Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Mom

Growing up, Mom always had a story, an observation, a lesson for us five kids.

"Your great-grandmother was one of Oklahoma Territory's first female doctors.  We still have her medical bag somewhere in the family.  I think it still has morphine in it."

"Run perpendicular to where the crocodile is chasing you, because they cannot turn 90* angles." 

"There's this tiny voice within you", she told me. "That little voice tells you good from bad, right from wrong. You have to listen to that little voice.  Each time you do something wrong, or bad, that little voice gets a little softer.  Each time you ignore that little voice, it becomes smaller and smaller.  Hardened criminals can't hear their little voices anymore..."  Well, I sure did not want to be a hardened criminal.  Mom put the fear into me of losing my conscience and landing in jail one day.  I was probably five. 

"Just know that there is always someone around you - probably someone you least suspect - who secretly admires you and the way you live your life.  It might be another kid; it might be someone younger than you who looks up to you; it might even be an adult!  But you must set a good example all the time, because you just never know who is watching you with admiration." 

"I found a dress that I think is just YOU!"
"Oh!  What's it like?"
"Well, it's olive drab..."

Upon high school graduation and entering college - the day before I left for college, my Mom said, "Your father and I have raised you up to know right from wrong, good from bad.  We've taught you how to live the Christian life.  And so now we are done, and the rest is up to you."   

Recently one of my special conversations with Mom came back to visit.  When I was a young adult, Mom explained how it comes to be, sometimes, when an older person passes away.  "Their stomach shrinks to a small size, and they cease taking food.  They do not feel hunger.  This is Nature's way, and the way God intended.  They stop taking liquids.  Again, this is Nature's way.  Their last sense to go is usually their hearing.  Isn't that interesting?  They can still hear our voices.  That is comforting."

A few days before my sister died, years ago, I asked my Mom, in anguish and with something like anger, "Why do people say that we'll see her in heaven, when I know all our earthly beings will be absent?!"  Mom looked off and said quietly, "There will be a little something in each other that we will recognize."  I hold this to be true.  That was the comfort I needed then, and the comfort I cling to now.

 Mom passed away this week, six months after my Dad, her husband of 67 years, passed away.  I think there is no real mystery in this.  I think this is a sweet circle of life, and there are very, very few of us that get to join this group of lucky stars, the ones who lose a love, pine a short time and then they, too, are off to enjoy that peace which passeth all understanding, on the comet-tail of their worldly partner. 

My sweet, sweet mother.  "I know we do not say this nearly enough, but your father and I love you.  Goodnight."  

My Mom:
Helene Merlene Webster, August 30, 1928-October 16, 2017, aged 89.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Speaking of, and to...

I am looking at an old photograph of A.M. Van Valkenburgh.  He was my great-grandfather.

Father of fourteen Van Valkenburgh children.  That's a lot of kids and responsibility.  And he seemed to do well in that responsibility department; all the fourteen seemed to grow up and become really, REALLY fine and upstanding citizens, all over the U.S. of A.

Years ago, my book club posed a question:

With whom would you like to visit, any time, any era?

Well - that is such a far-reaching query.  But here I go:

Obviously, I would like to have a chat with Great Grandfather A.M..  I'm not even sure what I would ask him. I would ask how he managed to successfully rear fourteen kids to be independent and happy.  (I think they all were ?)

I would love to talk with the first Van Valkenburghs to the New World, ca. 1678 or so.  They planted themselves into what is now Manhattan, I think.  Even more precise, that which is now 5th Avenue?

Beethoven.  I want to know what was in his head.  He was a genius.  There were things floating around in his head, and he put those things into music.

I would love to talk to all of the surviving US Presidents, if I could chit-chat with complete assuredness that only he and I would be privy to our conversations. I would love to have chats, but I would hate to think that down the line, I might be subpoenaed regarding a recipe or a Middle East provocation.

I would love to visit with Anne Lamott.  She's still living.  Noam Chomsky.  He's still living.  Michelle Obama.  She's still living.  I'm not sure I have the mental wherewithal to keep up with the three aforementioned, and I would probably stutter about, but I would still like to have a chat.  I think I would LOVE to visit with each of the First Ladies, come to think of it.  All of them.

Who else?  I don't know.  Maybe some Mother Teresa nuns.

Oh!  I know!  Mahatma Ghandi!  Yes!

And Sir Edmund Hilary.  He would be good for a few hours, to be sure.

I can go on and on...  


Thursday, June 29, 2017

June. June?!

I am already partway through summer.  This is a good thing.  Rural summer things:

I came home from an extended stay out of town.  That Spouse o' Mine has also been away.  It appears that we have been having Coon Parties in our yard in our absence.  Lots and lots of coon scat on the lawn.  So, I called neighbor Joe and borrowed his live trap.  Last night, I brought our two cats in, and set the trap out by my grotto pond.  I peered out the window t 9:00 pm, and... I had trapped an animal!!
   This was an angry, semi-wild cat.  I immediately let him go, reminding him that even HE has a job description in this neck of the woods, and that is to keep the rodent and bunny population down.

I re-set the trap, and later in the evening, I looked out and WHOA!!  I got me a coon!  No photo of it.  And, it had to wait till dawn to be released many miles down the road.  In the morning I threw a blanket over the cage, gently carried it out to my car, and drove several miles in the pouring rain and lightning, and set the little coon free, right by a new little creek and lots and lots of woods. Be happy, little fella.

This is interesting:
It looks like maybe a sparrow overtook a bluebird nest out in our pine trees.  Sad for the bluebird mother.  I am eager to see what transpires in the weeks to come.

Another "Nature's Way" moment from this morning happened out by our front gate, high in the treetop. I saw some very agitated robins flitting on the tree limbs.  I knew there was a nest near there somewhere, because earlier in the morning I saw a robin with a worm in her mouth, waiting for me to go by before she headed to the hidden nest.  But this behavior by several robins made me curious.  What was going on?  I looked high in the tree, and I saw a baby bird lying on its back on a tree limb.  It was way too young to be flying - it was barely covered in feathers.  I walked around the tree to get a another look at a better angle.  But...then I saw no baby bird.  Only a big ol' thick snake.  The snake was eating the baby robins in the nest.  Poor momma robin.

Nature's Way is pretty tough. Not for the timid and faint-hearted, to be sure.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Chapter

I don't wish to ruminate here on my sweet Dad's death.  He was such a wonderful person.  I wish everyone could experience having such a great father.  We, his family, have received so many very meaningful  cards and emails from former students, artists, gallery owners, and friends from the decades.  My Mom and Dad were rich in their friendships and acquaintances.

We are all finding our ways without Dad.  Just last Sunday morning, I was listening to some jazz saxophone.  The terrific Wah-wah-wah made me curious: how did that musician make that sound on the sax?!  Immediately, my impulse was to call Dad and ask him.  (He, who was a band director...)  And then I paused, like so many times in the past three weeks.

Anyone who has lost a loved one has had this very same experience.  I still falter when I have something I want to tell my sweet deceased sister, now twelve years down the pike.  I see a funny, or I feel a hurt, and I call out to my big sister in mental hilarity or anguish.  WHY AREN'T YOU HERE?!

Losing a very, very loved one holds so many facets of emotion.  Different degrees and different hues.  Dark Sienna, Burnt Amber, Obsidian, Vermillion...

On that note, I found this painting which captured my days the week during and the week after my sweet Dad passed away:

That was me.

Certainly Frederic Leighton's oil is not at all a depiction of loss or depression.

But it does speak to me of my loss of my sweet Dad.

And so, that is where I will leave this chapter for the time being.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Our Sweet Dad

My Dad, one time, pointed out the cardinals at the window feeder just out his living room window.  "See how the male takes the sunflower seed?  He cracks it, and then he feeds the female the seed inside."  I was transfixed for some time; I never knew that cardinals did this - the mate feeding the mate.  What a sweet thing.  He and I talked about eagles, and how they both protected the nest of eggs, setting on them, turning them, warming them, until they hatched - and then, taking turns bringing food to them: fish, or other.  Again: what a sweet thing.

Nature's way, and the way God intended.

Swans mate for life.  Even black vultures do.  Too, wolves and albatross.  Turtle doves are smitten for life.  Our nation's emblem, the bald eagle, is sort of the "till death do we part" kind of lover.  I don't have an answer as to why all these beautiful creatures feel the peace to hang, life-long, with their partners.  But they do.

My Mom and Dad mated for life.  Yes, they did.  Thick and thin.  In sickness (very little), in health (really blessed in that department), for richer, for poorer (they had some of those "trying" years), to love and to cherish (they did certainly love, and they really, really cherished each other's company, love, humor, wit, art, music, travels, sports, {and even us five children}.)

The stinging part of this post is what comes next - that which has made me cry, yet again:

"...from this day forward, until death do us part."

My sweet father ran a 5K last fall, at age 88.  He was first in his age group!  Because he was the only one in his age group.

The next week, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  We, his wife of 67 years and his kids, rallied around him as he soldiered on jauntily through the months at hand.  Last week, our sweet Dad passed on to what we all believe is the Peace Which Passeth all Understanding.  He is at peace, and we all are, too.

This is not to say that we do not grieve.  Sweet Dad was our patriarch, and even through his last week, we stopped each day to go tell him of our family activities - the tennis, the triathlon, the family breakfasts and dinners.  We rejoiced in his comments, some of which were humorous, some of which were mono-syllabic-yet comprehensible...

And then, there was an abbreviated coma, and a swift passing to the Peace to which I alluded, above.

Our sweet Dad.

* * *  Our sweet Mom will continue living in their home of 57 years. * * *

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