Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Aftermath of Christmas

Facebook brings us in contact with people from long ago. One young lady I especially enjoyed watching grow up in our village had writing talent. She went off to college, married a doctor, lives in a coastal state far from Southern Illinois, and has three sons— one of whom will be in college next year if I understand her status remarks correctly. Her post-Christmas comment was she was cleaning up the aftermath of Christmas. That is where we all are now, isn’t it? There is always physical and emotional aftermath.

We are still eating leftovers, and I carried some—including the last pumpkin pie--in to Katherine’s house this afternoon. Mary Ellen said to take the extra loaf of banana bread she had made to the Cedars, so I delivered that too. I feel a certain satisfaction when I empty a dish. Now that is done, I think.

Gerald was concerned that we might run short on fruit despite the huge bowl we had available. (Katherine had seen this commercial-size aluminum bowl at a rummage sale when she lived with us in 1993, and she laughingly carried it home to me. She knew I would love it, and I do.) Actually we’ve had adequate fruit in these three days after Christmas. We still have plenty of apples, but I think we did eat the last orange today. I have made a mental note to buy two boxes from Sam’s band fund raiser next year.

Gerry looked at our house after Christmas and commented that it would take me two weeks to clean it up. I laughed and knew he was correct. This despite the fact that others cleaned the kitchen beautifully with all its pots and pans after our Christmas dinner, people gathered the discarded paper when we unwrapped our gifts, and they picked up before they left. Although I counted 16 pairs of shoes in the front foyer once, nary a one was left. Granddaughter Brianna picked up the den again before the Taylors left Saturday night, and Mary Ellen loaded the collection of dirty towels downstairs in the washer. I had already laundered the upstairs towels. And the table coverings are laundered and put away except for the one on the table now. Yet there are many items still out of place—things Gerald and I don’t use but bring out when a crowd is here.

In another week, I will be thinking of disassembling the two trees—one upstairs and one down—and packing away all the decorations for next year—decorations I have been collecting for over 50 years. I will enjoy it. Putting things away allows me to relive and remember the fun times we just had as well as the ancient Christmases that the decorations bring to mind. After our first Christmas as an engaged couple, I went to the after-Christmas sale at the dime store in Anna and bought two dozen ornaments in preparation for our tree the following year. Some have broken, but most are still intact. I have added some of Gerald’s mother’s ornaments as well bought many since then.

Many ornaments on the downstairs tree were made by children and grandchildren, and others are made by friends and relatives. “Somebunny in Wyoming loves you,” says one little painted bunny from Gerald’s sister. The wooden replica of a Texas map that niece Cyndi made in 1985 commands: “Deck them halls, ya’ll.” For a few years before her stroke in 2001, Ginger and Garry would come to our house early in December and bring an ornament that Ginger made us. Those are precious. I try to enjoy the ornaments and the memories as I put them up, for there is more time to lovingly linger when I pack them away.

Christmas cards and letters have poured in—some hand made, some made on the computer, one with an ornament for the tree, two original poems for the season, many notes and annual letters, and one very cherished long hand-written two page letters just to me. My cousin Ginny sent me a copy of a book her sister Kathie published of their late mother’s journal notes about the two times their family moved to California—once in 1926 before I was born and I had never even known about. The other was the 1940s move that separated their family from ours during all the war years. Soon after moving to the land of his dreams, Uncle Bill died of a heart attack, but Aunt Liz and their four daughters remained there.

Aunt Liz and her sisters, orphaned by early adulthood, stayed connected with a round robin letter that went from home to home growing with one more letter at each stop. We kids devoured these letters also. So I was quite familiar with Aunt Liz’s conversational writing style. Reading her early journal was almost like having her in the house for a visit. I will want to read this again too just as I will re-read the Christmas cards and letters.

Getting over Christmas and its aftermath has always been more relaxed and pleasurable in some ways than pre-Christmas activities. This post season week too will pass, and the plainness of the house cleared of excess color and clutter will be as refreshing to the eyes as the ornamentation has been. Meals will deliberately be simple and down home. I will probably be making beans and corn bread soon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Away in the Manger"

One of my favorite things in the Christmas season is watching the children in our village church in their annual program. We barely arrived by the 2 p.m. time, but as it turned out, there was room on the back row for us to sit with our 92-year-old friend and neighbor Chester Turner.

Kim Barger has been kind enough to take the lead for several years now to see that we have a program. Before the coal mines shut down and we had a much larger church family, we sometimes had quite elaborate plays and/or musicals. Kim lead in some of those. However, in recent years with fewer children, we have had to simplify. Also we have tried to meet families’ needs. Some are having family gatherings today and could not participate. Some children can’t come to many practices or perhaps any of them. Kim wants them to be welcome to participate if they want to, and so she welcomes them to sing along with or without attending practices.

Today after a humorous reading by a senior citizen, who calls herself “Granny,” our teens preceded the little children’s participation. We heard Cody Barger, who has a beautiful voice, sing “Mary Did You Know?” and later read the scripture with an equally good reading voice. Katie Cutsinger did a poem parody of “The Night Before Christmas” with poise and clarity. Cody’s brother Jared played an electric guitar solo, and his cousin Donovan did a solo on his drums. Both solos were so good, and it was exciting to see how each had grown and mastered his instrument in the couple of years we have heard them play. Next in line was Donovan's sister, Bethany, a second grader, who sang “There’s a Song in the Air” with great talent.

The musical quality was high and we would have enjoyed it under any circumstances, but we listened with tears just below the surface because Kim and her husband Scott had spent this week in the hospital after Scott’s heart attack on Monday. Yesterday, the doctors sent him home with special care-taking by Kim giving him shots. Some of us had wondered how the program could go on, but we knew Kim’s sister-in-law Tina had been helping with the program and she would take over. But amazingly, Kim was there, and Scott even came down the short distance from their house to sit quietly and be there for that hour. Someone else took his place presenting the church’s present to the pastor.

After the older kids’ part, then we had the nativity scene. Many years ago, some talented seamstresses created a large number of costumes for angels and shepherds. They could not be more simple, so the seamstresses’ talent was in designing these practical garments. They slide over the head over the street clothes and are very adjustable to various size children. They are laundered and put carefully away from year to year, and no parent has the stress of trying to create a costume. And Kim is ready for whoever shows up. One of the cutest and quite effective developments in the last couple years is that when the time comes for the little ones to perform the nativity scene, they simply come to the front from where they have been sitting with parents and put on their costumes in front of the audience. The older kids and teens join them.

And that is when they sang “Away in the Manager” and another sweet song about the babe in the hay. Seeing Tyler swaying, smiling, and singing was a joy, and two-year-old Lena stole the show by trying to reach up and obtain the mike in their midst. She was ready to sing just as she had seen Bethany do. The program ended with a joyful rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by four-year-old Amanda, who showed up today with her Christmas dress and matching doll.

Our church is strong on tradition, and we have a very old-fashioned Christmas program dating from no telling how many decades ago. It was set in concrete, when we first experienced it in 1962 when we moved to Williamson County. After the formal program is over, we sing a carol or two, and then most years, a Santa Claus shows up and helps with the distribution of presents that are under the tree. The teens help pass gifts to those who don’t want to come up and sit on Santa’s lap. While this is going on, two large serving bowls saved year to year for this very purpose filled with candies, such as chocolates, hard candies, and orange slices are passed to the congregation. During all the gift receiving and little ones talking to Santa, the bowls go up and down the aisles usually arriving just as you have finished the last piece you took. At the very end as we leave, sacks of Christmas treats with an orange, apple, and candy are passed to those who will take them. People don’t usually leave in a hurry as they linger to visit.

We came back home to Woodsong for Gerald’s nap as he watched TV and I resumed addressing Christmas cards. After supper, I had to make a birthday phone call to my sister. Before he went to bed, Gerald got a phone call from granddaughters Erin and Geri Ann that they were on their way up from Georgia, so we were pretty excited. We were expecting them tomorrow. But after their weekend softball camp, they needed to deliver a young friend to the Atlanta airport, so it was a wise choice to come on up to Illinois tonight. The door is unlocked, and I’m going to say good night to you, so I can go up and turn on all the outside lights to welcome them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Newsletter 2009

I have spent the afternoon addressing Christmas cards. I love Christmas cards because they allow me to keep up with friends from the past. I have always loved newsletters, because I love reading about others’ lives. Naturally I early started writing one of my own. I know Ann Landers and others made fun of them, and that was their privilege. But I did resent that their writings and disdain might have influenced others not to write newsletters I would have enjoyed.

Originally I signed Gerald’s name to the letter, but that embarrassed him, so I switched to using first person, which was easier to write. I might have stopped in busy years, but there were elderly relatives who would tell me how much they looked forward to my letter. How could I quit? (I hope they weren’t fibbing!) Those dear ones are gone now, but writing the letter has become one of my traditions, and it is a good way to reflect back upon the previous year. I always assumed my friends and relatives were smart enough to toss my letter in the wastebasket if they did not like newsletters. If you don’t, please don’t read tonight’s blog any further. Here is the 2009 newsletter:

Woodsong Christmas 2009
Dear Friends and Relatives:

Except for the Taylors, our extended family has mostly stayed put this year. Mary Ellen and Brian moved from Lake Saint Louis, MO, to central Illinois. Their country home is five miles from the sweet tiny town of Waggoner. Trent and Briana go to Lincolnwood High School in Raymond. Brian once again had great yields on our farm on the Pittsburg road, which he leases.

The Cedars--Katherine, David, and Sam--are still in Marion. The Eilers--Jeannie, Rick, Elijah, and Cecelie--in Freeport, and Gerry, Vickie, and Geri Ann in Watkinsville, GA. Erin Glasco is a senior at Texas A&M and Leslie Eiler is a sophomore at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Tara, our oldest grandchild, and her husband, Bryan Archibald, and their two boys--Aidan and Maddux-- are still in Aurora.

We like being half way between Leslie and her family since we get to have them come by the farm as they travel to visit one another. And we love it when Erin stays here while she visits her hometown Johnston City friends.

In the spring, we followed Erin’s A&M and Gerry’s University of Georgia softball teams, and this fall Geri Ann’s Oconee High School softball team. We watched on the computer or sometimes on TV and on occasion in person. Gerald planned a birthday trip to see Gerry’s Georgia Bulldogs play softball. We had planned to go together to Aggies vs. Missouri, but with her Great Grandmother Borum’s death on April 1, Gerald took Erin on to Columbia after the Friday night visitation and I stayed here.

With grandson Sam along, we went up to Freeport the days before Easter to see Elijah and Cecelie in the annual extravaganza Showtime, which is always an incredible student production. Sam got to dye eggs with the Eilers and then again when we stopped at my brother Jim’s for a break coming home. We arrived back at Woodsong on Easter Eve. I had a small ham in the fridge, but I did not use it. Our son-in-law David had arranged an Easter dinner for us, and he and Katherine carried it out to Woodsong for the six of us, which included Sam’s friend Josh.

I did get to see Erin play softball, however, when we went to the Big 12 Tournament on Mother’s Day weekend. (We missed getting to see Elijah in the lead of Brighton Beach Memoirs up at Freeport that week.) Driving to Oklahoma City, we listened to reports on the derecho, which wiped out thousands of trees, roofs, and worse in our area. Mary Ellen and Brian and our good neighbors the Cullys took care of our house, hooked up a generator, and saved our frozen food.

A year’s highlight for us was going at the end of May to the Women’s College World Series at Oklahoma City for the second year in a row. Last year we saw Erin lead A&M to second place, and this year the University of Georgia went to the nationals for the first time and placed third. Mary Ellen, Brianna, and the Archibalds were also there in addition to Vickie and Geri Ann. We also visited with Gerald’s Air Force friends John and Mary Patterson, who live there, and we celebrated Mary Ellen‘s birthday.

Afterward we drove on down to Amarillo to visit with my sister Rosemary and husband Phil and the family there. We had been able to meet up with their daughter Cyndi in Oklahoma, who was house sitting that week for her daughter Tori and husband Randy. We had barely returned from Texas, and Gerald went with Tara to a Southern Force tourney in Birmingham.

July brought Vacation Bible School at Center with grandkids visiting and helping out. August brought a day trip for me to visit her brother Jim and wife Vivian. Then the day after Gerald’s Wolf Lake High School Reunion, we drove to Urbana for the 100th anniversary of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, where we attended when Gerald was in grad school. Next came a visit from Erin and two girl friends from A&M. On our way to the Garden of the Gods with them, we were able to work in a visit to cousins Morris and Judy Hall when Mary Graddick came up from Tallahassee.

Labor Day brought the Archibalds, the Taylors, Leslie and her friend Mike Thompson to visit, so that was a fun weekend. At the end of the week, we headed to Georgia and watched Geri Ann’s team win 4 of 5 games in their opening tourney there in Watkinsville. We were able to attend church with them and stay a couple more days for one more game. Visiting Dahlonega was a special treat. This month Geri Ann was chosen by the Athens Herald-Banner as softball player of the year. As a pitcher, she went 11-2 this season with a 0.60 ERA and batted .465 with 10 homers and 41 RBI.

Back in Illinois, we enjoyed a visit from Vernell Williams and together attended the annual BSU Reunion (1940s-60s) at Carbondale’s Baptist Student Center and at University Baptist Church.

As we have aged, the doctor, dental, ear, and eye appointments have increased to fill our time. But we have still had time for services at Center in the village of Crab Orchard, grandson Sam’s band concerts, and occasional breakfasts or dinners with the Glasco brothers. I remained active in Southern Illinois Writers Guild and the Trail of Tears Association, and I frequently speak on the Trail. Usually I blog twice a week on Woodsong Notes and occasionally write an article that gets published. Gerald has again enjoyed some Angel Flights with Herman Hood. He has a couple of Gerry’s dogs here right now and had fun hunting quail with Gerry over Thanksgiving. He still helps out Scott Cully next door and sometimes our son-in-law Brian. He always has a project of some sort going and does a lot of photography.

All the children and most of the grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving. (The Archibalds had their northern Illinois family at their house, but they plan to be here for Christmas.) Jeannie’s family will be at Freeport at Christmas.

There are many sad things in the world and in our community and family, but also we have much to be thankful for including friends and loved ones like you. Here is a Bible verse gift for 2010: “And the angel said Fear not: for, behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Luke 2:10

Love and Merry Christmas,


Thursday, December 17, 2009

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”

Brisk but very pleasant weather made Center’s annual caroling outing much more comfortable than it has been in some past years. Thirteen of us gathered at the church house in the village and put together fruit bags and goody trays for shut-ins. Actually right now we have few. Some we send the treats to, but don’t sing to as they go to bed early.

Loudeen is a recovered cancer patient and looked marvelous. She insisted we come inside her lovely home because she had home-made fudge waiting for us! Her husband is in the nursing home, so she welcomed the visit. Then we traveled on down the road to Chester Turner’s farm. Chester is a community favorite, who always makes anyone visiting him feel like a million dollars. He is any thing but a shut-in, but we visit him anyway. His only child was killed in a car accident shortly after he returned from Viet Nam. His wife died a few years back. Chester remains on the farm taking care of his livestock and riding his horses and mule regularly. He will be 92 on his birthday Saturday, as one of our carolers, who is a riding buddy, informed us. So we also sang “Happy Birthday” to Chester. (The mule is 23.)

Next we went to Angel Acres out in the country from Marion to visit those living there and took a couple of baskets of goodies. (I always thought that Angel Acres was sort of sweet name for a home. However, when I reported a couple years ago that an elderly friend went there, our daughter Jeannie, who has a wry sense of humor, made certain that we knew what she thought if she were to ever be sent to a home with that name. So I guess that won’t be her choice for Gerald and me.)

The residents gathered in the living room were very welcoming, and almost everyone of them sang along with us on the carols. (One was asleep in his wheelchair in the other room.) One very sweet little lady not only sang but waved her arms and directed us on every song. I figured her physical therapist would be delighted that she got that exercise, and I wondered if she had once been a song leader. Wishing everyone a merry Christmas, we started our car caravan and headed into town to The Fountains. We enjoyed their lovely decorations and the aquarium in the lobby.

We were there to visit Robert “Pete” Cline, who is 98. Last year the group had caroled to him at his bedside there, but this year he was up and moving well in his walker. He had gained weight and looked good. His daughter and a group from her church had just entertained the entire home in the recreation room, so an attendant ushered us into a smaller kitchenette/game room, and Pete came in to visit with us.

He had lived in our village for many years, but finally he and Rhoda sold their home and moved into Marion across from a daughter’s home, where we visited and caroled. As they aged, Rhoda eventually had to be taken care of in the daughter’s home, and one year we caroled her there and then across the way to the other house to carol Pete. Then Rhoda was gone, but with the daughters’ and grandchildren’s help, Pete stayed in that comfortable home filled with pictures of grandchildren, and we caroled him each year. Now he has 24 hour care, and still has lots of attention from his children and grandkids. After he recognized some of us, we visited and introduced him to our new pastor and other newcomers before we sang, while he wiped tears from his eyes with his clean handkerchief.

Several we have caroled in the past are no longer with us, so we had only one more place to go. That was to the village of Pittsburg where Tally Taylor’s grandmother lives. She and a friend welcomed us warmly inviting us in, but we insisted on singing on the outside as we usually do at people’s homes. Her tiny white poodle came to the door with them and seemed to enjoy the singing. We enjoyed seeing him.

Back to the church house, we descended to the basement fellowship hall, where Shirley Butler as always had made the tables festive. She had assembled coffee and chocolate milk and cookies and doughnuts. We visited and contemplated that within this next year, we will be gathering in our new fellowship hall on the ground floor. Since Sunday, walls had gone up, so we all felt excitement when we arrived and saw that tonight.

Gradually our little group disbanded to get home to children or chores. Shirley dispensed remaining cookies for folks to take home to children or grandchildren. The kitchen was left clean and shiny as Shirley always does for us—with help, of course. She carried paraphernalia up the stairs to her car trunk even though she lives next door—but the church has a big lawn running down towards the creek between it and Shirley and Butch’s house. For years we had a bridge that Butch built to walk across to their place, but a storm took it down a couple of years ago. Their house faces another street around the corner.

After two or three trips to her car, Shirley also carried up the platter piled high with goodies for Jerome, another favorite who doesn’t want caroling but who always welcomes Shirley. No wonder since she takes him frequent plates from our potlucks or brings him treats from in-town restaurants that she knows he likes. Shirley is one of those unsung heroines, whose organizational abilities and artistic eye have blessed us for years as she quietly serves as our hostess.

We all felt some disquiet tonight, for one of our young men went into the hospital on Monday with a heart attack. Yesterday he had a splint put in. He is out of ICU today and back to his own room. His wife Kim is usually our caroling song leader, and their two teen sons usually join us on our travels around the community. They especially liked to visit Chester, and of course elderly people especially like to see young people. I hurried to the computer when I got home to see Kim’s latest Facebook report on Scott. We are praying his heart rhythm will convert back to normal quickly.

We left each place tonight singing, “We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.” That is also my wish for you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fear Not!

There was yet another death in our community when my daughter-in-law Vickie’s aunt Janis passed away. It was not unexpected as she had been sick for a long time and spent the last week in the hospital. If Vickie attended the funeral of her special aunt Janis, who was her age and who lived next door during their childhoods, it meant Vickie had to drive up from Georgia. Gerry was tied up with weekend classes, and Tara was tied down with little boys and bad weather in northern Illinois and Erin with final exams in Texas. But Vickie and Geri Ann got up at 3 a.m. and made it to yesterday’s 11 o’clock funeral. Tonight they are back home again after the seven-hour return drive.

Because of the deaths, difficulties, diseases, and seasonal illnesses, almost everyone I know is stressed right now. They are not over extended because of poor planning nor excessive shopping or foolishness, but rather they are challenged simply by the problems of life—health problems, grief work, lost jobs, children in the military in Iraq, and other difficulties that really have nothing to do with season but which, nevertheless, make the season and its traditional observances more complicated to enjoy. With loved ones’ health problems weighing heavily on my mind, I have been fighting fear.

Even though I had gone to bed early the night before to avoid oversleeping, I woke late Friday morning and consequently had an inefficient and confusing start to my day. I overslept because when I woke up at 3 a.m., I lay awake for much too long thinking of Janis’ death and wondering if everyone was going to be all right and how I would get through what I wanted to attend to that day. When I finally got back to sleep at dawn, I did not wake up as usual.

In addition to chores and necessary activities, there were two Christmas events that I wanted to participate in on Friday. Neither of them were crucial to me or anyone else if I missed, but I had looked forward to both gatherings and knew the hostesses had worked hard to prepare for us, and I hoped to be at them both.

Some things did not get done. Time for a belated INR that had been my priority for the day became unnecessary when I was told at the doctor’s office that they were out of the usual supplies to perform that test. That had never happened before. Since I was there, however, I was able to explain in person to the clinic receptionist that I had just gone by the pharmacy and a prescription I had taken in over a week before was still not filled. The pharmacy said the doctor’s office had not responded to give a refill. I was out of the medicine that was important to take. (There had been a computer mix up on another prescription, and I figured somehow this prevented the request from ever getting to the clinic.) The receptionist assured me I would have the refill called in with a rush order before the weekend.

With that concern taken care of, I was quickly out of the clinic and on to my daughter’s to see how she was getting along after her surgery. Her aides have been sick this week, but her dad had gone in and gotten from bed and into her chair. Now she was at the computer trying to get some paper work done before a physical therapist was soon to arrive. Sam was home from school with a cold, so she had company. So I left with good feelings that she was all taken care of and knowing I would have interfered with her work if I had stayed longer.

Without an appointment, I could not get my hair done without a wait, so I had earlier saved time by skipping that. Now I powdered my nose and pulled a brush through my hair, and I had perfect timing to meet up with other club members at the library to car pool out to the Christmas party at David and Jackie Hancock’s rural home. I threw everything from the front of the car into the trunk, so I could offer to drive others although I did not know the way to the home. Again, plans changed. Pearl, one of our oldest members, had gotten the directions and was inviting people to ride with her, and she seemed to want to drive, so I climbed in with her.

As it turned out, the directions given her were not expressed with complete accuracy, so we had an adventure getting there, but we had fun. She made it clear she could stay calm because she had her cell phone to get the corrections needed. She did and we were not late. Riding there and back and getting acquainted with her was one of the special blessings I had that day.

I asked about her children, and she told me stories about her son’s experiences in Viet Nam, which could only be described as miracles. My own fears seemed petty as I listened to what this man had gone through as he strove to save his men from harm’s way. As we drove home, I was somewhat surprised at the time on her clock, which meant the afternoon meeting had lasted too long for me to attend the evening party, so I accepted that was what was supposed to be. Actually, she had not set her car clock back when time changed on November 1, so I did have time to fix Gerald a sandwich, brush my hair once more, and head off to the second party that day.

As I walked into the next gathering of the women of our church at Jo Barger’s house, I suddenly realized for probably the last five years it has been my responsibility to bring song books and have hymns picked out; but with all that had gone on last week, I had not even thought about it.

Then my second thought was this was our Christmas gathering. The hostess has the booklets with the words of carols and Christmas songs typed up decades ago and carefully stored at her house. Traditionally we just sing as long as someone has another request to make. I relaxed, and because I was one of the last ones to arrive, I ended up able to sit by Jo’s 44-year-old collection of tiny skiers and skaters displayed on cotton snow and an ice pond made from a mirror. Jo told me it had been bought for her older son’s first Christmas. This is a favorite display that I look forward to each year.

After our singing, Kimberly chose as the theme for her devotional “Fear not.” She first asked us what was the most used commandment in the Bible and most of us thought it was to love. Evidently someone counted and found more commandments telling us not to be afraid. It made sense that if we have faith in God, we can know that no matter what happens or how bad it is, we can depend on Him to see us through it just as Pearl’s son had done in Viet Nam. As Kim read the familiar story from Luke, we envisioned the fear the shepherds felt when the angels appeared out there in the dark of the countryside, and we felt their relief when the angel commanded them to fear not. We were made to realize anew that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of a sound mind.

(Upon different occasions my past, I have prayed to see a flying saucer with aliens and also to see winged angels, but I always knew if God answered those particular prayers, I would know great fear. Maybe that is why the prayer was not answered, although I think I may have interacted with angels dressed as humans and never knew it. In fact, if God sent first Pearl and then Kim into my life on Friday with messages I needed, they may have been such angelic messengers.)

After our business meeting, we always go into Jo’s family room with lighted tree and warm fireplace to open presents and let those with secret sisters try to guess who they are.
While our beloved Zella was in the hospital for her final stay, she was made sure that her present for her secret sister would be delivered to Jo’s house. Jo had invited Zella’s daughter Donna and daughter-in-law Becky, who are precious to us as they both have attended many functions as guests of Zella. Donna opened Zella’s final gift from her secret sister and Charlene opened Zella’s delivered gift to her. There were tears wiped away, but they were joyful tears for the love Zella shared with all of us.

Although none of my concerns had changed, I came home and slept well knowing I had been commanded to fear not.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cold Rainy Days

The drive home from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Murphysboro to Marion last night was slow and difficult. By the time we left at the end of the day, it was high traffic time, and the cold all-day rain was falling harder. With some road construction adding to the visibility problems, I was very grateful when all were home safely. Gerald had brought the van over to drive Katherine home, but he ended up driving David’s car home and David brought Kate in the van. Katherine had been there all day for non-invasive same day surgery to try and break up a kidney stone.

It has been a busy week with Sam’s symphonic band concert on Monday night, which I knew Katherine would go to no matter what even though she had to be in Murphysboro early Tuesday. David has had a group from out-of-the country at the plant this week, so they came with him to cheer Sam on. Sam was one of the 7th graders who got to play with the symphonic band, and he wore his first tuxedo. The school issues them to the band members for the year, and students were so handsome. The girls wore matching black dresses, the director was in tails, and the concert was a lovely visual and listening success. We all headed to our homes to get as much sleep as possible before Tuesday’s early rising.

Despite general anesthesia, Katherine came out of the recovery room in what I thought was remarkable lucid and cheerful condition. But by the time we were ready to leave, she was in such pain that our leave taking was delayed by the strong pain pill she was given and she was out of it. So we found ourselves in the middle of those going home from work. Of course, Kate lives with pain with her severe multiple sclerosis, and the procedure of the sound waves just added to the misery she lives with.

I arrived back at their house just as Sam was dropped off by Josh’s family—the neighbors on the street behind their house. I had driven slowly and scared in that rain, but I still came a few minutes before Katherine and David because he had taken her by the Dairy Queen drive-in at her request. Except for hospital jello, she had not eaten since the night before.

As soon as Sam grabbed his basketball uniform for his church league practice, we were off for me to drop him at the junior high basketball game where the jazz band was to play at half time. Well, we were almost off that soon. In the hurry and excitement, somehow I dropped my cell phone and it flew under my car bouncing down the slanted parking area on the edge on the street and their lawn. I was on my hands and knees on the damp road and could not even see the phone. Sam quickly got the flashlight from the trunk and, on his hands and knees, found the phone clear over on his side of the car. Then we were off.

The plan was for David to pick him up from that gym and deliver him on to Sam’s church league team basketball practice. Fortunately, a friend brought him home after that. I’d come on back home to the farm, and Gerald and I had a bowl of the chili I had made on Monday.

Both of Katherine’s aides were sick again today, but David positioned her in bed before he left for work and the pain pill put her back to sleep. She was to phone her daddy when she woke up, but when she had not phoned by noon, I got nervous and drove in from the farm anyhow. She greeted me groggily and went right back to sleep. Gerald was in town, but she never called him. When the substitute aide came later in the afternoon, I eventually decided it might be good to wake her and introduce her to the new worker. She elected to stay in bed, however, until David came home from work lest the transfer to her chair be too difficult. I picked Sam up from his trombone lesson and fixed a couple of plates for the microwave before coming back to the farm.

When I walked into the kitchen, Gerald was busy putting up a shelf to hold the new television there, which is where I do most of my watching. Since our area newspaper carries little national news, I like to watch the news while cooking or cleaning up the kitchen.

We turned off the new TV and visited awhile as we ate left-over roast and veggies for our supper, and then I enjoyed the new TV while he watched downstairs in his comfy chair which often puts him asleep. Tonight he ended up playing with his camera and a flash he had had for a long time and never messed with. I have been so pleased that Gerald became involved with a photography hobby in retirement since it is good for him to have something to do inside the house. He is outside working most days and has projects going in his shop, but now he has an inside activity in addition to television and reading. He has done photos for two articles of mine, and that is another bonus for me. Since he is generous with prints, I am not the only one who appreciates his hobby.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Unexpected Schedule Changes and Expected Pleasures

Our end-of-the-week brought unexpected changes. When I picked up Sam after his trombone lesson on Wednesday, he had his uniform enclosed in plastic in hand and was ready for his middle school band concert on Friday night. Gerald and I were ready to attend. For some reason, we learned Thursday that the concert was postponed until tomorrow night.

Doctor appointments suddenly presented more appointments for this week. As of now, Gerald thinks his appointment tomorrow will lead to a shot in his right eye to reduce swelling there in the retina. He had thought a standard follow-up appointment would inform him that a new blurring problem was a cataract that had grown worse. But not so. Katherine was told she would be having same day surgery to remove a kidney stone on Tuesday—unless she can get it changed until Thursday. I am scared about both procedures.

My new computer had been behaving well after I exchanged the non-working new printer for one that worked. But last night, I could not consistently get on any of the sites where I usually hang out. I am having the same problem tonight and do not know if I will be able to post this blog.

After Gerald’s vision had started blurring after his last eye appointment, he was not certain if it was the cataract growing or a side effect of a new medicine that had been working well. The blurring made him know he did not want to drive up to Freeport for the musical there or to Aurora for our great grandson Maddux’s first birthday party. That is not accurate. He wanted to, but he knew he should not. So this weekend we had to enjoy knowing Vickie and Geri Ann had flown up for Maddux’s family celebration and that we’d be seeing photos soon. (That is I will see photos if I can get on Facebook, which so far tonight I have not been able to do.) Gerry had softball team activities, so he could not go with them. When we talked on the phone a while ago, they were back at the Atlanta airport and ready to drive home to Watkinsville.

Life is full of uncertainties, but some scheduled activities remained. We went to our friend Zella’s funeral yesterday. There and at the dinner afterward, I was able to see grandchildren that I have rarely seen since I taught them in Vacation Bible School probably 20 or more years ago when they were visiting their grandmother. I had hoped her granddaughter Megan would sing, and she did. Megan graduated magna cum laude in music education from Murray State University and now teaches music in the public school and works with church youth on the weekend, and I got to meet her new husband.
There was a large crowd at the funeral and the dinner. I actually counted 74 names of descendants and close friends listed in Zella’s obituary. She loved everyone of them plus many more relatives and friends too numerous to mention. It was late afternoon, when we all finally got away from the downstairs dinner. A new friend insisted she wanted to drive me home. (Gerald had not felt like staying when he dropped me off after the funeral telling me to phone him when I was ready to come home.) We left the church house to the sounds of the Cain grandchildren around the piano in the sanctuary singing together as they have so many times at family gatherings, I suppose.

Church services today went on as usual although I elected to skip the annual chili/soup fellowship to trim the tree tonight since I wanted to go see Katherine and David. In our preschool class this morning after our story, we had hidden Christmas bows all over the room. Miss Kim would ask a child to find a particular color or a particular number of bows and bring them to the table. Sometimes she told where she wanted them to look for a bow. There was lots of learning of taking turns, vocabulary, numbers, colors, and listening skills. And some sharing was involved which brought forth praise.

When Caleb, age 2, saw the small nativity scene Kim put on the large round table, his whole face brightened with awe as his little fingers caressed the manger scene. Later in another area, they sat together with Kim talking about the wooden set of Christmas characters they will play with at that table this month. Lamb, camel, kings, shepherds, a baby on hay, Mary and Joseph, and an angel. They are learning the story they sing about in “Away in the Manger,” and they react with joy and the normal expected vying for attention and maybe an occasional display of temper. At that age, whatever they do is cute, and it is an expected pleasure to watch them learn.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Grieving Zella

People at Center are grieving and rejoicing today. Grieving that she will no longer grace our gatherings, but rejoicing that she has gone to a better place with no more pain or sadness. We lost our oldest member of our congregation today. Zella Cain was one of the finest women I ever knew, and she inspired us by her life. She birthed and mothered seven children. Since two were handicapped and died as young adults and the oldest daughter died after years of fighting cancer, we knew she was acquainted with grief and hardship. Yet she was full of faith and loved to help people. I was always impressed that she seemed to love the ex-spouses of her family members.

I was also impressed that she was one of us down in the basement a couple years ago when our volunteer youth leader sponsored a community youth night with a noisy Christian rock band. The loud sounds were bearable to us oldsters down there, and we enjoyed the evening together by showing our support to the kids upstairs from all over town. Certainly no one expected her to leave her comfortable home and drive down to the church house in the dark, but she wanted to show love for the kids.` (That was the night that one of the visiting kids went into our library/church office to use the telephone to call a parent to come get him when the affair was over. That room has an ancient dial telephone. The kid looked at the phone helplessly and asked for help to know how to use a dial.)

One of my other special memories of the many I have of Zella was being in a prayer dyad with her one night. Her prayer request was that she would never be a burden to her family. She was very good at caring and nursing those who were ill. She took care of grandsons after surgery and that sort of thing. Yet she did not want anyone to have to wait on her and become a burden. I prayed that prayer with her that night and often when I thought of her after that night.

Yet her children and spouses and grandchildren were grateful to be able to pitch in during her final illnesses and keep company with her—considering it a privilege not a burden. They left their own churches and brought her to services when she could no longer drive, and her remaining daughter helped her host our women’s group in Zella’s home the last few years when Zella wanted to do it but needed help. We will celebrate her life on Saturday and provide the dinner after the funeral. She will be sorely missed but often remembered. Those memories will inspire us to attempt to follow the same teachings she adhered to during her lifetime.