Posts tagged death

Once, and Never Again

266

Once, I was volunteering at school.

my youngest son was in Peter Pan.

He didn’t like drama much-

I was working with kindergarden girls-

singing…giggling

I was late getting home

and you were standing at the door-

smiling at me, in your ball uniform.

“Oh, you scared me!” I smiled.

I didn’t know it was the last time

I would ever open my door

and see you standing there, smiling

See you there at all…

For me, life ended that night,

I sat and watched you practice,

almost took your picture, but you

seemed so far away-I never imagined

how far away you would be

in a few hours. Again, I almost did it-

took a picture, but it was getting dark

I never imagined it would be my last chance.

You held your head, and ran to me,

collapsing ina slide as you fell to the ground.

I screamed “Call 911, Call 911!”

How can a parent call 911 and tell them to go

five miles away to some ball complex?

You killed my son-taking 12 minutes

to find their way there when a fire station

was right above us? Why, “nurse”,

did you not recognize heart failure, do CPR?

Why didn’t I pump your heart, even though

I didnt know anything but your breathing

was raspy and  an ambulance came

and the nurse just stood there when I screamed,

Cant you do something?

Why didnt I realize no sirene

was coming from the fire station?

When finally an ambulance came in the back way,

they knew they were given the wrong directions.

“Bag him” an EMT screamed, as they pulled out

a stretcher-I ran to the front of the ambulance

and got in, I saw them rushing to send currents into you

because your heart had stopped, because 911

had gotten the wrong directions.

A chaplain leads me away, it will always be with me

slow motion hell that you were dying-

they were too late, because somebody screwed up.

A decade ago, a slow motion nightmare-

I wanted to die too-A lot of me did-forever,

I wanted all the people who begged you to play

to hurt like I did-to die like you did.

God forgive me, I have yet to change my mind.

I leaned on your little brother, till he grew up

and had to find his own life, you were

A vague memory, someone he should have had

to guide you,, teach you, love you,

And he has only flashes of memories,

looking in album,hearing us talk,

or maybe a sharp breath as he awakes

from his nightmare, again, and again…forever.

I see myself now as an empty soul,

robbed of my most beautiful memories,

because you didn’t want to disappoint friends.

Beni-hana, you will never know how much

it has meant that you did not beg him to play,

that you have listened to me, wrote songs for us,

that he is still alive to you as he is to me.

Some like to say these “God did this or needed that”

and I want to scream, “God wasn’t there!”

My health gone, the pain worse everyday,

People think time will heal that you were stolen.

Never on this side of hell will that happen.

I needed you, God gave you to me,

He did not take you away, negligence did.

I cannot pray, I cannot forgive, I need you,

and nothing will ever change that.

My beautiful son, you were so amazing-

different , special, your love was beyond compare.

One day, I will open a door, and

you will be there, smiling, and I will hold you,

and never ever let you go again.

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Death in the Cemetary

326Death in the Cemetary

Today, I went to the cemetary where my precious son and parents are buried. I am used to finding odd items there, as if they were leaving a message that they are with me. Black widow spiders are one of the most odd, but because I study insects and arachnids, I look for their webs and see them. I do not find them on any other graves, which makes the incidences more profound.

Today. I was at my son’s grave site and found turkey feathers scattered over a span of maybe 60 feet in a grassy area by the woods and in the graveyard. Already being there to talk about my most recent anguish, I was especially struck by finding the feathers scattered so near my son’s gave. I

We have a lot of wild turkeys in the mountains here, and finding them was no surprise. It was imagining the scenario of what happened that made them so profound. I could see the group of turkeys wandering down the grasses at the edge of the woods when suddenly a coyote appears, snatches one of them as it fights for its life. I see the others scattering into the forest, turkeys take care of number one, particularly adult turkeys. It was apparent by the number of feathers, the force of the wind, and the long trail of a variety of feathers, from downy white to the long, iridescent tail feathers waving in the wind that the turkey did not win and the battle had taken place only a short time ago.

What make this discovery so profound is the event that sent me there-that one of my children might move-a short distance, but from a home on my fathers property. It brought back the story of my life-full circle-that no mater how hard I try, how long I suffer, how much I work with a now disabled body, I will not see my dreams come true. Perhaps my children will, and we parents often give in to this pain at our own expense.

I know their reams are not mine. What hurts is that my dreams never seemed to matter. Even If I came near them, something came along to ruin to feeling we have when we meet a long sought goal. We work so hard to help them be able to fulfill their dreams, only to find that it isn’t good enough or simply that theirs are different and our efforts are pointless and often complicate any efforts we may want to make to help them reach their dreams.

I see the coyote and turkey as the heartbreak I continually encounter. One problem, disast, tragedy does not end before another is thrown at me. I wonder how much I can take. I wonder why I try. I wonder why sometimes members of my family that I have depended on since childhood seem blind to my needs and expectations.

I gathered the feathers and mixed them with the flowers on my sons grave, just as my feelings are often so mixed when it comes to what to do to make my life worth living without ruining my children’s chances for their dreams to come true, like mine were ruined.

I ask my sweet angel for guidance and help, wondering if he is allowed to provide me with it from heaven. I ask my parents why they left things undone that wiped out my efforts to help my children,

knowing that they had no idea when their health would fail or they would loose control of those little dreams we all have that don’t work out like we had planned.

It is ironic that this violent death by my son’s grave happened when I felt so much like my own dreams had died. Please, my angel, find a way to help me-tell me what to do.

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Talking with the Dead

Though I have chosen a scary title for my Halloween blog, I have only precious memories in mind.

Holidays are a time when my lost loved ones are particularly on my mind. I remember things we did together, laugh quietly at converDSCN1024sations and times we shared.

I lost my father only two months ago. There are so many times that I find myself thinking, “I can’t wait to tell dad about that!” -then realizing that dad isn’t there to tell. My heart sinks as I think that the books and stories he wrote are all I will ever have. Memories constantly come into my mind of our days together. We were both strong willed and had our differences, but I was his only child and he loved me unconditionally.

I often feel that I never really knew my mom like I so desperately wanted to. She kept her past life very private. She was lively, funny and beautiful, I will always remember the funny things she would say, tricks she would pull, and the delicious treats she would make. My son loved her special dessert she called “Good Cake”. Still, there was a mystery about my mother that I sometimes connect with, a knowledge that she was so much like me, that when she saw me taking a “wrong turn”, she though of herself, and it caused her to close up inside. Since people tell me that I “look just like her”, I often wonder if our solemn, secretive natures were more similar than I will ever know. Perhaps the things she saw as regrets were different from mine only because of the time we lived in and the increasing acceptance of life’s choices.

Halloween, and then Las Dia de Los Muerte, in the Hispanic culture always bring back sweet, yet painful memories of my son. He was 15 when I lost him very suddenly in early October a few years back. October had always been my favorite month, and now it is only a long torture that ends in the very “celebration” of death, or at least a connection with the dead. My son and I were very close, every day is another trial in pain and sorrow. I literally lost my health because of his death, so I cannot for one minute forget it. My son loved Halloween, dressing up and going out with his older brothers and sisters when he was young, and then,with his friends as a young teen. He was quiet, but had a beautiful face, a sly smile, that I still see looking at me when my thought wander in quiet times.

I often visit the cemetery where they now lie, along with the old graveyard down the road where many of my elders are buried. It down and talk to them, cry for them, ask for their help, for reminders of their love, like the dimes I am constantly finding that have come to feel like a message from my son that he is with me. Since it is Halloween, I will mention the other special sign that I have with my son and my mom-I find Black Widow spiders on their graves, in the flowers, beside the stones. Its like they remember that I study insects and know that I will see them as a sign that they still dwell with me. I will look around and find no other Black Widows in the cemetery. That convinces me that it is a special and private symbol between us.

Talking to my lost loves provides me with a link to them, a closeness, that I never want to loose. I have never felt that I had to be in the cemetery to connect with them, but sometimes, being there, bringing a flower or a small symbol of something that reminds me of them, helps my aching soul. There is nothing to fear, and much to treasure when we refuse to let those that have been stolen from this earth to become stolen from our hearts.

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MUSCADINE MEMORIES

DSCN2817One day last week when I was at your house-okay cleaning out your now empty house, I noticed the most wonderful vine of the old fashioned Muscadine grapes growing up a tree at the edge of your yard.

I have never seen anything like it! Oh, Dad, how I wanted to run in and get you and show you the redbud tree hanging full of Muscadine grapes. You and mom grew up very differently, but I lost you both in your 87th year. Mom was a few years older, so I had to watch you drown in the misery of waking up without her after 62 years together.

l I haven’t been able to write for the past few months, since I lost you. There is so much inside me, I know I will never remember the feelings as I did when they were fresh, and I will always resent it. What kept me from writing was not because of you passing, but the pain was nearly as bad. A violation by someone, of my deepest thoughts, written in my journal, had made me feel as though I had been robbed of my most precious gift-the truths, good or bad that I written in a journal to the son I lost when he was 15 years old nearly every day.

When I saw the Muscadines, I knew the only reason they had survived was because they were wound around the branches so high in the redbud tree. Your neighborhood is full of bears, and my son who lives next door has seen many walking through your yards. My aunt on the hill above you had lost her grapes to the bears, as had neighbors and friends, I couldn’t think of anyone who hadn’t lost their grapes to the bears. A surprise for you, dad, but a couple of months too late.

All this time that I have been unable to write, I have though of you and mom, of my Andrew, all the loss, the sickness and pain I have endured, all the court stuff I had to endure in order to settle your estate. Hell has been my constant companion. Maybe that’s why the wild grapes were so special-a moment of joy and beauty amidst all the pain.

I can write now, the anger over having been put through a completely unnecessary hell during the weeks proceeding your loss have dissipated to the point where not writing would let the evil win-and I damn well wouldn’t do that. So I will write a few of the memories that the Muscadines brought to me. Perhaps, in some small way, they will help me heal.

Dad, I had seen your health failing for a long time, your memory and rationality fading as well, and I had been working to get things in order. I felt a lot of guilt, many of the decisions I had to make were hard. I knew without a doubt that I was doing what you wanted me to do, but there was still a ring of guilt to suddenly be the ‘one who held the gold’.My kids and I will never forget your slightly evil (but loving) smile, when we would want something that your conservative mind could not quite go along with and we would see you smile, as you looked at us and said, “You know the ‘Golden Rule?” And we did know it. Your “Golden Rule” had always been, “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”(possibly first used by Confucius) -and it had always before meant YOU. Suddenly it was ME.

Part of me anxiously awaited my turn at “holding the gold”, and part of me had always feared the responsibility that came with it. Now, that I did “hold the gold”, even though you were still here in a weakened condition, I found the responsibility both humbling and empowering. Every decision that was made was MY responsibility, every mistake made was my fault. Suddenly, I wondered how you could have held that responsibility all those years and smiled as you reminded us of it. It was completely terrifying.

Thinking back, again, (and not having allowed myself to write it), I remembered the little gift your grandchildren and I received within moments of your death. My son’s friend, who had been with us when you died and had loving called me “Mah-mah” since his childhood, had called my son on his cell phone and told him to look at a photo he had made with his phone. In his picture, directly over the spot where my mom (and soon you) would be buried, there had suddenly appeared a beautiful rainbow, so perfectly centered above your graves that it had seemed like a message from God.

Muscadines…they reminded me of so many of the moments in nature I had shared with my grandparents, parents and children through the years. Those little snips of beauty that stay with you as though your mind was a camera, even though you had no actual photo. I thought of Andrew, three or four years old, staring up at a huge sunflower. I will never forget the look of wonder on his face as he gazed up at that eight-foot high flower, as golden as the sun, above him. I remembered finding the hillside filled with bloodroot flowers whenI took a walk with my children were they were quite young. I showed them how the plant got its name from the Mercurochrome-colored fluid that flowed from the stem when it was injured or broken of. Many years later, I witnessed one of my children, telling the same story to their child.

Once, when I was about ten years old, my grandmother, aunt, my mother and I, went on our daily walk in my grandparents pasture. Suddenly, my grandmother almost stepped on a snake. My mother screamed and my aunt laughed, “Its only a garter snake.” she smiled as she saw my mother look away. My mother was never afraid of snakes or spiders and was quite embarrassed at her own reaction. “I hadn’t looked that close yet”, she mumbled, and we knew it was true. Mother always told me that she was much more afraid of men than of spiders and snakes, “because you knew what a spider or snake was going to do.”

My aunt ran a little country store and to this day, I can see my mother marching in with a black widow spider she had caught in a jar. Even the men stepped back a bit as she told them about catching it on the very steps they had just gone up. I could write a book on “the little store” stories that my cousins and I shared as we enjoyed freedoms modern children no longer have-wandering the neighborhood without supervision. To this day, my favorite “little store” stor is the time mu cousin, Johnny, who was maybe 14, pretended to vomit on the store’s steps as my furious uncle tried to sweep up the fake plastic vomit before someone stepped in it. A crowd of cousins stood at the edge of the store building giggling away. When my uncle realized that he had been duped by a teenager, he was madder than ever.

Sometimes, in this rough and often cruel life, a simple scene like the muscadine grapes will bring us back to all the good memories we have had. For a moment, we smile, we realize how much love surrounded us, even when we were a bit naughty. WE close our eyes and remember those who are gone now and find ourselves smiling rather than shedding ear. Just for a moment, those muscadine memories surround us, comfort us and ring us home. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.

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The Effects and Lessons of Loss-An Anology of Death

 

 

For many years of my young life, I escaped the emotional and physical costs of the death of a loved one who was a part of your daily life. In the past 14 years, it seems to have been nearly continuous, from aunts and uncles, cousins and friend, grandparents and parents to my precious 15 year old son.

I have learned that the deaths of different close friends and family affect us in entirely different ways. To see an older relative who has lived a long life and is now suffering gives us a sense of relief, that they are no longer suffering and are in, what we have been taught and hope, is “a better place. To Christians, and some other religions, that means Heaven.

When my best friend died at 48 after a 15 year battle with cancer, I could not help but feel cheated, for her, for her children and grandchildren, and later, as I faced deaths that were “closer to home”, for myself. I did not have the person I needed to talk to cry with, hug, and find comfort in her compassion.

I had several cousins and neighbors die in their middle-age, usually from cancer. I found myself looking at their lives, the happiness they had with their mates, and children, the love and attention their grandchildren would miss. I felt that they were cheated, they did not smoke, abuse their health or do dangerous things. It was a different grief process than I felt when my elderly relatives died.

I am an only child. I have lost both of my parents within the past 3 ½ years. It has been so difficult to walk into their house, the accept the not-so-good memories and embrace the wonderful support they always gave me, that I have often had to simply put their loss “in a box”, only to be opened at certain times, like birthdays, holidays or even the day they died. I spend a lot of time with my parents, seeing them most every day. When they were sick, I helped care for them, when they were sad, or scared, I listened. I helped them with their financial issues, memorial wishes, and settling estates. I would say it was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it wasn’t.

I lost my beloved son eight years ago at the age of 15. It was very sudden, a regular day, filled with normal activities for a teen-school, buss rides, ball games. On that day, I took him to a ball game and didn’t brink him home. I have written about this many times in my blog, and would love for you to look up the articles and read them and what actions I have taken since, but that is not what this article is about.

There is nothing as painful as loosing a child. There isn’t even a word for a parent who has lost a child. If you loose your parents, you are an orphan, if you loose a mate, you are a widow or widower. What are you when you loose your child? So much of what you are, what you lived for, looked forward to is gone, it is simply indescribable.

In my case, I not only lost my child, I lost my health. Within a few months, I was developing symptoms of Cushings Syndrome, a pituitary disease that has many scopes, causes and outcomes. My doctor kept insisting that what I was suffering from was “just stress”, even though I insisted that it was more than that. First let me point out that stress is not a “Just”. It destroys your health, your ability to function, to deal with work or your family. Never accept this excuse, no matter what you are suffering from.

It wasn’t until I had heart failure 8 months after my son’s sudden death, that a heart doctor started really examining me. He immediately wrote my doctor and told him that I had the typical symptoms of Cushings Disease (some types are called “Syndrome”. Evidently, I wasn’t important enough for my doctor to even read the report because 6 months later, when I went to the Cardiolgist, he was astounded that I had received no help and sent me to the Endocrinologist then next day. Again, I will ask that you read my other articles on my son’s death and my illness and return to the topic of grief and the different ways we, as humans respnd to it.

Men, women and children respond to grief in various ways. Men have a difficult time showing outward grief, having been taught during their whole lives that emotions are a sign of weakness. Therefore, they often take it out on others, especially those that they love them most. It is horrible for a woman to be fighting for her life, and not have the person who is supposed to always be there for her, him being emotional abusive, and often reverting to child-like things to get his mind off of his unfathomable sorrow.

Children under about the age of 12 often have a delayed reaction to grief. When they begin to think in a more adult-like manner, the grief that may have happened several years ago suddenly creeps in. The child may not be able to sleep, have irrational fears for their own safety or for the safety of those they love. They may regress somewhat in their behavior, their grades in school may suffer. It is very important that a child who has lost a sibling gets the help they need, and this can vary from child to child. Do not be afraid to explore your child’s needs with his doctor, counselors, siblings, your spouse or minister. I feel like it has been very difficult for me to be the mom I always was and still meet my child’s needs. Even when I felt that I was, I have realized even years later, that I needed to give him the chance to talk to those he felt comfortable with about his feelings.

The death of someone particularly close to you is often almost impossible to overcome. The effects on my health on top of my emotional grief, unfounded self-grief, and my blaming everyone from God to my child’s friends is something I still struggle with daily. Even though I have made some progress, he physical problems caused by the Cushings Disease will be with me forever, always reminding me of why I have to deal with them.

One of the best things we can do to help someone we love who is greiving is simpy to listen. Let them be angry, blame people, feel what they feel. Just getting these things out of their system for a few minutes can be tremendously helpful. Since it is difficult to deal with those who are grieving, especially over a child or a person to whom they were particularly close, we often cut ourselves off from them just when they need us the most. It is not easy to allow a person who is in the midst of grief to express feelings that we may not agree with, but we have to be able to, and, hopefully, over time, we can help lead them back to a better place. Simply learning not to blame themselves is a big step in finding a way back to a better place.

I don’t think I will ever heal from the emotional loss of my child and some of the circumstances around it, but I KNOW I will never get over the physical scars and pain that I have to live with every day of my life. I am sure that living with me is not easy for those I love. They try, and I am very grateful that they put forth this effort.

Eventually, we will all have to deal with loss in some form. Having our family and friends around us is critical in getting back to a place where we can at least function to the best of our ability. Each person’s reaction to grief varies just as their path to healing is different. Try to stand back and see what your loved one needs and be there for them, even if it is difficult for you. You, their support team can make all the difference in the world to someone suffering from loss. Take the time to talk to them, not only right after the death of a loved one, but years later as well. Send a card on the loved ones birthday or mention then on a holiday card. Help them laugh (or even cry) over some of the memories you have of their loved one. Remind them of the joy they had when they were with them and let them know that it is alright to be angry, sad, frustrated or even overcome with emotion.

One thing that has helped me is for someone to take me to dinner, on a walk, read favorite poems, or listen to music near the “anniversary” of their loss, but perhaps not on the exact day. Sometimes, the anniversary of a death, or even the persons birthday may be simply too emotionafor them to profit from your good intentions.

Remember, our day will come, and in that sense, if we have been there for someone else, it will be easier for us to accept the help of friends and benefit from it. Love involves the risk of hurt, whether from loss, breakup, moving away or simply from a child growing up and concentrating on their own life. Stand back and see if you need to “be there” or “give them space” because each of those times will come. I have found that when I lost my son, I often lost my friends as well, not from “meanness” but simply because they didn’t know what to do or say. Do not abandon your loved one in their time of need,no matter how hard it may be. Neither should you smother them, because they are having to learn to live in a completely different way than they did before.

Whether they are able to express it or not, the fact that you care will make a huge difference as the person who has experienced loss begins this new and difficult path. Simply knowing that you are there for them may be the best “medicine” you can give.

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The Gifts that She Left

 

Together, we sing a special song, “Morning has Broken” as we sat together at the Celebration of Life of a woman who was taken before her time, but faced her illness bravely, with unbounded love from her family and friends.

I will always remember our talks as we strolled down her driveway or stood admiring each others gardens. She was a school counselor, a mother, a wife, a friend. Only a few years ago, she was full of life, taking the vacations of her dreams, planning additions to their house, planting new flowers. It never occurred to anyone that her dreams would be stolen by illness.

As a mother who has lost a child, I still feel the unfairness of my friends and cousins who have lost their battles with disease as adults. It seems so wrong, they had so much yet to give. I lost my best friend of 35 years to cancer when she was just 48. Oh, how I could have used her shoulder to cry on in the times yet to come!

Today, though, I look at the gifts that my friend and neighbor left for us to keep her alive within our hearts. Every time I see a flower blowing in the wind, I will smile and think of her. When I see a child walk across the stage to accept their hard-earned diploma, I will think of her. When I see her husband, walking, alone, I will see her there beside him. I believe with everything inside me that her life will always hold more meaning than her untimely death.

I struggle to allow myself to have these feelings for my 15-year-old son. I STILL struggle. I will always struggle. But somehow, now, when I see the sunrise up into the brilliant magenta sky I will think of her, perhaps laughing and talking to my son in a different realm. Perhaps the most important gift she left me was the realization that no matter how much time we are given on this earth, there will be those who love us-present tense-LOVE us, and that kind of love does not die as the sun crosses the sky and night falls upon us. It simply becomes a different part of our lives.

 

 

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My Father-A Man Among Men

29720194     My Father-A Man among Men

 

I started this story many years ago, but this week, in honor of his 87th birthday and Father’s Day, I have revised it and added a little sentiment. You see, this will be my father’s last Father’s Day or birthday, if he even lives another week and a half. I found out this week that he has terminal cancer. I have spent the last month in a downhill spiral with him. I have gone from trying to keep him from driving, to trying to keep him able to walk, to admitting him to hospitals, therapy programs and now, the hospital again. Rather than change what I wrote before, I decided to leave it, and simply add the thoughts that come to an only child whose mother is dead when she is loosing her father too.

 

This is the beginning of the story I put on wordpress last year. With some additions that came to me as I wrote this year, tears running down my cheeks.

A few years ago, I wrote this story for my father on Father’s day. I had hope to put it on my blog, but it didn’t happen. I found it today after I got home from my third day accompanying my father to a surgeon and decided that I wanted to honor him every day. It was time to write the blog. My father did not have cancer this time.

I had been looking for a poem that I had written my father years ago, when I felt so young and innocent. Life has never been particularly kind to me, bu the last ten years have seen so many changes in my world that it has been hard to hold onto who I am. I realized more than ever that the only way that I have made it through these time was the love and strength I had received from my father (and my mother.)

Within these past ten years, I have lost my best friend and three cousins to cancer. I saw four of my children marry in only four years and have been blessed with seven grandchildren, with number eight due next week.. Not long after my second child got married, I lost my precious 15 year old son very suddenly while he was playing baseball. I lost my health because of this loss and have come close to death myself five times. Not quite four years ago, when I was still recovering from a hip transplant, I lost my beloved mother. The grief that my father felt after 61 years of marriage took a tremendous toll on him.

This story, however, is about my father, one of the most amazing men I have ever known. My father never had an easy life. His dad was a tenant farmer in Upper South Carolina and then Western North Carolina. His family moved nearly every year when he was young. They moved six times in his first six years. He and his brother would nick-name the houses. For instance, my dad would call the house they lived in by a nick-name so that  he and his brother would remember the houses and the places they lived . One house, they called the “smoky house” because the chimney flue was faulty and the house would fill up with smoke.

He and his brother, who was three years older were out earning money doing chores when they were in grade school. They were raised by their dad, with some help from a maiden aunt. She was kind, but very strict and religious. Their dad spent a good deal of time in a Veteran’s Hospital in Tennessee and they would be passed among aunts and uncles while he was ill. His mother, who had been sickly most of his life died when he was five years old. During the 1920’s, it was practically unknown for a single father to raise his children. They were fortunate that this maiden aunt agreed to come and help him raise them. She cooked them good meals and allowed for a a woman’s influence in their lives.

My father has told me stories of his life since I was a child. I would beg him to tell me a particular story. I called him, “Huckleberry Ken” because his life had been so full of both hard work and mischief. After becoming a parent myself, I suggested that he should write down his stories, so that we could pass them on to his grandchildren, along with others who had enjoyed his art of storytelling.

He took my suggestion, and with me acting as editor, he published four books about his childhood, teen years before World War Two, his time in the Navy in Guam, and his years working on both the Highway and Railway Post Office. He has another book that we never officially officially published. Today, I got a check in the mail for someone who had read about his books and ordered some of them.

Helping him with his books was both a chore and a privilege. I has to order photos from museums, obtain permission to use them, hunt down friends he had known 50 years before and record their stories, then scan and edit everything on the computer. In the early 1990’s a home computer was much more complicated than it is today. Ironically, my laptop computer seems more difficult for me to figure out than that old, but expensive computer that we used to prepare his books for publishing. I often wonder why I ever suggested the idea of publishing the books. To my father, it was the dream of a lifetime. Still, I look upon those difficult days, when I had a house full of little children to deal with as well, as some of the most hectic and yet some of the best days of my life.

My dad was the good student, the hard worker, his dad’s “favorite”. His brother had more difficulty in school and would probably be labeled “ADHD” in this day and time. When the school would send home letters about his brothers lack of progress, my father would read them and tear them up, knowing that his brother would be unjustly scolded by their father and realizing that no one at school would follow up on the letters. In the decade when he and his brother were students, kids from impoverished families were looked down on by teachers and administrators. Many of the children had parents who could not read or write and children started school with little knowledge of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” as it was often called. Often, in rural areas,there was a shortage of materials and children who could not pay for books, never received any. There was little chance for these children to get an education when no one could help at home and no one at school seemed to care.  Most of the children from poor families has quit school by their early teens, with boys working late shifts in factories and girls staying home to work on the farm. Many girls were married by their mid-teens. Though there were child labor laws “on the books”, it was easy to lie about your age and not be questioned.

Once, when my father was in the 5th grade, he decided to change schools. After hearing from friends that a nearby school was better than the one he was attending, he made up a simple plan. All he had to do was walk a little further and catch another bus. Without ever discussing it with his father, he simply started the new school year at his “new” school. It was nearly Thanksgiving before his father found out, and since my father was doing quite well in his “new” school, his father just let it ride.

When my father and his brother were still in grade school, they would be out looking for jobs on weekends and in the summer, in order to get enough money for “soda crackers, a can of Vienna sausages and a soft drink for lunch.” In summer, it was easy to pick berries and sell them to the wealthy families who would come south “to summer” in the low country of the Western Carolinas.

He and his brother learned to work hard for very little pay. Often, they were asked to tear down old barns and storage buildings, and do odd jobs. When a wealthy resident or better yet a local contractor would ask if they could “fix cars, lay brick or haul cement”, their answer was always, “sure”. It was in this way that country boys like my father and his brother got most of their “education”.

When World War II was on the horizon, my dad and some friends headed north seeking manufacturing jobs that they had heard were plentiful in the growing automobile industry. A few of them stayed, but my father and a friend, who owned a car, did not. They came home and found work in the construction business, taking any job they could get. They learned to drive trucks, build houses, and any other job that might lead to a “step up” on the employment ladder.

Not long after returning from their adventure “up north”, my father received his draft notice and decided to join the Navy before the decision of which branch of the service he would be drafted into wold no longer be his choice.

His brother had injured his knee when he was a child and did not pass the physical to be placed into the “service”. One of my father’s most poignant memories was hearing his dad’s last words to him as he boarded the bus for basic training.

His father had bowed his head, hiding a tear and whispered, “Son, I don’t think I will ever see you again.” He didn’t. While on Guam during the Christmas holiday of 1945, my dad was called into the chaplains office and told that his father had died of a heart attack. He still has the letter hr received four days later from his father, saying that, “everything was fine.” Communications were very slow in those days but the letter was profound, his father’s prediction had come true.

Upon landing in Guam in the fall of 1945, my father was asked by his commanders if he could drive a truck. Even though he had never held an official driver’s license, he replied confidently, “Sure.” and thus found his job with the Navy would be that of a truck driver as our military men struggled to wipe out the final skirmishes of war and rebuild the devastated countries that had been left in its rubble.

His book about this time of his life is titled, “Two Hundred Thousand Boys on a Rock Called Guam. On the cover is a photo of he and two friends sitting on the top of a captured Japanese submarine, the “rising sun” that was the Japanese flag was seen right below their young, smiling faces. To me, this book is the story of a group of boys being thrust into an unthinkable situation and showing their determination and fortitude. It is the story of “boys” becoming “men”.

My father did not come home from World War II with the ticker tape parades and tearful families rushing up to their ships as it was shown in the newspaper. He got off of a bus in Upper South Carolina and walked several miles down a dusty unpaved road to an uncles’ house where he had lived for a while when he was a child. When he got there, tired and thirsty, no one was home. After walking to a country store to get a soda, he returned to his less than excited family who had been away selling produce. He stayed at their house one night, and realizing he wasn’t wanted, he took a bus to the home of a friend in Western North Carolina, hoping only for an invitation to supper and a bed for the night.

 Surprisingly, the reception he got there was one of love and acceptance. The idea of a third son to help around the farm seemed good to the father, Mr. Jackson. A warm smile came from his wife, Mabel, who had always loved my father as if he was her own. Aunt Mabel, as I was taught to call her, had always had an affinity for this long, lean, hard working young boy. Hoping only for a good nights’ sleep, he stayed there four years, until he met and married my mother.  Mr. Jackson taught my father the skills to help him get construction and truck driving jobs, and was happy to have him “pay for his keep” by helping out around the farm. My father earned enough money to buy an old truck, which he nick-named, “Old Hully”. This allowed him to move up the ladder in the construction business to the hauling of materials, rather than carrying the heavy rocks and such to the construction site. The Jackson family called my dad, “Kenny”. And the name stayed with him in that neighborhood throughout his life.

My father had always valued an education and enrolled in a local Junior College under the G.I. Bill, which had allocated him funds for attaining an education. He took a double major in Accounting and Truck management at the Business School in the larger town nearby. It was there that he met my mother, who was also taking Accounting, riding the bus to night school while working in a bakery during the day.

When they married several years after meeting, my father was working at a Trucking Company and my mother still held her job at the bakery. They soon moved in to a small house on the street where my mother had grown up. I wasn’t born until nearly six years later. I had my father under my spell even before I was born, but when he laid eyes on a little girl with golden curls, his heart melted. After growing up with men and living in a home with only sons, having a little girl was both frightening and a blessing to him.

My father worked two jobs most of his life. He worked in the insurance industry, but decided not to move to Ohio when the company transferred there. I was nearly five years old when my dad was offered a job with The Life of Georgia Insurance Company in Atlanta. Hoping that my mother would be happy in Atlanta, where her mothers’ family lived, he took the job and rented an apartment. Most of the time, my mother and I remained in our new house that he had built in our home town, and my father came home on weekends. When he moved our family to Atlanta, my mother was miserable. It wasn’t long before dad turned in his resignation and came back to our home town hoping one of his applications would be in the mail.

Surprisingly, an application did await him. It was for a job at the Postal Service! The hours were bad, the schemes, where an employee had to put cards into the correct hole in a large stand-up desk were a nightmare, but my dad was up to the challenge and while keeping his part time job with the Tennessee Valley Authority, he passed the test and got the job! His early years at the Postal Service lead to his book about his years riding a highway mail bus that was so long that it required a bolted back section to traverse the country roads, and his years working on a railway mail car, sorting mail and throwing it out onto poles made for this purpose in rural areas. These jobs often required “lay-overs” of several hours or even a whole night and the Postal Service rented out rooms for their employees to rest in as they caught their next “run”.

My father’s job at the Tennessee Valley Authority was my favorite. He often let me help him decode the machine-made charts from places up in the mountains with lovely names like “Sunburst”, which sparked my poetic soul. There was a secret phone number with a coded message on it that told the depth of the river at different locations. Dad trusted me with the number and I would call to check the gauges which sent a piece of equipment down into the different rivers and let out a series of beeps to tell the worker the depth of the river. The office also held volumes of books filled with photographs of the famous 1916 flood which devastated our area and caused several deaths.

More importantly, the TVA office was where I saw my first computer! It was in the late 1960’s and the machine took up a whole room. Its only job was to make the charts that we read to compare the depths of the river at different locations. The most exciting part of being “daddy’s girl” on his TVA job, was that I got to ride with him to observe and record data about floods that occurred in Western North Carolina. I loved telling my friend the stories of seeing houses, flooded up to their porch rails, with a cat sitting forlornly on the roof.

Being a girl, and an only child, I had to be my father’s “son” as well as his daughter. That meant I got to learn all the “boy” jobs, unlike my friends. My father taught me about the stock market, investing and he shared his love of learning with me. We played geography games, such as “who could name the most states, state capitols, or fill in a blank map”. We read books together, he taught me the love of reading and learning. He helped me with my homework. He would stay up hours doing math with me, a man who had only a 7th grade education before he took a double major at a Junior college. He would wrap my curls around his finger and assure me that if he didn’t know how to help me with an assignment, he would learn it with me.

We worked in the garden, build sidewalks and fancy brick walls and made crafts out of wood. He taught me the names of the flowers, trees and insects where ever we went. Although I spent many hours with my mother, aunt and grandparents next door, it was my father who taught me about life beyond our valley.

I had thought about sending a copy of this story only to my father, but later decided that it would make an interesting blog. ab A little girl and her devoted father would make a heart-warming story. He always reminded me of Abraham Lincoln, which did not please him. But he was tall, with curly, dark hair and a serious face, much like our 16th President.

My hope now, years after I first wrote this letter, is that my children and grandchildren will look back on this simple tribute to my father as one of love and respect. At only a few days from 87 and in extremely poor health, he still commands our respect, still teaches us the lessons that he has learned in his life and still remembers our names. Last night, as I left the hospital, he had not spoken in hours. He turned to me and touched my hand. “We live and we die.” he said simply. I kissed his cheek, fighting tears and he said, “Goodbye, Brenda. “ I honestly didn’t know if I would ever seen him again, he was so very sick. He slept all morning but this afternoon was able to listen as his youngest grandson (my youngest son) told him that he had been awarded an internship in his school’s district office. It was an honor only two kids were chosen for . My father looked up and whispered, “I knew I didn’t save all that money for college for nothing and smiled at my 15-year-old son, nearly 6 foot three, tall and thin like my father, who lay before him, sometimes cringing in pain. My father has been generous with his help, strict with his rules and filled with an unequaled devotion to his family.

Though he has not always been agreeable with our modern ideas, he has tried to keep up with technology, taught us to invest and “save for a rainy day”. He reminded us of HIS “Golden Rule” which is “Who ever has the gold makes the rules.” and that, of course , was him.

I cannot imagine having a father who loved his errant, non-conformist, self-proclaimed “hippie” daughter with any more patience and unabashed devotion than he has had with me. It goes without saying that he has had this same love and patience with my children and grandchildren.

I can only hope that in years to come, that my children will have even half as much love and respect for me as we all have towards him. As the old saying goes, “He has learned to turn lemons into lemonade.” The gifts that my father has given have been many, but none were more important than his time. He chose being with me over friends or hobbies. When I asked him what “the most important thing that we had , as young people in this crazy world ” and he would squeeze our hands together and softly say, “Time.” You can’t buy it, or even earn it, but you sure can waste it.” I wish I had listened more closely to his simple wisdom. I feel so fortunate that I have had so much time to spend with him.

This past few weeks , doctors have told me that I was fortunate that he had lived past his very close bout with death, when I was 11 years old. Many doctors and nurses said that it was so rare to see such resilience in a man with a body that had been in pain for nearly 50 years, that they were all amazed by him, that he could smile, still hope, still say “It wasn’t easy, but the rewards were greater than the pain. Next June, I will try to honor him by remembering his determination, his talent, his stern but loving voice. I will try not to cry, but instead, to tell my children and grandchildren what hearty stock they came from and simply, to live to make him proud.

 

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