a doctor about getting her knees replaced.  She adamantly in no uncertain terms let us know that was not going to happen!  One day I received a call from her telling me her knees were hurting her so bad that maybe she should go see the doctor.  I knew if she made this call, her knees were hurting her very bad!  As soon as I hung up I called an orthopedic surgeon who had a very good reputation with knee replacements around our neck of the woods.  I told them how bad she was hurting and they said to bring her right up and they would get her in.  Upon seeing her, he sure enough told her she could either do nothing and keep trying to manage the way she was or she could have them replaced.  She looked at him rather sadly and said, “Oh, I guess it is time I slow down.”  The doctor laughed and said, “Elizabeth!  We aren’t doing this to slow you down, we’re doing this to speed you up!”  To this she had to inform him that by golly, she could still bend over at the waist and put her hands flat on the floor without bending her knees, to which he informed her – this he had to see.  She slid off the table, bent over at the waist and with perfectly straight knees put her hands flat on the floor!  I think he was somewhat shocked, but I had seen it so many times I just sat there and grinned.  She loved showing this little feat of hers off.  You would be at a family reunion and all of the sudden she’d go from upright to bent way over and you might wonder if she was falling, but then you’d see her hands spread out in front of her and you’d know she was just showing off again!

After her surgery, having both knees replaced at the same time, she was a little skittish about jumping back into life.  After three weeks in recovery and therapy in the hospital she had to go home because Medicare said so.  Carolyn was coming to take her home from the hospital and I was to have her dressed and ready to go.  When I said, “Well, Mother, let’s get you dressed.” she shocked me by saying, “No, I’m not getting dressed.  That is ridiculous to get dressed just to ride home!”  I wondered “Who is this woman and what did she do with my little spitfire of a Mother!”  Right then the phone rang and it was Carolyn saying she was almost there.  I told her Mother told me she was not getting dressed.  She said, “OH YES SHE IS!  Let me talk to her.”  I handed Mother the phone and although I couldn’t hear Carolyn, I heard Mother answer, “Well, alright, if you think I should…..OK, I will”  When the phone was hung up, Mother argued no more, we got her dressed complete with shoes and ready for her ride home.  Once home, Carolyn took her to physical therapy at her own home town and within a few days they told them they no longer needed to come in, she was doing so well.  She had Carolyn help her with her exercises several times a day and with a week or two, she was back to being the little energizer bunny again.  I think she had in her head this was going to slow her down and make her old and once she realized that instead, it actually did speed her up and now she could do much more than she could, she was ready to take on the world!  Just a couple weeks later I was down to see her and sitting on a chair she says, “Norma, listen to this!”  She proceeded to lift her feet off the floor and shake her bottom legs from side to side.  I could hear the metal clanking in her knees.  I said, “Oh, Mother!  I don’t think you should do that!”  She told me, “Ach!  It doesn’t hurt!”  I was scared it would hurt the artificial knees themselves but she assured me it wouldn’t.  She must have been right, because I don’t believe she ever had anymore trouble with her knees after that.  If only we could say the same for her eyes.

Days Gone By

Granny 1

Elizabeth, our mother, was born in 1914, the 5th child of twelve children.  Both her parents had immigrated to America from Germany.  Her Dad came with his parents and ended up settling in Oklahoma during the land rush.  He later married and had two sons.  His wife’s mother developed typhoid fever and she died from it.   Four of her children died including his wife, because not realizing germs were still present, they kissed their mother goodbye in her coffin and caught typhoid fever themselves.  After a few years, he met and married our maternal grandmother who cared for the two boys left behind from the first marriage and added ten more to the fold.

Mother had wonderful memories of her parents and siblings, all born in her childhood Oklahoma farmhouse.  Many of our gatherings were spent at her feet asking questions about days gone by.  It is hard to imagine all the changes she was witness to.  She came of age during the depression and because of that, there was no money for her to fulfill her dream of going to college.  She mourned that loss as long as she lived.  She married our Dad, Carl, in 1938 after courting for three years.  They would have liked to marry sooner, but most of Daddy’s paycheck was going to help support his parents and he felt he needed to wait till he was no longer as needed at home.  Once they were married, mother always recalled how happy and excited she was when Daddy got his first raise from $43 a week to $47 a week.  They had their first baby girl, Mary in 1939 and two years later they had Carolyn.

Daddy did receive a draft notice for WWII, but when he went to get the mail and the postmaster handed it to him, he told Carl to drive to the county seat and see if perhaps there hadn’t been a mistake because at that time they were not taking married men with children.  So Daddy did and not only were they not taking married men at that time, but they also found out he worked for a natural gas company which was a hugely needed commodity during the war, so he was taken off the draft list completely.  As thankful as we are to the brave men and women who fought for us so valiantly, we are also thankful that our Dad was able to stay home.  Who knows if the next three of us would even exist if he hadn’t been!

The 1940’s saw two sons added to the family, Glenn and Steve.  Then in 1956 they got a late-in-life surprise and named her Norma (me)  Daddy stayed with the same company all his life but he and mother were transferred several times.  None of us ever remember mother complaining, she always took the moves in stride.  She made friends easily no matter where she was.  In 1968, our brother Glenn was taken from us, the result of kidney disease that had plagued him for thirteen years.  I was only twelve at the time and I have pondered the fact, that although I missed him terribly, my life really didn’t change.  My parents did not become overwhelmed with grief or become bitter.  They put on brave faces and remained cheerful for the child they still had at home.  I now know that couldn’t have been easy.

Six years later, Daddy joined Glenn in heaven.  I had graduated from high school and had gotten married one month before he died.  Imagine how alone Mother had to feel.  In such a short time she had gone from a family of three to just herself.  What strength she showed in those days.  Again, I do not at all remember her being anything but joyful.  She threw herself into a job at a nursery close to her home.  She started traveling.  She took painting classes.  She started quilting.  She became very active in her home town and in the Senior Citizen Center there.  If any of us needed something, she was there.  She was like a little Energizer Bunny!  She remained that way well into her nineties.  Around ninety-five her eye-sight was really being compromised and it starting taking a little bit of a toll.  At first it was subtle, but as she started approaching her 100th birthday, we could see life was becoming more of a struggle for her.  That is when our journey of “Taking Care of Mother” began.