Archive for March, 2009

Time Marches On
March 27, 2009

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.

– Isaac Watts (1719)


The old farmhouse to our west was demolished last week. It went down quickly and was soon just a pile of rubble. I imagine that there were quite a number of “critters” who lived there, and I wonder if we’ll now experience an influx of them into our yard. Thankfully, we had our house sealed last year after we evicted a squirrel colony from our attic, so I’m not anticipating any new “tenants” inside, although I did spy an armadillo wandering around in the front yard the other day.


As for the demolition, the commotion by the “Snort” (the name of the bulldozer in the book, “Are You My Mother?”) continued long after the house went down, and we were appalled that most of the trees went down along with the house. Those trees were a buffer zone of a sort, which diffused the traffic noise from the nearby Bunker Hill Road. Not that it’s a freeway by any stretch of the imagination, but cars do whoosh up and down at all hours.


It just feels like we’ve been laid bare. I dread what will arise on this lot; certainly the demolition process has been noisy, and I can guarantee that the building process will also be a noisy, messy prospect, as well. I fear a gigantic home with lights glaring all around; our little refuge back here will never be the same.


As awful as the vacant old farmhouse was, I took it’s dark silence for granted. I’m not sure of its history, but it was here long before Hedwig Village was incorporated (in 1954). Historically, in this area, there were dairy farms, and from what I have read, supposedly Sam Houston’s forces camped in this area (“they made camp at the head of a stream” was the actual quote about the spot, supposedly within the Hedwig city limits) when there were actually springs that flowed naturally throughout the area. As well, the area was a rich source of Indian arrowheads back in the early years.


I do know that my cousin Bob lived around the corner back in the early 1960’s and he tells of riding his bike over to the stables where they kept their horses on the site of what is now Memorial City Mall.


The original farm property had been divided into parcels of land over the years. As a matter of fact, the man who built our current house bought up the original farmhouse site as well as 4 other adjacent sites, one of which is our own. When I look closely at the other home sites, I can still see a pecan orchard. I can see groves of cedars (they say that cedars are “graveyard trees”, which makes me wonder about the sensations of a presence at times!). I can visualize cows roaming through the area, and I mourn the demise of our community history at the same time I’m mourning the passing of my dad.


One thing I want to hold onto is the old water pump that still remains on the edge of our property, which borders on the lot that has just been cleared. It’s just a vestige of times gone by, and while I can’t exactly explain why I think it’s important, I just do!


Time does march on. I guess we’ll just have to plant a new buffer zone of trees and undergrowth to block the view and the noise. Maybe I’ll plant more pecans and cedars to honor the history of this area. And just hope for the best.


The Sentimental Journey
March 20, 2009

Memories are not shackles, Franklin, they are garlands.

-Alan Bennett (1969)


My mother in law will be moving from her high rise condominium to an independent living residence next week. It’s the same one where my mother lives, so that will be really great! As you can imagine, I’ve been spending much of my time lately helping pack her things up. The quandary for “Oma” is what to take or not.


The problem is that her new space is substantially smaller than her current one, and so she is having to make some hard decisions. There are moments when I just can’t figure out her logic when she opts to put some silly thing (in my humble opinion) into her “keep” pile. What on earth will she do with it, but more importantly, WHERE on earth will she put it?


But my lips remain zipped, because I now have a better understanding about how hard it is to let things go. It’s not my place to tell her she can’t keep everything; she will realize it herself once she settles in. We’ll deal with that issue on the back end.


I remember going through the same thing with my mother four years ago when she moved from her big house to “The Buckingham”. But my mother is different from my mother in law in that she’s not as sentimental about “stuff”. So it was easier for her to leave behind things that evoked no special memories.


What happened this week to make me better able to empathize with my mother in law’s hard choices? It was a roof leak in the closet of our garage apartment. This closet is not a place I often look into, and so this leak wasn’t something I noticed. It only made itself manifest after 5 days of rain, when the water really came in and soaked the carpet (a lovely turquoise shade) out into the main room.


I had gone in there to get some financial information from the file cabinet (for tax purposes) and was puzzled at the sight of wet papers and boxes on the floor. Unfortunately, all these papers were Shannon’s history (all her school progress reports, report cards, doctor visits, orthodontist records, school programs, etc.). I had only recently spread them out on the floor to sort them and organize them to store (why? just because). But they were now absolutely ruined.


As I surveyed the damage, I kept looking up stupidly, thinking, “where did this water come in?” Of course, there was no sign of a leak in the main room. I knew it couldn’t be the hot water heater (on the other side of the wall in the garage), because that was LAST year’s surprise!


Aha! I found the source in the closet…. what a mess! Ugh, everything in that closet needed to be tossed. There were things I’d tucked away thinking I’d either refinish or repair, fabric remnants, a light fixture, totally rusted. The car seat that my sweet Shannon used to ride in, and her high chair. I guess I saved them thinking I might use them when I had visiting grandchildren, but honestly, I just couldn’t bear to throw them out.


But now I had to. I piled all the items out by the mailbox for the trash men to haul away. It happened to be the day before the scheduled pick up, and every time I walked or drove by that pile, I couldn’t help but feel my heartstrings tugged by the sight of that high chair, in particular. How sweet were the memories of that little baby bottom sitting in it for so many happy years!


The reality is that when the day comes when I have a sweet grandbaby, I would probably have never allowed such a perfect child to sit in that ratty old chair. I would more likely go out and buy something new and snazzy for him or her.


Either that, or he/she can sit in Opa’s old high chair from 1918. Which of course, I saved from my mother in law’s move from her old house to her high rise condominium all those years ago.


Why? I don’t know. I’m a sentimental old fool, I suppose.  

A Farewell to Dad
March 14, 2009

This is my father’s world! I rest me in the thought                                                                                         Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;                                                                                                             His hand the wonders wrought.                                                                                                                           – Maltbie D. Babcock (1858-1901)

The following is the tribute I paid to my father at his memorial service on March 7:

My mother wanted me to mention that in 1948, after she and Dad returned from their honeymoon and settled into their first week back home, she cooked up dinner that Friday evening, and when Dad came home from work, he went and changed into his Scout uniform. As he kissed her goodbye, she asked him, “Where are you going?”… to which he answered, “To a Scout meeting!” And so a pattern of a lifetime was set…

My sister wanted me to mention the fact that when my husband-to-be first began showing up at our house back in 1972 … I warned him that you must not honk the car horn to pick up a Simpson girl. There were “rules”, and even though our parents probably had no idea who we girls were out with on any given night, whoever that young man was had to come in and meet “Mr. Simpson”, which I imagine must have been a scary proposition, especially if one had long hair and drove a sports car.

The in-between years were filled with lots of love and laughter, hard work, service for others, dedication to causes, selflessness, penny pinching, routines, responsibilities, the aforementioned RULES, and a whole lot of Fun. We have copies of all the letters that Mom wrote to friends and family from the years 1950-1968, and I’d like to share some representative quotes from the mid to late 1950’s:     

·         Thursday night- “10 p.m. (yawn) waiting for Ray to get home from a meeting at the church… this is the third night this week he’s been gone- Sunday night he worked, Tuesday night he was at a dinner meeting. He is really working hard, and I’m sorry we still have so much to do at home! (note they were adding on a room to their house, BY THEMSELVES)

·         on another Thursday night: “Ray came in tonight at 8:15- in the dripping rain- from all day in the field (he left at 4:30 this a.m.)”

·         Friday morning: “Ray is going with the church Boy Scouts on an outing tomorrow, and I plan to work in the yard all day.”

·         Sunday night: “Big Ray is studying tonight, but that, too, is coming to an end soon. Just eight more weeks, and we’ll have our Daddy back on Sundays, but I’ve got enough for him to do to keep him busy for another year!”

·         Thursday night: “Ray had to go back to work for the fourth evening this week. He had planned to study for his final exam in his reservoir course this week, but he’s having to do plain old work, too!”

·         Monday night: “Big Ray has been teaching Sunday School and working with the Boy Scouts, plus finishing up odds and ends on this silly house.”

·         Last one… “Thursday night: Well, my engagement ring is ten years old tonight. Ray remembered, even though I didn’t. We both had to go to a meeting of the educational commission at church tonight, so we just went in two cars, and after I spoke my piece, I gathered up the kids and came home. He’s still there- they’re not noted for brevity.”

You can get the picture of what Dad’s life was like by these letters. This pattern continued through the years…  but interestingly enough, I don’t recall his ever shortchanging us with his time, even as busy as he was. What I most remember are hilarious family dinners, doing yard work on Saturdays and sitting together in church on Sundays.

I like to say that our Dad may not have been a “prominent pillar of the community” so to speak, because that wasn’t the way in which he chose to serve. Yet he was very important to scores of people in his own quiet way over the years, and it has truly warmed our hearts to hear from so many who were somehow touched by our Dad in some way.                                                                                *****************************************************

Alzheimers is a terrible disease that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. On the other hand, having Alzheimers usually means that one has lived a long life. Are those extra years worth suffering the indignities of this disease? As I’ve thought about it, I’d have to say yes. 

Recently some of my youth choir friends suddenly lost their father way too young; he was only 59. True, they will never have to watch their dad fail physically and need help like mine did. But I bet they’d agree to that, if they knew that they would have him around for another 20 years or so. I know I would, and so I did.

Because of Dad’s hard work, frugal nature and wise investments, he provided well for us all. We were not “rich” in the sense of having worldly luxuries. Dad was so frugal, the cars he drove all had rubber floor mats and AM radios only, and of course, one actually rolled the window down with a crank handle.  It didn’t occur to me until much later when he shocked us and bought a Lincoln with carpeted mats, automatic windows and an AM/FM radio… that he figured we kids would probably just trash the earlier cars, so why spend a lot of money on them? My point about his frugality is that as a result of his efforts, we were able to provide excellent help for him in his final years after he developed Alzheimers. He was comfortable and well cared for during these years and loved by many.

I never knew what to expect when I would go visit Dad in his later years. Sometimes he would be sound asleep. Other times he would be alert and bright eyed, which was always a treat. The best times were when he would actually be somewhat communicative.

Two occasions stand out in my mind. One was when my daughter Shannon accompanied me to visit him on one of her trips home from college. He was sitting in his wheelchair, looking around. She said to him, “Hi Pepe!” in her lilting tone, and he brightened immensely and answered “Well!!!!!!!” He probably had no idea which granddaughter she was; he had enough trouble keeping track of his four daughters’ names; poor Mary was often called, “Ka-Ca-Ca-Mary!” Nonetheless, he knew it was somebody who loved him.

Another time was last July 4 when I brought him a United States flag for his room. I said, “Dad, look what I’ve brought you… a flag for your room!” He clearly said, “Oh Boy!” to me … with great enthusiasm, I might add! His patriotism ran deep, and I was delighted that he still recognized the stars and stripes.

Each time I took leave of him, I’d always ask him, “Dad, I love you, do you love me?” He’d say, “I sure do” in his own way, sometimes I could understand him and others not quite, but I knew what he meant. Even in his diminished state, there was an essence there. His life still had value, and I hope that I will never forget that lesson that he taught me in these final years. I’d say to Shannon, “Remember him for who he was then, and just love him for who he is now.”

I am so fortunate that Dad’s final journey came at a period in my life when I had the time to be there for him.  It’s only fitting when I consider how much time he made for us in his busy schedule when we were small. I found a particular quote from my mother’s letters that still resonates with me. This was written in July of 1957, when I was two years old: “Big Ray goes so fast that some of us don’t see him for days at a time! He left yesterday morning at 6- got home at 10 last night- then he was off again this morning at 6:30. The only reason he saw Carol was that he helped her in the bathroom at 4:30 this morning… “

I can only imagine how tired he must have been that morning, and yet he still took the time to help me. I would always remember this story whenever I thought I was too busy to go visit Dad.

It was an honor and a privilege to walk this final journey with my Dad. And standing here in this church that he loved so much, I want to thank all of you who have surrounded me and my family with your love and your prayers. We rejoice and celebrate that those prayers were answered as he slipped away peacefully into eternity.

The Last Eight
March 7, 2009

In my end is my beginning

-Mary, Queen of Scots

Rounding out the final items on my list of “25 Random Things About Me”, here you go:

17. Continuing the above subject (dreams), I also talk in my sleep and sometimes walk. The sleep walking usually comes after I’ve been traveling and I am not certain where I am. The talking part is just random. I once woke Joel up soon after we were married and asked him, “Who are you?” He said, “It’s me!” I said, “Oh,” and went back to sleep, or rather, I put my head back down and continued to sleep. Then there was the time I woke him up to announce that orange juice was dripping from the ceiling. I guess I’m paying him back for his snoring.

18. I loved being a “stay at home mom” when Shannon was growing up. Having kids gives one license to revert back to childhood pastimes without shame. It was fun doing things like swinging on a swing, coloring in a coloring book, or playing in the sandbox. I am grateful to my husband for supporting me both financially and emotionally during those happy years.

19. My first and last paying jobs were at St. Luke’s UMC. My first job was as an employee of the after school children’s program. I would walk over from Lamar (remember, I didn’t have a car) and then my dad (who worked at that Exxon Production Research Building on Buffalo Speedway) would pick me up and take me home. I think I made $1.25 an hour. My last job was as the church’s website manager, which coincided with Shannon’s college years (helpful to have that extra income!). I made substantially more than I made in those early years, but best not mention it.

20. Sometimes I think our house is haunted. There have been times that I’ve felt a presence when I’m alone, and my skin prickles. I don’t think anything bad has every happened in this house, which was built in 1969-70, but there are many antique fixtures within, such as the 1850’s staircase, doors, door surrounds, beams, etc. I wonder, did anything tragic happen in the house from which they came? Maybe I should write a mystery about that.

21. I still don’t know how to turn on our TV. I think there are six remote controls on the coffee table, and the first thing I do match the brand names. For instance, the TV is a Toshiba, so I look for the control that says “Toshiba”. Then there’s the cable remote control. And the stereo remote control, in case I want to mute the TV and listen to the sound via the better speakers. Joel dictated a note to me so I would know how to do it in his absence. But I think I’ve only attempted this once. I just don’t watch it. I’d much rather read a book.

22. As you may guess, I’m a closet Luddite. It takes me a long time to get with any newfangled technology. My calendars are paper and my checkbook is still balanced by hand. Will I ever change? I may have to, kicking and screaming all the way!

23. I think it’s great that we all have gifts and talents that we can use to make a difference. I am not a deep thinker nor a vocal genius. I much prefer to quietly work in the background implementing the visions of those deep thinking talker types.

24. I like fishing. Luddite that I am, my favorite way to fish is with a spin cast reel with bait on the hook affixed to a cork bobber.  I have no problem baiting a hook or removing fish from the hook. Though it’s funny, I don’t like fishing alone. I mean, who would I shout, “I caught one!!” to? (I don’t think Mrs. Berndt would approve of that last sentence ending with a preposition.)

25. Every afternoon about 4 pm I take a break. I eat a bowl of popcorn and drink a diet coke while doing the crossword puzzle. Usually I am successful at completing it, which makes me feel very smart! I think Mrs. Berndt had a hand in this love of words, too.

So now you know everything there is to know about me! Back to essays next week…