Tag Archives: death

What About L.Y.?

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Our community lost another friend last week, with the passing of Jack Gallagher. This has been a rough winter so far, here on Beaver Island.

First Tom, who died right after Christmas of a rare disease that took him quickly and left us all shaking our heads. He was so young! Only fifty-six years old, with a memorable laugh and a ready smile, Tom did cement and masonry work, and always seemed the picture of good health.

Next Skip, who was the matriarch of a large island family and a good friend to all. Then Jean, an active and respected business woman. Both of these ladies, though in their eighties, were so full of energy one would think they would keep going for years to come. Now, Jack: the third octogenarian we have lost this year.

This I know: no matter that every single person will meet their end, no matter the age, the level of health or all the warnings, death always takes us by surprise. It always seems too soon, and that we’re not quite prepared for it. Sometimes the dying are more prepared than those of us left behind.

After work on Friday, I walked down to our Community Center, where family and friends were gathering to honor Jack’s life. We talked about his diligence and devotion, his head often bent over account books. There were several examples of his wry sense of humor, his kindness, and his devotion to family and community. There were tears, but also laughter. There was agreement that he’d lived a good life. And that he was ready to go.

The “good death” seems to come up in conversation quite a bit anymore. Maybe it was always so, and I just hadn’t paid attention. Having lost three community members all in their eighties in just a couple weeks, I mentioned a quote I’d seen recently: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” We commiserated a little about all the oral history that is lost, with a death.

That was on my mind after I got home, as I was walking the dogs in the near dark. When Aunt Katie, who had always been willing to answer questions and elaborate on her history, died, it seemed like there were a million questions I wished I had asked, and another million things I should have written down. If I could talk to her again, I’d pay better attention, and I’d have pen and paper ready!

If I could have another conversation with my Dad, I’d beg him to repeat all the stories he tried to tell us when we were young, as he drove us around the island. Then, we rolled our eyes and let his words flow on without notice. I’d do better now. If I had another opportunity, I’d encourage him with the names I can remember, and the portions of the tales that I can recall.

There was one about a wake. Somebody, I think it was Patsy Doney, was taking his turn sitting with the body, while others were congregating in the other rooms. There was plenty of drinking going on. Somebody had the idea to pull a joke on Patsy (or whoever it was), and somehow made the corpse move, causing Patsy (or whoever) to jump (or nearly jump) out of the second story window. By this point in the story, my Dad would be laughing so hard, he could barely get the words out. Not knowing any of the characters, none of us children cared. I’d love a another chance to hear that one, and many others!

I’m sure there is wisdom and history my mother could impart, as well. If I were given a chance to talk to her, though, I’m afraid I’d waste the visit on getting the facts about L.Y. I’ve been puzzling over that for years, and it drives me crazy that I never thought about it when Mom was around to ask!

Gladys and L.Y. Crandall were friends of my mother, but mostly friends of her mother. They lived on the lake where I grew up, and were around quite a bit while my grandmother was alive. What kind of name is L.Y., for heaven’s sake? I always thought it was Elwye, and maybe it was. I never thought about it much, or questioned it at all, until after Mom was gone, and tthere was no one to ask. Now, I think about it a lot.

If the name is Elwye, how is it spelled, and what kind of name is that? If it is initials, more likely, I have concluded, what on earth does L.Y. stand for? The L could be anything: Lloyd, Laurence, Lancelot…but what about the Y? There are few choices, and none seem very likely: Yasir, Yoel, Yanni, Yuri, Yale. With a surname like Crandall, I wouldn’t expect such exotic-sounding choices. Whatever the answer, I know there’s a story there. I just wish Mom were around to tell it!

Grandpa Ted

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Though he died when I was only six years old, my Grandpa Ted has been a big presence in my life.

First the memories: holding his hand as we walked around the big yard our house shared with his; the teasing grin and “I’m gonna give you a pop right in the kisser,” as he’d lean in to kiss my cheek. He sat with us – me, my sister Brenda and brother Teddy – on the white bench under the huge elm trees in the front yard, or on the low bench in the cool shade of the grape arbor in the back yard. I can almost picture his face; I can almost hear his voice.

Next, his influence. He taught me about plants: the sweetness at the heart of a clover blossom; the nut-like flavor of the buds from cheese weed; the bitter taste of dandelion greens. I think of him, still, when I taste those wild flavors. He chronicled our little lives in film. Though he was usually behind the camera, thanks to Grandpa Ted I can still watch my parents with their young family in all seasons of the year.

Then, there are stories. Because I was only six-years-old when Grandpa Ted died, these are not things I knew, but only that I learned as I got older, when my Mom or Dad would reveal things about him. Grandpa Ted was an alcoholic. He would admit himself to a facility once or twice a year to “dry out.” In those days, it was a dangerous process, often involving delirium tremens (DTs), and no medication to ease the transition. Grandpa was a jealous man, and he and my grandmother had terrible, violent fights that would send my mother, when she was a child, running from the house. When they cleared out Grandpa Ted’s garage after his death, they found a whiskey bottle hidden in every cubbyhole.

When my own children – and later my grandchildren – were young, I’d take comfort in how well I remembered Grandpa Ted. If an ache or a bump caused my hypochondriac self to start thinking death was imminent, I’d be consoled by the idea that I would perhaps be remembered, too. As I neared the age of fifty, Grandpa Ted – who died in his early fifties, without warning, of a heart attack – was often on my mind. Did I inherit his faulty heart, along with his bushy eyebrows?

Once, after my dear old friend, Ernie, died, I had a memorable dream. It was one of those that seem real, and every voice is so clear that I’m sure it could be picked up by a tape recorder. There was a noisy throng of people, crowding around a person that I couldn’t see. There, on the outskirts of the throng, was my Grandpa Ted. He spotted me at the same time that I saw him.

His eyebrows raised in recognition, and his face crinkled into a big smile. I made my way toward him. “Look at you…look at you,” he said as he wrapped his arms around me in a big hug. His voice was exactly as I remembered it! He stepped back, patting my shoulders, “Just a second, Sweetheart,” he said, “I want to say hello to this guy…” The crowd opened up, at that moment, so that I could see the person at the center. There was my friend, Ernie, with a little shy, crooked grin, being welcomed with handshakes and pats on the back from all the folks standing there to greet him!

I have never believed in an afterlife as much or as sincerely as I did right after waking from that dream. Most times, I wonder. I fall into the “I don’t know” category. I like the idea of reincarnation. I feel certain I’ve had profound and real visits from the spirit world. Heaven sounds nice, too, though I could do without hell. There is some sense behind the idea of “when you’re dead, you’re dead,” also…though it’s not as much fun to think about as the others. I live a good life, so like to think I’m prepared, whatever.

If the last is true, and we are done when we are finished here, we live on, then, only in the memories and dreams of the living. That’s what has brought Grandpa Ted into my thoughts today. It occurred to me that there are few of us left on this earth – and all of us are pretty old – that have any memory of Grandpa Ted. That makes my simple memories seem even more important.

Change

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I never figure coin, when adjusting my checkbook. If I deposit $438.87, I only add in $438.00. If I write a check for $12.02, I subtract $13.00. Most errors occur in adding and subtracting the coin, and I’ve eliminated it. I’ve also given myself a little cushion. If I forget to subtract the $2.50 service charge each month, I am covered. If I forget to enter a check or debit from my account, I am usually okay. With nothing more than the coin, I accumulate a couple hundred dollars each year.

It’s a nice little bonus. Sometimes it covers a little trip away; sometimes it gets me out of a bind caused by an illness or an unforeseen auto repair bill. A few years ago, with no other pressing needs, I used it to buy a camera. It’s nothing fancy – just a little “point and shoot” – but I enjoy it immensely. Because I got it with “left-over coin,” it seems like a gift.

I take more photos in October than in any other month of the year.

Change is what I am documenting.

Leaves turn from ordinary and expected greens to a wealth of gold-red-orange-purple colors that continue to delight, amaze and surprise me, though I’ve been observing this process for more than sixty years. Yesterday, the temperature dropped more than ten degrees, mid-day. We had episodes of rain here on Beaver Island, then sleet, then snow…and beautiful blue skies and bright sun in-between!

Change is the way we make note of our lives, as we live. It’s not always as pleasurable as watching autumn colors.

It includes “where did this summer go?” and “where did these wrinkles come from?” and “how did it happen that my precious babies are now grown, with problems and disappointments of their own?” It includes loss. And death.

I was, in fact, going to title this piece “Change and Disappointment.”

Beaver Island is losing its Beech trees. Every one. A disease that infected them years ago is taking them down. The woods are littered with their fallen majesty; every wind storm adds to the toll. As if that weren’t enough, fallen trees take out the electrical power and block roadways.

[even I can see the sheer audacity of that statement: “bad enough that an entire species of hundred-year-old trees is dying…but it’s inconveniencing me, as well!” Shame on me, as I continue, self-centered-ly]

A dear island gentleman passed away recently, an old friend of my father’s. I’ll attend his funeral this morning.

Last week, a man died – the father of an old friend – who I’d known for fifty years. As children, we’d raid his food stores for our midnight snacks. We’d roll our eyes at his commentary as he drove us to the Pix theater for movies. His voice, downstairs talking on the HAM radio, was background to our whispered midnight conversations. He was an integral part of my childhood.

I suffered a huge letdown with another project last week, which has caused a total upheaval in the process. I can’t quite make sense of it yet, or form words to describe the disappointment and fear…but I forge on.

“Forge on through disappointment and loss,” I tell myself. “Make the most of change.”

With thoughts like that, I headed down the Fox Lake Road last week, planning to be on time for work at the hardware store, which was the only job – at that time – that was not causing me grief. A large beech tree had fallen across the road, blocking my path. I couldn’t move it. What could I do? I could back up (on curvy road with dust-covered windows) more than a quarter-mile to a place where I could turn around, then back-track and take the long route to town. I could sit and wait for someone to come that could help me move the tree, or that could cut it out of the way. I could go around it…maybe. I got out and paced the distance from the end of the tree, across to the drive-able shoulder and off to the nearest barrier, which was a cluster of small trees. I might just make it, if I aimed just right, and turned just so, and didn’t flatten my tire rolling over the end of the tree trunk…

Well, I didn’t.

I got wedged in between the tree trunk in the road and the cluster of small trees off the road. After inching forward and back – forever, it seemed – to dislodge the car, I thought a bold push forward was necessary to get past a tiny fingerling tree that was holding me up…

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I tore the mirror right off the passenger side of my good little car. I’ve been so very appreciative of this car and so careful of it, I wanted to just cry. [I hate to admit, I also toyed with the notion of titling this piece “First Blood” to mark the first damage incurred on my watch.]

So much for getting to work on time!

So much for forging on with good spirits!

So much for making the best of change!

And yet…change is not only the things that happen, out of our control, that we fight and rail against and mourn for.

Change is also What is Left.

Change is the coin left over when you break a dollar. The eyes of small children twinkle when they give you one thing…a dollar bill…and they get back many shiny things in return. We adults all know it’s not as much…but oh, to look through a child’s eyes, and see that way! From my own experience, I know how change can accumulate.

For every loss, no matter how great, something is left, something is gained. For all of my self-centered melodrama, I still have an exciting business; I still have a working vehicle. When one sense is lost, the other senses are heightened. When a loved one dies, we look with renewed love and appreciation to those who are still with us; every memory becomes more precious.

The task is to take What is Left…and live with it. Let it grow, let it accumulate, let it be.

Sometimes – as in the autumn colors all around – what’s left is glorious.

Presents/Presence

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I made it through another birthday.

I am still here.

The longer I live, the more it seems death is all around me.

All of my grandparents are gone, though their stories still guide me. Both of my parents are gone; I seem stubbornly unable to get used to that fact, and still enjoy their influence in many aspects of my life. Of eleven brothers and sisters, there are only six left. I miss the ones that have died, and cherish the ones still here. That’s all I can do.

At my class reunion in July, it was noted that a full ten percent of our graduating class had passed on. Another member died this week. In every case, I think, “Oh, so young!” I am, of course, remembering them as they were in high school.

I guess I’m not “so young” anymore. That is made clear every time a friend, acquaintance or family member dies. It’s always too soon and I am never prepared. It may even, age-wise, be a bit below the average life-expectancy…but, clearly, I am now in that age where loss of contemporaries is a big part of life.

It seems the only thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.

Early birthday celebrations with my family and friends brought good wishes and cards and gifts: books, bags and bath salts, bottles of wine and a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Creme. Later, an annual birthday dinner with my cousins provided much laughter and good cheer, and more thoughtful presents. There were cards in the mail and hand-delivered cards and messages. A complete birthday meal, fully prepared, wrapped and delivered by my friend, Pam, to be reheated at dinnertime. Over one hundred birthday greetings on Facebook. Telephone calls from each of my daughters and from one grandson, each one a treasured gift.

There have been unexpected presents. I was invited to attend a benefit dinner, held at a stately old island home. We dined on lobster and steak under a beautiful evening sky. I received a big bouquet of gladiolus from two nice ladies who accepted a ride to the grocery store with me. A big, flowered bag was hanging on my doorknob the other day, filled with treats and treasures and a thank-you note. It was from my neighbors, who have a rustic cabin in the woods, and – with my blessing – draw water from my well when they are on the island. None of the gift-givers knew it was my birthday week!

There are other gifts:

  • My little dog, who wakes me with kisses, and greets me at the end of the day with a wildly wagging tail, who entertains me, keeps me company and makes me laugh every single day.
  • A doe and her twin fawns, who I often see at the end of the Fox Lake Road.
  • The wild blackberries ripening in the fields around my house.
  • Fox Lake, a short drive from my home, where the dog loves the smells, and I love the view.
  • My aunt, who struggles with health issues but is still able to share stories, opinions and memories from her long life.
  • A job that supports me, and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I would never have predicted that I would be capable of tasks like cutting and threading pipe, making keys and mixing paint, and that I would get such satisfaction from the ability to do them.
  • Other jobs that enrich me: artist, baker, cook, gardener, writer.
  • My big, blessed family.
  • My friends, far and near.
  • My home, shelter in this world.
  • The moon, last night, in that deep blue sky.
  • The big owl that nests nearby, perches on my fence post, and spreads his wings to fly when I come home after dark (and who, thank God, leaves my little dog alone!).
  • The sunrise every morning and the sunset every night.
  • This beautiful island in the middle of Lake Michigan.
  • The beach all around, with stunning views all year.

These are the gifts that I tend to take for granted, that go too often unnoticed or unappreciated.

It seems the best thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.

Breathe

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“Having a great time. Wish I was here.”

I saw that while browsing Amazon.com the other day, and immediately ordered the book. If I get no more benefit from it than this quote, it will be worth the purchase price.

August 11th marked the four-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I miss her for a million reasons, not the least of which are the lessons she taught, by her example, at her life’s end. She had few regrets (the only one she mentioned was a lack of patience with her children) and no dreams left unfulfilled. She was not afraid, and reassured us over and over that she was prepared, and content.

This year, a dear man, beloved by many, died on that same date. Jim was a teacher for many years here on Beaver Island, respected and appreciated for his ability to inject interest and humor into high school lessons while maintaining order in the classroom. He was a former marine, a volunteer firefighter, an emergency responder, a husband, father and grandfather, a good friend, a kind and helpful human being. There has been an outpouring of grief here, a sharing of memories, and a unanimous sentiment of “gone too soon.”

When Mom died, I did a little arithmetic. She was twenty years and one month older than me. If I lived as long as she did (she probably took much better care of herself than I have!), I would have about 7,300 days left. What an eye opener! I promised myself I would make the best of it. I would work toward the goal of having a satisfactory life, with no big regrets. Mainly, I wanted to be aware. The years up to that point had flown by, leaving me with a small collection of memories and the feeling that I’d wasted a lot of time. That needed to change.

I started this writing practice with the goal of paying attention.

I wanted to notice the moments of the days as they flew by. I wanted to note the quality of light, and the feel of sunshine or raindrops. I wanted to really hear what is being said, and feel what is being felt. It was a lofty ambition but, as with many things in my life, easy to forget, lose interest, or let it fall by the wayside. Where have all the moments of all the days of the last four years gone? Too often, it seems, I am doing one thing while thinking ahead of the next thing I need to do, so that I am never fully experiencing the moment I am in.

It’s a small thing, to appreciate this life, but it’s the very best thing to do…for myself, and for the ones who are no longer here to experience it.

I need to continue to work on that…forever.

What I’m Doing…What I’m Not

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Yesterday was gorgeous, bright sunshine and blue sky.

Today, new snow and winds have changed the view.

A little under the weather, I cancelled classes and stayed home both days. I think exhaustion, rather than illness, is the problem. I don’t seem to be able to get enough sleep these days. One night of good but insufficient rest will be followed by a night of insomnia. A trip to the city to accompany my aunt to the hospital – strange beds, city lights and worry – compounded the problem. A couple days off would do me good.

I wrote a few letters, answered a couple Emails and enjoyed two long telephone conversations.

I waded through snow to my hips to empty the compost – a collection of coffee grounds, eggshells and vegetable parings – into the bin on the far side of the garden. The bin is almost full. I’m not the greatest at composting. My collections never get turned, and the ratio of green matter to food scraps must be off, too. Even in the heat of summer, the compost doesn’t seem to get hot enough to break down. It should, after a while, look dark and crumbly; it should smell like earth. In odor and appearance, my compost looks like exactly what it is: a collection of old coffee grounds, eggshells and vegetable parings. Still, I persist. It seems like a good idea, and it feels more hopeful than tossing all that organic matter into a plastic trash bag. Every few years, when the bin will hold no more, I tip out the smelly mess and use it to mulch around pumpkins and winter squash. Covered with a layer of straw, the unpleasant characteristics are masked, and it works to hold in moisture.

I gave the bathroom a good cleaning. One area at a time, I am setting up my house according to the precepts of Feng Shui. I did this long ago, when it seemed like I was the only one who had even heard of the concept. As I gained knowledge and added books to my collection on the subject, I found contradictions and big problems. Without being able to tear down my home and start over, some things seemed hopeless. I let it fall to the wayside. Recently, I picked up another book on the subject. Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Karen Rauch Carter is a clearly written, not-too-serious manual of using Feng Shui to “get love, money, respect and happiness.” As I’m in the process of a major winter “de-cluttering”, and clutter is the enemy in Feng Shui theory, it seemed like a good time to try again. The bathroom, in my home, is in the “Helpful People” section. I had barely finished my thorough cleaning (plus one red ribbon tied around the sink drain, all mirrors shining bright and a wind chime to dispel negative energy) when my sister Brenda called, with an idea to solve a big problem I’ve been worried about. Immediate results!

I’m making soup…an awful lot on these cold winter days. Yesterday I finished off a pot of spicy lentil soup; today I have turkey and wild rice simmering. Easy: one cup of diced turkey, sliced from the bird and frozen after Christmas; two quarts of turkey broth, made and stored in the freezer around the same time; three carrots, one onion, four stalks of celery and the leaves, stems and core from a head of cauliflower, all diced; a generous handful of wild rice. It will simmer all afternoon, and be ready to eat at suppertime, when the bread’s coming out of the oven, with plenty left over for lunches this week.

I am not putting in time in the studio. Winter is usually the time for art-making. The studio can be a cozy place to work when the cold winds are blowing. With a movie or the radio for company, I’ve spent many long hours in creative pursuits. Not so much, this winter.

I’m not shoveling snow…not much, anyway. If I can wade through snow to my hips to empty compost into the bin, I guess I can tramp through a foot of snow to get to the car. In other years, I’ve done more. Usually there is a clear path from the side door to the car, and also around to the front door. There is usually a path from the front door to the side yard, so that I can read the meter. There is walkway shoveled from the sliding door in back, just for the dogs, that leads over to the pine tree at the side of the house. Today, with another six inches of new snow, my chihuahua gave me a very intense look when she needed to go out. I suppose it’s time I get going on that.

I am not, it seems, coming to grips with my sister’s death. I was not there when she died; I was unable to attend the memorial. I forget that she is gone. Because I live away, and rarely saw Nita, it isn’t immediately apparent that she’s not still with us. I have moments of sadness. There are pangs of realization. I recognize symptoms of depression in my sleeplessness and neglect. I don’t feel depressed, though. Though I know it won’t last, most days I feel as if she is still here. That’s not a bad feeling!

Nita

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She walked with us but yesterday.

But yesterday – or so it seems –

We shared each others dreams, our woes,

We shared our wild and foolish dreams.

Now there is silence where she spoke,

Nor can she hear what we would say,

But all she was is with us still,

And we are glad for yesterday.

-Phillip Larkin (from the poem “Church Going”)

Last year at this time, I wrote “A Valentine for Nita,” telling about some of my sister’s struggles throughout her life, and now, with cancer.

She said, “It’s like you did my eulogy while I’m still alive!”

I denied it, but was careful, after that, to respect her privacy. All of us that love her dealt in our own way with her illness, but her struggle was hers alone.

I was down-state last month when Nita took a turn for the worse. I was able to see her, and let her know I care. Before I came home, I was able to see that her pain was being managed, and that hospice was there to help. The day that I left, I gave her a big hug and told her, “I love you.”

Then I drove home.

My brother and sisters arranged their time around Nita’s care. We’re becoming old hands at this. Nita’s children were there, along with nieces, nephews and friends, each as they could be, and as needed to help. Hospice was wonderful.

Here on Beaver Island, back at my own work, I was away from the fray. I was with them in spirit only. I wasn’t there for the changes and the frights and the occasional “melt-down,” but my heart went out to them all, every day. I could hardly think of anything else. I didn’t want to write about it, but everything else seemed unimportant in comparison.

Nita was dying, but every one that knew her and loved her had their own challenges.

Nita’s struggle ended today, in the early hours of the morning.

As for the rest of us, we struggle on without her.

Days Gone By

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Here it is, the first of September.

Another summer season gone.

Where?

These flowers open and bloom for one day.

Sometimes I notice how beautiful they are.

Sometimes I pay attention to all of the blossoms, and how many buds are waiting to open.

Too often I see how many spent blooms need to be removed.

Maybe that’s the gardener in me.

Maybe it has  more to do with age, or just my perspective of the world.

I find myself – too often – looking with pensive sadness at days gone by, unretrievable, rather than the days ahead.

Rather, even, than this present, precious day.

September is a time of change on Beaver Island.

The Labor Day weekend marks the end of our tourist season. Children are soon going back to school. Summer residents and visitors are packing up and closing cabins. There is a hint of Fall and the premonition of Winter in our cool nights and chilly mornings. The growing season is nearing its end.

This is a time of good-byes.

My birthday, falling near the end of August, gets my mind going to times past and years gone by.

The melancholy persists with the end of Summer and all the changes it brings.

Punctuated, this year, by the death of a dear one.

Bill Cashman was a good friend to Beaver Island. Map-maker, builder, writer, historian…Bill wore many hats, and wore them all with a dapper sensitivity to this island and its people. He had a keen knack for seeing and encouraging the strengths of any individual. He was a champion of lost-causes and long-shots, and often doggedly pursued an idea that he deemed worthy when all around him were prepared to abandon it.

Bill was a long and good friend to me. He hired my husband and took an interest in our family. He supplied some of the materials to build our little house. He supported me early on in my artistic endeavors, and later helped to set up a website to feature my Collagraph work. He visited my house several times to see my new work and  take notes on my processes. Bill encouraged and promoted my writing, through all my lazy, procrastinating tactics to avoid it.

I ran into Bill in the Post Office just two days before he died. Both on the run, we exchanged pleasantries.

He’d been battling cancer for quite some time. He was skinny and pale, but had a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye.

“Good!” was his emphatic response to my “How are ya?”

Bill knew how to appreciate the present moment!

As we move into the shortening days of Autumn, through sad good-byes and seasons past, I aspire to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brother, David

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There’s a story in my family that my brother, David, was given nine lives.

Speaking to David about his many misadventures, and later to his friends and other siblings, I would have had to place that number closer to twenty.

There was the sledding accident that broke long bones and left him chair-bound for months.  The fight that resulted in a broken jaw. Riding home at night on a bicycle, David was hit by a car. Once  “road-surfing” on the roof of a van, he took a nasty fall onto the pavement. There was a fall from a roof. There were several near-drowning incidents on Lake Nepessing, in all seasons of the year.

Once, walking home on the side of a narrow road, someone opened a car door as they went by, knocking David into a pole, then into the lagoon. He crawled out of the water covered with cuts, abrasions and bruises…but also with sludge, slime and seaweed. He went door-to-door looking for assistance, terrifying the home-owners with his “Creature from the Black Lagoon” appearance. He walked all the way home. That’s when Mom took care of him. Dad later told how his midnight snack was rendered almost inedible due to the screams coming from the next room as Mom treated David’s wounds with mercurochrome and hydrogen peroxide.

David was one of the youngest in our large family. His brother, most of his other sisters and I have memories that stretch back to his birth. Many of us had turns rocking him to sleep. Amy, the only one younger than David, shared memories and experiences unique to the two of them, as the “babies” in the family.

As an infant, David had tiny dimples in the top of each ear, and eyes so large that his eyelids didn’t quite cover them when he slept. I was appalled when, many years later, I answered the phone at my parents house and the caller asked for “Bug-Eye”…but the reference was obvious. The nick-name didn’t bother David (he laughingly called it his “prison name”), but we didn’t use it. To us he was just Dave, or David.

When David was little, Mom called him “BeetleBomb,” after a horse that was always coming from behind to win a race. She also called him “Boodler,” because he was one. We called him Davey. Grandma Florence called him “Crocket.” I can picture him, still, as that little guy…cowboy hat hanging down his back, shirtless, holster with toy guns riding low on his hips, barefoot, squinting into the sun…

It seems like it was just the blink of an eye, and he was grown.

Busy with my own life, I didn’t see the transition.

David, as an adult, had a toothy grin and a big laugh. He talked too loud and often didn’t know when to “shut up.” He  made all of us cringe with stories of our youth that we’d just as soon forget. He often made us angry with his teasing banter. In fact, when considering his multitude of  “lives”, I should take note of the many times members of his family told him, “David, if you don’t cut it out, I’m gonna kill ya!”

David won the lottery once. Not the millions, but a pretty good sum. He turned it all into cash. No-one saw him for three days! Then he was spotted, his pockets spilling over with bills, coming out of the Eagles tavern. David didn’t go to work for two weeks, but took the whole crew out for steak dinner many nights. He bought drinks all around at every bar he went into. He kept himself pretty well lit until the money ran out.

Though he had little, David bought not one lasting thing with his winnings. He played. I’d like to say it was the time of his life, but I don’t know that to be true. Money – and material things – meant so little to David, winning the lottery was probably not a highlight.

David liked fun. He lived in the moment. He loved the party, the craziness, the giddiness of life. We didn’t have a lot in common in that sense, but we loved each other just the same.

When my father was dying, I flew from Beaver Island to Davison Airport, then ran door-to-door to get to a phone, to get a taxi to take me to the hospital, in hopes of seeing Dad one last time…

When I got to the hospital and walked out of the elevator on my way to Dad’s room, there was my brother, David, passed out asleep in a chair in the hallway. I still smile at the sense of calm and normalcy that vision gave me, at a time when the whole world seemed up-side-down.

Dad’s death changed all of us, for the better.

We came face-to-face with mortality, and so came to be more appreciative of life.

In our usually non-demonstrative family, we have became more generous with hugs, quicker to say, “I love you.” We’ve taken the time to get to know each other better, even when we have little in common.

I grew to know and appreciate David’s wit, intelligence and good-heartedness.

I’m very thankful for that.

As it turned out, even twenty lives wasn’t enough to keep David with us.

In our last conversation, David hanged his head and said, “I guess I should’ve quit drinking two years ago when the doctor told me to…”

Well, I wish he had.

I would love to have my little brother, David, around driving me crazy today and for many years to come…but the time for recriminations was past. I told him one of my memories from his childhood:

Dad would sit in his chair at the head of the long kitchen table, one leg crossed over the other. David – it was Davey back then – would sit on Dad’s raised foot. Dad would hold both of Davey’s hands in his one big hand, and bounce his foot up and down…a “pony ride.” More like a bucking bronco, when Dad was in charge! Then, Dad’s wicked humor coming into play, the foot would go up, Dad would release his grip on Davey’s hands, and the little boy would go flying. He’d land on his feet, if he was lucky, but just as often on his bottom or his belly or his back. As soon as he recovered his breath, Davey would burst into giggles…and go running right back for more. Again and again and again.

“That’s the problem, David,” I told him, “in your entire life, you never have known when to quit!”

It was a good visit.

Though I was pretty sure it was the last time I’d see him, it had to end.  David was tired; I had a schedule to keep.  Hugs all around, and I was out the door, then back in for one last good-bye. As I turned to leave that last time, I put my hand up to wave. David leaned forward in the recliner, smiled and said, “See ya…”

My brother, David, died three years ago today. I still miss him every day, and can picture that smile as if it was yesterday.

Thoughts for Mother’s Day

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Mom is the one that always encouraged me to write.

“You should tell about our crazy family,” she’d say, “A book like that would be a best seller!”

It’s true, I’ve always looked at life as a series of stories.

Dis-function can be hilarious if approached in the right way.

Disasters can usually be tempered into an amusing anecdote.

Tragedy and sadness can be eased a bit, when shared.

I certainly had lots of “crazy” family stories.

If Mom knew how many of them she figured predominantly in, she may not have been so encouraging!

When I was about five years old, standing on a stool at the bathroom sink, washing my doll, Mom came in and asked if I had opened the medicine cabinet. She was probably more alert than usual. Just a week before, killing time while waiting for my sister Brenda to get off the pot, I had been rummaging through that cabinet and  seriously cut my thumb with a razor blade I found there.

“No, I’m just giving my baby a bath,” I told her.

She insisted she’d heard it open. I stuck to my story.

She whopped me twice: once for getting into the medicine cabinet, and once for lying about it.

In fairness, I’m sure there were one thousand or more times when I committed a major infraction, didn’t get caught, and didn’t get punished. I’ve forgotten every incident…except the one time, fifty-five years ago, when I was unjustly spanked. That one stands out in my memory.

The boys in our family went to the barber shop regularly, to have their heads nearly shaved into what we called a “butch” haircut. The girls took turns sitting on the kitchen stool to have Mom cut their hair. The styles varied, to – in Mom’s opinion – best flatter our features. I, for instance, was cursed with dark, thick rounded brows that met in the center of my face. Mom cut my hair short, then trimmed my bangs to mimic the shape of my eyebrows. A “pixie”, she called it.

To me, combined with my small face, large eyes and pug nose, the cut made me look almost exactly like a spider monkey.

Similarly, our clothes were chosen to flatter our looks and personalities. In Mom’s opinion, and to her taste. I, she thought, looked like a “little Dutch girl”. In clothing, that translates to ruffles at the collar, puffy sleeves, bright colors and rick-rack. Plenty of rick-rack. Today, I wear almost exclusively black.

In the kitchen, Mom would prepare anything that was brought to her: Bluegill and Sunfish we caught in the lake; a whole beef tongue Dad picked up at the slaughterhouse; the raccoon my brother killed with a rock. With Sunday dinners and meatless Fridays and weeknight meals, there are dozens of stories about Mom and her cooking.

My mother always tended toward hypochondria. She had a list of complaints that ranged from backache and headache to “sick and tired”. We grew so accustomed to it that legitimate ailments sometimes got lost in the fray. One Sunday my sisters and I – all young adults – sat around her kitchen table, discussing whether Mom was going to get up from the couch and fix dinner. I finally said, “Mom, if you really feel that bad, maybe I should drive you to the hospital.”

“Yes, maybe you should,” she said. So that’s what we did.

They kept her!

She had emergency gall bladder surgery the next morning!

Bad, lazy and inconsiderate daughter that I was, I had only suggested the hospital to get her up from the sofa!

In any gathering, Mom would be an enthusiastic participant for anywhere from ten minutes to one hour. That was it. Then – to the chagrin of her much more social offspring – would come the toe tapping, impatient looks and directional gestures to whomever she had traveled with. No arguments; no talking her out of it. She wanted to go home. Time to say good-bye.

These stories and others like them are the ones I’d think of when I thought about our “crazy family”.

I don’t think that’s quite what Mom had in mind.

Then my mother got sick. And then she died.

She faced death with so much elegance, bravery and grace, all other stories were chased away.

Everything that was hers, from her old blue fishing shirt to her menthol-camphor ointment, has taken on the importance of a holy relic. I wish I could remember every word she spoke, as it now seems like I should have always listened better. Every quirky habit that used to cause me to roll my eyes has become just one more thing that was special about her. What used to be reason for embarrassment is now cause to be ashamed that I didn’t appreciate her more.

My mother’s death has become the story that defines her.

I don’t think that’s what she wanted, either.

It hasn’t been quite two years since Mom died.

I don’t know that I’m ready, yet, to tell her stories…but I’m beginning to feel like the stories are ready to be told.