Baking Ghosts

It’s usually when I’m baking pies or Christmas cookies that she comes to visit me. I suppose this only makes sense since she’s the one who taught me not only to bake, but her philosphy behind feeding her family and friends. A philosphy I also embrace. That to feed those you love is an honor. Honor them and yourself by giving them the most nutritious, well cooked real food you can. Junk food is fine once in a while, but even if it takes time, sweat, and hard work, by preparing food from scratch, you know exactly what is going into the bodies of the people you love. Your food literally becomes their body. Honor them by giving them your best as often as possible.

Today, I was rolling out dough for an apple pie when she came. My grandmother. MeeMaw. She saw that the dough was sticking and I could hear her saying, “Better sprinkle more flour on your cloth. You don’t want it to be pulling apart now. Work it too much and it’ll be tough, you know.”

I was slicing the apples, filling the crust when I heard her ask, “You going to let that glaze burn?” I turned off the glaze which had thickened perfectly. She came up with the recipe. I’m sure she read the basics of the recipe somewhere, but she perfected it. Nick insists that this was done in her super secret underground kitchen. In truth, it was in the finished basement on her side of the duplex I grew up in. When my dad tested positive for diabetes, she came up with this recipe. Make the pie like usual, but instead of sugar, use 1-2 cups of apple cider. To this add all of your usual spices then set it on the stove to simmer. After it “looks right” mix a solution of corn starch and water until it’s smooth and then slowly add it to the cider. Let it cook a bit then pour it over the sliced apples in the curst. I’d give measurements, but I can’t. She didn’t really measure and taught me how to tell if something “looked right” along with eyeballing how much cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and ginger to use.

As I was brushing the top of the pie with an egg beaten with water I asked her a question. “How am I doing?” She is the person I most wanted to proud of me. She is the person I most wanted to impress. I thought about my house and figured she wouldn’t be all that impressed with my housekeeping abilities, but she’d understand that as a working woman, there’s only so much time in the day. I thought about beginning my 32nd (Holy Toledo!!) year of teaching. You work hard and you’ve helped a lot of kids. Yep. She’d be proud of that. Then, I thought about my sons, her great grandsons, the greatest joys of her life. The day I brought Michael home from the hospital almost 29 yea1382545039107rs (Holy Toledo!!) ago, she snatched him up, decided he needed his diaper changed, kissed him all the way to the changing table, and when he peed in her ear, she giggled like a school girl. Once Nick came along and had colic, she’d see how exhausted I was, take him from me, and sit in her rocking reliner. I have no idea what she was saying, but she murmured to him and he immediately stopped his screaming, cuddled into her, and calmed. She was magical. Both of them are now men with their own lives, jobs, homes. They are both in their own way compassionate, intelligent, and strong individuals. I can count on them for anything.  Well now. They couldn’t have turned out better if they’d tried. It’s an odd saying, I know, but it was her way of saying they were perfect.

Then came the big question. I’ve been feeling lost lately, unneeded (after all, the boys are grown men now), superfluous. When they were little, they were my life – and it was a fabulous life. Now, I just don’t have a good sense of purpose. Did you ever stop needing me? she asked back. I smiled. She did this. She answered your question with one of her own which led you to figure out the answer for yourself.

And you thought this essay was going to be about pie.

The Devastation (not an uplifting story)

Nothing good comes from an unexpected phone call at 4:00 a.m. On August 25, 1988, the shrill sound startled Scott and me. Scott, barely conscious, lunged for the phone. I rolled my heaving weight over in an attempt to sit upright. At 8 months pregnant I hadn’t been able to move my bulky, often quivering, belly easily in at least a month.

“Okay. We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Scot1505240_10200747812812580_990749719_nt said.

My heart was about to thump out of my chest.

“Hon, that was your dad. We need to get dressed. Terry’s been shot, and they’re taking him to Anderson Hospital.

My heart skipped several beats. Terry, my older brother by 2 and 1/2 years, had taken a summer job at the Amoco (now BP) station next to highway 255 in Collinsville. He worked the night shift and last night had been his last night there. He’d be returning to his full time job as the grounds monitor at Collinsville High School.

Faster than I had moved in a month, I threw on some clothes. “Let him be okay. Let him be okay. Let him be okay” was my mantra. The baby, for once, was remarkably still, almost as if he too were praying. I have no idea how long it took for us to arrive at the Hospital. It was normally about a 20 minute drive, but it could have been 2 minutes or 2 hours early that morning. We pulled up next to my parents’ car. A quick scan also showed my sister-in-law and her parents. This could not be good. My mom was crying, MeeMaw was looking sadder than I’d ever seen her before, and my dad was pacing. He rushed to Scott as I went to my mom.

“It can’t be,” she repeated.

Scott knelt beside me and said, “He’s been shot three times. Once in his hand, his shoulder, and his head.”

I looked up, robbed of speech. That was when I noticed the helicopter on the landing pad. “They’re going to transfer him to SLU hospital,” Scott continued.

I tried to comfort my mom, telling her lies I no longer believed, saying that SLU was one off the best hospitals in the country. Terry had a hard head, nothing could penetrate that. He’d be okay. He had to. He was going to be the baby’s godfather. Then, an orderly came out of the hospital and asked us to come in with him. Scott helped me to my feet and I waddled behind the rest of the family. That, though, was when I heard the engine of the helicopter throttle down and watched as the blades slowed. I knew then, but couldn’t – wouldn’t – accept it.

We were all brought into a tiny room in the emergency room. Terry’s best friend, Greg, was also supposed to be there, so Scott went out to find him. I don’t think he realized what we about to be told. An unsmiling yet professional doctor came it. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a doctor to face a family full of hope and fear.

“I’m sorry. His injuries were too severe. He has expired.”

Again, I couldn’t say anything. The baby gave one big kick and I looked at the faces in the room. My mom and grandmother had tears streaming down their faces, but my mom’s eyes looked vacant, lost. My dad was openly sobbing. My sister-in-law looked stoic and stunned, her parents stood on either side of her, their hands around her waist, and looked at the floor. Scott came in then, along with Greg. He asked me what the doctor had said. I still couldn’t speak. My mouth opened and shut like a guppy who’d leapt from his bowl and landed hard on the ground. I just stared at my husband and shook my head. I think it may have been MeeMaw, I’m not sure, who told the two of them that Terry had died. Greg stormed out of the room. We had been told that we could see him if we wanted to, but looking at me, the doctor said that it might not be a good idea. I truly regret not seeing him that one last time. My dad, though, did. I desperately needed air, so Scott took me outside. The rest of the family followed. Over in the field next to the hospital stood Greg. His arms above his head, screaming at the sky. He bend down, elbows on knees for a moment, the stood rigid and came to us. My dad barreled out of the hospital, paler than any living being should ever be. He couldn’t look at any of us, but got into his car. Sobbing, my mom looked at me and asked if we’d come over to house soon. I nodded, no words left in me.

Scott drove me home so we could take care of the new puppy and change into cooler clothes. August mornings can be chilly and I’d thrown on a heavy sweater. I let the puppy out to pee and suddenly it all became real. I sat down heavily on the dew covered grass and sobbed. Then screamed. Then sobbed. I think some neighbors may have come to stare, but I’m not sure. Later, those same neighbors brought over casseroles. All I remember is Scott picking me up and carrying me inside while I kept shouting that I wanted him back. I have no idea how long I screamed and sobbed, but eventually I calmed. Scott washed my face off with a cool washcloth and we heading over to my parents’ house – puppy in tow.

Throughout that day we made and received probably a hundred phone calls. It’s odd, but as I told what had happened to friends and family, I became calmer. Later that day my parents and sister-in-law went to the funeral home to make arrangements. Five days later, on August 30, 1988, we buried my only brother. The line of cars in the funeral procession snaked behind us for over half a mile. Ten days later, the police caught the man who had killed Terry. Sadly, they caught him after he had killed another man and wounded a second who eventually became paralyzed and then died as a result of his injuries. He is now serving life in prison. This one random act of violence devastated my entire family.

10298886_10201222928690180_489795665422353482_nSix weeks later I gave birth to a very large, active, healthy, perfect little boy. We were going to name him Michael James since the name of James has been in my family for several generations. Instead, he is Michael Terrence. Greg, rather than Terry, stood up for him at his christening. Michael was the balm we all desperately needed to help us heal. He was (and still is) the sweetest baby, filled with gurgling giggles and smiles bright enough to light the world – our world certainly.

Despite this blessing, I began to notice things about my mom. She forgot names of people she’d known forever. She would call me five, seven, ten times a day, often repeating the same conversation without realizing it. I’ve done the research and from what I’ve r15665400_10206594249689848_4600160713202107148_nead, severe trauma cannot cause dementia. It can, however, propel it. Not only had we lost my brother, we had begun on a very long and arduous journey of losing my mother. My dad died at the age of 74 in 2004 from complications of heart disease. MeeMaw passed in 2010 at the age of 96. My mom is still alive, sort of. She’s now 86 years old and has never recovered from Terry’s death and then the loss of her husband and mother heralded further declines in her mental stability. She is now confined to a nursing home where time is very fluid. One day she knows me, knows my sons and their ages. Those are the good days. Most days now, however, she knows us, but also asks when her mom or dad (who died in 1976) are coming to pick her up. She told me the other day that she needed to catch a bus home because she didn’t like leaving her mom home with the kids too long. That same day she told me that my brother was “some man. You’re going to be aunt again.” Then, she asked where her mom was, suddenly deciding that she was at home babysitting Terry. I just smiled and said yes, she was with Terry.

“Interesting” things Students have said

Here’s a small sample of some “interesting” things students have said or written during the last 31 years of my teaching career.

  1.  During confesiun, the prest gives penis after you tell him yor sins. (5th grader)
  2. It’s been a long week today.
  3. What’s inside a grape?
  4. How long is a minute?
  5. 18 months – wow, that’s a long time. Almost a whole year and a half.
  6. I watched the solar eclipse last night.
  7. Kid:  My mom wouldn’t help me with homework. I knocked on the bedroom door and heard a lot of grunting and banging, but she didn’t open the door. When she finally came out I asked her what she and dad were doing and she said moving the furniture. (5th grader)  Me:  You can turn in the homework tomorrow.
  8. Kid (senior): Mrs. Jenkins, do you think I will ever have sex with a woman?
  9. King Arthur sent his massager out to warn the villagers.
  10. I really admire Moth Teresa.

It all began with a Tonsillectomy

I was a junior in high school when I started having chronic sore throat problems. Not only was this annoying, it was affecting one of my classes – Chorus. I complained toImage result for sucrets my parents who gave me Sucrets. I complained again and they took me a doctor who specialized in throat disorders. He diagnosed me with chronic tonsillitis and had me gargle with peroxide. Let me assure you, there is nothing more disgusting than gargling with a nasty liquid which slowly turns into a thick, bubbling froth. I felt like a rapid animal. This went on for months and there was little improvement. Finally, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving of my senior year I had a tonsillectomy.

As soon as I woke up from the surgery, I knew something was wrong. I felt a distinct draining in my throat kind of like when you have a cold and there’s a constant post nasal drip. I made gagging noises and was quickly scolded by the nurses. This type of activity could damage the internal stitches. I wasn’t REALLY feeling a draining, that was just the effects of the anesthesia. I was just imagining something draining. Okay, I do have an active imagination, but at least do me the courtesy of checking my throat! They reluctantly agreed to keep me overnight for observation since I was so agitated. My mom stayed with me and as soon as dawn broke, they were in my bleach scented, sterile room bundling me up to get me out of there despite my insisting that I still felt the drainage. That day wasn’t much better. I spent the day in bed, too exhausted to even sit up and read. Thanksgiving Day arrived, but I still couldn’t get out of bed. I had a roll for dinner. It was a home made MeeMaw roll, so it was a damn good piece of bread,plus it was soaked in lots of butter to make it very, very soft. After that, I felt full – odd, huh?

I went to sleep early and around 1 in the morning I sat up and then ran to the bathroom. I didn’t even make it to the toilet. I was vomiting blood into the sink. No, that’s not really it. I just opened my mouth and blood poured out. My parents woke up and promptly freaked out (can’t say I blame them!) My mom immediately called for her mom – MeeMaw to come over and help (we lived in a duplex with the grandparents next door), and my dad called for an ambulance. I fainted and, according to my brother, my dad picked me up off the bathroom floor and in his rush out of the bathroom banged my head against the door with a resounding thunk. Then, he angled me another way and banged my ankles against the door. This explained those odd bruises on my temple and ankle! The ambulance got there and took me back to the hospital where they looked down my throat once and told my parents to make an appointment with the doctor for the next morning. Other than that, there was nothing else they could do.

The next morning we were at the doctor’s office. I’d never before heard a doctor curse, but he was highly agitated, let’s say, that the hospital had not informed him immediately of this problem and they had sent home an actively bleeding patient. Apparently, blood clots had formed on the arteries and held them open, an unusual but certainly not unheard of complication.  That drainage I felt had actually been blood flowing down my throat directly into my stomach. He leaned me back in a dentist’s chair type of thing, had me stick my tongue out, wrapped it in gauze, grabbed it to hold it down, then jammed a hot caurterizing iron down my throat. I smelled the unappetizing aroma of burnt meat and watched in a dazed as white smoke rose from my open mouth. I fainted again and spent another night in the hospital – a different one this time. The next morning when I woke up, I felt no drainage, only hunger. I sipped some watery cream of wheat and then again went home. I really was feeling much better. Obviously, I didn’t eat anything but liquids for about a week. By then, I had lost so much weight I looked anorexic. I weighed in at a whopping 87 pounds. (Okay, I’d started at 105, but that was still a significant weight loss. Over a year later, I finally had gained back all the weight I lost.

Could we have sued the hospital for malpractice? Yes. Did we? No. I’m not sure why my parents didn’t, but I’m just as happyImage may contain: 1 personthey didn’t. Yes, it was awful, but in the end, I was just fine. Part of the problem may actually have been that I’m a redhead. At the time, it was more strawberry blond, but nonetheless, a redhead. Today, medical science acknowledges that redheads react to pain, pain medication, anesthesia, heat, and cold differently. They also, according to myth – which I personally believe – bleed more heavily and heal more slowly. Can’t blame the hospital for all that. What does this all prove? It proves that shit happens. That’s it. Shit happens, but most of time, we survive it. My senior year was not a good one for a variety of reasons, but I got through it. One really good thing that happened throughout all of this? A really cute guy I had met at my boyfriend’s house and had shared a study hall class with my junior year was talking to me more and more. Six years later, we married. And the rest, as they say, is history.Image may contain: 1 person

 

First Camping Experience

So my first adult camping experience occurred in 1996. Family Camp for Cub Scouts. Michael was a Tiger Cub and Nick was just a little guy, 6 weeks or so away from turning 3. We borrowed a heavy canvas tent and I began packing. Clothes for me and Nick, supervising which Michael’s choices. Food, toothpaste and brushes, band aids, antiobiotic ointment, acetaminophen for adult and children, benydril, cooking utensils for a campfire and a camp stove, gallons of clean water, juice, coffee, creamer, hairbrush, comb, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, matches, marshmallows, pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, plastic bags for laundry, a mountain dulcimer, games, dry shoes, water shoes, lots and lots of socks, jackets, and more – you get the idea. Scott got home, loaded the station wagon, threw a few things in a bag and we were off – a mere 10 hours after I began packing. Two hours later we arrive at Camp Sunnen, which now belongs to Greater St. Louis Boy Scout Council.

Setting Up Camp:  Luckily, we weren’t the first ones there, so while I’m playing ringleader to the boys, Scott and some of the other dads put up our tent. Then he takes over with the boys and I set up the sleeping bags, pillows, suitcases, cooking supplies, showering supplies. We’d stopped to eat a quick dinner in Potosi, so at least I didn’t have to figure out the camp stove. The Scoutmaster got a nice bonfire going and before long we were all gather around it, long sticks in hand, making smores, eating cheese and crackers, laughing. Michael in particular thought Smores were the greatest thing on earth and ate his weight in them. He made more for me, his dad, his little brother, anyone who wanted one. As the evening became chillier, we bundled up and got ready for bed. That was when it started to drizzle. That was also when little 3 year old Taylor, the sister of another scout, said, “I gotta go potty.” She couldn’t go alone – her bottom was so very tiny and the hole in the outhouse was large. Her mom, a nurse, took her, held her over the opening then told her husband there might be a problem. She cried when she’d peed. I had, as it turned out, brought cranberry juice. Taylor drank all of that and then went to pee again. about five more times, actually.

The First Night.  Just when we were settling in for the night, the boys in their jammies, tucked into their sleeping bags, we were assaulted by bright lights, slamming doors, loud voices. A family had just arrived and were trying to set up their tent – right next to ours – in the dark. After about 30 minutes of shouting and cussing, Scott and other dads got up to help. Turns out, the new family had just bought their tent – it was still in the box – and had never set it up before. An hour later, it was finally set up and things were settling down.

Taylor:  I gotta Pee.

Michael:  My tummy hurts

Ed (Taylor’s dad):  I’ll taker her this time

New Guy:  Grufffff, hoooonnnkkkkk (snoring)

Michael:  I don’t feel . . . arghhhhh (throws up on MY cloth suitcase)

Scott grabs Michael, unzips the tent, and takes him outside.

Nick:  pee. (I take him)

New Guy:  Gruffffff, hooooonnnnkkkkk

Taylor:  I gotta Pee again.

Dee (Taylor’s mom):  My turn.

Michael:  What smells so bad in here?

(Scott takes my suitcase outside and puts it in the back of the station wagon.)

New Guy:  Gruffffff, hoooonnnnkkkkkk

Needless to say, it was a long night with very little sleep.

Day 1:  Breakfast. Scott starts up the camp stove while I get the kids dressed. Michael, now perfectly fine, runs to joing his friends. I root through my suitcase and find my swimsuit, one pair of shorts, two t-shirts, one pair of socks, and one pair of sweatpants that have not been touched by smore vomit. I manage to scramble some eggs for breakfast. Scott and Michael go hiking with the group and Nick and I stay at the camp and do crafty shit. The ground is soaked from the constant drizzle, and Nick decides he doesn’t like the feel of wet grass and refuses to walk in it, so I have to carry him everywhere. Dee decides that Taylor isn’t improving, so she bundles up the little girl and takes her to the local ER (a VERY scary place!) Lunch is cold cut sandwiches. After, there’s creek crashing. Nick wants to be a part of this, but he’s afraid of the turtles, so while Scott keeps an eye on Michael, I go into the water with Nick in my arms. By now, my arms are numb. I take Nick back to the banks where he can look for periwinkles and crawdads. This works for a while, then he gets bored. He wants to go back to camp The grass is wet. I carry him again. Dinner is hot dogs cooked over the communal bonfire. This is when Michael discovers he doesn’t like hot dogs. Nick, however, loves them. More skits, stories, and smores – not to mention fireflies and mosquitoes. We get the kids cleaned up and are back in the tent trying to sleep.

New Guy:  Gruuuuffffff. Hoooonnnnnkkkkk

Taylor:  (now on antibiotics) I have to Pee

Michael: gawwwwww (yes, he snored as a child too!)

Did I mention Nick didn’t like the dark? He’s sleeping on top of me.

Day 2:  Breakfast at the Hall.  This was a communal breakfast held in the open air Image result for camp sunnen pointpavillion. Pancakes, bacon, strawberries, milk, coffee. We all eat and laugh and talk. Then, after it’s all cleaned up, we head up to the Point, an absolutely beautiful peak which overlooks the lake. It is also, however, a really long, steep hike, especially while carrying an almost 3 year old boy because the GRASS IS STILL WET!! The service is very nice. There’s singing. We’re almost to the end when Michael says, “I have to use the bathroom.” I glare at Scott. He sighs, gets up, and takes Michael into the woods. A few minutes later, they come back. Scott gives me that “you’re not going to like this” grin. I raise my eyebrows. Michael, “Runny poo isn’t any fun.” I closed my eyes and begged all the gods that be for strength. Nick, “potty.” I glare at Scott. He gets up again. Minutes later, they’re back and he holds up three fingers. OMG!!!! The service ends, we hike back down. Several kinds are taken into the woods by a parent and they all come back with an odd look on their face. Back at camp we begin to pack up. My stomach begins to rumble. Crap. Literally. I run to the outhouse. Wait in line. LOTS of intestines are grumbling. Around noon, we’re packed and ready to go – complete with having used the facilities OFTEN. We have to stop three times on the way home.  Between the vomit soaked suitcase, laundry, wet shoes, and noxious gas, the car was unpleasant. We finally got home, I run to the bathroom and dig out the anit-diarrhea medication and hand it out like candy on Halloween night. Within 15 minutes I’ve got a load of laundry going. The rest of the clothes and bedding are on the back porch. NO WAY was I going let all that smell up the house.  Two hours later, the car is unloaded and I’m lying on the couch wishing for death.

That night when I’m tucking the kids into bed, Michael says, “That was so much fun!! When can we do it again?”

 

 

 

rmath.

 

Worst Camping Trip Ever

I was reminded last night of why I no longer camp. Seriously, this was the absolute worst camping trip ever. It was a few years back over the Columbus Day  holiday. Now I gave up tent camping a long time ago. I’m too old and asthmatic to sleep with my fat ass on the ground, so we bought a pop up camper. Normally, I was okay with this. I mean we had a routine. We’d camp at Giant City State Park. In the morning we’d go hiking then come back to the camper for breakfast. I swear that bacon tastes better wen fried over an open fire in a cast iron skillet! Then I’d go to the shower house, come out wearing a pretty dress, sandals, and often times, pearls. I got a few incredulous looks, but I’m down with that. Then, we’d head out to several wineries (Rustel Hill and Starview are two of my favorites) to enjoy live music, wine, and food until after dinner. Then we’d take our bottle (or dozen bottles) of wine back to the campsite. Scott starts a fire, I change into sweat pants, fat socks, and four sweaters. We sit by the fire, drink more wine, go to bed then repeat the next day.

But, I digress. We left Friday after I got off school. Actually, I didn’t want to go at all. All the omens were NOT portentious. First, it was raining. Second, Scott slid into the car in front of him on the way home. Third, did I mention it was raining? Nonetheless, Scott insisted we go. Besides, he assured me, the rain was supposed to stop. It didn’t. We rolled into the campsite – in the dark – and I very so helpfully pointed out that it was still raining. We managed to get the pop up set up, but by this time my hair was drenched. Soaked. Now if you aren’t aware of the difficulties of my hair, you might want to scan this Bad Hair Life. I knew it would be at least damp for the next 3 days. Scott actually thought I was going to fix dinner – in the camper. Well that’s just cute. I braided my hair and off we went to Rustle Hill. Dinner was lovely, the wine delightful and the people met astounded that we were camping (the one guy kept staring at my pearls).

Day 2.  Follow regular procedure despite all the mud on the hiking trails. Then, we went into Carbondale where there was an Irish Fest. A really lame one. We were sitting beneath a tent listening to a mediocre Irish band when someone sat down next to me. a Little Person. (At one point in time I’d have said “midget”, but that is no longer politically correct and I really don’t wish to offend anyone.) He leaned over and seductively whispered, ” What do you think of them?” I told him I’d heard better. Then he placed his creepy little hand (you’ll understand the “creepy” part in a minute) and said, “I’m got to get a drink. Why don’t I get one for you too, sweetheart.” Scott’s shoulders were starting to shake at this point and it took all of my will power not to slug him. I looked at the lecherous man and said, “No thanks. My HUSBAND and I are just fine.” At this point the creep leaned forward, looked at my husband, and said, “I hope he shows you enough attention.” These words alone were not the creepy part. The creepy part was the strong suggestion that if not, he’d be happy to fill in the gaps. Then he ran his hand up my leg, patted it, and winked! He left and Scott about pissed himself laughing. We left, did some wineries, heading back to camp. I went to the shower house, used the facilities and almost shit myself when, coming back out, I almost walked directly into a field dressed deer hanging from a tree. I screamed and a fellow camper laughed hysterically before stating that perhaps he should have hung his “first kill” a little farther from the lady’s room. When I got back to our camper, Scott said, “Hey did you know deer season opened today?” Yes. Yes I did.

Day 3.  Morning Routine. Heading to more wineries. By late afternoon, I pointed out to Scott that the Jeep seems to be running a bit rough again. Transmission? (Keep in mind, I know next to NOTHING about cars, but this damn Jeep had been having transmission problems for a good year so I’d become familiar with the sounds.) “It’s fine,” he says. We head back to the campsite after dark and I notice more coughing from the Jeep. “It’s fine,” he says. Back at the site, more dead deer hang from more trees and it’s all a little Tim Burton meets Wilderness Survival guide like.

Day 4.  Sunday. The lodge has a lovely breakfast buffet on Sundays so we decide to go there for breakfast. Shortly after leaving the campsite, the Jeep coughs, chokes, dies. “It’s fine?” I say. He doesn’t answer. He gets out, opens the hood, tries to perform a resurrection, fails. “We’re going to have to walk to the lodge,” he says. A mile and a half later – keep in mind I have a really bad knee and I’m hungry – we make it to the lodge were Scott talks to the guy at the front desk who gives him the name and number of a tow truck guy. I ask about breakfast and am informed that the buffet closed at ten. It’s ten minutes after ten. I glare at first the guy then my husband then back at the guy. The guy slinks to the dining room, comes back, and says that since they haven’t cleaned it all up yet and since we’ve had such at trying morning, he’d be happy to seat us. Personally, I think he was terrified he’d either witness a murder or be murdered. This line of thought might not have been totally out of line. We call our children, who find great humor in the situation, but agree to drive down to give us a car – my car – a mini cooper. The guy at the desk told us that if we can get someone to tow the camper to the parking lot we could just leave it there for a week or so if needed. I think he was still trying to stay on my good side. We hike back to camp to wait for our sons. Meantime, the tow truck guy has come by, picked up Scott, and they went off to get the Jeep. They get it, come back to camp, and I notice the guy’s name tag. Seriously people, I can’t make this shit up. His tag read “Mater”. The repair place in town doesn’t open until 9:00 the next morning. We’d planned on leaving Sunda
y, but now had to stay another day. The boys showed up, dropped off my car, made fun of their father, offered to take me back home (It’s a testament to my love for my husband that I stayed), made fun of their father some more, and went on their happy way. That was when Scott told me that we were out of propane and firewood. We needed to scavenge. So, we went tramping into the wooded area – which was still muddy from the rain Friday night – to gather wood. Suddenly, I was flat in the mud. I’d tripped over something. I looked up and found myself looking at a skeletan. (Can’t make this up!) Luckily, it was the remains of a deer and not a person.

Day 4. Monday. My hair is now finally dry from being drenched FridaImage result for 1997 black jeep grand cherokee tire on topy night, but it’s – well – impressive in frizziness. I contain it as best I can, we clean up camp, and the nice man next to us hauls the camper to the lodge parking lot. We’ve loaded up my mini and head into town. Eventually, we find out that the Jeep needs – get this – a new transmission! (You have to understand that the boys and I had been saying this for close to a year, but Scott insisted that IT WAS FINE!!). We’re ready to leave town but are stopped by the arms coming down in front of railroad tracks. We wait. We wait. The person on the opposite side of the track wait. We start waving to each other. Then, (again, Can’t make this shit up) a woman in an electric wheelchair crosses in front of us. We both stare, open mouthed, and the guy across the track from us mouths the words “What the fuck!” Then, a train finally goes by. For the record, the wheelchair bound woman was on a sidewalk like thing that ran next to the tracks, and she had gotten off before the train sped by. Three hours later, we were home.

The next Saturday. Scott got a call from the repair shop that the Jeep was ready for pick up. He looked at me and I looked at him. I blinked. He looked at Michael and asked if he’d mind taking him down to Carbondale again so he could pick up the Jeep. Michael looked at me and grinned. He’s a sweet kid, but he’s got a fabulous evil streak sometimes. Nonetheless, he agreed. We’ve since sold the camper, but still, remarkably enough, have the Jeep.

 

 

Correction.  It was actually Baby Boy #2 who took Scott back to Carbondale, not Michael. We can’t remember what Michael was doing exactly, but most likely packing. He’d just been offered an impressive job which required him to move to Oklahoma. so in the interest of fairness, it was Nick who saved his father from being murdered, not Michael.

Brother

Terry was born in Indianapolis, ironically enough the same city where my youngest son now lives, on February 1, 1961. My Parents adopted him when he was only 6 weeks old. Two and a half years later, they adopted me. We were, as most siblings, the best of friends and the worst of enemies. In grade school I was often picked on, the butt of jokes, the marginalized girl. I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t over the top smart. I wasn’t quick witted. I was shy, cried easily, and was frightened of everything. One spring my parents took us over to the downtown St. Louis Famous Barr (now Macy’s). They wanted us to sit on a clown’s lap. Yep. A Clown. I was terrified. At first, Terry threatened me that if I wasn’t good he’d punch me. (We were promised ice cream if we were good.) Then, he made jokes until I really was laughing. Image may contain: 3 peopleAnother time a girl at school stole some candy for me, and I cried. Terry saw me crying on the playground and when he discovered the cause, march to the girl and demanded the return of my candy. She refused. He threatened. She gave in and never again bothered me. I have no idea what he said, but he was my protector. Sure he teased me and picked on me, but isn’t that what brothers do? I always knew I could trust him with my deepest secret and I always knew he’d be there for me when I needed him.

Honestly, I could use his help now that my mom’s physical and mental health are failing. Some days, it’s all a bit much for me.  He is, however, beyond offering that help.

On August 24, 1988 I waddled to bed somewhat awkwardly. I was vastly pregnant so lying down and getting comfortable was an ordeal. Somewhere close to 3:00 a.m. on August 25 the phone jarred Scott and me awake. Scott answered it. I hadn’t been able to get out of bed without help for several weeks. It was my dad asking us to come to the hospital. Terry, who worked a night shift at the Amoco station across from Fairmont City Race Track, had been involved in a robbery. We both threw on clothes and Scott drove to the hospital as quickly (but safely) as he could. I looked to the left as saw a helicopter, blades whirring. To my right were my parents, grandmother, Terry’s wife, and his best friend. Because of the pregnancy, they’d called me last since they hadn’t wanted to upset me if it could be avoided. It couldn’t be avoided. I went to my mom who was sobbing. Someone, I’m not sure who, told me that he’d been shot three times – the hand, the head, and the shoulder. They were going to transfer him to SLU Hospital. A few moments later someone from the hospital came out and asked us all to step inside. I heard an odd sound and looked left. The helicopter was throttling down and the whirring blades slowed. That’s when I knew. There would be no need for transport.

The next few days were a fog of confusion, pain, anger, and terror. The news media was relentless in trying to get me on camera – the grieving, pregnant sister. Scott became the family spokesperson. The line of people circled the funeral home the night of Terry’s wake. Family. Friends. Students who knew him from Collinsville High School were he worked during the school year as the grounds monitor. His former teachers. Co-workers. People I hadn’t seen since grade school. The girl who had stolen my candy came. She was in tears and said she’d never had a brother, anyone, who would stand up for her like he did me.

Tragedy comes to everyone in some form or another and I make no claims that the loss of my brother was worse than anything anyone else has suffered. I truly believe, however, that his loss was the first blow to my mother’s fragile mind and was the catalyst of her slow descent into dementia. Yesterday when I went to visit her she asked where her mom was. Then she said, “Is she with Terry?”

I answered Yes. She is. And they’re both very happy.

Gardening

My family were gardeners. Not the tiny little “isn’t that a cute tomato plant” type of gardeners, but the “We’ve got a duplex of ten people to feed and only 2 men bringing in wages” type. The garden was a family affair, even for me, the youngest. On the first warm day at the end of February or beginning of March, my dad or grandpa would roto-till up the garden area – which was huge – 1/2 an acre or so I think. He’d work in all the leaves and dead plant material from the winter. Then, wait another week or two and till it again. It was after this second tilling that the real work started. All the women and children- MeeMaw, Aunt Rose, Aunt Blanche, my mom, Terry, and me – would follow behind the tiller carrying hoes (the garden variety) and hack away at the big clumps. Next, Grandpa would put stacks at the front and back of the garden area, marking the rows. I’ll never know how he managed Image result for vegetable gardento make the rows straight since he just eyeballed everything – no measuring. He’d string cotton string between the stakes then we – the Hoe Pack – would make little mountains beneath the strings. By early April MeeMaw would have planted potatoes, onions, and lettuce. By mid-May she’d have in cucumbers, tomatoes, kohlrabi, radishes, zucchini, beans, and sometimes peas. One year, we even had corn. We all helped with this, but she was really the one to decide where everything went and when it would be planted. She was the Garden Whisperer. Throughout the spring I’d watch eagerly for the first green shoots to push through the dark earth. I’d badger her with “can we eat it now” until she finally would let me pinch off baby lettuce leaves and eat them right there in the garden. (Now, don’t think we starved or anything – I just really liked eating those tasty little leaves even if I did get a bit of dirt along with the greenery.)

I loved gardening. Everything from watering the rows to digging up the radishes to snapping the beans. The idea that one little seed buried in nothing but dirt could produce a vine with a whole crop of cucumbers fascinated me. There is something primordially beautiful about eating a meal almost totally made up of food products you yourself have nurtured. One of the few disappointing aspects of my house now is that the ground is too clay ridden, there is too much shade, and there is not enough yard to have a decent garden.

MeeMaw also taught me that sometimes, no matter how carefully you plan, plant, and nurture, the product turns out wrong. Maybe there’s a drought. Maybe a flood. Maybe a bad seed. Maybe pests. When this happens, it’s best just to cut that plant out, toss it into the compost pile, and use it to help nurture the other plants. I  I watched her do this year after year and it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I understood the metaphor.

Sometimes, no matter how carefully you plan, learn, and prepare, life turns out wrong. When I first entered college, I thought I wanted to teach business skills – secretarial to be precise. I had taken secretarial courses in high school, worked as a secreImage result for ibm selectrictary for a few years, was an ace typist, knew a little about shorthand, could keep a calendar, had a nice voice, could enunciate when I spoke, could use a dictaphone (this WAS 1982, so this was top technology at the time!), and wasn’t afraid to use the new word processors like Wang. As it turns out, no matter how hard I wanted to like the business world, I hated it. My grades plummeted, I became depressed, and I generally hated life. That was when I changed majors to English, which, in the long run, has worked out much better for me. I was also able to “compost” many of my secretarial skills to nurture my new career choice. Typing papers and lesson plans was a breeze. Notetaking posed no problems, Keeping a plan book is much like keeping a calendar, and I could project my voice well enough to get the attention of a classroom full of rowdy teenagers.

MeeMaw taught me many, many things. One of the most important, however, was that no effort was ever wasted and no knowledge was ever useless.