Bobba and Grandy: Memories of My Grandparents . . . by Dianne Mason

My parents were not the most reliable people. Mama suffered from severe depression and Daddy’s mood swings kept us all walking on eggshells. Fortunately, my brother, sister, and I had our maternal grandparents, Bobba and Grandy. We lived with them until I was five and then again for three years after my parents divorced.  In between, we lived next door or nearby.

Every child should have a grandmother like Bobba, someone to tell them they’re special and loved. When she hugged me against her soft breasts and told me everything was going to be okay, I believed her. She cooked for us, kissed our cuts and scrapes, comforted us when we were afraid, and made sure we said our prayers. From her I learned about unconditional love, generosity, and consideration for others. While I loved her with all my heart, I was my grandfather’s girl. 

Grandy was a short, wiry man with bandy legs and dark, leathery skin from working outdoors much of his life. The years of hammering and sawing as a carpenter caused his arms to look a bit like Popeye’s. He cursed like a sailor, loved to fish and drink whiskey, and Bobba said that in his youth he “would fight a circle saw” he was so feisty. His nickname was Snake. Snake Jones. And I loved him desperately. 

There are many stories I can tell about Grandy and the influence he had on my life – how he taught me to be self-reliant, to stand up for myself and others, and to be honest above all else. He was not perfect, for sure, but his love for me and my siblings was steadfast and abundant. Here’s something I wrote about him in a memoir class a few years ago.

It’s Time to Tell You About My Grandfather

I will tell you about the boat he made for me out of a galvanized steel washtub and an old tractor inner tube. 

I will tell you how he taught me to fish – to gently lay a fly on the water and wait.

I will not tell you that he quit drinking Folger’s coffee because he hated Mrs. Olsen in the TV commercial.

I will tell you how he trudged two miles through a rare Mississippi snowstorm for milk so my brother, sister, and I could have hot chocolate.

I will tell you how he wrapped his arms around my grandmother in the kitchen as she cooked dinner and made her giggle.

I will not tell you that he refused to watch NBC, the entire network, because a black man starred in I Spy.

I will tell you how he ate raw oysters – icy cold, on a saltine, with a dash of Tabasco.

I will tell you that he raised chicks under a grow light and held their whispery softness next to my cheek.

I will not tell you of the sorrow in his eyes when the ambulance drove away with my mother. 

Grandy died when I was a sophomore in high school. All winter I wore his red and black flannel shirt. Its soft comfort smelled like him – Old Spice aftershave, cigarette smoke, and his own special scent, a mixture of loamy earth and fresh air. I wore it to school every day, sleeves rolled up and hem down to my knees, as if it were my coat of armor. As the season turned and it became too hot to wear flannel, I wrapped the shirt around my pillow and slept on it. 

When my children were little, each night after reading to them, I’d tell them a story about my grandparents, whom they’d never met. It became a ritual they loved. Thus, I kept the memory of those two wonderful people alive. I have grandchildren now, and I’m doing my best to be the kind of grandparent to them that I was fortunate enough to have in my life.

_____

Dianne Mason grew up in rural Mississippi. She has taught writing at Richland College in Dallas, Texas, and at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC. A published poet, she has also written five screenplays, two of which have been optioned. Visit Dianne’s blog:  An English Teacher’s Garden.

Some other links Dianne would like you to explore:

https://www.pinterest.com/diannehmason/

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Dianne-Mason

https://www.facebook.com/anenglishteachersgarden/

_____

Read another family story about a loving grandmother — Pam Pellegrino’s “Nana Takes Pam to College.”

Save Everything . . . by Maureen Ryan Griffin

Save Everything by Maureen Ryan Griffin, Patricia Brachowski Ryan peeling potatoes

Mom (Patricia Brachowski Ryan) Peeling Potatoes

From Maureen’s upcoming “cookbook memoir” How She Fed Us: Reflections on the Recipes of a Perfectly Imperfect Mother

 

When I heard my mother’s familiar “Hello, dear. How are you?” that summer afternoon, I thought it was an ordinary phone call. Then I realized her voice was shaking. “If you know you have a disease that will kill you, should you tell your children?” 

“Oh, Mother,” I said. Then, “Of course you should. Please tell me.” That may have been the hardest request I’ve ever made.

Was this in 1998 or 1999? I don’t remember anymore. I don’t remember the words she used to explain her illness, what my siblings and I said to each other, how I told my children. I do remember that, when I told friends and acquaintances my mother had dementia, the first question they typically asked was, “Does your mother know who you are?”

I’m sure my siblings got asked this, too, and that it was as hard for them to see the lack of recognition in Mother’s eyes as it was for me. Mike wrote about his experience for our family cookbook:

My last real communication with Mom came when I went to visit after they’d been in the assisted-care apartment for about 5 months. Mom would fade in and out, but mostly she was lucid and entertaining, if a bit embarrassed by the forgetfulness caused by her disease. We had a very nice time just talking and I had great fun cooking for them. As I turned to wave goodbye after I had given her a hug, Mom looked at me with such a mixture of love and pain it broke my heart. I knew that her disease was progressing rapidly, but I wasn’t aware how fast it really happened. Mom stood there and looked at me as if it was the last time she would see me. I guess she knew more than I—because it was the last time she was lucid enough to recognize me and really communicate. When I saw her 6 months later, she really didn’t know who I was. 

For me, whether my mother knew who I was was not a “yes” or “no” question. I was always looking for any small scrap of my mother that snuck out from behind her illness. I took Supersaver weekend flights up to Erie to be with her as often as I could. On one visit, her face lit up when she saw me. “I know you,” she burst out. By that point, I’d known better than to ask, “Who am I?” The last time I’d done that, she’d answered, with complete confidence, “You know. You’re my mother.” 

Instead, I gave her a hug and said, “I know you, too.” 

On many of my visits, I’d get the great comfort of at least one moment when a flash of recognition crossed her face. But sometimes, there was no proof at all that my mother knew my name, or the fact that I am her daughter, or even that my face looked familiar. And how much did that matter? Why?

Here’s the thing. I’m a big fan of finding the right questions, questions that add to the quality of one’s life rather than subtracting from it, questions like this one from a woman named Oriah Mountain Dreamer: “What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?”

Who was I, really? For that matter, who was Mother? And who could I be for her? Maybe that was a better question than “Does my mother know who I am?” Because, beyond all doubt, when I was with her, my mother knew, at some level, that I was someone who loved her. 

Granted, this was often small consolation while walking the path of losing her. I wanted the mother she had been. A shiver went through me when I read a poem by Mary Oliver called “Ice” that describes how her father, during his last winter, fashioned pair after pair after pair of ice-grips out of scraps of metal and inner tubes and gave them to everyone he knew. After her father died, her mother wrote to say she’d found “so many pairs” of them in his workshop. “What shall I do?” she asked. The poem ends with Oliver’s reply: “Mother, please/save everything.”

I have been trying to “save everything” of my mother. Each of her multitudinous recipes. The breakfast ones alone could fill a large book. A new question: What shall I let go?

Who, besides my beautiful sister, who already has the recipe, needs me to include the Plum or Apple-Topped Coffee Cake out of Mother’s original 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook with its cheery red and white cover? Mary was always the one who sliced and arranged the fruit on top, just like Mother taught her. And she’s the one who reminded me how much of Mother is in all of us. “You know, all the ways we are come from Mother,” she said. “I’ve been realizing that more and more.” 

That’s worth saving, this gift from my only sister. What matters is that we remember, as long as we are able, what Mother gave us, and who we are—to ourselves, to each other, to the people whose lives touch ours. 

_____

An award-winning poetry and nonfiction writer, Maureen has also been a commentator on Public Radio Station WFAE 90.7. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Texas Review, The Charlotte Observer, St.Anthony Messenger (Ohio),  Potato  Eyes (Maine), Kalliope  (Florida), Chelsea (New York), Cincinnati Poetry Review, Catfish Stew (South Carolina), Catalyst  (Georgia), and Calyx (Oregon). She is the author of Spinning Words into Gold, a Hands-On Guide to the Craft of Writing, a grief workbook entitled How Do I Say Goodbye?, and two collections of poetry, This Scatter of Blossoms and When the Leaves Are in the Water. Her essay “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” appears in Marlo Thomas’s The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2 (Atria Books, 2006) and her poem “Such Foolishness” is included in Thirteen (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003).

Read more about Maureen here and visit her facebook page here.

_____

Read Kate Green’s story about her mother here and Pam Pellegrino’s memories of her mom here.

The Gift of Wings . . . by Maureen Ryan Griffin

The Gift of Wings; Paul Thomas Ryan

Paul Thomas Ryan

 

My father was never much for gifts. Every time his birthday, or Christmas, or Father’s Day rolled around, when I’d ask what he wanted, his answer was always the same — “Well-behaved children.” He wasn’t much for giving gifts either, not the tangible kind anyway. 

No, our mother was the one who noticed what our eyes lingered on in the department store window. She was the one who sat the five of us Ryan children down each year with the Sears Wishbook to make our Christmas lists. By the time I stopped believing in Santa Claus, I knew she was also the one who bought us the items on those lists that she deemed appropriate and affordable. Mom was the parent who cared about wish gratification, and Dad—well, Dad was the Grinch who, while he grudgingly financed the purchasing, believed that gift-giving was unnecessary, even irksome. 

Dad was an engineer by trade and a practical man by nature. It would be more efficient, I heard him say to Mom, to write us each a check so we could buy our own presents, or, better yet, to not give us anything since we already had so much. (We were comfortably middle class, while he had grown up quite poor.) This idea was one my mother, thankfully, didn’t buy. She gave me many memorable gifts over the years – stuffed animals I loved, a scarf set I’d been wanting, a Barbie kitchen that was a dream come true. It took becoming a grownup myself to realize that my dad, too, had given me an abundance of gifts. They just weren’t, with one exception, the kind you could wrap up and slip under a Christmas tree.

From him, I received the gift of perseverance, and the knowledge that I could make amends for my mistakes. When, inspired by the sparkling crystals inside the geodes my seventh grade teacher showed us, I inadvertently damaged his best wood chisel busting open rock after rock in hopes of finding a geode of my own, he had me spend what felt like an entire Saturday morning sharpening it. How could there be so many grades of sandpaper, from coarse to fine? But after the final step—oil on his whetstone—he declared the chisel good as new.

 My dad gave me the gift of knowing I could take care of myself. He wouldn’t let me get my driver’s license until I demonstrated, lug nut by lug nut, that I could change a tire.

He gave me the gift of noticing me. Once, when I was in high school, after a stormy morning with my mother, I’d left home for the afternoon, wanting more than anything to run away from home. When I walked in the door, his first words were “Welcome home.” How had he known?

He sent me my own post card every time he went on a business trip. This may sound like a small thing, but it wasn’t. Since I had four siblings, getting a card addressed just to me was special, no matter what was pictured. I teased him for years about the card he sent of a prison, with a note on the back pointing out the rust beneath each barred window. His tactic of trying to scare me into being a law-abiding citizen was too transparent, I said. 

But the truth is that, along with the gift of letting me know he was thinking of me, he was also teaching me the value of paying attention. Would I have become a writer without my dad’s influence? I’m not so sure. When, in a creative writing class, I encountered poet Miller Williams’s advice, “Notice everything,” he wasn’t telling me anything new. The smallest of details didn’t escape my father; he was fascinated by the way life worked, down to the effect rain has on iron.

It’s because of my father that I, at age ten, inspired by some fascinating bit of information (I think it was that glass is actually not a solid but a slow liquid) blurted out, “When I grow up, I’m going to learn everything about everything.” My no-nonsense father had to straighten me out. I could, he told me, learn a little about a lot of things or a lot about a few things. But no one could learn everything about everything. 

That didn’t mean, however, that one couldn’t keep learning and growing. This, my father taught me by example. Just after his eightieth birthday, he announced that he was going to have knee surgery. It was elective, he said, but he but he figured he might as well go ahead with it while he was “still young and spry.” Shortly before this, after caring for my mother through several long years of the debilitating illness that took her life, he began taking voice lessons, singing in his church choir, and donating his time and extraordinary handyman’s skills to a home for unwed mothers. He became so proficient at computer skills that he volunteered through a free program to help “the elderly” with their taxes. He never gave up his habit of reading until the wee hours of the morning.

I lost my father on January 2, 2009, this quiet, humble man with a Great Depression mentality who tracked every nickel he spent. We know this, because we found the ledger books in his office, dating back to his Coast Guard Academy days. Yet, just days before he died, my sister told me, he asked her to help him write and mail his annual checks to a number of charities he supported generously. I’d had no idea that, in addition to his other causes, he sponsored a child who lived in a third world country. My dad believed in giving. He just didn’t believe in gifts. Which is why, the Christmas I was sixteen,  it was as much a shock as it was a surprise to find a small package under the tree with a gift tag that read “to Maureen from Dad.”  

Inside was the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, a parable about a sea gull determined to rise higher than any gull ever had. I have always treasured it as the only tangible gift I remember my father giving me. But, I see now, it wasn’t so different from all the intangible gifts he gave me over the years. It whispered to me that he wanted me to reach for my dreams, shouted to me that he believed I could fly. His faith in me has been a source of strength for every dream I’ve taken on, from being a mother to having my books published to starting my own business. His example will see me through life without him, will keep me growing and learning as my own years tick by. What my dad really wrapped inside Christmas paper my sixteenth year was something he gave me over and over again—the gift of wings.

_____

An award-winning poetry and nonfiction writer, Maureen has also been a commentator on Public Radio Station WFAE 90.7. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Texas Review, The Charlotte Observer, St.Anthony Messenger (Ohio),  Potato  Eyes (Maine), Kalliope  (Florida), Chelsea (New York), Cincinnati Poetry Review, Catfish Stew (South Carolina), Catalyst  (Georgia), and Calyx (Oregon). She is the author of Spinning Words into Gold, a Hands-On Guide to the Craft of Writing, a grief workbook entitled How Do I Say Goodbye?, and two collections of poetry, This Scatter of Blossoms and When the Leaves Are in the Water. Her essay “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” appears in Marlo Thomas’s The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2 (Atria Books, 2006) and her poem “Such Foolishness” is included in Thirteen (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003).

Read more about Maureen here and visit her facebook page here.

_____

Read Justin Hunt’s story about his father here.

His Heart Keeps Beating: Remembering My Father . . . by Ginger Bailey

 

His Heart Keeps Beating; Bud Bailey

Everett C. “Bud” Bailey

We didn’t have a lot when I was growing up, though I didn’t know it at the time. Looking back I realize our real wealth was the sense of love and security the folks provided. And, without a doubt, it was my father, Everett C. “Bud” Bailey,  who set the pattern and led the way.

I don’t recall ever thinking of my father as anything out of the ordinary. He was just my dad who worked hard. Maybe it was because he worked so hard, as a carpenter and contractor, that I didn’t realize the extent of his disability.

December 29, 1943, on the island of New Britain, he was caught in machine gun crossfire. Left for dead, he stuffed his gun belt into his opened gut and torn thigh, then dragged himself to the back of the line. Twice more he was counted for dead. Twice more he proved them wrong. He never talked about the details. But I believe it was his meetings with death that created his profound respect for life, and his intuitiveness when it came to the needs of others. For example:

It was obvious that my father loved my mother. In 42 years he never stopped referring to her as “my lovely bride.” And the warm, loving tone of his voice always spoke more than his words. He said he was “very, very fortunate” to have married her, and considered her “the most wonderful woman in the world.” After he died, Mother often said “when you’ve had the best, you don’t settle for less.” She knew her husband loved her.

He also loved his children. There were three of us, all girls. We were each very different in our interests and talents, but Daddy (“Father” was too formal and distancing) treated us all equally — differently according to our various personalities and interests, but equally in our worth and value.

I still reflect on the sense of worth he gave me when I wanted to send a fan letter to get a picture of some television personalities. Daddy said I could send my letter, but I had to include one of my pictures. Of course, my picture hit the round file as soon as it was received, but the message from my father was profound and long lasting — I am just as important and valuable as anyone else, including celebrities.

Extended family was also important to him. His parents were always close, often next door. But Mother’s parents were more than 900 miles away. Summer was Daddy’s busiest time at work, but somehow he managed to get us from northern California to the old farm in western Montana every year. He was determined his children would know their grandparents, and his wife would never feel a loss of her roots. Because of Daddy’s respect, love, and commitment those yearly “trips,” were the most memorable and purest of “vacations.”

When I was a high school senior the exchange student from Thailand lived with us. Quickly she became part of our family, and took to calling Daddy “Daddy Long Legs.” It fit. She was 4 foot 10; he was 6 foot 2. Years later, when she returned to the states, the folks met her at the San Francisco airport. Coming through customs she spotted “Daddy Long Legs” and started yelling “Daddy! Daddy!” The love and acceptance was mutual. I always enjoyed watching people’s faces when Daddy introduced Pranom as his “other daughter.” “You mean you can’t see the resemblance?” he would ask. “Two ears, two eyes, a nose, and a smile.”

Daddy never dwelt on differences nor succumbed to prejudices. One day a visitor to our home made hateful, derogatory remarks about the Japanese. The visitor, like my father, was a WWII veteran, but, unlike my father, had never seen combat. Later I asked Daddy why I never heard such hateful words from him. Certainly he had greater cause than this other man. I can still hear his response. “We were all there for the same reason. The only reason they shot me was because I didn’t shoot them first. If I hate them, I have to hate myself.”

I don’t think my father ever hated anyone. He may have disagreed or disliked or even been angry, but hate was not in him. In fact, he was always quick to correct us girls if we used the word, even in a common cliche. 

Daddy was always there for us. One evening when I was in the 7th grade he perceived something was bothering me. When he asked what it was, I broke into tears. I had a history report due the next day, and I hadn’t even picked a subject. Daddy spent the rest of the evening helping me put together a report on the American flag. The teacher gave me an “A,” but I knew it was really Daddy’s “A.” I did the work, but it would never have happened without Daddy’s coaching and encouragement. 

Daddy continued to be there long after my sisters and I reached adulthood. My younger sister, Janet, was battling leukemia when she met a great guy. Not sure what to do, they went to the folks for advice. “Dave and I are in love,” she said. “We want to get married, but I’m going to die.” Daddy responded: “We are all going to die. Use what time you have.” Janet and Dave did marry. She died one year later, but not before Daddy escorted her to her ten-year class reunion. Dave was out of town on Air Force duty, and Janet, just out of the hospital, was too weak to attend the reunion by herself. With Daddy as her escort, she didn’t have to.

Daddy was an active member of many organizations in our small town, especially the American Legion, but it wasn’t until after his passing that I more fully realized how well-known and respected he was. The funeral director postponed his vacation so he could personally see to the arrangements. The American Legion conducted the service, and members of the organization and community packed the chapel to overflowing. The atmosphere was palpable with respect and sorrow. Then the hearse wouldn’t start for the drive to the cemetery. The battery was dead. When the embarrassed funeral director came to Mother to apologize and explain the delay Mother responded, “It’s just Bud telling everyone to lighten up.” She knew her husband well.

Over twenty years after his death I was blessed to learn a little more about my father and what he meant to others. On one occasion I met a young man who said he was an airline pilot because of my father. He explained that as a teenager he spent a lot of time hanging around the local county airport, dreaming that someday he would learn to fly. Daddy, who learned to fly in the late 1960s, was also frequently at the airport. This young man said it was through my father’s encouragement that he found the motivation to pursue and achieve a career that others told him was only a dream.

On another occasion, upon being introduced, a man exclaimed “You’re Bud Bailey’s daughter! Let me tell you what your father did. We were both at the airpark, just hanging out. I was yelling at a lady at the desk when your father stepped up, said he needed to see me, and took me outside. When we were alone he said, ‘You and I are alike; we are both in constant pain. But that is no excuse for the way you’re acting. That woman isn’t the cause of your pain. You need to stop taking your pain out on people who have nothing to do with it.’ Then he walked away. Boy, was I mad, but I was too stunned to speak. So I planned to lay into him the next time I saw him. But it was two weeks before I had the chance, and by then I had time to think about what he said. He was right — 100% right.”

Physical pain from his war wounds was a daily part Daddy’s life, and it got worse as each day passed. The day he again met death was one of the few exceptions. He was feeling good that day, so he and Mother decided to visit my sister, Donna, who lived 70 miles away. On the way home, driving west into the sun, Daddy said, “I can’t see.” Mother thought he meant the sun was in his eyes until he said “I’m blind,” and slumped over the steering wheel dead.

Mother managed to turn the engine off, without locking the steering wheel, and guide the car until it coasted to a stop on the side of the highway. There she called for help on the CB radio Daddy had taught her to use. Help arrived in three or four minutes. They got his heart going, but he never regained consciousness. His heart stopped for the last time two days later.

But a heart like his never really stops. It keeps beating in the lives of those he touched.

_____

Read other memories about authors’ fathers: Justin Hunt’s “Showman’s Pasture,” Maureen Ryan Griffin’s “The Gift of Wings,” Laura Moehrle’s “The Treasure Box,” and Linda Whitesitt’s “Honoring My Father’s Service.”

Nana Takes Pam to College . . . by Pam Pellegrino

Nana Takes Pam to College; Nana and Her Valiant

 

I spent the summer of ’68 with her in Wheeling, WVA, working as a day camp counselor and getting to know the area around Bethany College, where I would be starting school in September.  That summer I discovered I wasn’t as afraid of boys as I thought I was.  My crushes included a fellow counselor, two lifeguards, James Taylor, and my cousin Norm.  It was a summer of daydreams and sighs.

When camp was over, I flew home to Michigan to pack for college, but within two days I was weak and couldn’t swallow.  Somehow, without even kissing a single boy, I had a severe case of mono. I was not so much disappointed that I would miss the start of my college career as I was by not having a true story to tell my friends about a summer romance. 

I was well enough to fly back to Wheeling by the end of September, where I was to stay overnight with my Nana, who, the next morning, would drive the serpentine roads of the West Virginia hills to deliver me in decent health to my first semester of college.  Bethany was where my parents met, sitting alphabetically in religion class.  My beautiful mother Joan Boyd next to the dashing young soldier Robert Boyd.  Mom loved her name:  Joan Boyd Boyd. Maybe I would meet my dream man the same way.  This is how carefully I chose my college career.

Nana was very serious about getting me to Bethany as early as possible so I wouldn’t miss another moment of my education.  That morning as I sat at the breakfast table, enjoying her town-famous cinnamon, brown sugar and butter coffee cake, she sat down across from me, her black handbag on her arm and keys jangling in her hand.  She stared at my unfinished breakfast and sighed.  “Well,” she said, “I’ll just go warm up the car.”  In a matter of seconds the engine of her ’64 navy blue Valiant roared; she revved it a few times to make sure I got the message, and a few seconds later there was the horn, that ear-shattering sound I’d come to dread throughout the summer.  

Nana was plump, and at most 4’ 10” tall.  Her head could barely be seen above the steering wheel.  Her driving was already part of family lore, how she smoked her cigarette and set it in the car ashtray, picking it up every now and then for a quick puff; how she used her horn to communicate with the mechanics checking her oil, while they were checking the oil; how she passed 18 wheelers on the highway with her foot full throttle on the accelerator and her hand on the horn the entire way. 

“Good Lord,” I prayed, wiping the crumbs from my face. I grabbed my belongings, scrambled to her car, threw open the back door, stashed the suitcase, slammed it shut. Without so much as a glance behind her, Nana gave the car some gas, and with a squeal of tires and blind determination, she and her Valiant took off without me. 

A few minutes later I saw her car heading back to where I was pretending to hitchhike. As she got closer I could see she was laughing, tears running down her rosy cheeks. Forty-five years later I still smile when I think of her lovable, somewhat high-strung personality, and how I wish I could have seen her face when she looked in the back seat to ask me why I was so quiet.

Well, I did kiss a boy or two that first semester of college, which might have caused the relapse of mono forcing me to leave Bethany before finals. Somehow that valiant car and its driver made it up the steep West Virginia hills, and there was my Nana, revving its engine, making absolute sure I wouldn’t miss my plane home.

_____

When Pam’s husband Jimmy passed away six years ago, she found comfort in writing about her grief. She took classes in memoir writing, found her voice, and writes memoir and poetry in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She is also a Spiritual Director, trained through The Haden Institute in Hendersonville, NC. 

Read Pam’s moving story about her mother here.

Read a family story honoring loving grandparents — Dianne Mason’s “Bobba and Grandy: Memories of My Grandparents.”

The Treasure Box: Memories of My Father . . . by Laura Moehrle

I scurried along beside my daddy as we made our way down the snow-covered street. My feet, clad in red rubber boots took two steps for each one of his. Daddy’s faded blue jeans were shoved into his big black boots which made much huge prints in the snow. Dark curls peaked under his black wool hat and a few snowflakes settled into his beard. My own blond hair was pulled back into a pony tail and tucked under my red knitted hat. 

The earth was blanketed in white while the cloudy sky promised more snow to come. The whole world was empty; quietly hibernating. We were the only ones out and about on that cold December morning. Just my daddy and me. Later that night the whole world would come alive with celebrations as 1971 came to a close, but that morning I had my daddy and the whole world all to myself.

It may have been New Year’s Eve to everyone else, but, to me it was special for a different reason.

“What are you going to buy me for my birthday?” I asked, my breath making little puffs of smoke as I spoke.

“I was thinking about a pair of ice skates,” Daddy said, grinning at me. “Would you like that?”

“Yeah!” I said eagerly. Daddy was always coming up with neat birthday and Christmas presents.

I had never been on ice skates, but I had watched my big brother skate with his friends on the lake. Daddy had taken us roller skating once and that was fun. So I knew that ice skating had to be fun, too.

The store was just a little ways from our house. Colorful pictures of Santa and snowmen decorated the frost covered windows. Excitement built up in my chest. This was almost as good as Christmas morning. A bell jingled on the door as we stepped inside. It was warm so daddy undid my coat and I took off my mittens. The store was empty expect for a gray haired lady standing behind the counter.

“May I help you?” She asked in a friendly tone.

Daddy said that we were interested in a pair of ice skates for me.

The lady frowned and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but the skates are all gone. I don’t believe we’ll be getting any more in either.”

“You’ve sold out already? But winter’s only just started!” Daddy exclaimed.

The lady sighed and said, “I know. They were big sellers this past Christmas.”

My lip quivered. I tried very hard not to cry. Daddy bent down to me, resting his big calloused hands on his knees. He looked as disappointed as I was. “I’m sorry, Kitten. Maybe next year.”

I nodded, but I couldn’t understand who had taken all the skates. It wasn’t fair!

Daddy took my small hand in his and said, “Come on, let’s find you another birthday present.”

He led me to the toy section. The shelves were line with: baby dolls, Barbie Dolls, Easy Bake Ovens, Lego building blocks, board games and cars. I looked at toy typewriters, record players and even a toy telephone that really talked. But nothing seemed special enough for a fifth birthday. After all, turning five was big, a whole hand. I would be going to school in the fall, just like my brother. I could spell my own name. I could reach the knob on our front door. I could even get my own drinks from the kitchen sink if I stood on a chair. I couldn’t do those things last year. Yes, turning five was much too important a birthday to settle for a silly toy as a gift.

“How about this?” Daddy had picked up a pink metal box from the shelf. “You can keep all your special treasure in here. It even has a lock, see?”

I shoved my thumb into my mouth and studied the little box. It was pretty and would be perfect to keep things in. And the lock would keep my brother out.

“Okay,” I said. I took my thumb out of my mouth and smiled. True, it wasn’t as neat as ice skates, but even my brother didn’t have his own special treasure box with a lock.

He handed it to me. I opened it up and peered inside, imagining all the things that I would keep there. Two tiny silver keys were fastened to the inside of the lid. Mommy and Daddy had keys to the car and our house. My brother had a key for the lock on his bike. Now I had keys, too, just like a big person. I really was growing up.

Daddy pulled the new black billfold he gotten for Christmas out of his pocket and paid the lady. She put it in a paper sack and wished me a happy birthday. I put my mittens back on and eagerly reached for the bag.

“What do you say?” Daddy said in a stern voice. Good manners were important, even on birthdays.

I said “thank you” and proudly carried my treasure box home, clutching it close to my chest.

At first the box held rings from Cracker Jack boxes, Bazooka Bubble gum comic strips, pretty rocks, and shells from the beach in South Haven on Lake Michigan.

As time went by, those treasures were replaced by other treasures: notes from friends at school dealing mostly with who had crushes on whom, letters my mother had sent me while I’d been at camp, photographs of my dog that I had taken with my first camera and diaries where I’d written my about my worries and private thoughts. The lock worked at keeping my brother, and later on my little sister, out of my things. I also decorated the outside of the box with funny stickers I had accumulated over the years.

Now, forty- five years later, the little box is a bit rusty, but still pink. A sticker of John Travolta from the movie Grease still adorns the front along with one of Tweety Bird. Most of the other stickers have peeled off or are curling at their corners. The lid no longer clamps down and the lock broke many years ago. It still holds my special treasures:  birthday cards from my parents and grandparents, Valentine cards from children at the day care where I worked, a large flat rock from a hiking trip along Canada’s Bruce Trail, some Girl Scout patches and merit badges. There is even a hand carved barrette that my dad made for me when I was ten.

Most importantly, though, the box holds memories of my father: dressed in jeans and t-shirts, or cable knit sweaters when it was cold, his bright sparkling blue eye, his mischievous sense of humor, and his big strong arms that carried me when I was just too tired to walk.

I’ve had many wonder birthday gifts since, but that little treasure box will always be a favorite. (Incidentally I did get ice skates the following Christmas, just before I turned six.) 

_____

Laura has dreamed of becoming a writer ever since she was a little girl. She recently quit her retail job so that she could fulfill that dream and is currently working on a memoir. She has written several essays, short stories and entered competitions — winning two honorable mentions.

Read stories about other fathers here and here.

My Dream of Mom . . . by Pam Pellegrino

My Dream of Mom; Joan Boyd Boyd

Joan Boyd Boyd

You are an angel, ascending to heaven, dressed in flowing white. You are blowing kisses down to earth. Streams of tiny gold fairy dust hearts flutter off your fingers. Together they form a kite-like string as they gently cascade down, all sparkly and soft, to tenderly touch my face. I will never forget this dream image of you I hold in my heart: young, beautiful, and healthy again.

I think back to when I was your child. We watched Mary Martin as Peter Pan every year. You were my Wendy: youth and wonder, motherhood and love, concern and sacrifice. I wanted to be her, because she was like you. Once I was on a kid’s show in the early years of television, and a man with a microphone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A mommy,” I replied without the least hesitation or imagination. You must have sighed at that.

On the surface, your life as my mom was conventional, but your inner life and life experiences, of which I know so little, were much more complex than that. This great insight of mine would likely have received a sarcastic but gentle response from you, such as “Most lives are, dear.”  Did you have secrets you wanted to tell, glimpses of your past before I was part of it?  Did I even think to myself I would ask you later, as if we had all the time in the world?  

I have a picture of you at eight, in your pale blue dotted Swiss dress with the large laced collar. Your mouth is lovely and full. Your eyes look sad and tired. I think by this time you had endured the horrible mastoid operations which almost took your life. You were allergic to penicillin. With no other known antibiotics to fight the infections that hurt so much, you had to be put in a strait jacket to keep you from going wild. Did your ears define your childhood, like my crossed eye did mine?

There is a picture of you at age 12, in pigtails, a spitting image of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. You are Wendy and Dorothy. Your face is so hopeful and open—you seem well and happy, grounded in the love of your family, open and excited about the adventures to come. You showed me with your love that there’s no place like home.

You read everything you could, and made a reader out of me. You loved Alice in Wonderland, the Little House books, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and the poetry of A.A.Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson. You could hardly wait for me to be old enough to read them myself. You and I both identified with Anne especially.  You might easily have been the Anne who lamented “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes,” but you also would have loved Anne’s thought that “Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”  My favorite line from Anne is “Red hair is my life-long sorrow.” Add kinky, uncontrollable, and the nickname favored by Dad, “Big Red,” to that, and you understood my plight. That’s why, when I was thirteen, you bought a product called ‘Straightaway’, heavily marketed to African-American women, to help me “get straight,” so that Paul McCartney would love me instead of Jane Asher.  

By your teen years you were devouring Vanity Fair, Gone With the Wind, all of Jane Austin, Madame Bovary, and Anna Karenina.  You wanted me to love reading that was challenging and thought-provoking. When I finished Gone With the Wind, you asked me who I liked the most, Scarlett or Melanie. My reply of “Melanie” was a bit of a disappointment to you. “Hmm,” you replied with a furrowed brow and slight frown. You left it to me to figure out why. Had you a Civil War and a plantation, rather than the life expected of a ‘50s housewife and mother of four, I think you very well might have been Scarlett.

Your mom wanted you to be ladylike, provide her with grandchildren and become a good housewife like she was. You excelled in needlepoint, piano, watercolors, and all the liberal arts. Your penmanship was impeccable, which pleased her. You could recite from Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath,” and I am sure her feminist manifesto pleased you. Perhaps you had fun imagining a little revenge after being raised by a father who merely wanted you to look pretty playing the piano, and two brothers who never acknowledged your opinions as the least bit interesting.

It was at Bethany College in West Virginia where you memorized parts of Chaucer, and where you met the handsome airman who became my dad. Robert Boyd sat next to Joan Boyd in religion class after the war, and marriage soon followed. (You loved your name: Joan Boyd Boyd!)  Robin arrived eleven months later; you “dropped me like an egg” seventeen months after that, and then Ann came along within the next two years. Three girls, still best friends, grew up together.  Seven years after that you had Steve (the only one planned, you told your daughters when we were adults). 

As a married woman with children, I’m certain you read Dr. Spock. I think of other books of that time, the 1950s and ‘60s, and remember seeing titles of works by Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, James Michener, Leon Uris, and James Baldwin on your bedside table, along with The Group and The Feminine Mystique. When I became a married woman in the ‘70s, we exchanged books we loved:  those by Gail Godwin, Lee Smith, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates.  

Dad travelled often, but you held down the fort, wisely and firmly. To me you were Marmie from Little Women. We felt safe and loved. Oh Mom, how I miss you, how I wish I had had more time with you!  We never quarreled or had issues like so many moms and daughters. I think the harshest thing you ever said to me was “Don’t be flip” if I was a little bit sassy. We still have that powerful, unbreakable bond, as I carry on with my daily chores, doing things just the way you taught me.

I haven’t dreamed about you in years. Something was resolved for me in that dream of 22 years ago, those kisses you blew for me, letting me know you loved me always, assuring me you are whole again, wherever your soul may be. 

I look up and see you, my loving, lovely mother, and know I am safe.

_____

When Pam’s husband Jimmy passed away six years ago, she found comfort in writing about her grief. She took classes in memoir writing, found her voice, and writes memoir and poetry in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She is also a Spiritual Director, trained through The Haden Institute in Hendersonville, NC. 

 

For other loving tributes to mothers, read Kate Green’s Little deaths along the way teach us and Maureen Ryan Griffin’s Save Everything.

The Night That Changed My Life . . . by Sandy Hill

The Night that Changed My Life; Sandy Hill and Rev. Sabin

(left to right: Gordon Critchlow, Ethel Critchlow, Sandy Hill, the Rev. Edgar Sabin)

 

The year was 1956. An honors student, I was ready to graduate from high school, but college was only a dream.

With five brothers and sisters, a sick mother and a dad who drove a taxi, we were desperately poor. Poor as in put cardboard in the soles of your shoes to keep the rain out, poor as in stand in line at the Salvation Army for your classmates’ discarded clothes, poor as in government surplus milk and cheese.

I’d cleaned houses, waited tables, babysat, but the amount I’d saved wouldn’t pay tuition at any college.

Enter three people who changed my life: the Rev. Edgar Sabin, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Towanda, Pa., and Gordon and Ethel Critchlow, an elderly, childless couple with big hearts.

One night, three months before high school graduation, I led a program at the church youth group. The Rev. Sabin was there, and apparently he saw something in me that I perhaps wasn’t quite aware of myself.

He moved quickly to find Pfeiffer College in North Carolina, where I could work 40 hours a week and go to college free except for books and incidentals.

Mrs. Critchlow rallied the women of her Sunday School class to sew clothes for me and buy a suitcase to put them in. 

Then the Critchlows and Rev. Sabin  drove me 600 miles to college – my family had no car – and got me settled. Through my college years, they continued to support me with small, but important, gifts. 

Their generosity changed my life forever. I graduated magna cum laude, ended up a newspaper editor, became an active volunteer, and donated toward helping another aspiring college student at my home church. 

And they changed forever the lives of my daughter, who was able to  graduate from college debt-free, and of my grandchild, when her turn comes. 

Words can never do justice to what they did for me.

They’re gone now, but I think of them often with gratitude.

_____

Sandy Hill, a former newspaper editor, is the author of five novels: “Tangled Threads,” “Kate & Delia” (sequel to “Tangled Threads”), “The Blue Car,” “Bonds of Courage,” and “Deadline for Death.” First chapters can be read free on Amazon and ordered through Amazon, Kindle and bookstores. She volunteers as an ESL and citizenship tutor of adults and tries to perfect her intermediate Spanish.

_____

Read another story about a mentor who influenced the course of a young man’s career.

Little deaths along the way teach us . . . by Kate Green

 

little deaths along the way teach us

Terese Eileen Murphy (Kate Green’s mother)

The Card read “All who have been touched by beauty are touched by sorrow at its passing.” My mother, Terese Eileen Murphy, was blessed with great physical beauty, but I was witness at the end of her life, to see her beauty in its purest form.

To the untrained eye, my mother appeared to be a 80-pound emaciated woman. Those trained to see more deeply saw pure essence, a spark of the divine, the stuff that we’re made of.

There is a hole left in your heart when your mother passes from this life, but with Alzheimer’s disease it is the “little deaths along the way” that prepare you for the final farewell. The ache of watching your independent mother surrender her car; of seeing the trust in her eyes while signing a power of attorney form; of witnessing her courage as she struggles with the loss of her autonomy. It’s the sorrow you feel the first time you realize that your mother will never go out to eat at a restaurant with you anymore, or see a movie, or even be able to sit through her granddaughter’s graduation from law school.

These are mileage markers on the journey that is Alzheimer’s, but these are not the only milestones. This journey is for the strong hearted, and you soon learn that it belongs to you as well as your loved one.

Along the path, you will have head-on collisions with pain, fatigue, guilt, resentment, anger; and soothing encounters with joy, laughter, courage, understanding, forgiveness and love. These are your companions.

They surface when you need them, are masters in the art of disguise, and are important guides to your ultimate destination—healing. They are gifts of feeling, of feeling deeply, and they take you to that hidden place of the heart, where wounds lie. You visit and return to this place as many times as needed, until you begin to understand the origins of the wounded parts of yourself and begin to forgive, heal, and lay them to rest.

American society celebrates birth and fears death. My experience, with observing the death of loved ones, convinces me that we need to celebrate both.  Words fail to communicate the depth of feelings you have at the birth of your child. It is a sacred moment. You feel partnership with the divine, surrounded by love. I have felt this also when death arrives. When death began its 7-year journey toward my mother, there was no way of knowing that the “little deaths along the way” would change forever the way I viewed this great passage. There was no way of knowing that these “little deaths” would help my mother heal and let go of the wounded parts of herself, and in the process would break down my armor and open my heart to forgiveness.

It may be hard to understand how something as devastating as Alzheimer’s disease can bring with its destruction unimagined gifts of spirit—but it does. Hospice workers know this. They recognize that there is a sacred aspect to death and in many ways they serve as a bridge to help those who are dying cross over from one dimension to another.

Those who minister to people dying with Alzheimer’s often witness the peeling away of the personality and find themselves relating to the authentic beauty of the spirit within that person. Hospice workers shared that their visits with my mother were intentionally planned to be at the end of their day in order “to take her beautiful energy home with them.” Staff members from other parts of the nursing home where mother lived would visit her daily because “just one of her smiles made their day.” In other words, they saw a beauty more profound than physical beauty—true beauty—authentic and pure, and it touched and opened their hearts.

Does one ever get over the loss of a parent? Back then the loss was so fresh it was hard to imagine. But the “little deaths along the way” did help prepare me for the final farewell to my mother. Now it is the memory of seeing true beauty and witnessing the nobility of the human spirit expressed by caregivers, friends and family that continues to comfort me and ease my sorrow. And perhaps, during the years that she struggled with Alzheimer’s, it was not so much that Death was moving toward her, but rather, Life—opening the door to new beginnings. The final gift I received from my mother was the realization that the journey of life continues for me—without the fear of death.

_____

Originally published in The Durham Herald-Sun (Sunday, October 15, 2000), Edition: Final, Page: G1

Kate is a member of our team.

_____

Read a woman’s reflections on her husband’s battle with lung cancer.

Reflections on Living with My Husband’s Cancer . . . by Linda Whitesitt

Love

My husband and I are both classical musicians. I play the violin and viola, and Bennett is a conductor and trumpet player. Over the years we have come to know the old truth the music happens in the space between the notes. It is the mystery that rests between the notes as well as the nature of how they are connected that brings the notes on the page to life. It has been our goal to shape the relationship between the notes in such a way that we create music that moves us and the listener. The spaces and what they contain give the music meaning.

In the same way, the mystery that rests in the space between the moments of our life together flows through our relationship like a river and sustains us. For us, that mystery is love. Perhaps it’s the same for music.

As we have moved through time together, the experience of that “time together” — the accumulation of all the moments and the love between them — has carved out a shared history similar to how the unfolding in time of notes and spaces creates a memory of a unified work of art. Looking back, we see a musical work — and our marriage — as whole and indivisible, and neither one of us has been willing to tear it up and throw it away during the real hard times when we thought love had ceased to fill up the spaces. The wholeness and indivisibility of our shared life has always pulled us back. It is what remains with us just like the music is still present after the last note is played.

Love is what kept Bennett going before emergency surgery to repair a leak in the remaining portion of his right lung only a few weeks after his initial surgery for lung cancer in October 2009. Some time in the middle of the night before the early morning surgery, my husband’s roommate, on hearing Bennett distraught and tearful, managed to move his bed close to Bennett’s so that he could hold my husband’s hand and pray with him. Bennett’s roommate was not capable of getting out of bed, so we never have been able to figure out how he moved his hospital bed. But somehow he did, and in those terrifying moments late at night, he filled the space between them with love, assurance and comfort.

Bennett also shares a special relationship with someone else — his surgeon. We both know that his doctor’s caring attention, his supportive communication and his commitment have helped lengthen the tine in which we can both say, “We’re surviving cancer.” This is another space — the space between doctor and patient — that has been filled with love. And we know that relationships filled with love are healing.

Inhale / Exhale

Sometimes the spaces between notes are filled with moments of silence — moments when players stop playing and singers stop singing. Many times these rests are moments for breaths between phrases. They form a container for the phrases they enclose. Music played without attention given to breathing between phrases is lifeless, without flow and direction. Music, like life, needs breath to come alive.

There are many times in our journey of surviving cancer when breathing eludes me. So many events have taken my breath away: sitting in the doctor’s office and listening to him explain that the results of the biopsy showed cancer and, two years later, hearing that the cancer had returned; trying to take in another doctor’s description of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation; hearing the surgeon say that because he had found cancer in a lymph node outside of my husband’s lung, it was Stage III cancer and not Stage I; answering a call from my husband and hearing him gasp that he couldn’t breathe.

There have even been whole periods of time, days even, when it seemed like I couldn’t breathe: the ten minutes it took me to get home not knowing if Bennett would still be breathing when I got there; the next two minutes waiting for the ambulance; the three hours driving behind the ambulance from our regional hospital to the hospital in Charlottesville; the days waiting for the results of CT and PET scans; the hours spent at Bennett’s side while chemicals flowed into his body; the days between treatments as I watched his body become weaker and weaker.

When my husband started to heal after the surgery and chemotherapy, there were many moments when I felt I couldn’t get my breath. Every time Bennett coughed, every time he sighed or groaned, my body would immediately shift into panic mode. Once when he yelled in frustration at a computer glitch, I was in tears by the time I got to the top of the stairs to see what the problem was. I drove him crazy with my constant query, “What’s wrong?”

It was during those trying days of panic for no good reason that a wise friend gave me words, stories and strategies to help me make my way out of instant fright over every sneeze and cough. One of the things she suggested was to breathe — inhale and exhale deeply. She even gave me different breathing responses for different situations.

When I remember to breathe, the cancer doesn’t go away. But just like the rests in music that form a container for musical phrases, my breath forms a container for the moments of my life, and I am reminded that for this moment, we are together. With each breath, I am thankful for the time we share. Breathing helps me feel connected to the life that surrounds my — my husband’s breath, the rain on the window, the flowers in the path, and our cats asleep on the sofa. Breathing gives me the strength to rest in the moment no matter what it holds.

Fear

Fear is a frequent companion. I fear my husband dying. I fear what might happen to Bennett’s body during chemo and radiation. I fear that the cancer will not respond to treatment. Now that the cancer has recurred (fall 2011), fear seems to be a constant, unwelcome, companion. It’s a hollow pit in my stomach that won’t go away.

Fear doesn’t always visit with the same intensity. It comes in waves similar to the waves of grief I experienced after my mother’s death. Sometimes, the strength of the wave knocks me off my feet. During the months when the CT scans showed nothing to worry about, the fear receded. But it always shows itself quickly when Bennett experiences a pain or a cough we can’t explain. When Bennett is away in the evening for a rehearsal and I am in he house alone, a wave of fear can pull me under. The thought — “This is how it’s going to be when he’s gone” — washes over me. It isn’t so much a matter of “I’ll be alone.” Instead, it’s “How will I be able to go on when the ‘I’ that I am feels so intimately tied to the ‘we’ that we are?”

This is the source of the pit in my stomach in this journey of “we’re surviving cancer.” The ground beneath my feet is always shifting, and these earthquakes make me lose sight of who I am because my “I” is a “we.” Who is the “I” in the “we’re surviving cancer” story? It’s not the same “I” as before there was any cancer. Confronted with the fragility of life, I want to hang on to how it was before cancer, and frankly, there are times that I get mad as hell that cancer has changed everything.

There was a time in the winter of 2010 during the “no signs of cancer” months when I found myself inexplicably angry at Bennett. It took me weeks to realize that being angry at him masked the horrible fear that it might be our last Christmas together. Once I discovered its source, my anger vanished, and with it, my fear.

Now it’s another Christmas (2011), and the cancer is back. There is no anger this time, only fear. What helps? Writing these reflections is a comfort. Finding the words to describe what I have kept and continue to keep inside shines sunlight into dark and fearful places. Taking to heart the one very important word in the title of our book — “today” — helps abate my fear.

Today — this day — this moment — my husband and I are eating breakfast together, paying the bills together, having dinner with friends together. We’re making music together, and he’s helping me with my work. The “I” I am today is this woman who loves this man, who reaches out and touches him and leans over and kisses his cheek. Today we are both alive.

I have today with Bennett. I’d be lying if I said that it’s enough.

Endure

It is in the small, sometimes inconsequential moments of our life together that I am frequently struck with the sudden, strong desire that “we” must endure. Fixing dinner, opening the mail, grocery shopping — these are some of the shared moments when I long that the pleasure of doing them together lasts as long as possible. In some ways, it’s the same as holding onto glorious moments in classical music.

A few weeks ago the music ensemble I direct and play in performed an arrangement of the “Nimrod” variation from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a sublimely beautiful work. Playing it, I was deeply aware of every note, and many of them I held as if I didn’t want to let them go. I savored each note’s significance thoroughly before going on to the next. This practice of awareness is what I want to bring to every moment of our life together.

Cancer forces me to bring all of my awareness to the times my husband and I share. It also nudges me to be a more engaged witness in other encounters I have throughout the day. When I do, when I bring my awareness to the mountains before my eyes, the friend who is telling me about her day, the hummingbird’s wings I hear as she flies above the feeder, the shiny rock that catches my attention, I find that my life fills with meaning. The moment endures. It is luminous.

I remember entering a busy airport after a weeklong spiritual retreat in an idyllic country setting. I was stunned. My time away had made me intensely aware of the radiance of every person I saw. It was as if every individual was lit from within — everyone special, everyone shining in this great web of life. The moment didn’t last long, and I’ve never been able to recapture the depth of that experience, but my husband’s cancer brings me close.

At this moment one of our cats jumped into my lap as I was writing these words. Instead of brushing him away, I paused, took him into my arms for as long as he allowed me to hold him, and became aware of the preciousness of this moment. He’s not one to cuddle, so I had to treasure being with him fully and quickly. I want all of the moments in my life to endure, but my cat and life have other plans.

It occurs to me that “endure” has another meaning. Bennett is my hero when it comes to enduring many bouts with cancer without giving in to fear or pain. He has remained positive and optimistic throughout the surgeries and the chemo and is refusing to yield to despair when faced with lung cancer recurrence and the prospect of radiation and more chemo. In all of the health updates to family and friends he has written, there has never been even a hint of anger or despondency.

I have never known my husband to be anything but hopeful and determined. It is his indomitable will that has carried both of us through the sometimes bumpy terrain of our  life together. It is his unwavering commitment to me and to life that lifts me up in the moments when I lose heart. His words also help — “No matter what happens, Linda, we will endure.”

I want us to endure. Bennett teaches me how.

_____

Update: It’s been almost nine years since Bennett was diagnosed with lung cancer. His oncologist has declared his survival “a miracle.” I agree!

This story is from the book Linda wrote with her husband, Bennett Lentczner — We’re Surviving Cancer . . . Today.

Linda is our story gatherer, and Bennett is part of our our team.

_____

Read Linda’s story about her search for her immigrant grandparents.

Read Kate Green’s moving tribute to her mother.