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Blackberry Summer

29720184Kenny was just five years old, his brother, Jack, was 8.  Most of Kenny’s life had been spent on tenant farms in upper South Carolina. It was a hard life.  Momma had been sick most of his life with something called Pellegra.   It made her act funny and her skin break out in summer. Her name was Mattie and her family lived a good distance away. She had gone to the hospital in Spartanburg this time because she was so sick.  Kenny missed his mamma, but he was beginning to have a hard time even remembering what her voice sounded like or the touch of her lips as they puckered and kissed him good  night.

They had lived in a different house every year of his life. Which ever farm owner would offer papa the best deal  for working his crops, papa would load  up their sparse possessions and move his little family a few miles down the road.  The house they lived in now, Kenny and Jack had nicknamed ” the smoky house” because the flue in the fireplace didn’t work right and the house always had a smoky odor and in the dead of winter, there was almost a blur to the air  from the smoke.  It was warm, though, so they didn’t complain. On one occasion, Kenny remembered he and Jack playing with corncobs out in the yard, pretending they were cars. Mama had been sitting on the porch with her two sisters, Bettie and Jettie and they laughed at the boys as they played. The sound of her laughter was all he really had now.

When papa took the boys to town on rare occasions, they hitched a ride because Papa didn’t have a car. The boys loved the bumping and puttering of the car as they drove the ten or fifteen miles to where the big supply store was. They were amazed at the electric lights inside the shops and the fancy furniture in the two story houses on Main Street. Sometimes, Jack and Kenny  were  invited in to a lady’s  house for cookies and milk  while Papa was at the farm supply store.

Kenny had been squirming for ten minutes at the table with the red checked table cloth. Jack finally looked at the  lady who had told them to call her Mrs. Salter and said, “M’am, I hate to bother you, but I think my little brother needs to use yer , um, facilities.

Mrs. Salter smiled and led Kenny by the hand to a room by the bedrooms that had an indoor toilet  and a sink inside. Kenny’s eyes lit up. Indoor plumbing! He’d seen it before but never used it.  He turned to see that Mrs. Salter had cracked the door and stepped away.

At first, Kenny just ran his hands over the smooth white porcelain on the sink, his green eyes wide and his mouth agape.  He turned to the toilet filled with water and proceeded to relieve himself. remembered that the handle had to be pushed down for the  contraption to run clean water in it.

Soon, Kenny was back at the table where Jack was finishing up his last sip of milk.

“I bet you boys know where some ripe blackberries are growing.” smiled Mrs. Salter.

“Yes’m” grinned Jack, “we sure do!”

“Well, you two look like good workers,” Mrs. Salter said with her hands propped  on her thin waist.  “I’ll tell you what, If you bring me a gallon of the best ones you can find tomorrow, I will pay you a quarter for them.”

The boys faces light up with a smile. “Yes’m, Mrs. Salter, ”  Jack called out, “we will have them here by lunch time, , the best you’ve ever seen!

The boys, thanked Mrs. Salter for the cookies and milk and headed for the door. They saw Papa coming out of the supply store and hurried to him. Kenny turned to Jack and whispered, ” She’s got one of them indoor toilets!”  Jack had time only for a look of surprise before they met up with Papa.

“Papa, Papa, Kenny called out, “Mrs. Salter said if we’d pick her a gallon of blackberries tomorrow, she would give us a quarter!”

Papa chuckled and said, “Well thats right good wages, boys. Those lowlanders don’t much like to work when they come up here in the summer, do they?”

“No, sir” Kenny replied, ” and she’s got an indoor toilet!”

“Now how do you know about that, young man,” Papa looked sternly at his younger son.

Jack came to the rescue and told Papa that he had VERY POLITELY told Mrs. Salter that Kenny needed to use the facilities when she had offered them a snack.

“Well, I guess you two have got yourselves a job!” Papa laughed as they walked back down the dusty gravel road toward their driveway.

And they surely did. Mrs. Salter and her sister, had cometo the “thermal belt” as Papa called the area between the sweltering heat of the lowlands and the cool foggy  mountains to the north for relief from the heat. q For weeks, the boys went out in their oldest clothes and gathered blackberries for the ladies.

One time, Papa’s sister had come down to stay a while and fixed the most delicious dinners they had ever had. Fried chicken, biscuits, ripe tomatoes! It was heaven!

The boys had been picking blackberries one morning and after delivering them, they saw the postman talking to Aunt Lena. Curious, they stepped up their walking time to hear the man  try to whisper to Aunt Lena.  He couldn’t whisper very well.

They turned their heads toward the Mailman and Aunt Lena, who had failed to notice them walking  up. The mailman motioned Aunt Lena over to his opened door. Naturally, the two curious little boys were right behind her.

“Mattie died today,” he said, his effort to whisper lost on his effort to speak loudly over then engine. Then boys both gasped, and suddenlyAunt Lena turned around and saw them. She took a deep breath as if she was going to fuss, but turned her head back towards the mailman, wiping a tear from her cheek.

“What happened,” Aunt Lena asked the mailman. “I though she was doing better!”

Well, I can’t say for sure, Lena, ” the mailman replied. “She took a turn for the worse last night and when the nurse checked on her this morning, she was gone.”

Aunt Lena turned to Kenny and Jack and put her arms around them, scowling at the mailman for letting them hear his news. Jack and Kenny looked at each other and then at Aunt Lena.

“Did he say our mama was gone? ” Jack said. Kenny was silent, acting a bit confused.

“Yes, honey, thats what he said, your Mama went to live with the angels.” Aunt Lena spoke softly as she brushed a tear from her cheek.

“Live with the angels?” Kenny yelled. “My Mama wouldn’t  go live somewhere else!”

Jack looked at Kenny and  took his hand. “No, Kenny, that means Mama died. She ain’t coming back.”

“No!” cried Kenny. “She ain’t gone to live with no angels! Thats what they do in the Bible!”

Aunt Lena waved the mailman to go on about his duties and she knelt down beside them.

“You know your Mama’s been sick a long time. She was suffering. God didn’t want her to suffer, so he took her up to live with Him in Heaven, just like in the Bible.” Aunt Lena said softly.

Jack just stood there frozen, then grabbed Aunt Lena’s hand. Kenny was running down the driveway screaming, “Papa, Papa! Mama died, she went to heaven, like in the Bible!” he shouted through salty tears.

Aunt Lena heard the screen door squeak open just as they reached the wooden porch.

Papa just looked up at his sister. Aunt Lena nodded her head to say it was true. The four of them formed a knot of tearing, weeping family.

“Well, That’s it. mumbled Jack. We ain’t go no Mama.”  He slung his hands away from the others and ran up the steps to the porch.

Kenny gently let his hand slip from his Papa’s. He walked up on the porch where Jack was rocking back and forth in one of the wooden chairs. He looked up at his father and Aunt as they walked up the steps behind them. Nobody said a word. Papa walked quietly into the house, followed by Aunt Lena.

“What are you going to do, Furman?” Aunt Lena said to her brother. “You think Aunt Annie will take them?”

“Oh, no!” growled Furman, their daddy. “Ain’t nobody takin’ my boys! I will carry them on my back till moss grows on theirs before I give  them away!”

…………………………..

And he did.

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Snowfall in Mountains

It seems it’s been years since snow piled up for days-
Global warming, I wonder or just that on storm
That seems to haunt us every year.

It seems the pretty , fluffy snowfalls of my youth
Are gone, the snow melts and freezes,
Days of melting snow and dangerous ice.

I remember walking in the pasture, in the woods
Now filled with disgusting mansions and roadways
We can’t walk on the logging roads- there are none.

I can’t imagine what through are going through the
Selfish developers heads when they cut
And saw- tear down the forest, so disgusting.

If I could only make these people go away,
Go back north or south- just go and put our
Forest back like a God made them.

My grandkids will be lucky to climb a mountain in the snow.
Maybe they can find enough for a snow-fort
Selfish greedy people with your mansions.

I didn’t realize until my own family fell in this trap
That I was the last generation that would enjoy
The winter forest it spring flowers

Unless we went miles away somehow on slick roads
I wish we could make a law to stop development
To stop those blind to the beauty of the woods

That I could scrap their horrible mansions and road away
And put holly trees back and spring flowers
And fall mushrooms and mast crops…

Can I at least wish that the selfish developers
And desperate farm owners who no longer farm
Can find a way to keep the land and stop destroying it?

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Still Unbroken by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Words to song:

Broken bones, broken hearts
Stripped down and torn apart
A little bit of rust
I’m still runnin’
Countin’ miles, countin’ tears
Twistin’ roads, shiftin’ gears
Year after year
It’s all or nothin’
But I’m not home
I’m not lost
Still holding on to what I got
Ain’t much left
Lord there’s so much that’s been stolen
Guess I’ve lost everything I’ve had
But I’m not dead, at least not yet
Still alone, still alive, still unbroken
I’m still alone, still alive, I’m still unbroken
Never captured, never tamed
Wild horses on the plains
You can call me lost, I call it freedom
I feel a spirit in my soul
It’s somethin’ Lord I can’t control
I’m never giving up while I’m still breathin’
I’m not home
I’m not lost
Still holding on to what I got
Ain’t much left
Though there’s…

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The Chance to Remember

 

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This week, I celebrated two events that I wasn’t, sure I would see.  My granddaughter turned two a few days ago. That seems like such a simple statement. I have quite a group of grandkids, but enjoying them has not always been easy. My youngest son graduated from high school, and it was as sweet and crazy as the other childrens were.

Why then were these events so memorable?  First, let me tell you about them.  After the ice cream and presents, I saw my older grandkids splashing in the creek trying to catch minnows, crayfish and salamanders. I didn’t give it a thought before I had grabbed two cups and headed for the creek. Because. Of my disabilities, I had to find an easy way in. My grandkids all know that I’m the nature lady- nothing makes me smile quicker than a chance to teach them a nature lesson, whether it is ” how to catch creek creatures”or “what are the different kinds of life cycles among insects?” Today, it was time for creek creature catching!   My oldest daughter loves these nature studies as much as I do and was already at the creek when I arrived. Among the happy shouts of ” I got one!” One of my grands would quietly ask me to catch one for them and let them have the cup to show off their prize.  I was in grandkids heaven as we lifted rocks and I tried o teach children the importance of patience and still waters if you want to catch your prize creatures. I am not sure a tassel of kids between 6 and nine really gets the meaning of patience.  Oh, well, having had six kids of my own, I could work around it. Soon, I was sharing cups with several little salamanders with them, the giggled and splashed and ‘dirtied’ the water as they ran to show them off to the others.

After a lot of hunting, we finally began to find some medium sized crayfish and put them in a bucket. My daughter and I explained how happy we were to see them because the ‘ nutrient rich’ water had killed off a lot of the creek life.  Yes, we had to explain that the ‘nutrients’ were fertilizers that he big houses that had been built used to make their perfect lawns , thus polluting the creeks and killing the creatures that lived there.)

As we worked to collect the creatures, I told my daughter and grands about the days when my mom took me and my friends to my grandpa’s pasture to catch creek creatures, much larger than these because the big houses had yet to overtake the farms. They were sweet memories. My mom, like me was a lover if nature. Rather than having instilled a fear of wildlife in me, she taught me to respect them.  From Black Widows to Black Snakes to water creatures and wild plants, my mom taught me to love them, catch and observe them, then let then go, so we could catch and observe them again. The memories of my mom and I, along with the privilege of sharing such a day with my daughters, sons and grandkids formed a mist in my eyes. You see, I never thought I would be able to do those things again.

Nearly ten years ago, as my 15 year old son was playing baseball, an unbelievable tragedy took him and “life” would never be the same. After a great double and a steal to third base, my lungs were sore from screaming my praises to him. The next kid struck out and soon the teams were practicing for the last half of the last inning. Suddenly someone called out, “What’s wrong with Andrew? ” I looked up to where he was practicing in the outfield and saw he begin to ru towRds me. Instinctively, I began to run to him, meeting close to the pitchers mound as he started to fall, hitting the ground in a swirl of dust. I was in shock. He had not even been sick, to my knowledge. I started screaming, ” Call 911, Call 911, and saw that the father of one of my sons team mates was calling. There was a fire station at the top of the hill and I expected an immediate response, but none came. After coaches and parents rushed up, one person ran up, said they were a nurse and looked at my unconscious son as he asked me questions. My heart, my mind was in a blur- why were there no sirens? Where were the EMT’s who could have walked there by now. Someone asked me his name and gently shook his shoulders, calling his name. No response- no siren or ambulance. I was screaming for the nurse to ‘ do something’ as the clock moved on and my son’s breathing became raspy. Between ten and twelve minutes passed before an ambulance finally came in a back gate- the opposite of the way an ambulance from the close-by fire Department would have come. The EMT’s first words were, ” bag him” ( give him oxygen).

I rode in the front of the ambulance to the hospital. I saw the attendants using a defibrillator on him. My mind was screaming, ” No, no!” I was met by a hospital cleric who lead me away as the ambulance attendants rushed my son in. After working on him for an hour a doctor came out and called our family in to a private room to tell us, ” They did everything they could.”

“You mean he’s dead?” I cried as we all sat in silent stares- our world crashing around us. I walked out the door with an apparently healthy 15 year old son and would walk, completely stunned back in that door without him.

Within a few months, I was having symptoms of what was later to be found to be a pituitary tumor, caused, mostly likely by the stress from loosening my son. This story is not about me, so I will suffice to say that neglect  nearly cost me my life just as someone giving the 911 operator the wrong directions to the ball park had cost my son his life.  By the time I had surgery to remove the tumor, I was told  that without the surgery, I would have had about three weeks to live.

Now, we come to the second part of this week just passed.  I saw my youngest child graduate from high school. He had been barely eight when his brother had died. Graduation is a crowded, long, yet joyous occasion. When the ceremony was over, my son’s girlfriend and I caught up with him and he gave me a ride back to my car when I would meet my husband and two other sons.  I was tired, in pain, yet thrilled for my son.   One more ordinary occasion that I got to witness.

It wasn’t until my son came home late that night that we talked about his graduation that he told me something that I guess I had never realized.  ” Mom, he said, as we sat on his bed, “years ago when you were so sick after we lost Andrew, I had the thought that you would not live to see me graduate. It has haunted me ever since.”

“But I did it.” I smiled as I hugged him. ” Yeah,  you did.” He smiled, holding my hand.

Tonight, as I sat in my room thinking, both of these simple events that I had enjoyed this weekend suddenly hit me. No one, most of all me, ever thought I would play in the creek with my grandkids and even my son had not believed that I would live to see him graduate.  I have suffered so much, so long, it just seemed endless. I still suffer everyday.  Somehow, this past year, I have found a way to bring joy back into my life, if even for a short time.  I told my son that it was his holding me close, willing me to live that had helped me  ” make it” this far. I thought of the song that I had heard on my Facebook page that some kids sang to their teacher who had cancer. it was called, “I’m Gonna Love you Throught It”.

That is just what my son, my kids and grandkids and my family had done for me. Through all the loss I had endured, the disability, the never- ending pain, I would feel their love and know that somehow, they still needed me.

As I found myself scratching the poision ivy on my arm tonight, I thought that even being able to work in my garden again was a blessing.  Maybe, I was still here ‘ for a reason’. The sweat running down my itchy face felt amazingly good somehow. I new life would never hold the same joy that it had when my son was alive and I was well, but I was still here, and I was determined, at last to be thankful for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections of Life’s Passages (click song at end to listen while you read)

        DSCN2720     The mirror reflects back a “me” that I no longer know.  She isn’t young, My health was decimated by the loss of a child. Even my youngest child has a car, a job and a girlfriend now.  The years since I lost my son and health have completely changed me. I have known this for a long time, but held out hope that time would at least partially repair the wounds .Allow me to explain the crisis that lead to these reflections.

I have come to a point where I do not see that happening.  I raised six children. Raising them, loving them, teaching them was not only my dream, it was my life. I home-schooled them on vacations, Saturdays and in summer. The youngest one was home-schooled full time for several years. With a large family, there is little time to worry about what “you” want or even need. I lost my best friend to cancer when we were 48-two years before I lost my son.

I worked in the children’s schools as they grew up, as an assistant, a volunteer, and a substitute.  My life was filled with ball games, dance lessons, band and activities that revolved around them. Since i was a stay-at home mom in summer, I would have up to 14 kids at my house in one day.  I admit it was hectic. I suffer from migraines and it often took everything I had to be the kid of mom I strived to be,

Even today, my kids say that I was a terrific mom, that now as parents themselves, they don’t see how I did it.  I worked my way through a university while raising two kids as a single parent.  It seems I found endless energy and patience somewhere.  I only wish I could find that place today.

When I lost my health from Cushing’s Disease, it was determined to be from the trauma of my loosing my son.  Being a mother WAS my life.  Loosing him was unthinkable, unbearable.  It was at a time when my older kids were going to school, getting married, having their first child, and I was at that age a woman faces when she realizes that “youth” is no longer with her.  My grief, my problems were not recognized by anyone but me.  I would hear, “It’s natural that you are greived over your son, that your children moving away is difficult, but you will, in time adjust.”  I didn’t believe it then, and when I had heart failure eight months after my childs death, I knew that I had been right all along. I really was sick. The heart doctor started doing tests and wrote a report to my regular doctor that month, saying that I had the classic symptoms of Cushing’s and should see an endocrinologist.  Evidently, my regular doctor never read it.  When I went to my cardiologist in January and he asked me what the endocrinologist had  said, I told him that I had never been referred to one. He was astounded. I ordered a copy of my medical records from my regular doctor, and there, right on top was the letter from my cardiologist. Apparently, it had never even been read, just stuck in my file.

The cardiologist immediately sent me to an endocrinologist and after many test, Cushing’s Disease (sometimes called Cushing’s Syndrome) was confirmed.  She told me the only way to get well was pituitary surgery, which meant going into my head through my sinuses, and into the area right below my brain, where the pituitary  gland sits.  I was terrified. Why was all his happening to me -loosing my son and then my health  as well?

When I was finally accepted at an out of state facility for pituitary surgery, I was told that the tumor was wrapping around my carotid artery and I would have probably had less than 3 weeks to live.  It had now been a year and a half since my son died.  Not long after he died, I started a slow process of gaining weigh, although I couldn’t eat and watching my long hair thinning out, I was nauseous all the time. I could hardly walk, using a cane  to steady myself. It took months after the surgery to even begin to recover.  The joyful events I should have been enjoying had been taken from me, yet I felt that no one could really comprehend what I was going through.

As I mentioned, my youngest child was only eight years old when his brother died, He was my rock. He needed me, he didn’t care if I didn’t have a lot of energy, he played with friends, with siblings, and most of all supported me.  Now, he, too has grown up. I wonder, tearfully , how much he remembers about his brother. They were so close. His brother and I were so close. When the time came for my son to get his drivers license, he was going to college in the afternoons and high school in the morning. He started dating, and, like all children growing further away from needing mom.

I continued to try to make a small garden. I had been taught the love of gardening as a child and loved sharing the study of nature, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles and even arachnids with my children. Even  when pregnant, working and  and tired, I would find time to have a large garden. It soothed my soul. I could enjoy the bounty of anything from spring strawberries to autumn pumpkins. Now,  I was so weak, I could hardly make it to my garden. I was not able to work in it long at a time.  I watched as my beautiful garden got less and less attention.

Cushing’s affects your whole body, especially if left untreated as long as mine was. My endocrinologist described my bones as like “chicken bones”-terribly fragile. I broke my hip in a simple fall simply because I went down at an odd angle on my fragile leg. My digestive system has continued to be a problem. I feel sick when I eat, I have severs scoliosis and and in constant pain. from my neck and back to my hips. My feet are numb, my face is numb from the pituitary surgery, my hip has cramps so bad, i can only compare it to natural childbirth-without the joy of your baby at the end of the immense pain. Even though I have made some improvements in my strength, I know I will always have the symptoms of Cushings knocking at the door. For a time, It took small steps and a cane or holding on to something to navigate a room, My goal was to reach my son’s grave, on a hillside, without help.  I felt like I was climbing a mountain, but one day, I made it and it became a place of solace for me. I find letters and mementoes there from others-his many friends, even now, after eight years,a wedding invitation, a Carolina memento, a black rose. I put Victorian statuettes of a mom and son watching younger children sleigh ride, or laid a baseball there, maybe holiday rememberances. Even though I never liked baseball, he died between innings in a game he didn’t want to play, so I had “Safe at Home” carved on his black obsidian stone to help us remember that his last hit was one of the best he ever made.  Many years ago, I put a heavy chain with eight links on it around the flower pot-to symbolize that there would always be eight people in our family. I find messages from him there, I have written about them in other blogs-things only he and I would understand. Black widow spiders that we studied, dimes,(that one is secret), feathers from a bird killed by predators.

Every day is a struggle. I feel like I was cheated out of enjoying the years of my other children’s lives when they were maturing, going to college, marrying, having their own children, living, laughing, just regular things. I am having a difficult time accepting that my youngest child is not now, that youngster who helped me so much and needed me-no matter how poor my health is.  Now tthat he is older, I depend on him for other things.  He is just doing what young people do-grow up, just as my older kids were doing when their brother was so wrongly taken.  I know that, but it still hurts.  I have to find the strength to do things with him that I am often not really able to do. I have had to learn not to expect to be “mommy” after 40 years. It is more difficult than I can describe.

Looking into the mirror of my life’s struggles has affected me in many ways. I think of my friend who died at 48, after struggling with cancer for 15 years and I am thankful that I was a least here to witness the maturing of my family. I fight the anxiety and stress of not being able to do for my family what my heart longs to do. I smile when my older children sing the songs to their kids that I sang to them, or one of them remembers a book we read together. I walk in the park with them as they tell them the names of insects and flowers we studied so many years ago.

I have given up on having even the people who love me, and that I love, truly understand what I have been through and why I am less patient, more emotional, not as strong as I once was. I can only hope that one day, when they remember “me”, they remember the “me” that I was when I had all of my children, when I was young, healthy and strong. I hope that as all of us grow older and struggle to keep up with the things that made us who we are, that our children, our loved ones, realize that those thing are still there, inside of us. Our hearts have not changed, our love is just as strong, even when our bodies have failed us.  

Once in a while, I have a good day, and can almost do the things I once did. What a joy to be “me”, if only for a while.  I still listen to my Lynyrd Skynyrd and other Southern Rock music.  I still love long hair and blue jeans.  I am still me. Those who know me, please, remember that. Inside, I am strong, proud, loving. Outside, I still manage an incredible amount of accompishments, difficult, though they may be.  If the sun is covered by clouds, it is still there. I am still there. Remember that.

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