Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A Post All Its Own

I thought this photo deserved a post all its own.   I love this photograph.   If C had been born with a warning label, this is what it would have said!   The picture is also a good image of many of her adventures with her little brother--the expressions (he's green of course) are spot-on.   She knows how to make us laugh, though and she can make our hearts melt.   We love our little C Bear, my little Lou!

Hold on tight!--C sitting in her Maw-Maw's chair

Tuesday Folder--Sept. 28, 2010

No Tuesday folder last week, for the past two weeks have been a whirlwind for our family.   Tuesday  ended on a beautiful note for me--a lovely evening with friends.

Only hours later would we learn that Joey and I were both now complete orphans, in earthly terms, and that our children no longer had any living grandparents.   Joey's mother, passed away, peacefully,  in her sleep.  We would spend the week out of town for the funeral and then spend the next week trying to get back into some sort of routine.  We were overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy we received from our friends, especially those who never met her.   We are so blessed to call such caring people our friends.   Last week also marked the sixth anniversary of my mother's death.
 
Everyone has been sick at some point with a virus and I have raised the white flag of household surrender: the laundry and the children's toys are the current victors, but with God's grace, I will keep up the fight!  I also learned a new British expression to describe our current state: We're "at sixes and sevens" around here.

Yes, stress and trial, but also good things to remember--life still goes on..., doesn't it?   One of the MANY blessings of children is that they force you to get out of bed each day, especially during the rough times.


Joey's parents on their wedding day.   Dudley and Velma married after he returned from the Pacific Theater in WWII. 











The kids were able to spend time with their cousins and they had so much fun together.   Joey and I were both surprise babies, born to our mothers later in life, so our children are closest in age to their second, and in some cases, third cousins.


Backyard fun...And that's C trying to catch the rain on her tongue.

Two days after we returned from Louisiana, we celebrated Joey's birthday.   Poor Joey has had some heavy birthdays over the past few years.


Joey's favorite birthday meal: a baked ziti
His handmade birthday sign!






Some more happy pictures from the past two weeks...photos of  those who bring me such happiness!

Silly, pretty girl

Little Lou

Giving "pretty eyes"

Even though the girls weren't feeling well, we went to our church's annual festival, and they did their two favorite activities: pony rides and train rides.   They didn't even want to go on the inflatables this year.  

The equestrian



The cowgirl

Train ride.   It makes me so happy to see how they delight in simple things.

Monday, 27 September 2010

My Autumnal Kitchen


Let the fall baking season commence!  This wonderful little cold front has my mind turning to thoughts of fall baking and holiday cooking, but rather than actually baking, I suppose I'll take a healthier route and simply share some favorite recipes!   More to come throughout the season...



CANDIED SWEET POTATOES AND APPLES




These can be prepared a day ahead and placed in the fridge.   Just reheat them before serving!
This is a standard recipe for our family for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even Easter.   When you look closely at the ingredients, you'll see why this is a special dish that only needs to be eaten a few times a year!   Be sure to cut the apples and sweet potatoes as directed; they will cook better and make a nicer presentation.



Use an apple corer to remove the core and slice apples into rings.   I used a cannoli form to remove the core.




INGREDIENTS:
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 cup apple cider (not juice & not the instant packets)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large Braeburn or other cooking apples, cored and cut into 1/2" rings

Cut sweet potatoes in half crosswise.   Cook in boiling water to cover 10 minutes.   Drain and cool.   Cut crosswise, into 1/2" round slices.
Combine brown sugar and next 3 ingredients in a med. saucepan.  Bring to a boil; boil 10 minutes.   Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.
Layer sweet potato and apple slices in a greased 13 x 9 baking dish.   Pour glaze over slices.   Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until potatoes are candied and glaze is thickened, basting with glaze after 30 minutes.   Yield: 8 servings   from Christmas with Southern Living 2002



AUTUMN TEA
Around September, I usually begin serving simple apple-cinnamon iced tea (from Celestial Seasonings).   The aroma as it brews just makes me happy! 

This is a delightful party punch for the season.   Cut back on the sugar if you prefer unsweetened, or less sweet tea.   

5 tea bags
5 cups BOILING water
5 cups unsweetened apple juice
1-2 cups cranberry juice (adjust to preference; it can be overpowering)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Place the tea bags in a large heat-proof bowl; add boiling water.   Cover and steep for 8 minutes.   Discard tea bags.   Add the remaining ingredients to tea; stir until sugar is dissolved.    Serve warm or over ice.


PECAN PIE BARS

If you don't like to bother with making pies (the horror!) or your local pie baker has too many other orders to fill, try these bars as an alternative.   I made these before I learned to make homemade pie dough.   Adding mini chocolate chips to the mix makes them even better!   Cut them into squares and arrange them in a covered cake plate for a beautiful addition to a holiday buffet.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

3/4 cup butter or margarine, cut up                                            
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter or margarine
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; cut in 3/4 cup butter thoroughly with a pastry blender until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.   Press mixture evenly into a greased 13 x 9 pan using a piece of plastic wrap to press crumb mixture firmly into pan.   Bake at 350 degrees for 17 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Pastry blender


Combine brown sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup butter in a saucepan; bring to a boil over med. heat, stirring gently.   Remove from heat.   Stir one-fourth of hot mixture into beaten eggs (if you dump it all in, you'll have scrambled eggs); add this back into remaining hot mixture.   Stir in pecans and vanilla.    Pour filling over crust.   Bake at 350 degrees for 34 to 35 min. or until set.   Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.   Cut into bars.   Yield: 16 large bars   from Christmas with Southern Living 2000


CARAMEL POPCORN
My mom always prepared this in one of those disposable aluminum roasting pans and she stored it in her trusty big Tupperware bowl to keep it fresh.    The boxed and bagged varieties won't taste the same after you've made your own.

7 1/2 qts. popped corn (28 cups)
2 sticks butter or margarine (the recipe in her hand reads "oleo," as did many of her recipes)
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 cup spanish peanuts

Boil butter, sugar, salt, and Karo 5 minutes, while stirring.   Beat in 1 Tbsp. soda and the spanish peanuts.   Pour over popcorn.   stir.   Bake 1 hour at 200 degrees.   Stir every 15 minutes.


APPLESAUCE CHERRY CAKE w/BROWN SUGAR ICING
For anyone who likes spice cake, this recipe is for you.   Mama always made this during the fall and cut it into small squares, each with a pecan half in the middle, for a nice presentation.

1 egg
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 cup drained sour pie cherries
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

Mix ingredients well and bake 40 min. at 350 degrees.

Icing:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
6 Tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups sifted powdered sugar

Melt butter.   Add brown sugar and salt.   Boil hard for 2 minutes.   Stir constantly.   Remove from heat and add milk.   Bring to a full boil, while stirring.   Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm.   Add powdered sugar.




PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE CHIP BREAD
This is my all-time-favorite recipe for pumpkin bread.   The combination of chocolate and pumpkin is delicious in this and other recipes!

Makes 2 8 x 4 - inch loaves

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
1 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp. miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. chopped pecans
2 tsp. sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees.   Grease bottom only of two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans; lightly flour (or spray bottoms of pans with cooking spray; do not flour).

In medium bowl, stir flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg until mixed; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat 2 cups sugar and the butter with electric mixer on medium speed 1 to 2 minutes or until creamy.   Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in water and pumpkin on low speed.   Add flour mixture; beat on low speed about 1 min. or until moistened.   Stir in 1 cup of the chips.   Spread evenly into pans.   Sprinkle tops with remaining chips, the pecans, and 2 tsp. sugar.

Bake 1  hour 5 min. to 1 hour 15 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.   Cool in pans 10 mins; remove from pans to wire rack.   Cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.   from Gold Medal's Fall Baking

Friday, 24 September 2010

This Stepford moment is brought to you by White Lily Flour, "The Light Baking Flour"



Now, on a completely non-sentimental note, I have found a most amazing product.   As a southern cook, I usually only think of Martha White flour, and then mostly in its self-rising form.   Recently, I decided to try another Southern favorite, White Lily flour, for the first time.   It is beautiful flour; it is so fine that it is almost like cake flour and it makes the lightest biscuits, muffins, scones, and cakes.   Yes, I go back to my gym sessions Monday!   How have I been without this flour all these years?!


Also, I have followed another piece of wisdom from one of my culinary heroes, Ina Garten.   I have switched to buying only extra-large eggs and my meringues have never been higher or fluffier!   It has made a huge difference in my baking.   And she's also right about adding coffee to chocolate recipes.   It does intensify the flavor of the chocolate.   Thank you, Ina!

Really, in reference to Stepford Wives (the original; I've never seen the re-make.  It's one of those movies I'm embarrassed to admit I always get sucked into when it's on television)   I, for one, would love to go grocery shopping in a big, floppy hat and white gloves;)


Chicken and Biscuits: It's What Was For Dinner
Thomas after said Chicken and Biscuits

Keepsakes

Our house does not look as if it came directly from a showroom floor.   It is filled with an eclectic mix of items, most of which have a story behind them.   When I was growing up, people would come to our house and my mom would give them a tour.   Daddy joked and called it the "Nickel Tour," because he said Mama would point to something and say, "You see that?   I got it for a nickel; they wanted a quarter for it, but I got them down to a nickel!"   I love to walk through my house and remember special people as I look upon its furnishings.   Periodically, I'll share a few on this blog.

My Own Magical Wardrobe

 
 









 
 

This is an antique chifferobe that my mother refinished.   There was an old home place next to our farm, with a crumbling house.   One day, as the owners made ready to demolish its remains, they called over to Mama and told her that she could have anything she wanted.   She quickly ran over and found this.   The long door was broken and its mirror was cracked, with pieces missing.   She lugged it back home and set about refinishing it.   She had the door repaired and masonite placed into the panels.   Then, she painted them using a variation of Scandinavian folk art form called Rosemaling.   It is beautiful on its own, but all the more beautiful for the memories of my mother it holds for me.

As a side note, the reason you see wardrobes such as these in old Southern homes is because there was a tax on closets; they were counted as rooms.   So, people kept their clothing and shoes in wardrobes such as these!


Small-town Boy Makes Good
I carry on the practice of pulling these items out to show special friends when they visit.   Daddy used to like to share this with people and now I do the same.




Daddy was just four years old when he received this postcard from Cracker Jack Co.   His mother had entered a national jingle contest and she sent the entry in his name.   The prize was a camera.   Daddy grew up in meager circumstances, so such a prize was all the more special.




In 1950, Daddy was able to attend the National Boy Scout Jamboree as a correspondent.   He said he even had a black hat, with the PRESS sign in it and he was allowed to sit in the Press section.   It was an unbelievable journey for a poor boy from Oklahoma.


Here's a picture he took with the camera.   President Harry Truman spoke to the Jamboree crowd and Daddy was able to get close to him as a member of the "Press Corps."

And here's a picture he took of the New York City skyline.   I think of him when I watch the film Hoosiers and the boys walk into the big city coliseum for the first time.   He never lost the ability to be awestruck, or impressed by things bigger than himself.


FRILLY APRONS
As my profile states, I like frilly aprons.   This year, for my birthday, Amber gave me these two beautiful aprons.   I couldn't believe it when she said she made both of them!   These are definitely hostess aprons for company (and perhaps pearls)!





It's All Relative
My friend Regina tells her oldest daughter how she always wanted a sister (she had three brothers) and then finally God sent her Terri.   Here's what Regina gave me this year for my birthday.  Don't you love it when you find something that expresses your feelings so well?

Some sisterhoods don't happen at Birth...but grow in the hearts of people who completely understand each other.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

One is Silver and the Other Gold



Amber, Me, Gina, Jan. 2010

Friends are very important in my life.   I did not grow up near extended family, so friends played a crucial role in my childhood.   I spent a great deal of time with my mom and her friends and I learned much about friendship and the better nature of women from watching them.   I still have friends from elementary school with whom I exchange Christmas cards, birth announcements, etc..and I've enjoyed reconnecting with "old" friends on Facebook.  I love my friends, old and new.   September has been an emotional and eventful one for our family.   I have been overwhelmed by the support, encouragement, and love that has been given to us by our friends, near and far, so I am a tad sentimental right now!  For my birthday this year, two of my friends visited me, over two weekends, and helped make this a special time for me.   Let me share a little about these two special women.

LOVE & KNITTED

When I was in eighth grade, a new girl arrived on the scene.   We didn't get many new students, so when they did arrive they were more than noticed.   Beautiful long hair, very quiet, always with a big Esprit bag and a Bible.   It wasn't until the following year that I would find myself seated beside her in Coach Cox's ninth grade World Geography class and a friendship began.   It wasn't until eleventh grade that we would become almost inseparable.



We were wild girls, staying up until the wee morning hours, drinking Dr. Pepper out of the opposite side of the cup, playing badminton under the dusk/dawn light, and listening to Jerry Lee Lewis and Patsy Cline.   Wild, I tell you!   My mother told me once that she was glad I had Regina to talk to, since she knew I wouldn't always want to tell her everything.   Anyone who knew my mom knew that was high praise.   

The summer before my senior year, we moved.   I went from a class of about 80 to a class of over 300.   I had attended the same school from kindergarten to eleventh grade.   Regina and I wrote to each other every week and called each other often.   We both made trips to visit and we managed to each attend the other's graduation.   We attended different colleges, but through it all, our friendship only grew stronger.   Then came jobs, weddings, children, and through it all, the friendship grew.   We actually don't even think of ourselves as friends, but sisters.   Our children call each other cousins and we all think of ourselves as family.   I am the only person who calls her Gina Marie, even though her middle name is not Marie.   With her dark eyes and hair, she just always looked like a Gina Marie to me!

God has always been central to our friendship.   Regina gave me my first bible--a black hard-cover King James version someone had left at her house.   I would attend church services and special programs with her, including drama skits or musical programs in which she played a role.   There are many times at mass, when I am kneeling after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, that I picture Regina after an Easter cantata, tears streaming down her face, saying, "I just wish I could have been there with Him."

When I first told Regina about this fellow teacher at my new school, who seemed to be interested in me, I told her there was only one problem.  "What's that?" she asked.

"Well," I answered, "I think he might be Catholic."

She started laughing so hard and so loud that she had to move the phone away.   When she had regained her composure, she said, "He's a (insert unmistakably Acadian surname here) from New Iberia, and you think he MIGHT be Catholic?!   Anyway, what's wrong with that?"

It was with no small degree of incredulity that I answered, "What do you MEAN, what's wrong with that?"

"Terri, my mom and I have always thought we could see you as a Catholic."   Well, I was perfectly horrified and a little worried about Regina, who was hanging around with a lot of those Catholics in Lafayette.

A little over a year later, she would be in the pew at the Easter Vigil Mass as I was welcomed into the Catholic Church and received the rites of Baptism, Confirmation, and first Holy Eucharist.   I would not find out until much later that she left her Baptist church because they were horrified that she was happy about my conversion and they began praying for the "lost souls of Catholics" at their services.   Four years later, it would be the birth of her first child that would spark my second conversion, my reversion, where I delved deep into Catholic teaching and actually fully accepted the Church's teaching in my life.   I would share the journey with her, in long phone conversations and e-mails.


Aunt Terri and Morgan, May 2001



She would be my Maid of Honor at my wedding; I would fulfill the same role at hers.   I would hold her first-born as soon as I  could get there and she would do the same with mine.   She would travel for the baptisms of my first two children and she would hold my first-born in the hospital chapel as my mother's heart beat for its last time.   A phone call or long e-mail is just what we need sometimes to get through a rough day and we have husbands who stand in awe of our friendship and regard it with reverence, even when they don't always fully understand it!


And just as we began in eleventh grade, we still sign our letters, "Love and knitted,"  from the Old Testament story of David and Jonathan, whose friendship was described as if there souls had been knitted together.   And she is a constant thread in the tapestry of my life, and now, in the life of my family.   This is my friend and sister, Regina (Gina Marie).   Thanks be to God for her love and friendship!


ONCE IS RARE, BUT TWICE?


College Days


When I moved right before my senior year of high school, I knew no one at my new school.   I carried every book in my backpack for almost the whole first semester, because I wasn't sure where my locker was.   Then, one day in my Fine Arts survey class, I struck up a conversation with a sweet, quiet girl with long hair.   Really, you don't have to have long hair to be my friend!   Amber and I would become fast friends and she would help me finally find my locker, so I only carried the books I actually needed to class.   We both loved to read and loved everything that was romantic and old-fashioned.   We would spend lunch making up our own lyrics to popular songs or pouring over pattern books in the library.   Amber was the smartest person I'd ever met, next to my father.   Even better than that, she was genuinely humble about her gifts.   She could sew and made clothing that did not look handmade and she made bread from scratch!   I was a little in awe.  


Amber gave me my first bible that was my own, with my name on the cover.   It was a dusty rose New American translation and I marked pages with a bookmark she cross-stitched for me.   She was there on my wedding day, when I lost my mom and my dad, and she held all  my babies within two weeks of their births.   She stayed up all night helping me cook for C's baptism reception and she hobbled around for Thomas' baptism, just a week after knee surgery.   I used to talk to my mom almost every day.   When she died, it became Amber I talked to almost as often.   It's Amber who Joey and I both seek for financial advice and I can't count how many times I've called her with food safety questions!   This is my friend and sister, Amber.   Again, thanks be to God!


 
 
Aunt Amber Blankets...She has made one for each child and the girls don't like to sleep without theirs.

I have been generously and undeservedly blessed with friendship throughout my life.   In addition to "old" friends, I've made precious friends since we moved to this community.   I have so many friends here who are an inspiration to me, who make me want to be a better mother, wife, and friend.    Support, encouragement, laughter, faith, common interests,...all gifts of these more recent and treasured friendships.   Thank you, God, for all these beloved people in my life!

Monday, 20 September 2010

An Anniversary


September 16, 2004 began as a typical morning.   Emmeline and I went for a walk and then she settled down for her morning nap while I worked on laundry.   I decided to call Mama; we usually talked to each other every day.   Since Emmeline was born nine months earlier, our conversations had grown to several times a day, as I called her to share Emmeline's latest "firsts."  She had called a little more than normal to check on me.   A month earlier I had my first severe reflux incident.   I was eating lunch when I experienced the normal discomfort, but this time, it got worse and it was as if my windpipe was closed and I couldn't breathe.   I felt like I was choking, but I could talk, so I knew that I wasn't.   I was alone with Emmeline, so I quickly snatched her out of the high chair and put her in her crib.   I worried about what I would do if this did not pass quickly and I stopped breathing.   I actually called 911, and told them I knew I wasn't choking, but I was having a lot of trouble breathing and when they found out I was alone with an 8-month old, they sent an ambulance just to check on me.   The paramedics were wonderful and told me I had done the right thing and they showed me how to breathe slowly through my nose so I wouldn't hyperventilate.   Mama was very worried and we talked about choking--what a horrible way to die that would be.  

My dad answered the phone, which was unusual.   I asked how he was doing and he hurriedly told me that the ambulance was there and they were working on Mama because she had choked.   I let him go quickly and then called Joey at work.   I told Joey what I knew and he prepared sub. plans, in case we needed to leave before school ended.   You see, at this point, we were thinking everything must be alright if the ambulance was there and they were "working on her."   We thought the ambulance couldn't have gotten there in time if she had actually choked; she must have suffered some damage and needed to be checked over.   A few minutes later, one of my parents' neighbors called and told me I needed to come. Now.

I called Joey and he got ready to leave school.   While Emmeline was still napping, I quickly got ready to go and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.    I couldn't think; I could only pray.   I packed our suitcases; it was an easy task since laundry was freshly folded and had not been put away.   I remember people commented about how cute Emmeline's clothes were and they asked how I managed to have a different outfit for her every day.   That's how; I just threw all her clean laundry into the bag, making sure I included her "Grandma's Little Angel" outfit.   Emmeline woke from her nap as Joey arrived and we were quickly on our way.

I was on the cell phone for much of the drive, as we headed toward Hemphill.   Then, the neighbor called again and told us Mama was being air-lifted to Nacogdoches.   Air-lifting was not a good sign.   I called my friend Amber, who was at work, and told her what was happening.   She was able to look up the phone number of Mama's friend, Beth, so I could call her.   Then, I called Regina.   No answer.   I couldn't remember the name of the school where she had just started a new job.   I called my cousin, Linda, who was in an Oklahoma classroom at that time.   I let her know what was happening and I remember asking, "Linda, what will I do without her?"    I called Fr. Dean and let him know what was happening so he could keep us in his prayers. 

We finally arrived in Nacogdoches and made our way to the hospital.   Mama's friend, Beth (whom we affectionately referred to as Sister) and her husband, Jim, met us there.   The nurses told me that Mama had just been brought in by ambulance because they couldn't air-lift her.  And then they immediately let me go in to see her.   Immediately.   No time for any cleaning or fixing.   Immediately.   And I was not prepared for what I saw.   Mama lay there, her features fixed as they had been as she lost consciousness.      And I knew.   I knew what her last conscious moments were like.   No one wants to lose a loved one, but we hope that if we do, they will not suffer and will go peacefully.   That comfort was not to be.   In movies and television dramas, someone always lowers the eyelids of the dead with reverent ceremony.   I now understand what a tremendous act of charity is that simple gesture.   The doctor explained to me what she knew.    Her guess was that Mama had suffered a stroke while eating, but she couldn't be sure.   She was brain-dead, but the hospital at Hemphill had managed to get her on a respirator.   Her tone implied, "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?" but I could not understand what it really meant.

I had to go back out to the waiting room and tell Joey and the Whiteheads what I knew so far.   Daddy was there now.   We questioned him and found out they had gone to garage sales that morning (I come by it honestly) and Mama wanted to go to Belk's to look at baby clothes that were on sale.   So, they went back to the house, where Mama dropped off her finds from the morning and took her medicine.   She had to eat with her meds.    Daddy said he was in the bathroom when he heard Mama banging on the door.   The door that was at the end of a long hallway.    Where she passed pictures of Emmeline.   Daddy said he opened the door and saw Mama standing there and that he tried to help.   I don't know if he attempted the Heimlich, but even if he had, it would have been ineffective with the peanut butter and bread or crackers she was eating, according to paramedics.      Then, he said he left her--alone-- and ran next door the neighbor's house.  Over the coming months and years, these haunting images affected me as much as missing her.  

I asked him if he called 911, but he kept repeating that he couldn't because "Mama always kept all the numbers."   This from a man with a Ph.D., a professor and dean, who had a rare combination of common sense and knowledge.   Mama and I had suspected for over a year that he might have Altzheimer's and Mama had tried to hide it from others.   She had only recently started to share with me just how bad things were.   So, he couldn't dial 911, because he didn't know the number.   And Dot, the neighbor, dialed it for him.   He said she had been tired the night before as she had cleaned out a cabinet and ended up laying on the floor to rest.    Mama had been under a lot of stress in caring for Daddy and keeping it a secret.   You could actually see the pressure behind her eyes sometimes, but she was under a doctor's care for her diabetes.   I felt guilty because I hadn't called the night before.   I had called three times during the day, but I didn't call at night like I usually did.

Mama was moved to an ICU room.   The nurses explained all the equipment and monitors.   She's not actually breathing.    The respirator is making her lungs inflate and deflate and her heart is just beating because of that, not because of her brain.   She is brain-dead, but specialists will come in to make the official diagnosis.   And we waited.   Waited in a place maybe between life and death, or maybe with death.   We weren't sure.   Two neurologists would evaluate Mama and report there was no brain activity.   She was not in a vegetative state or a coma.  One was not a native English speaker and he kept shouting at me, "She is brain-dead.  There is nothing there.   Do you understand?"   Joey and I had just watched quite a few shows on EWTN about end-of-life issues and ethics, but we had no idea it had been in preparation for the next week.   I called Fr. Dean and gave him an update.   He explained to me that the Church defines brain-death as a person's actual death.   He told me that removing life support would not actually be removing life support because there was no actual life there once brain death had occurred from a lack of oxygen for too long. 

Amber came as soon as she could get away from work.   She instantly set about taking care of us, making sure we had eaten.   She took Joey to Wal-Mart so he could buy anything we needed, like baby food for Emmeline.   She made sure we had blankets and pillows, since we would sleep in the waiting room that night.   She stayed late and then drove back home, about 45 minutes away.   It was a drive she would make every day, after a hard day's work, to make sure we had everything we needed and to offer comfort, support, and love.  

I called Regina and she answered.   She had left her phone at home.   And I told her, sobbing, I told her that Mama was in the hospital, and they said she was brain dead, and she had choked, and...Regina wailed.   Deep from within her, a wailing cry, followed by, "No, it's not fair, not Mrs. Louise."    And a sound was put to what I was feeling, and it was joined to my own pain.   I told her more details and when we had both calmed down she reminded me that I still had Mary, my mother, and I could talk to her and turn to her because she loved me.   Regina, my Baptist friend, told me this.   And I took heed of it.

My memory is full of details at the beginning and the end, but the days in between are still a blur to me.   We met with hospital ethics panels.   Their ethics officer was wonderful; he had trained at a Catholic hospital and respected our beliefs.   He told me that if we had been in a large city, the decision would have been made for us.   We did not want to remove her respirator, on the slim chance that maybe the doctors were wrong.   Joey and I thought of how we could care for her, even if she never "woke up."   Fr. Dean called me each day, and I remember sitting in the hospital chapel, speaking to him for over an hour. 

My mom's sister, Pat, and her husband, Buddy came.   They brought a pack-n-play so poor Emmeline was finally able to get down and move around.   And Buddy took her on lots of strolls, which she loved.  Regina took off from work and came, with her two girls.   She stayed at Amber's house and the girls went to their grandmother's house several miles away.   The Whiteheads came each day and our friend Annie helped Joey keep lesson plans up-to-date for his classroom while he was away.   He was able to go to SFA's library and use a computer each evening.  God sent someone to give us everything we needed.   We asked for people's prayers and we felt them.   The image of Moses, having his arms held up for him toward God, as he was not strong enough on his own to stand in prayer, kept coming to my mind.   I could actually feel myself being lifted up in prayer by family, friends, and anyone they asked to join them in prayer.  Emotionally, I was being drained, but spiritually, I was on a high, and I felt especially close to God.
 
I slept at the hospital, in the waiting room each night, while Joey took Emmeline to a hotel, so she could rest.   I remember thinking how much Mama would have enjoyed visiting with people in the waiting room.   She loved to meet people.   I cannot tell you how many hours of my life were spent standing beside a grocery cart, listening to Mama strike up a conversation and make a new friend.  And she would have loved showing off Emmeline.    She carried a full-size photo album with her everywhere she went.   People saw her coming with pictures of that baby.   Her world revolved around Emmeline, after she was born.   People actually came to see E from other parts of the hospital because they had heard about that sweet baby that was so good.   One couple bought her a little doll from the gift shop.   She never cried or fussed all the time we were there.   Mama would have been so proud and I sat by her bed and told her all about it.   I told her a lot of things.

Then, one day, one of the nurses (who must have drawn the short straw) took Joey and me aside and explained what would happen next .   She told us that each organ would begin to fail.   She told us how the day before it all started, Mama would be beautiful.   That her skin would glow but, after that, the next day, her skin would begin to turn black.   She was preparing us and letting us know, in as gentle a way as possible, that we needed to remove the respirator.

My dad did not want to remove the respirator.   In his state of dementia, he believed he was killing Mama if he signed the papers.   He would not sign the papers.   I didn't want it either, but I knew we had to and I begged him to sign.  

Then came the day the nurse had told us about.   Mama did glow and she looked the best she had in the hospital.   And Daddy ran away.   The hospital broke the rules and allowed  my Aunt Pat and I to spend the night in Mama's ICU room.   We stayed up the whole time, reliving memories we shared, and sharing others about Mama.   Aunt Pat told me how much Mama loved being pregnant, how she never complained about pregnancy because she enjoyed it so.   How she stayed up nights to feed my brother Greg every couple of hours as long as he lived at home.   About the person she was as a young girl.   And we laughed and filled Mama's room with only the good memories.   It was a precious time.

We had no idea where Daddy went and he stayed gone until the next morning.   The next morning -- when all the things the nurse had told us would happen began to actually happen.   I remember telling Fr. Dean that I thought we had reached a point where it was now wrong to have her on the respirator--that this was an affront to her dignity as a person.    He agreed, but reminded me that it wasn't my doing because my dad was the one who had to sign.   And he finally relented on Sept. 21st.   He made me sign the papers, too.   I think it made his tortured mind feel less guilty.   

Regina took Emmeline to the hospital chapel and kept her for me while I went in with Mama.   It was a tremendous comfort to know that she held her.   And the respirator was removed.   Everything was unplugged.   It wasn't silent because other people were there.  Aunt Pat held one of Mama's hands and I held the other.   I just kept staring at Mama's hands, because the lifeless face before me was not my mother as I knew her.   But those hands--hands I had watched deftly peel and chop in the kitchen, the hands that had brushed and fixed my hair each morning of my early years, those hands that had tended beautiful plants and flowers, the hands that had turned countless pages of novels and cookbooks through the years, the hands that had held me and comforted me, the hands that had held and caressed E, the hands that to me could do anything.    And I looked at my hand next to Mama's.   And I thought, I prayed, I hoped, that one day my own hands might be able to accomplish as much as hers, with the same love.

Her heart was still beating.   Stubbornly, defiantly beating.   As a Christian, I understand that a husband is the head of the family, but the wife is the heart of the home.   Standing there, watching the monitor, I thought about that.   I thought about how for the past years, even though my father was not fully functioning properly as the head of the family, Mama, the heart of our family, still stubbornly, defiantly kept fulfilling her role as wife and mother, independent of his actions.

And then, the beating stopped.   And a door was closed.   No longer were we in the confused state of having Mama still there, attached to machines, but not really there.   She was truly gone.   Only muffled cries, and sniffles filled the room, as nurses tip-toed around us.   And I held onto her hand.   In the midst of my sadness, I felt the privilege of that moment and of my life--of having her as my Mama.

And then, reality blew in.   At real-life speed, unlike the slow-motion-time of the last hour or so.   You have forms to sign, decisions to make.   Funeral homes, funeral, burial.   There were no plans, no arrangements.   I had no idea where to begin.   And Daddy left, again.   And Joey and I were alone to figure it all out.

We made the first arrangements with the funeral home in Hemphill, where my parents had retired on the lake.  The viewing would be there and further arrangements would be made in Oklahoma, where my mother was originally from.  And then I had to leave her at the hospital.    The next few days would find me having to leave her again and again, each time getting closer to that final moment I already dreaded.

We left to drive to Amber's house for the night.   And we stopped at Wal-Mart so I could run in and buy Joey a birthday cake.   Mama's official date of death is also Joey's birthday, September 21.   My parents always visited us for our birthdays and Mama always gave us thoughtful, carefully selected presents.   I knew that she would be very upset if his birthday was not observed.   She wasn't one who wanted to be fussed over; she was always happiest helping others or making a fuss over them.   So, we ate birthday cake for Joey.   Now, every year on September 21, I honor Mama's memory by celebrating Joey's birthday as she would have wanted it.   "Life may end, but love lives on," go the words of a Paul Overstreet song from so many years ago.

Amber put us all up for the night.   She cooked a meal for us while I bathed E and put her to bed.   I called Daddy and found him at home.   I invited him over and he agreed to let someone pick him up.   He was afraid to be there alone, I could tell.   It was the first time I ever saw my father frightened.   I spoke to my cousin Linda about the Oklahoma funeral and burial.   My mother thought so much of Linda.    I was a little in awe of her and still believe she can do most anything.   She made all the arrangement for the funeral in Oklahoma.   She was amazing and I don't know what we would have done without her.   Mama's uncle had a plot available in Bluejacket Cemetery.   Bluejacket was the little community where my mother grew up.   It was the location of so many of her favorite memories she shared with me.   It was where she was married.   It was where my grandparents and brother were buried.

Joey went to the funeral home with Daddy and made the Texas arrangements.   The owner was so helpful and he made the arrangements with the Oklahoma funeral home.   We went shopping, since we had not packed for a funeral, and we bought a new dress for Mama.    Joey and Amber went to my parents' house ahead of me.   They cleaned and arranged the hallway so I never saw signs of Mama's last moments.    It is one thing to stand beside someone on the happy days, but what they did...   I found pictures of Mama to have out at both viewings, along with one of her paintings--attempts to capture just how wonderful she was.

The viewing in Texas was that evening.   The people and flowers began to arrive.   Friends from Louisiana drove to pay their respects.   We left and drove until midnight before stopping for the night, then we continued to Oklahoma.   Joey, E, and I followed Daddy.   He insisted on driving and we thought maybe he could visit his brother after the funeral.    Along the way, I saw places Mama would have wanted to stop, such as the big antique malls and I would think, "I'll have to tell her about that," before I realized it.   It took over a year before I stopped reaching for the phone to share something with her, before I could catch myself.  

We stayed at Aunt Nadine's house in Oklahoma.   Aunt Nadine was the oldest of five surviving siblings and Mama always spoke of her as a second mother.   She was one of Mama's heroes, along with her husband, Bob.   Mama would tell stories of her "Nini" as she called her as a little girl.   We were welcomed with those big, silent hugs people share at times of funerals.    I thought about the last time I was there with Mama and how she would have enjoyed being there with us. 

The viewing was that evening, at the funeral home.   I got to see family I had not seen since my grandfather passed away.   Some of Mama's friends from high school came.   One of them told me how pretty Mama looked and that she wasn't surprised because she was always so beautiful and fashionable in school.    Now, when Mama compared herself to a movie character, it was always Ouiser, from Steel Magnolias (although in terms of caring for others, she was like M'Lynn).   When I was a child, she was too busy gardening, garage saling, cooking, etc...to worry about fashion.   She was notorious for her fly-away hair and she rarely wore make-up, other than her red lipstick.  I learned more about Mama from those who knew her in her younger days.   That's part of my motivation for this blog.   I'd like my children to have a window into my life at different times and stages.

The funeral was the next morning.   It was to be at the Bluejacket Church of Christ, where my parents were married in 1956.   Linda had made arrangements for a retired pastor, a very nice man, to preach and had asked me if there were any special songs I wanted.   Mama's daddy loved The Old Rugged Cross and I always loved In the Garden (one of the lines goes "and the joy we share as we tarry there..." and as a small child, I thought my name was in the song!).    Someone took Emmeline from me, seeking to help by holding her.  And I sat on the front row, arms empty, and listened to a sermon on hell, and the need to make sure you were ready so you did not end up there.  I cannot fully express my desire to have a crucifix before me at that moment.   Before I was Catholic, I was taught how horrible were Catholic crucifixes.    Now, though, as a convert, I understood that I find my hope in Christ resurrected, but my comfort is in Christ crucified.   So, I tried to picture the crucifix in our home parish, and at one point, I pictured the adoration chapel there, and imagined myself curled up, resting beneath the altar.    And I dreaded the next part.

The burial was immediately after the funeral.   It was a beautiful sunny day.   I don't remember the graveside service.   I just remember thinking how I was going to have to leave Mama again, but this time it would be the last time.   The thought of the casket being lowered into the ground made me ill.   I took some of the beautiful red roses from her casket spray.   And I had to say that good-by I most dreaded, not realizing that it was just the beginning of good-bye.

 Only two months later, I would get a call in the night from my dad, who believed that Mama was back, sitting on the couch, with no arms or legs, and she wouldn't come to the phone.   I would stay on the phone for about five minutes while I heard him talking to the person he thought he saw.   Months of court to get my father to a doctor would begin and then, my role as care-giver for my parent, while still myself, being a parent of young children.  I didn't have time to deal with Mama's death or go through all the stages of grief.   Life was there, with dirty diapers, meals, first words, first haircuts, new jobs, ups and downs,...

When my dad died last year, Mama's death was before me again and I was at a stage where I could finally "deal" with it.   I am still going through the process, for lack of a better term.   And I am blessed with a husband and friends, old and new, who understand that and who are there for me.   I have come closer to closure, as my parents' homes have been cleaned out and put on the market.   And I feel like I am getting my life back.  It's what Mama would have wanted.   What better way to honor her memory than by loving and caring for them as she taught me?    And as I go through some moment that I wish I could share with her or I catch a glimpse of C, with her fly-away hair and resemblance to Mama, I smile.   Slowly the pain lessens and the happy memories grow sweeter and dearer.  And the prayers of my friends and family are still holding me up when I need it, and God is still there for me, through it all.

Louise, Lou, Mrs. Louise, Aunt Louise, Mama, Grandma...Requiescat in pace.





























 
 
 

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Tuesday Folder

Imagine that!   Me--late--with a Tuesday folder.   Gee, that never happened when I taught!   This Tuesday folder has to be all about our big weekend visit with friends.   Regina and the girls came for the first time since C was baptized!   Regina and I have been friends since we sat by each other in Coach Cox's ninth grade World Geography class and best friends since eleventh grade.    We were all beyond excited!  We just hung out and visited most of the time and it was wonderful, even if we did pay for staying up until 3 a.m. talking the first night!   The girls made chocolate chip cookies and I promised myself to cook with my children more.   My recent Pampered Chef order included several items specifically bought for them to use in the kitchen.

We were also able to share in the joyous occasion of the baptism of my friend Stephanie's baby, Spencer.  Afterward, we went to the pool party for the baptism and her daughter, Lauren's birthday.   Regina was able to meet several of my friends here and she commented how she REALLY liked them all.  She told me how blessed I was to have women like that as friends.   I knew that, but it's always good to be reminded of God's blessings!

It was a busy week, getting ready for the visit and trying to cram as much in as possible before school started yesterday.  And, oh, yeah, E started first grade--home school-style--yesterday.   She really enjoyed it and I'm so glad the school year started on such a happy note!   It is so nice to get so much done one-on-one.   I can tell if she's ready to move on or needs to review and adjust accordingly.

As part of a better schedule for our family, I'm trying to restrict and limit my computer time.   So, I'm taking a little Facebook break.   It may only last a few days, but hopefully it will help me check-in less often.   The problem is the e-mail alerts, but I hate to disable them completely.   Does it count if I read the alert, but don't go to the Facebook link?!
The "cousins"
Rachel reading to the bunch of them!
T adds ingredients to the cookies.
Love this one of Aunt G and T!
Together again!
Exhausted!
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