Sunday, January 30, 2011

War Stories

I was looking through an old notebook and found these war stories Dad told me when he was in the hospital for his pacemaker a few years ago. Dad started talking and I just listened and wrote furiously. This was the first time Dad talked with me freely about his experience in WWII. In fact, it was so odd for him to talk to me like this, I was really concerned he was going to die! But, we all know he wouldn't let a little thing like pacemaker surgery take him down. After this conversation in his hospital room, Dad talked about the war a lot. So, you all may have heard these stories already. I just wanted to get them down so I wouldn't lose them.

*Dad was trained for anti-aircraft artillery. He was part of the 32nd AAA Brigade. When it turned out we didn't need so many anti-aircraft artillery, Dad was assigned to Camp Howze in Gainesville, TX where they trained air force to be infantrymen. It was a 5 week training course, very intense, but some did not take it seriously. At some point while he was there, the camp received a letter from a soldier who had been through the training and then shipped overseas. The soldier exhorted everyone to take training seriously; combat is real and ugly and will come sooner than you think; this training can save your life. The letter was posted for all to see.

*Dad led 20 mile hikes as part of the training. He had one little 100 pound man who couldn't make it the first time. He tried again and couldn't make it the second time. When Dad went to give the little guy a pep talk, the man pointed out that the 50lb. pack he was required to carry was half his body weight. He told Dad it was like asking Dad to carry a 100lb. pack for the 20 miles. The little man did make the hike, but with many helping to lighten his pack.

*Dad said they went to bed at midnight and got up at 4:00 a.m.

*When Dad went through infantry school, he got to meet a lot of Medal of Honor recipients. There were more than he had ever been around, and he got to visit with them one-on-one.

*Dad was shipped out to begin the land assault on Japan. He was to man a heavy duty machine gun that would blast away anything in front of it. [He didn't say at this time, but I do remember him telling his grandsons previously that he had to pull himself up the gangplank, he was so scared to go to war.] Dad remembered that when they heard about the bombs being dropped, a great cheer went up on board. And he remembers when they stopped zig-zagging. Up until that point, the ship would change course every little bit in order to avoid enemy submarine missiles.

*Dad was stationed in the Philippines and put in charge of communications maintenance. He objected that he wasn't qualified or trained, but they said since he was an electrical engineer major, he was the most qualified.

*Dad was really impressed with the pilots of the L-2s on the island. They flew solo many, many hours, landing on short strips, delivering mail around the islands. The general's pilot, Hank, was a favorite with Dad. Hank liked to fly so low on approach that he knocked coconuts out of the trees. He would ask, "How many?", meaning, "How many coconuts did I knock down?"

*Dad thought it was funny that after the war was over, when the Air Force pilots joined them in the Philippines, they insisted on flying with 2 pilots and had a hard time finding the air strips. They saw the strip, but thought it couldn't possibly be the landing strip because it was so short. The AF pilots suggested cutting down trees on either end of the strips so they would have more room.

*Dad told of a time Hank had flown the general to another island. When they were ready to return, a Philippine man asked if they would take _________ _________ (some man's name) along. Hank said no, because they had no room. The Philippine man insisted, "You take ________ _________?" Then he brought over a small box. ______ _________ was a pilot who had crashed and burned. The box was his remains.

*When they finally boarded the ship in Manila to return home, the ship was low on silverware. Everyone had to choose one utensil for the voyage. Dad quickly chose a spoon, but those at the end of the line got stuck with only a fork or even only a knife. Dad said, "Imagine eating soup with a knife!"

*Some commander on the ship was known for demanding his officers know everyone's name in their unit. Some officer had been given a whole new unit the day before and the commander was asking him if he knew all the names. The man didn't want to lose face with his superior, so he insisted that he did indeed know all the names by heart. And then the commanding officer threw the roster overboard!

*Mom has told me Dad remembers the men on board singing together.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Crazy Trip That Almost Was

Thursday afternoon Mom called. I had seen her at Ladies' Bible Study (Side Note: I get to go to LBS for the first time in I don't know how long! I lost a student, which is not good for me financially, but one of his times was 80 min. on Thursday mornings. So, while I can, I'm going. We're doing a study on contentment. ) Then she met Dave for lunch at Pie in the Sky. I guess she was feeling pretty good after all that, because she asked me if I was up for a trip to Kansas. On Saturday.

Turns out my cousin Jack, the son of one of Mom's brothers, was having a big hoedown for his 69th birthday. Somehow Mom got wind of it and decided she wanted to go. Maybe. But she wanted to see what I thought. And she had my sister in law Cathy checking flights. We could leave Saturday and come back Tuesday. What did I think? I told Mom if she wanted to go, I was on board. Let's go!

But she wasn't sure. I encouraged her to decide so we could get the reasonable rates Cathy had found. (I also needed to know so I could find someone to fill in for me at Kohl's and I needed to let my students know I wouldn't be there for educational therapy Monday and Tuesday. Spontenaity is hard work these days! But I didn't tell Mom that, so as not to sway the decision.) Poor Mom really struggled with the decision. She felt bad about disrupting schedules. I assured her we were all happy to be flexible, especially for this special occasion. She told Bill she needed some authoritarian man to tell her it was a crazy idea and not to go. Bill told her she didn't have that, so she would have to do what she wanted to do.

I think that is what got her. She wanted to go. Mom really has a soft spot for Jack. She wants him to know Jesus. She knows her time is short. As Gayle pointed out, Mom's attendance at the party would have been an act of extravagant grace on her part. But I think in the end, even though she wanted to go, Mom felt like her body just couldn't handle the travel. She let me know Friday that the trip was off. You know that painful divide between what we want to do and what we actually can do? I think Mom is feeling it.

Cousin Jack is on the front row next to Mom, white shirt.

Friday, January 28, 2011

When It Rains

Sister Gayle and Cousin Marcia have been talking (separately) about coming to visit Mom. I made sure Cousin Marcia contacted Sister Gayle. I was thinking, "So you can be sure your visits don't overlap." Evidently, Cousin Marcia was thinking, "So I can be sure to come while Gayle is there." That's what happens when, instead of speaking my thoughts, I count on people to read my mind. Funny how ineffective mind-reading really is.

Anyway, the outcome is that Gayle is coming to visit Mom on February 8. I'll pick her up from the airport. The following day, February 9, Marcia will fly in. She will rent a car and stay until February 11. I don't know her times or even if she is planning to stay at Mom's. Gayle will stay until February 14. Crazy, but I think Mom will enjoy the company.

Plans I've heard about so far include:

Mom -- Cleaning out closets. Mom's a little fixated on this one and Gayle is a natural born organizer.

Gayle -- A birthday celebration (for Gayle) involving chocolate. Karis has already agreed to whip up one of her specialities that will fit the bill.

Should be interesting!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hand Me Down

About five years ago, I gave my dad a jacket shirt sort of thing for his birthday.

Can you believe I had a picture of Dad opening his gift? Crazy! The jacket was a sturdy denim type fabric on the outside, and lined with fleece. The sleeves were lined with a quilted fabric. Dad got colder as he got older, so he wore it a lot, both inside and out.

When Loren was here this month, he went through Dad's clothes with Mom and set aside the things he could wear and would like. Since the jacket shirt came later in life, it was smaller. (Well, smaller for Dad. You know, just a large.) Too small, anyway, for my big brother. So Mom gave it to Dave.

Silly Mother.

We brought it home. I washed it (to get rid of the mildewy smell that pervades Mom and Dad's house) and hung it out to dry. Once it was dry, I hung the jacket shirt in my closet, where it belongs. I've really enjoyed wearing my dad's jacket on these cold wintry mornings.

I wore it over to Mom's last week and she was happy to see me in it. She said, "It's perfect!" And she's right. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How's Your Mama Doing?

I get that question a lot. Which is nice! Mom has sort of a cult following, drawing admirers and holding court wherever she goes without even trying. So here's the consummate answer to how Mom is doing:

Today she drove herself in the Crown Vic down to the DPS and renewed her driver's license.

It had expired on her 90th birthday, you know, and they only renew online up to the age of 75, so she had to go in.

Don't ask me how she parked in that packed lot. Don't ask me how she navigated through the throngs of impatient, ill-prepared people, many of whom don't speak English as their native language. Don't ask me how she found the line to sign in, then found a place to wait for her group to be called, then found the line to wait her turn for the vision test. Don't ask me how she passed the vision test.

I just don't know.

Must have been that Mama Mojo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What I'm Looking For

Today, driving home from work, as I listened to the genius that is U2, it struck me that I'm supposed to be sick of cancer and death. We are not supposed to be satisfied with hurt and disappointment and sickness and deceit and separation and sin. We are designed for so much more; for wholeness and unity and joy and life. This broken place, this current world, is not enough. It's not what I'm looking for.

And I guess I won't find what I'm looking for until God makes all things right and new again. The whole world. And me. I'm longing for The Day.

School of Sorrow

Last night after Dave came home, Nate sat next to his dad, put his arm around him, and said these sweet words: "I'm sorry about your friend."

I do not like being camped out in the valley, but I love that my son has learned what to say. Good job, Nate.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sad News

We got word today that one of Dave's oldest, best friends passed away this morning.

Graham and Dave went to seminary together. Graham eventually moved to Australia, married a beautiful aussie girl, pastored a church, and raised a family. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year. He never worked in a coal mine, never knew of any asbestos exposure, no meso in his family history. It's a mystery. Graham will be terribly missed by his wife and two teenaged children, family, and friends throughout the world.

I'm so sick of cancer and death.

Happy Birthday, Ma!

Friday morning, Mom's flowers were delivered. I think she likes them. I told her I thought they looked like something she might have picked on the prairie in Kansas. :) (I tried turning the photo. Sorry. You'll just have to turn your head.)

After her nap, Karis and Meg took the badger cake over.

Grandma was delighted! Meg said, "And you said you didn't want a cake." Grandma said happily, "But you made one for me anyway!" Looks like we guessed right on that one.

Dave called in the morning to see if we could take Mom out for dinner...and she said yes! So we enjoyed an early dinner at Panera.

And then Mom invited us over for badger cake. Yum! I'm so glad we got to celebrate Mom's 90th birthday with her.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Birthday Cake

Here it is, the armadillo birthday cake!

Super job, Meg and Crystal, of Crazy Cowgirls Bakery fame. Loren loved it.

Meg is determined to make her grandma a badger birthday cake for Friday. Are we a family of strong-willed women or what?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Birthday Flowers?

What do you think about these? Wildflowers for our wild woman mama?

Postscript: Ordered to be delivered Friday morning.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Birthday Plans

Mom has invited us over to have chili and celebrate Loren's birthday Monday night. Meg and a friend are planning an armadillo cake for the occasion. German chocolate armadillo, to be exact.

Mom has instructed me that there is to be no surprise for her upcoming birthday. I told her I was not planning a surprise, but asked what she would like to do to celebrate.

Mom: Hmmm, ahhhh.

Gwen: Could we bake you a cake?

Mom: No, I like crisp.

Gwen: Oh, could we bake you a crisp?

Mom: Well, you put too much sugar in yours.

Gwen: (gritting teeth) Do you have a recipe we could use?

Mom: (laughs)

We never did land on anything, so I'll have to keep asking. Or maybe we will just have to show up and say Happy Birthday. The only plans Mom has sounded positive about for the day are:

Mom: Loren is leaving Thursday. I think I'll call Jan and we'll go see True Grit on Friday.


Always an Adventure

Last night was Karis' small christian school's homecoming night. Since there is no football at her school yet, the homecoming game is basketball. Karis was on the starting team last night and Mom agreed to come to the game! She would not accept a ride and insisted on driving herself. She loved the game, watching the team, and seeing Karis play. I'm so glad she came.

Afterwards, Dave walked Mom out to her car and found that she had locked the keys inside. Dave took Mom home and then called a locksmith. I returned Mom's car to her this morning, resisting the urge to have it hauled away. Is it really responsible to return a car to an 89yo woman? Mom is convinced we have the extra set of keys. We think she hid them when the doctor said Dad shouldn't drive. I offered to make an extra set today, but she said she doesn't plan to lock them in again. As if anyone ever plans to do that! Then she said her plan includes never locking the car. Oh boy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wishful Thinking

A few days ago, Mom told me that hospice had left a message on her answering machine and asked her to call back. Mom thought they were calling to tell her they would have to revoke her hospice care. She felt that since she is doing so well and "has no symptoms", she didn't qualify any longer. Okay.

Points I thought of but did not mention:

1) I'm pretty sure a terminal diagnosis qualifies you for hospice, even if you are currently symptom-free.

2) Symptom: Weight Loss. Last I asked, Mom was down to 110. She used to be 5'10", although I know she has shrunk. She is extremely thin, in any case.

3) Symptom: Fatigue. Sleeping longer at night, napping more in daytime, very tired before nap or bed time. Noticeable change in energy levels.

4) Symptom: Loss of bowel control. I realize bc has not been great since colo-rectal surgery 20 years ago, but not like this. Embarrassing, life-restricting, unaffected by diet control. :(

Mom called this morning and asked if I could pick her up for lunch. We had a lovely bowl of soup at Panera together. On the way there, Mom brought up the hospice call. She said Nurse Christy called her back to say she had a prescription for Mom to help with the diarrhea.

Mom: I don't know why I had it in my head that they were going to release me from hospice.

Gwen: I think maybe it was wishful thinking.

Mom: Well, I guess it shows I still want to live!

Gwen: Yes, I love your positive attitude, Mom.

Mom: It is easy to be positive when you feel so good. [Please see numbers 2-4 above.]

Gwen: I don't know, Mom. I think you are positive even when you don't feel good. Like Dad. Even when things were so hard for him, he still wanted to get up and around every day.

Mom: He was really looking forward to his birthday. He wanted to be 89. And Thanksgiving.

Gwen: Right, but even just on regular days, he was happy to be here. I think you are that way too.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Special Occasions

Saturday, New Years Day, was Mom and Dad's anniversary. Although she doesn't talk about it much, I know Mom must miss Dad terribly. They used to go out on New Year's Eve to celebrate their anniversary. Dave sweetly invited Mom out for dinner Friday night. My brother Bill and his wife Cathy kindly planned a visit around this weekend. They arrived Friday evening and left Monday morning. I'm so glad Mom did not have to wake up alone in her house on her wedding anniversary.

Friday, January 14, is Mom's birthday. She will be celebrating 90 years of life! What an amazing ride. My brother Loren is coming Sunday to visit with his mama. In fact, he will spend his own birthday here. Meg is planning to bake him a cake.

I don't know what we will do to celebrate Mom's day. She doesn't like parties. And just this past week, she has started asking not to have my children come over. (Goodness knows we are pretty much a traveling party!) It reminds me of when we all simply became too much for Dad. Just another part of folding the tent, I guess.