The First of “Firsts”

Today is the first anniversary for my blog. In many ways it has been a long year and then in other ways, it has passed so quickly.

Also, it is my husband’s birthday…He would have been 56 years old. I know that when we were in our “30’s”, we thought that 50 was so “over the hill”, but in light of being in that decade and seeing all of my peers who are “young” enough to anticipate their days with their grandchildren, his death seems so premature.

I had hoped to complete my husband’s life story, but with work and finding that writing those posts take so much energy and emotion out of me, I didn’t get it accomplished…that doesn’t mean that I am going to quit, it just means that I can’t write towards a “deadline” as a professional does.

As with my singing, my writing is an outward expression of my innermost being. If my heart isn’t into it, I don’t do either one satisfactory and my husband doesn’t deserve to have his memory recalled without forethought and my best efforts.

To write the next part of his life, I need to talk to his brother. I know what my husband told me about that part of his life. The events that took placed left a terrible prejudice in his heart for many years to come. It is so important that I tell the story correctly and set the stage for one of the amazing miracles in his life.

As I watched the sunrise this morning, (imagine that, I wake up early enough to catch a sunrise and sunset), my thoughts were of him and the tremendous life force he was when he entered into this world.

I smiled to myself and thought of the phrase that he announced when he wondered into the neighbor’s kitchen for some of her donuts, “Here me am!”. That announcement seemed to echo when he was born into this world. Its waves of energy have been silenced in his death, yet there remains, in all of us who loved him so dearly, a part of that lifeforce.

In us, he echos and we are forever better for knowing him and loving him. He will always resonate within me. He is like the last note of a symphony or the last rays of sunset…your soul has been touched and you habor those moments within you senses. They are totally awe inspiring and you are the better for it.

I recall the moonlight that bathed this familiar place on his last birthday. I was so grateful as I listened to him sleep. How I would love to hear those quiet, familiar sounds again..

They are not totally gone. I wrote about it on this blog. I have that moment and I remember the sound…It is a poor substitute, but it is better than having nothing at all.

It is the first of the first. It is the first birthday without him. It is the day that he began this life. What a wonderful miracle of life he was! It still feels so utterly impossible that he is not here, but the wave of reality overwhelms me.

When I began writing this blog, I think that I knew in my head that it was his last birthday, but it is my heart that can’t seem to grasp that he was not going to be here for this one. Now, my heart must latch onto this new reality and process the pain. There are moments that I think that this pain will kill me…but, again, my head knows that this is a state of grief and I must walk through it.

I wonder if they celebrate birthdays in Heaven? If they do, I hope someone tells him “Happy Birthday” for me and that I love him so very much.

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In The Present

Time,. We measure it. We manipulate it. We feel it pass and it is either dragging on endlessly or it is flying by.

In an of itself, it is mankind’s concept. Nature doesn’t measure time in minutes, hours and days. It is measured in seasons.

The old adage, “Time heals all wounds” comes to mind. I don’t think that the wounds ever totally heal, rather they are just less visible or we fill the time with other things so that we don’t focus on the cause of our pain.

But, in time, there is the past, the present and the future. While here, we live in one of those dispensations. I have seen so many people who get stuck in the past, or they are always planning for their future. They are afraid of living in their present.

At 26 years old, I learned a valuable lesson about always planning for a “future”. I was a young wife and mother. I worked at the local hospital on second shift. My neighbor was also a nurse at the ER of the same hospital and she and I would watch each others child while we worked. I would bring the kids to work with me and she would take them back home with her until my son’s grandmother got off work and then he would stay with her overnight and I would pick him up in the morning.

This arrangement and the fact that we lived next door fostered a friendship with her and her husband. Their daughter and my son were best friends. My neighbors were in their 30’s and we all had a lot in common.

I remember the day that they returned from vacation.  They had driven all night and arrived home in the early hours of the morning. When their little girl came over to play with my son, my friend came too. She told me about the property in Maine that they purchased while on vacation. She shared all of their future plans and trips that they would be making as they built their retirement home.

At my age, I thought that they were a little strange for thinking about retiring when they were years and years away from it, but that is the viewpoint of youth.

As evening approached, she, her daugher and husband left to go get ice cream at the local Baskins and Robbins. I had no idea that I would be the last person to see her alive.

On their way back from the ice cream place, a car ran a 4 way Stop sign and hit them broadside. The impact threw the little girl out of the back hatch of their small car and, when she landed, she sustained an open skull fracture.

My friend was 5 months pregnant and the impact caused internal bleeding. As her fellow ER workers labored feverishly to replace the fluids that were leaving her body at a faster rate, she looked over toward her daughter. Her child was her main concern. I think that she knew that she wasn’t going to be there for her. All the efforts of her co workers were futile and my friend died.

Her husband was severely injured and he was transported by Lifeline to a large hospital in the city. He was in ICU for a couple of weeks while their daughter fought for her life in another city hospital.

She survived but she was definately brain damaged and she never was the same little girl that was my son’s best friend. Her father was an odd sort prior to the accident and it only caused him to be a bit more pecular.

I remember thinking that the accident changed all of their plans. They had decided to make so many sacrifices for their future dream. At some point, I realized that my neighbors were always living in the future and not enjoying their present.

Maybe, I took the wrong lesson from this event, but in light of my life with my husband, I am very glad I saw the importance of living in the present. If my husband and I did as this couple, we would never experienced the many wonderful places and things that we did. If we had waited for “retirement”, he would not be here with me and our life would have been devoid of some wonderful memories that I hold dear.

I took the correct lesson from that friend’s life and I purposed to live as much in the present as in the future. It is in the present that memories are made. They are the warmth that your heart needs when it is alone.

It is the in present that you are to make sure that tell your loved ones how you feel. There is no magic moment that causes you to think, ” I am going to tell them that I love them, tomorrow”. You do it in the moment that has presented itself. That way, there are no expressions of love left unsaid.

What of my present? Normally, I like to ” get on” with the task at hand. My temptation is to move the unpleasantness and the pain on down the path and into a past state instead of dwelling on it, however, I know that my husband’s death is not something with which I can move. It “IS” and therefore, it is a “milestone” and it set a course for my life.

After 25 years and 2 failed marriages, my husband’s life impacted me when he walked back into an old familiar door and there I stood. He wasn’t expecting me. He was expecting my brother. He was unaware that my brother had been killed in a racing accident 6 months earlier.

I didn’t even recognize him when he walked in the door, but the moment he spoke, I knew him. I was amazed that he was crossing my path, especially, at that particular moment in my life. I was  “thunderstruck”.

Seventeen years later and 7 weeks after his passing, he has “thunderstruck” me again. My present is totally re arranged and I am living in the state of the present with multi-emotions and lost direction. That man could always shake up my world!

In life and now in death, he has caused me to look at myself in a new light. Even though I did not asked for it; it has come all the same.

Through him, I began to write this blog. Through him, I realized that by walking this path, I was gaining while  loosing him. I gained the support and friendship of a community that fails to exist in my physical world. How glad I am to have this blog!

Through him, I gained children and grandchildren that biologically would never be mine, but by his sharing them and by making me their step mother, my life has been enriched.

Through him, I also suffered many things by the circumstances and choices he made before he re entered my life. At the time, some of these sufferings were very bitter, but the joy that his love gave me always out distanced the pain and the disappointments.

Through him, I learned that this thrist for life is never quenched until we  see the face of our Creator. It is in that moment, we release our hold on these temporal things and we grasp the new life that awaits. This metamorphosis is so full of awesomeness that, at the moment of passing, it leaves a wondrous expression on our face.

Now, it is time to face my new definition of “Present”. I have to learn to walk, talk and think as a “whole” person instead of part of a team. I have to look out for myself and my best interest because most everyone has others that need their efforts… No one else is responsible for me.

Today, my present is a sobering place, but at the same time, it is my place. I am defining it. I am living in it. I am not hurrying through it. It is what I can make it.

Many days, I am helpless to make it anything more than something that I must pass through, but I also am aware, that I do not travel it totally alone.

I take every wonderful and sad experience that I had with the love of my life with me. I am forever changed because he lived, he loved me and he died and that has become a part of my fiber.

As with all living things, we adapt. We take our sum total of life experiences and we forge ahead. That is what we were designed to do and so I must do it.

I wrote in one of my posts that I would live for us both. Brave words that are yet to begin. When I wrote those words, that was what was surging through me. Those words existed while he was yet on this earth. Those words are still true. I still must live for us both.

To learn how to do that starts in this present, and to accomplish that, I must find a way to reconcile our lives as they once were and take it forward to what is awaiting ahead of me. I can not leave him behind, but I must allow him, yet not rely on what he would do or be totally directed by those memories.

So, I am trying to walk in this present state of mind and I continue to place each step as carefully as possible. I am trying to find a little progress out of each day. I am aware that there shall be days that I walk backwards instead of forwards, but I will be walking, none the less….

To the present and what it holds for me, Today….

School Days III

In 1964, when my husband was 12 years old, the family left the small Indiana rural community to take a church in the northern area of Chicago. They were located close to the Naval Training Base in Waukeagan IL.

Changing schools again, and going into a school system of another state made my husband’s desire to excel in anything academically more difficult. This was the 4th school in 6 years for him.

Instead of a classroom with the same teacher, he was in middle school with several teachers and classes. This is a difficult transition for most children. Add to it that he was the “new” kid in many classes as opposed to the “new” kid in one class and soon it spelled trouble. Again, my husband was fighting and there were many “meetings” with the principle over his behavior.

 Because of the Naval Base, there were many ethnic groups i.e. Puerto Rican, African American, Hispanic. His behavior caught the attention of the “tougher” kids of the school and my husband was invited to run around with this diverse and multi ethnic tough group of kids. Hanging around with these kids was quite an exciting change from rural Indiana.

Because of his fighting, he quickly gained a reputation for being a “tough” guy. He soon became a part of the juvenile system. This brought into his life a person that soon took interest in him; his probation officer.

My husband described this man as a 40 something, big black man who seemed to show up every place and every time he was just about to do something “stupid”. My husband credited this man with saving him from having to do jail time. Many of his other friends had already been in jail and it is only through pray and this man’s vigilance that kept him from following in the footsteps of his buddies.

School was not a priority to my husband. The difference in school systems caused him to be behind the grade level of those in his class. That seemed to drive my husband’s disinterest and he began to focus on the “social” aspects that presented themselves through school.

There were many times that he would walk in the school building and on through it to a local coffee shop across the street. Again, the probation officer came to his parent’s door. This time it was for his truancy.

There were a few bright spots. The name of the school was Jack Benny Junior and Senior High Schools. This school offered orchestra. It was through the director of the orchestra that my husband began his love affair with the bass violin.

This man would give my husband private lessons at his home to ready him for the “First Chair” in his orchestra. Through this avenue, my husband learned and played the classics…Vivaldi, Handel, Beethoven, The New World Symphony,…all of the great music that caused his heart to sore. Music was already an intregal part of my husband. He loved of all kinds and types of music, but the classics was his introduction to another world. One that was full of beauty and grace. His love of classical music was birthed through this teacher’s interest. It was one of the few saving graces of my husband’s young life.

His home life was becoming more splintered and fragmented. His mother was consumed with his now adopted brother. Caring for this child was her main focus.

His father was pastoring the small church and working in a shoe store to earn extra money for his family. When his father was home, he was working on his college courses to finish his degree and to qualify himself for seminary. Like many of us born in the ’50’s and coming of age in the ’60’s, our parents were absent even when they were home.

My husband told of the time when he wanted and needed to talk to his father. I don’t remember if my husband ever said what was on his mind at the time, but he decided that the only way to get his father’s attention was to write a letter to his dad and leave it in the typewriter.

When my husband told the story, there was pain and dejection in his voice. He viewed this story with the saddness of an abandoned child.

When his mother told the story, she viewed it as one of those stories where your child did something that was just “so cute” that you just had to share it.

My husband’s parents never knew the desperation that  was in his heart. As he hunted and pecked out the words of this letter, his heart’s cry failed to be heard. My husband went to the one thing that he knew his father would go to on a daily basis; his typewriter.

i don’t know if my husband and his father ever had the “talk” that my husband requested. I doubt it because it wasn’t long afterwards that my husband began using drugs and staying gone from home for days.

Where does a 14/15 year old get the money to buy drugs? In the mid ’60’s, they work for it.

At 15 years old, my husband began working at the same shoe store where his father worked. He began earning enough money to do as he pleased. He not only worked everyday after school at the shoe store, but he worked weekends for a catering service.

When he told me about the catering service, scenes from Dirty Dancing came to my mind. He told of the white shirt, black dress pants and tie that was required for this job. It brought to my mind those scenes  with the waiters in their white coats serving the guest at the retreat. That movie captured a lot of what life was like at that time.

My husband also talked about hopping a freight train to downtown Chicago. For the longest time, he never told me what he did downtown. I thought that he was just going for the sake of excitement.  It wasn’t until he was in 6ICU at IU Med in 2005 that I learned what he did.

Because, he had thrown two blood clots and they lodged in his left lung after the debulking surgery, he was told to lay still and not to move.  I sat by his bedside as he dozed off. He woke up and said that he wanted those “Goombas” to get this 5 pound bag of sugar off of his chest. Before I could ask any question, he went back to sleep.

I sat there wondering what a “Goomba” was. I could understood  the 5 pound bag of sugar. He had pressure in his chest from the clots, but I couldn’t figure what significance the Goomba had.

He awoke again and said something about getting the Goomba out of here. I finally asked him what was a Goomba and why was he so afraid of it.

It was then that he told me that when he was 15 years old, he would hop the train and go downtown Chicago and “run numbers” for the Mafia. He said that they let him drive a big Cadillac and go to the barber shops and pool halls and pick up the numbers and the money. He was a kid and if he got caught, he would be charged as a juvenile and nothing would happen to him. He said that he made a lot of money by doing this and that he always knew that if anything came up missing, the Goomba’s would hurt him.

Finally, I knew what a Goomba was and why he was so afraid. Even though he wasn’t Italian, the Mob was using kids to run the numbers and transport money. All the “wise guys” were identified by wearing a pinky ring. In this picture, notice the pinky ring on his hand.

It explained how he always had money. How he could buy the “trike” that he kept at his girlfriend’s house,  how he had the money for drugs and how he always was aware of his surroundings. He was “street” smart. He didn’t need school except to meet girls.

It was this time in his life that his father learned that he smoked cigarettes. He was at work at the shoe store when his father came in and saw him smoking in the back room.

His father lost his temper and began hitting his son. My husband said that he couldn’t hit his father and he was taking a hard beating when the manager/owner of the shoe store saw what was happening and called the law on his dad.

With eacg blow, hardness was forced deeper into my husband’s soul. Hardness against God, against  his father and all he represented. This beating hardened his heart against all things spiritual. I believe it completed the detachment that he was developing. He could detach himself from almost anything; even those he loved.The beating provided the determination that he was going to live his own life and he didn’t care what anyone thought. 

My husband said that he most likely would have given up smoking had it not been for that beating. He loved his parents dearly, but he decided that the life that they had, the “church” thing, was definitely not how he wanted to live. If he ever was going to go “church” he didn’t want what his parents had. He wanted what his Grandmother Lela had. He believed all “Christians” in his father’s church were as hypocritical as his parents and he wanted nothing to do with it.

This break with his parents only led to more “acting out” behavior. It led to his “road trip”. At 15 years old he and his buddies decided to go to New Mexico…..

“Thank You, Lord For Another Beautiful Morning”

I found this post this morning. It was dated in June and I don’t know why I failed to post it. I decided to post it now. It is a reflection of the man, the mature and completed man, that came out from all of the troubled youth and adult life that he led. It shows how the terminally ill come to value the next morning. He knew that he lived on borrowed time for the last 2 1/2 years…and he was so grateful for each day.

My husband is a morning person and I am not. He has always risen early for work, sometimes at 3 AM, so to take whatever load to its destination and to get back home in the early afternoon. He says that he feels his best when he first wakes up. How I envy that quality.

I am a “second shift” kind of person. I naturally wake around 8 AM, that is if I went to sleep before midnight. I like to take a hour or two to fully wake up and drink my several cups of coffee. I don’t like answering questions or making decisions until I feel that I am fully awake. By 10 AM, I am usually ready to start doing things around the house and get my day started. That is my natural biorhythm.

When I hear my husband up and about, I make myself get up and check on him. I want to know if he is up because he wants to be or if he is up because there is something that isn’t quite right. After I determine that he is OK, sometimes, I lay back down. It is then when I hear his morning “talk” with the Lord.

Usually, the first things he says out loud is, “Good Morning, Lord. Thank you for another beautiful morning. Thank you for letting me stay for another day. I am yours, you know and I am waiting to see Your Hand to save my life, but if it isn’t to be, it is OK….”

There is more, but I feel that I am eavesdropping on a very private conversation and I try not to listen. Sometimes, I go back to sleep or then the other times, I hear his prayer for his children, grandchildren, parents, and for me.

The tears roll down my face as I think back to the days when I didn’t have a husband who prayed for me. My first husband was at best an agnostic and at worst, an atheist. I had prayed many years for this man to come to know that there was a kind and loving God who knew his name.

When the day came that my first husband wanted to leave me after 17 years, I finally let him go. One of the main reasons was that I knew that he would never share my faith or my love for God.

Three years later, my present husband came into my life. As a son of a minister, there was no doubt as to his faith. He didn’t always practice what he had learned at his grandmother’s knee (she also was a minister and a female Evangelist). He had his rebelliousness, but there was no doubt that he knew that there was a God.

As I hear his prayer, I am so grateful for a husband who prays for me. Many times, we have dropped everything to hold each other and pray for the situation that we were in at the time. Many times we have laid in bed and talked about God and about His Word. We have laid in bed and sang the old old hymns blending our voices into one voice lifting the melody heavenward.

We sang together when we were teenagers. The tember of our voices complimented each other beautifully and it was the harmony that was felt between us that made our voices as one. That has been the nature of our relationship. Harmony.

This morning, I join him in his prayer of Thanksgiving for another day, another beautiful morning with the sounds of summer as our personal symphony. I am so grateful that he is still here with me. I know that whatever this day brings, it has been ordained by Heaven and in that knowledge, there is peace.

So, I echo, “Thank You, Father, for another beautiful Morning, for this day and for all that You have ordained in our life. Thank You for all that surrounds us and is for us. May we always be grateful for all that this day brings. For now and always, let us give thanks….”

In light of what I am about to write regarding his early teen years and his young adult life, I wanted there to be a comparison of the “finished product”, of the man that he became before he died. Like many who have many talents, his path in this life was a difficult one. But, in the end, he did find peace, joy and love…and so did I.

Finding this draft of a post again brought tears over the loss of a man who prayed for me daily. I miss sharing our faith and praying for each other. I have to believe that he still prays for me. Now, the prayers that he offers for me, his children, grandchildren and all those he loves are in heavenly places….and, yes, I am still grateful for his life and for our life together and I do give “Thanks” for having him for the years that I did.

School Days Part II

My husband also had to learn the lesson that what was said in the parsonage had to stay within the walls of the parsonage. When he was about 7 years old, he heard his mother call one of the ladies in the congregation a “Battle Ax”. And, when my husband saw this lady in church, he too called her a Battle Ax. When the lady asked why and from whom did he hear such a thing, his honest and child like reply was “From my Mom”….

Oops, that was a real problem and it was the beginning of my husband’s ability to keep secrets. He was learning to hide his feelings, watch his words, and do nothing that would reflect badly on his parents…what a huge burden on little ones!

Of course, there were many mischievous things that he and his brother would do. In the church world, when the District Superintendent came to your church, it was expected that they would stay over night in the parsonage and the church pastor’s wife would have to play hostess for this visiting “dignitary”.

When this would occur, my husband’s mother, who was an immaculate homemaker, would go into deep cleaning mode. She would put on her most worn and haggard work dress, old worn out boots and a bandanna around her head. She looked something like Carol Burnett’s char woman costume.

On this particular day, my husband knew that she was fussing about the upcoming visit and that she was in her cleaning garb. My husband knew that she was upstairs cleaning in the guest bedroom and he decided that it was the perfect time for a prank.

As he lisstened to the sounds from upstairs, he anticipated her finishing up with the deep cleaning. He knew that she would be coming down the stairs with her mop, bucket, and broom.

Just as she was half way down the stairs, my husband rang the door bell. As he opened the door, he yelled up the stairs, ” Mom, Brother So and So, (the name of the District Superintendent) is here.”

He heard his mother drop her bucket, broom and mop on the stairs and she turned to run back up the stairs and across  the upstairs landing. When she came back down the stairs without her cleaning supplies and her char woman outfit, he and his brother laughed until they rolled in the floor….she was not laughing, but that didn’t stop them from doing their pranks.

Many times when missionaries or evangelists would come for a meal or would stay at the parsonage for a meeting, both my husband and his brother would start a conversation at the dinner table. My husband would look at his brother and say, “Oh, look, brother, we have meat tonight. We haven’t had meat to eat for at least  a month”. His brother would reply, ” Yeah, and look, there is butter for the bread…we haven’t had butter since last Sunday.”…They would watch their parents faces turn red and then they would laugh until they cried. Later, I am sure that they may have cried from a spanking, but it was always worth the look on their parents faces….

My husband never lost this mischievousness. He would get on elevators that had 4 floors and ask the person standing next to the panel to push the button for the 6th floor. The person willingly started searching for the button that had the number 6 on it only to find that they had been “spoofed”. He loved that kind of thing and it started at an early age.                      

The other major event that took place at this time was the introduction of another “brother”. It seemed that my husband’s parents wanted another child. They wanted a little girl to go with their sons, but for  whatever reason, they could not conceive. They decided to register with the welfare department and wait for a baby to care for as foster parents with the hope that they may be able to adopt this needy child.

The call came. There was a baby that needed extremely good care. The child was severely malnourished due to his biological mother’s alcoholism. The child had been allowed to just lay in his bed and cry from hunger. He was covered with sores and his overall health was very poor.

My husband was ten years old when this baby came into his life. My husband told about how he slept on the floor beside the crib just to watch over this tiny helpless creature. Once his mother began to care for this child, she lost her heart to him and that was that.   

As the years would unfold, this event changed my husband’s world forever. It was one of those moments in time that seemed to bring an unanticipated impact. It would take his loving mother away from him. The new child consumed all her time and attention. 

As this child grew, it became clear that he was not developing normally. The sores on his skin healed and his malnutrition was reversed, but it was clear that something was wrong. His speech development was lacking and he seemed to regress instead progress after a the age of 2. The hyperactivity also gave clues that this child suffered from the effects of his mother’s alcohol consumption. He had fetal alcohol syndrome which left him with mental deficiencies. After searching for answers from doctor after doctor, it was determined that he was developmentally challenged, In the language of the 1960’s, he was retarded. 

This required more time and attention from my husband’s mother. And, with the requirement of time taken from the original two brothers and it was given to the youngest child, it took its toll. 

In the 50’s and 60’s, our parents were not prepared to parent this kind of child. They were at a loss in dealing with this kind of trauma. There were no books and people were not willing to talk about raising a less than perfect child. Many children that were developmentally challanged were hidden away from the world in basements and never allowed to interact with the outside world. Sometimes, no one knew that this person ever existed because of the stigma and shame that was attached to the less than “normal”.

This little boy, who was discared by his birth parents, reaped many benefits from the love and care of such a doting mother as my husband’s. But there were consequences of all that attention going to one child. Both of the biological sons suffered the loss of their mother and, in time, both sons would act out their frustrations. It was the beginning of change within the walls of this perfect household. This needy child affected my husband especially. This addition to the family added to my husband’s rebellion.

These events as well as the uncertainty of living as a preacher’s son would lead him into troubled times in his teenage years…No one knew just how deeply these circumstances would influence my husband as he grew towards manhood. All he knew was that there wasn’t time for him anymore…

He was entering into the mid to late 60’s without stability and security. He was not the happy child that announced “Here me am.” any longer. He would make his presence known in another world that was far from the “church” world where his parents resided. He would fill the void and there would be trouble…..

School Days Part I

Growing up in the ’50’s was all about doing it “right”.  It was re enforced by watching Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans.  We identified right and wrong in the black and white of the TV Western and the good guy always won in the end. For some, it was a good time to grow up in this world.

 Of course, I don’t remember my mother wearing high heels and doing housework like June Cleaver, but I do remember some of the magazine articles that were printed for instructions in how to have a “Happy Home”.

Women were encouraged to change into nicer clothes just before their husbands arrived home from work. (That didn’t work in my home because we never knew when my dad would be home. He was always gone before I woke up and I was in bed many times when he came home)

They were instructed to cook good meals including making the table setting appealing. There were many magazines that instructed how to “entertain” in the home. The fifties were the hay days of Emily Post and proper etiquette. The late ’60’s were the years of Lady Bird Johnson’s “Great Society”.

For the most part, my husband’s family was like everyone else. A father, a stay at home mother, well behaved children, a house, a car and a lawn to mow. All was perfection and everyone expected the pastor to have the highest reflection of a good home. Everything looked perfect to the outside world.

Growing up in a pastor’s home brought many pressures that were unique. My husband learned at an early age to not get attached to the house that he called home or to the people in the congregations. The church provided the roof over his head and it was tied to a  “vote” of the congregation that was taken every so often. If the congregation voted yes, they could stay, if not, they would have to leave and find another “home” and leave all that he had known behind.

At an very early age, my husband learned to set in a church pew by himself or with his younger brother while his mother played piano and his father was in the pulpit. He also recognized that “look” from his mother that said if he didn’t behave there would be consequences when they got home. These were the days before churches had  nurseries or children’s church.

It wasn’t all that much different for all of us who were born into “church” families. We all had to learn to “sit still and be quiet”. We all learned that there were  high expectations for us. In the light of today’s lack of discipline in young children, I think we learned things that prepared us for when we entered school. The teacher didn’t have to spend weeks to get us to listen or follow instructions, we already knew how to sit for endless hours because of sitting quietly in church. It wasn’t all bad, in fact, I think it was a good thing. We learned to respect a place of worship and we also didn’t fight against authority as much as some.

For my husband, it was in these early preschool years that he welcomed a brother. He was about 4 1/2 when he became a “Big Brother” and he soon took his position as his brother’s protector very seriously. He was no longer alone in this world.

The difficulties for my husband’s journey through his school years began with the incident with the Kindergarten teacher and proceeded after a particular incident that took place between my husband and the neighborhood bully.

Around the age of 8 years old, the neighborhood bully enjoyed backing my husband up and he would walk backwards all the way home. I am sure that he believed that he shouldn’t fight with this kid because he was a preacher’s son. But, after so many times of turning away from the fight, a different lesson was learned.

On this day, my husband’s mother watched as this kid backed my husband up to the steps on the house. Neither he or this bully knew that his mother was watching as this scene unfolded. As my husband was about to walk up the porch steps, his mother told him that he didn’t need to back up anymore. She told my husband to let this bully have it.

Whether she understood what she did by giving my husband permission to fight with this kid or not, we will never know, but it was a permission that my husband took seriously. And, yes, he whipped up on the neighborhood bully. That kid never bothered my husband or his brother again. But, this incident set the stage for the trouble my husband had in his grade school years.

Growing up in the ’50’s wasn’t easy for a preacher’s kid. Every kid seemed to test the child of a pastor by trying to get them to do something “wrong” or “testing” them so that they could go home and tell their parents what this preacher kid, who was held up to them as an example, wasn’t all that “good”. Recess time was not pleasant for my husband. He was “called out” and he never failed to answer that call.

My husband refused to be bullied by any one in his neighborhood or on the playgroud.  Of course, the school called his parents and they would “talk” about his fighting problem. But being bullied by anyone was not acceptible to my husband especially after his mother instructed him to settle things with the neighborhood bully.

Unfortuantely, the incidents of fighting only esculated and as the years passed, and my husband’s brother began school. My husband became his brother’s playground protector particularly after a terrible playground accident.

My husband’s brother was playing on the “see/saw” when a kid pulled him off and the fall fractured one of the vertebre in his neck. Of course, my husband believed that he should teach this kid a lesson about pulling his brother off of anything. He fought the kid who was picking on his little brother.

It seemed that once this reputation for fighting was established, every kid big or small wanted a “shot” at him.

In those days, corporal punishment was meeted out for sassing the teacher, chewing gum after warnings and fighting on the playground. After it was all said and done, school was a microcosium that seemed to foretell my husband’s future. He would not be bullied, he would not be “paddled”, and he would not bow to school authority.

Due to my husband’s fighting, the grade school years resulted in three different schools within the same small town and the last one was the worst. It was a “Christian School” with a dress code and more church. More sitting quietly for long periods of time. It was enough to drive any kid to distraction.

Moving from house to house and school to school insured that my husband had little if any security and it also insured his inability to make attachments to people and places. My husband’s young heart was wounded and confused at a very young age.

When my husband told me about his early school years, I wondered how many times we give our kids “implied permission” to do things that we scold or reprimand them for later. It seemed that my husband lived with a lifetime of mixed messages.

I believe these early school days impacted my husband by hardening his heart. He was going to be noticed, if not by his academic achievement then by his ability to hold his own in a fight. School was a hard place for this son of a preacher man and there were changes on the horizon.

There was to be another house, another school and other bullies with which to deal and he would be enduring all of these changes as a pre teen in a big city….

Hugs

This morning has been a real challenge for me….it is one those mornings when I awake and I need a hug, a loving touch or a hand on my shoulder…How I miss those special little expressions of caring and love!

I will never forget when I was in nurses training and we were studying child development. One of the studies was on “Failure to Thrive”. It was based on babies that were normal in every test for pathology, yet they failed to put on weight and grow. The conclusion was that these functionally normal infants were not lovingly touched or caressed and the effect or loss of that basic human need resulted in their failure to grow as other normal infants. The study showed that some died from this need to be touched and cherished.

My husband was a very “touchy/ feely” kind of guy. He was always giving  little kisses while I prepared a meal or he would lightly touch my face. We held hands as we drove down the interstate highway or if we were in the grocery store, he would put his arm around my waist as if to say, “This one is mine.”

This morning, the thought hit me that I will never know that kind of gentle expression of caring again and my heart breaks. I knew that I would miss this, but now, the reality of it all has overwhelmed me especially this morning.

I know from my counseling that this is part of processing the grief. This is part of the “radar” that sends out beams to find an unseen object and it returns with the reality of my situation. This finding from my reality radar is devastating. I still need his arms and I know that they will never be around me. It is a stark kind of realization that I miss him so….

Call me, “picky”, but just any pair of arms will not due. I have always been someone who was not comfortable with receiving “hugs” from strangers or from people with which I was not well acquainted. Even when I was dating, I didn’t want the customary hug or kiss…human touch can be painful if you are not at ease with the other person.

My husband was one of the first “boyfriends” that I like to kiss and that I wanted to kiss. He was special and I knew from the time that I was 17 years old that I was comfortable with his touch. He made me feel safe and I was at ease with him.

I know that this craving for human contact drives some widows into situations that causes them great duress. This basic human need is painful and poor choices can be made because of it. It is just part of the grief process and everyone who looses their soul mate will feel this terrible longing for the one who supplied those little gestures of touch and of love.

Like CS Lewis, I can fully understand the thought that if I was going to loose this love, why did I ever come to know it. Yes, I can understand that not knowing this love would have helped with the pain that I am feeling now, but I also know that I could have lived a lifetime and never known the joy of loving someone with my whole being.

I know what it is to be loved by someone and when I couldn’t return it, I found it wanting. I decided when my husband walked back into my life that I wanted to love with abandonment. It was a very risky thing to do because he had been so hurt in his last marriage and I didn’t know if he could ever receive the kind of love that I offered him, but he did and my love was returned with the same intensity.

My sister reminded me that I could have lived a lifetime married to my first husband and I would never have known this depth of love at all. When she first said this to me, it felt so hollow, but now, I understand that she was right. I was so blessed to have had this multifaceted man in  my life as my husband. Through him, I know what it is to love and to be loved. I have been truly blessed; It hurts right now to not have him still as the object of that affection.

Hugs, yes I need them and because I need them, I miss him so much more today than yesterday or any other day that I lived before….but this is the price of having the love of my life for the few years that I did.

In the end, I know that I am better for having known what true love is. I can say that I have no regrets for loving him with abandon. I know that I am one of the few people in this world to have experienced a once in a lifetime kind of love…

I just miss him….

Life Does Go On….

Today is a day that my husband hoped to see and even though he is not here on this earth, I still want to believe he is aware of this moment in time.

This morning about 5:30 AM, I received a call from my husband’s son. He was letting me know that his wife was in labor and that today was to be the day that we all were waiting for.

At 8:30 AM, he called to say that little Emma was here. After coming home from church, I had a message saying to check my Facebook account. Pictures were waiting for me and what wonderful pictures they are.

Little Emma is beautiful. And, so is her mommy. What a wonder and what a miracle is giving birth!

A little later after looking at the pictures over and over again, I thought how proud my husband would be to have another grand daughter and that she is the namesake of his mother. He loves little girls.  Well, in fact, he just loved women, but he especially loves little girls just like I love little boys…he would have been so thrilled that his life is continuing through his children’s children.

It was then that the phrase that sometimes gets stuck in my throat came to mind, “Life does go on…” When I repeated this phrase to myself, I could smile and yet, a tear came to my eye. Little Emma is one of those hopes that my husband held onto as he fought to survive. He wanted to see this day.

This day will have its bittersweet moments, but how can there not be joy when this wonderful child filled with hope and promise has made her entrance and blessed our lives for just being. Nothing can spoil this moment in time as my husband’s legacy takes another human form.

It will be exciting to watch her grow into the wonderful woman that God has intended. It will be my honor to watch for both her PapPap and me.

Yes, this is one time that hearing “Life goes on…” will not cut both ways. It is a great day. Happy Birthday, Emma….

Love,

Your NanNan

Prologue to the School Years

To write about my husband’s childhood years is difficult. As I recall the events and circumstances that he told me, I can see the building blocks of his personality and the reasons behind his behavior. These events became the foundation for his strengths and for his problems that seemed to plague him throughout his life. These years and their circumstances definitely caused him to become a rebel and he had a cause…he was James Dean before James Dean was on the movie screen.

 

I do not intend to lay blame or to be disrespectful to his parents or to their circumstances.

As I try to share this complex and multifaceted man with my blogger friends and with his children, I can see that the path my husband took in this life was being conditioned into his choices. In many ways, his choices were not the ones he wanted, but rather the ones that were forced onto him by society, by his home environment and by his natural tendencies. But, then again, isn’t that the same for all of us who grew up in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. My husband’s nature and nurture were overwhelmed by his circumstances, his environment, and by being the son of a preacher. It all impacted his life.

 

In those years, pastors were held in high regard. There were discounts given to members of the clergy and clerymen were never doubted or questioned as to their truthfulness. They were treated in many ways like “mini celebrities”. But with that celebrity came an implied understanding that the preachers would have better behaved children than the average person. Their children were expected to reflect this same celebrity and behavior. What a heavy burden to place on children who were born into this family. It would become a defining part of my husband’s future.

 

At 4 years old, my husband became a “Big Brother”. From the beginning, he was his brother’s protector and this role would continue throughout the rest of his life. I am sure, like most 4 year olds, he thought that this brother was a pain, but as the years passed, his brother became someone that he could share his adventures. And, he did.

 

On of the things that my husband talked a lot about was when they sent the cereal box tops off for an exact replication of the Mercury Space Capsule. It was made of cardboard, but the gauges and instruments were exactly how they were in the capsule. It was the age of space, the final frontier. Hours would pass so quickly when they were in the big upstairs playroom. It became their launch pad for explorations of the stars.

 

He also spoke about the pattern that was on the linoleum in that great playroom, It was perfect for running their trucks and cars. The pattern made it fun to run the “roads” that went around this huge room. He enjoyed endless hours of play in that room. He was safely on the inside. The world on the outside was not as comforting.

 

Living inside of the parsonage taught these children at an early age to keep things said and done in the parsonage quiet. My husband told about the time that he repeated what his mother said about a lady in the congregation. His mother called her a “Battle Ax” when she was discussing something with his father. The next time that my husband saw this woman, he walked up to her and called her “Battle Ax”. When the woman asked where and from whom he heard these words, my husband replied, “My mom”. You can only imagine what took place after that incident. I also believe that it is why my husband kept his private life and his family life separate. Children learn at an early age how to compartmentalize themselves. In my husband’s situation, he learned to build high emotional walls around his true identity and he also rarely let anyone know the true person that lived behind those walls.

 

The major part of his life was church. It was in church that his love of music was born and nurtured. He loved to sing and his mother encouraged both of her boys in music. That was a part of her childhood and history. She nurtured this natural talent and in later years, both of her sons learned to play and master instruments. They both could sing and they were called on frequently to do so in church.

 

Church for both of these young children caused them to learn at an early age to sit alone in the pew while their mother played the piano and their father preached. If they were squirming in their seats, one look from their mother would cause them to immediately stop. They knew the consequences if they did not do as was expected. When they got home, they would pay the price.

 

Remember, these were the days before churches offered nurseries or children’s church. I remember them well. There were no drinking fountains and you could die of thirst before the last prayer was said. There was no doubt that all of us who were raised in “church” learned the lessons of being quiet and not talking during service. We all learned that if we got that “look” from one of our parents, we were going to be in trouble when we got home.

 

As I think back on it, learning to be quiet and listening wasn’t so bad. When we got to school, we knew how to sit for a long time and we knew not to talk when the teacher was talking. This is something that is lost in today’s society.

 

We know that my husband’s beginnings at school were started off with the confrontation over wearing makeup and my husband won that first battle. But, the next battle and its lessons that affected his education would begin in his neighborhood…

 

 

 

 

 

Son Of A Preacher Man

 

Son of his father, and offspring of his grandmother, Lela, he entered this world as one with a heritage of preachers. Not only his father and grandmother were ministers, but 2 uncles as well. His aunts sang in trios and duets and his mother played the piano and accordion to help support the meetings of his evangelist grandmother. He was “born” into church.

In a small west central Indiana town, a few miles from the birthplace of his mother, he entered this world and he was welcomed. He was the first born of a couple that was lacking in material things, but they were rich in love. This relationship set the stage for this young son’s future.

As the first child of this couple, he was celebrated in his early years. He was loved and cherished by his parents and his grandparents, but especially his  Grandmother Lela. Early on, she recognized that this child didn’t look like all of the other grandchildren. He was different. He favored her side of the family. She called him her Indian baby because of his features and his dark hair.

Being the son of a preacher, he was born into poverty that caused his father to work in addition to his patorial duties. His father worked as a mechanic, ran heavy equipment and did many other small part time jobs to support his young and growing family.

In the 1950’s,  it was befitting for those who started out in the ministry to struggle financially. Many frowned on “rich” preachers and the measure of piety was reflected by the poverty that these Men of God were allowed to live…how absurd, but true and what a difference 50 plus years make.

As the son of a preacher, he would come to know the insecurity of being without a permanent home. On average, pastors moved every 3-5 years. As he grew, he never lost his desire for “roots” and stability. 

When someone would ask, ” Where are you from?”, he would hesitate to the answer. He couldn’t answer the much asked social question with the name of a town or one place. He was never at one place long enough to feel like he could call it home. Most times because he new that he was “different”,  he would refer to his days growing up in Chicago. This answered the question and it would explain his forthrightness, but this question always hit a “nerve” of insecurity. It also set the tone for being a “rolling stone that gathered no moss”. With each new parsonage, his need for a place called home would grow.

His true security and “home” became wherever his Grandma Lela was living. She, too, was in the ministry and the number of houses that she made a home numbered more than anyone truly knows. 

Her influence over this small child had a lasting effect and she became the security that anchored my husband’s heart. It was clear that houses never made homes, rather It was her comforting presence, her confidence in her children and grandchildren that allowed a permanence of stability. He was “Home” wherever she was.

It was her spiritual influence that caused him to search for more than what he saw in church. She cast a giant shadow and her children and grandchildren were always shaded by it.

Of course, his mother replicated her mother and he grew up with cookies, divinity fudge, homemade taffy and numerous sweets that fueled his desire for all of the sweet things in life.

By the time he was 3, the little family moved to a small northern Indiana town. The parsonage was larger When he spoke of this parsonage, he would describe the great upstairs room in which he and his brother spent hours. But the best part of the new house was what was in the basement. The former pastor was a vendor for the electric storefront horses that was outside of the local 5 and Dime stores. A horse was left behind in the basement and he could ride this horse for free by just plugging it into the electric outlet.

This new place became the stage for his emerging personality. It was clear that this child knew no one as a stranger. The story goes that when the family was moving into the new parsonage, my husband disappeared. Of course, everything stopped and everyone started to look for him.

One of the neighbors came to the door and told his parents that he was in her kitchen. The lady said that this little boy had followed the smell of the her fresh donuts and that he opened her kitchen door.  “Here me am”, he said and sat down at her table ready to sample her piping hot donuts. His announcement  said it all.

He needed social interaction from a very early age and if it didn’t come to him, he would go out and find it.  Never shy or uncomfortable, he displayed a self confidence that never failed him in any setting.

The years in this northern town were stable ones. They were the years that brought  two new brothers and they were the setting for his grade school years.

Early on, it was clear that he wasn’t going to conform to what all of the other kids wanted or the pressure of authority. In kindergarten, the teacher decided that she would have her students put on a little play. One of the requirements was that the children wear make up to support their characters. He totally refused and could not be persuaded.

This was the first time that my husband’s parents were called to school because of his behavior. It may have been the first, but it definitely wasn’t to be the last time that they would be summonsed because his lack of cooperation….

Upon his mother’s arrival, the teacher believed that his mother would agree with her and forcibly insist that he wear the makeup. Instead,  my husband’s mother agreed with her son and told the teacher that he didn’t have to put the makeup on his face.

This was the beginning of his non conformity to society. He was not going to do what everyone was doing just to please someone. He was showing the world that he could not be moved by outside influence and that he would walk to the beat of his own drum.

These early years were easily recalled by his memory. It was always astonishing how clearly and accurately he remembered those days. He shared these wonderful memories of this time of his life with me and with his parents. These memories became a bridge between his parents as their dementia progressed.

As they forgot the present and the recent decades of memories, he could take them back to a time when they remembered all things well. It was one of his last gifts to his parents.

I believe that these years were his golden ones. It was a time of peace and love; he felt complete and secure.

The next phase of his life would not be so tranquil….