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This is my story of my Uncle Jewel E. Whisenant, a hero in war and in life:

Jewel E. Whisenant: The Young Man Arose From the Dead

 

By Shirley Wetzel

 

Jewel Edward Whisenant, son of M. C. and Thula Whisenant, was born on April 29, 1918. He grew up in Dublin, Erath County, Texas. For his first two decades, he drifted, without a goal in life. Then, with World War II looming on the horizon, he enlisted in the Army. This decision changed his life forever. He trained to be a half-track driver in the Mojave Desert, and excelled in all he did. He was not a Christian, but while in training he became close friends with a young man who was, Allen Lee Jones. He admired Allen’s strong faith, but did not share it.

 

About that time, he had another life-changing event. He fell in love with Frances Stewart, also of Dublin. Her father wasn’t too happy about her choice, as Jewel had a reputation for being kind of wild, but love would not be denied. They were married in a beautiful ceremony, then moved up to Camp Kilmer, Pennsylvania, in 1942, where he had more training to prepare him for battle. She came from a Christian family, but religion wasn’t a big part of their life. She taught Jewel the only prayer she knew: “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

 

After he left for deployment, she saw a small steel-covered Bible in a shop window. She wasn’t sure whether to buy it, but she heard the voice of God telling her that if she didn’t, she’d never see him again. Finally she bought it, and mailed it to Jewel. She included a note: “May this book keep you from harm.” In the last mail call before boarding the ship for Europe, Jewel heard his name called. “Old Tex has a package!” He treasured that gift of love, and carried it in his breast pocket every day thereafter.

 

He arrived in England to await the invasion of Europe. On September 17, 1943, he was leading his men in a battle in an orchard in Belgium. There had been 70% casualties, including many officers, and he was promoted from Sergeant to acting Lieutenant. They were pinned down in a trench under heavy fire when replacements began coming in. One young man was cut down just a few feet from safety. He said “Sarg, I’m dying, send for the medics,” but nothing could be done. The mortally wounded soldier began to recite the Lord’s Prayer as he slipped away. Jewel said to himself that if God can give that young man such peace in battle and in death, that’s the God I want to serve. He gave his life to God that day. With new strength and resolve, he led his men out of the orchard, saying “follow me,” and they all did. He still carried that Bible next to his heart, with the list of the names of his men tucked inside.

 

January 3, 1944. During a fierce battle, Jewel was shot multiple times, in the left eye, the stomach, chest and leg. He was carried to the operating theater, and remembers nothing until he woke up in a large room, surrounded by bodies, with a tag on his toe. He saw a woman in white, and called “Nurse!” She replied, in shock, “Sergeant, what are you doing awake? You’re supposed to be dead!”

 

“Set me up, help me, my face hurts!” He had lost sight in his left eye, and had thirty-seven stitches in his face, but he was alive. The nurse pulled the Bible from his shirt pocket. A bullet was lodged in it; the steel jacket and the list of his men’s names had stopped it from penetrating his heart. The bullet stopped at Luke 7:12:

 

And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came near to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said to her, Weep not. …

 

And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

 

And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.

 

The war was over for Jewel Whisenant. He went home to Dublin, to his mother and his beloved wife, and started a church. The Southside Baptist Church was the first of over a hundred he was to establish during his long career. He died on December 19, 2009, and the church was full of ministers he had trained and the many friends and loved ones whose lives he’d touched.

 

I am proud to say that he was my uncle, married to my mother’s baby sister Frances. There have never been two more kind, generous, courageous, and funny human beings on this earth. He was a hero on the battlefield and a hero in his life. Frances, who always referred to herself as his encourager, wrote a book about their years together. The title is, appropriately enough, The Encourager. If you’d like to learn more about Jewel and Frances Whisenant and their inspiring life, I recommend you read this book.

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Encourager-Ministry-Whisenant-Companion/dp/1881825108

 

 

 

JewelMike_3350796_n12319_387828819209_2170633_n

 

I’m back

A friend reminded me I haven’t posted here in several months, so here I am again. There have been some changes, some sadness, some soul-searching since then. My last post was about springing my 91 year old mother from the nursing home and moving her to my sister’s home. That was almost a year ago. Mother is still with us, but barely. Her eyesight and hearing are pretty much gone, her body is shot, but her mind was strong until recently. When I went to see her at Christmas, though, she didn’t know me. She asked for her sister Frances, who’s been gone for 5 years. They were as close as twins, and the best of friends. We couldn’t get through to her to explain. I wonder if, during all those hours she’s drifting between sleep and consciousness, she’s been making visits to the other side, getting ready for her permanent relocation.  Mother, it’s all right, there are so many of our loved ones waiting for you there, it’s okay to let go.

m

March 2012 092

Sadness – my 52 year old niece Becky slipped into a diabetic coma and left us suddenly last spring. She was born profoundly deaf, and with neurological problems, and her life was not easy, but she loved life and her two beautiful children and her cats … sweet girl, I hope you passed into the arms of your Papa who loved you so, and got to meet the grandfather who died so long ago on a mountain in Wales, and all the others we miss down here.

beckysalute100_1643 daddy-1

mem.day2005_0530Image0062  HRHflag

I turned 66 in September and had to face the fact that I’m far beyond middle age now, unless people live to be 120. I started receiving my late ex-husband’s Social Security benefit as a Divorced Widow. It’s a few hundred more than mine. Don, I appreciate the extra $, but I’d far prefer for you to still be here.

Sept. 2, 1967

Sept. 2, 1967

don571

Do you know Baylor is about to get that Ph.D., and has turned out to be a terrific teacher? And to think we both warned him he was not cut out for the academic life! Guess he showed us! That makes me happy. Our oldest granddaughter just started college. Autism has never stopped her from being a spectacular young lady. She was asked to join the School of Engineering which thrills her engineer grandfather to no end. The twins are almost 17, smart, talented, well-mannered (thanks, Lisa) and total nerds like their dad, and now like me. I came to nerddom rather late, re-discovering Doctor Who a few years ago and falling madly for #10, David Tennant.

Ashley born Sept. 1, 1994

Ashley born Sept. 1, 1994

Amber and Autumn, Jan. 27, 1996

Amber and Autumn, Jan. 27, 1996

Just got back in touch with my dear Welsh friend, Steve Jones. He’s had some experience as a movie extra, and I’m trying to convince him to get a job on one of David’s projects so I can come over and meet him. Come on Steve, I know you can do it! And I am so happy to hear that after all these years the lovely Sabina has made an honest man of you! I do hope to see you both again, even if you don’t come through on my very reasonable request.

Steve Jones and Shirley Wetzel in Wales

steve3

So, after years of counting the months, weeks and days until I reached retirement age, I decided not to retire after all. I’d spent a few months after foot surgery on house arrest, and I actually got tired of reading, watching tv, and doing nothing. I’d planned to write, but just couldn’t make the words flow. Since I couldn’t drive for much of that time, maybe it wasn’t a fair comparison to what retirement might bring, I still fear that if I do retire I will slowly vegetate, accomplishing nothing. More importantly, I wasn’t sure about the economy. I decided to keep working while I can, for another year or two anyway, and save the SS money to make some really nice trips.

Another thing is, if I’m a retiree, that officially means I’m old. I remember my mother, a couple of decades ago, telling a friend that she knew she wasn’t young any more, but in her head she still felt the same as she did when she was 38. Me, my head tells me I’m 43 … my body says otherwise.

Mortality rears its ugly head. I had a health issue last spring that is now under control, but could prove to be a Bad Thing eventually. I am in what, statistically speaking, should be the last 1/3 of my life, but because of that thing, and because I’ve seen so many people my age and younger leave this world too soon – well, we are not promised tomorrow. I wonder if my first-born son will forgive me for whatever it is he holds against me before I’m gone. I hope he does, for my sake and his. I know he will regret it if he waits too late, just as he did with his father. Son, I couldn’t love anyone more than I love you. Parents are human too, and young parents can make mistakes they regret when they become older and wiser. Jeff, my baby boy, I am so proud of you and you are my rock.

bay847 copy

jeff846

What else? The presidential horror show, where I watched the country I love tear itself apart, with an us and them mentality I can’t even believe. Facebook has been great for keeping in touch with friends and kin and getting to know family I’d never have met in real life. Thing is, we got along fine until this came up, then I discovered that I am a liberal, socialist commie pinko intellectual hippie atheist baby-murdering – oh, the list goes on. Just too sad.

More sadness, 20 little children were cut to pieces in a school massacre called Sandy Hook, and things turned even uglier. The first thought of many of my more conservative acquaintances was “Óh sh–t, Obama is going to take my guns away! “Now I am a mild mannered, laid-back, calm, reasonable, open-minded librarian, but as time went by, I got branded as one of those who wanted to take their guns away, even though that was not what I said, and it is not what the president is saying.  Our country seems to be getting even farther divided and I don’t see any relief in the foreseeable future.

My guru Ma Jaya left her body last spring. I did not get to say goodbye. I have talked to her since then, so that’s okay. In October I went to the beautiful Berkshires for the Guthrie Center church concerts, reuniting with many of my dearest of dear friends in a soul-renewing week. Arlo did three incredible, uplifting, emotional shows, despite, or maybe in part because, his wife Jackie was fighting her last fight. His courage, and that of the rest of the Guthrie family, was indescribable, so I won’t even try to describe it. So much love and grace and strength. Jackie was the heart of the family, but she did her job so well they will be able to go on without her.

My first pictures

Now we’re back to Christmas, You know what happened then. Oh yes, the family home was finally sold, and all the years of memories had to be sorted through, divided up, and given away or, least favorite thing, discarded. No more family photos on the old front porch, but things hadn’t been the same since our own heart, my silver-haired daddy, joined the heavenly band on Dec. 24, 2009. Time marches on. For everything, there is a season …

porch669 

Front porch Oct. 2009

Front porch Oct. 2009

And now it’s a new year. Blank slate, fresh start, let’s see what happens next.

I updated my End of the Beginning post and somehow none of it was saved, so, try, try again. The title comes from a song by my good friend and talented singer/songwriter John Flynn : http://johnflynn.net  You can hear the song there.

The lovely and talented John Flynn

The songs resonates with me because I realize there are far more years behind me than there are ahead. I have lost one parent:

Sterling L. Hornsby Sept. 27, 1920-Dec. 24, 2009

My mother is 90 and a half, and I don’t think it will be long before I become a motherless child:

Velma Ruth Stewart Hornsby, April 2, 1921-

Mother and Dad lived for 40 years in the old house where they watched 3 generations grow up:

family on the porch

grandchildren, great-grandchildren, even great-great grandchildren:

T

Jan. 2010 DFW Cemetery

The time came when Mother could no longer stay in that old house:

Our experiment with sending her to live in a fancy “assisted living” facility didn’t work out. After a mistake with her medication that almost killed her, my sister Gwen took Mother home with her.

Mother's lonely new home

So now I find myself at the beginning of the end, although I hope it’ll be a long time before I get there. John’s song says “The journey of a single step can begin with a thousand miles.” Here was where I started:

Shirley Jean Hornsby Sept. 1946

I grew up, went to college, got married:

Sept. 2, 1967

We had kids:

Baylor and Mom Oct. 1971

Jeff and Mom, Bangkok, July 1973

Then we had some grandkids:

Ashley b. Sept. 1, 1994

Amber and Autumn, Jan. 27, 1996

We got divorced, but later became friends again. I had some adventures, did a lot of traveling, met some interesting people and some great friends, mostly because of Arlo Guthrie:

Shirley, Arlo & Annie Aug. 1989

"Matterhorn" in Okemah, Ok.

Guthrie Center Fall Revival - Blunderites all

Guthrie Center 1996

John Flynn and the Flynettes, Okemah WoodyFest

To quote John again, I’m thankful “for old friends you can count on, even though their ranks are thinning.”

Alasdair and Shirley, Macchu Picchu. Miss you always


Dennis Lachappelle, best bus driver and best friend anyone could ever ask for.

Goodbye, old friend

There are others I dearly miss: dear, sweet Jack Dultz, Gay, who will always be sitting at the front table at the church, Gerry Harper – your daughter grew up to be as wonderful as you were, sweetheart. So many friends and loved ones gone but never forgotten.

Our sons grew up:

Baylor and Jeff

Our granddaughters are teenagers!

So, what happens next? I need to work on that Bucket list – maybe finish the mystery I started writing many moons ago. I have continued to write and get published – here’s the launch of the latest anthology from the Final Twist, Oct. 2011:

Shirley at Murder by the Book

Chorus of The End of the Beginning” “Oh, the journey you make, from the first breath you take, to your last dying day, the mystery will take your breath away …”

Kris Kristofferson, who accompanies John on this song, has a song with a similar line:

From the rockin’ of the cradle to the rollin’ of the hearse, the going up was worth the comin’ down. I do believe he’s right. Journey on …

The End of the Beginning

John Flynn

The title comes from a new song by my friend John Flynn, a very talented singer/songwriter and a fine human being. http://johnflynn.net

It resonates with me, because I realize, like it or not, there are far more years behind me than there are in front of me. I’ve lost one parent:

Sterling L. Hornsby Sept. 27, 1920-Dec. 24, 2009

My mother is 90 and a half, and I don’t think it will be long before I become a motherless child:

Velma Stewart Hornsby April 2, 1921-

When last I wrote, she was just leaving the old house where she and Dad lived for 40 years, watching grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren grew up:

leaving home

We had high hopes that she would be happy in the fancy “assisted living” facility where she was promised, and paid for, the full level of care. Being almost blind and deaf and in a wheelchair, she was helpless to do the simplest things. Even though my sister checked on her every day, and I made several visits, she did not get that wonderful care, and the staff did not help her find friends. One day my niece found her sprawled, unconscious, on her bed and asked the nurse to check on her – “Oh, she’s fine, she always sleeps like that-”  Terri insisted on having them check her blood sugar. It was 60. Any lower and she would have gone into a diabetic coma and died. Due to a reaction between a morphine shot she’d had at the ER after she fell and hurt her arm and a pain pill she took later, she came close to death. My sister came and took her home with her. She sits in her room, in her chair, listening to audio books. Sometimes I come and take her to the old house to go through all the stuff collected over a lifetime, and she rides her electric scooter through her garden, and that makes her happy – and sad. We are getting ready to sell the house now. A family with one-year old twins want to buy it – it’s a fixer-upper and they have skills and not much money, so it would be a good fit. Mother wants to know that another family will live there and love it like she did.

Thanksgiving was – well, she put it best, when my cousin called to ask about it -” pitiful.” Only my sister, brother, and niece were there, and the dinner was store-bought. Mother was horrified that the cornbread dressing had sugar in it. Horrors! My oldest niece wrote on FaceBook that it was the first time she could remember when we didn’t gather at Granny and PaPa’s house. Seems like when my dad died, the heart left our family. Mother declared that we WILL all gather there for one more Christmas, and I hope she gets that wish.

The end of the beginning … my sons are grown, I’m not likely to have any more grandchildren – but I do adore the three I have. I have wonderful friends, but some are not doing well and some have gone on to the next world. As John says, “old friends you can count on even though their ranks are thinning.” If I want to achieve the things on my Bucket List, I need to get busy.  “The journey of a step can begin with a thousand miles.” Here I go, taking that step. Maybe I should start with finishing that mystery I’ve been working on for … a good long while.

Book launch Oct. 2011

Texas in Springtime

My last couple of posts, about my mother’s unhappy experiences in moving from her home to “assisted living,”  have been downers, and it’s time to talk about lighter subjects. During the last two weeks of March I had some fine adventures out in the Texas Hill Country, back in Houston, and up in Dallas.

First off, my friends Loretta and Beverly and I went to New Braunfels to see Arlo Guthrie perform at Gruene Hall, one of the oldest dance halls in Texas.

Standing in line at Gruene Hall

The show was great. The lovely and talented Burns sisters, Arlo’s son Abe, and his band opened the show – for two hours!. Then Arlo came out and they all performed for another two hours! I met up with my Dallas friends Jay and Shelley, my dear friend Doris Judd, who I met at a writing workshop, and spent some quality time afterwards with The Burnsies, Jimmy LeFave, Kil.Ler, Arlo’s former bus driver, now an agent for musicians, based in Austin.

The Burns sisters, Jimmy LaFave, and Killer

Doris, Shirley and Jay - Gruene Hall

Arlo and Shirley Gruene Hall March 2011

Shelley, Killer and Shirley Gruene Hall

A good time was had by all. Next morning, the Three Musketeers traveled farther west to visit my friends Nancy and Tony Parker-Simons, who manage the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, founded by Kinky Friedman. I’ve known them for several years, and two finer people cannot be found. We spent the afternoon talking, eating, laughing, touring the ranch, visiting with the animals, and laughing some more.

Beverly, Loretta, Shirley and Nancy at the Ranch

Tony Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch March 2011

Tony has become an excellent photographer. He showed us some postcards he’d made that were National Geographic quality. One took my breath away, literally – a hummingbird caught in mid-flight. He has an eye for capturing nature – plants, animals, and oh yeah, even people – he took some that made me look good, and that’s not easy to do!

Nancy in Outer Space March 2011

In addition to being a Fine Human Being and one of my long-lost sisters, Nancy is a story teller, a writer, and a kind and loving woman with a heart bigger than Texas. Do I love her? Indeed I do!

Reluctantly we said goodbye to Nancy and Tony and all the critters and made the long trip back to Houston. But the fun wasn’t over yet! The next Tuesday Loretta and I attended the opening of a new play, “Becoming Kinky” – the story of Kinky Friedman in three parts. It was truly a great show, and we bonded with the couple sitting next to us, Mark and Joyce, then got to visit with Kinky and his sidekick, Jeff Shelby, aka Little Jewford.

Shirley, Kinky, Loretta, McGonigels Mucky Duck March 2011

Loretta, Shirley, Little Jewford, Joyce, Mark, and Kinky

We closed the place down, and as we drove away I saw Kinky in a meditative mood – or was he just wishing Jeff would hurry up and take him home?

Kinky Friedman after the play - March 2011

The fun was over for awhile, and it was back to work. In my next installment, I’ll talk about my mother’s 90th birthday party, and update her status on the “assisted living” experiment. There will be some good parts and some awful parts … but for a few weeks, my world was full of friends and fun and Texas in the springtime.

Leaving home, part two

The day finally arrived for Mother’s new stage of life to begin. I arrived from Dallas Friday afternoon, expecting the bags to be packed and the special treasures Mother wanted to take all selected. She and my niece had been working on it for two weeks, my sister said. I found one box, with some sheets and towels, and that was it. Somehow I figured out Mother’s heart really wasn’t in it.  She did know she wanted her bed, a few end tables, a tv, photographs, and a recliner. Dad’s recliner, not hers. I made the selections for her: a photo of her with her first husband and daughter Gwen, another photo of her with Gwen and my father, a photo of her first husband with his brothers, her brother, and, for some reason, my dad’s brother, all in uniform, a photo of Trent, her great-grandson who did not make it to his fifth birthday, a raggedy stuffed bunny that had been his, and my father’s flag. I started to bring the vase containing nine white silk roses and one red one, then I put it back on the mantel. It is part of our family history. The roses represent the ten members of mother’s family – her parents, Irvin and Lizzie Stewart, and their eight children. At one of my aunt’s funerals, a tradition was started: each time one of the siblings passed away, a family member would take out a red rose and place it in his or her parent’s casket. A white rose would be put in the vase. When Mother’s baby sister Frances died, my family got the vase. Mother is the last of the Stewarts, and it makes me sad to look at that single red rose, knowing that soon there will be ten white roses. I decided it was best left where it was until the time comes.

Thomas Ervin Stewart - Sarah Elizabeth Davis

The children of T.E. and Sarah E. Stewart

 

Stewart 50th anniversary, 1955

Feb. 12, 2011 on the old porch

While the rest of the family took Mother’s furniture to her new home, I took her to Walmart’s – an outing she’d been asking for for ages. She said nobody ever had the time to take her, and she wanted to see things for herself, not have others just pick out something. In truth, she can’t really “see” much of anything, but it was the principle of the thing. I couldn’t put her on one of the scooters for the disabled, because I had visions of her plowing through the displays, mowing down anything in her path, so I pushed her in her wheelchair. We spent some time looking at the microwaves, trying to find one that she could work with minimal effort, and found one with numbers she could see. Then as we went through the towel section, she spotted a hot pink bathroom rug, and we bought that. I asked if she wanted the matching towel, but she said “no, then I’d need the hand towel, and the wash rag, and it’s just too expensive.” I will get that for her on my next visit, I can afford $20 and she loves pink.

When we got to the facility – I can’t bring myself to call it a home–nice as it is, it ain’t home. The furniture was arranged, but Mother decided it needed to be re-arranged.  She wanted her chair to be next to her window, so she could watch the comings and goings of the residents and their visitors, and maybe see a bird or two. When her world view became small because of her disabilities, my dad used to put birdseed and bread crumbs on a staircase outside her window at home, and she spent hours watching the antics of the birds and squirrels haggling over the food. We bought every variety of squirrel-proof bird feeder there is, but none of them worked for long. It tickled her to see how resourceful those squirrels could be. Now she watches the resident we have already named The Cigarette-Smoking Man, who drives himself outside every hour or so, wrapped in a blanket during those chilly days, stops by a pillar ten feet from her window, and lights up. We walked by him several times during the weekend, and he never smiled or even acknowledged our presence.

I stayed with her the first night. She was sick, and didn’t have to make the dreaded trip to the dining room while I was there. Neither of us slept much, but I didn’t hear her cry.  She’d told her niece she probably would, and I said it was okay to cry if she wanted to. She can cry without making a sound, so I don’t know if she did, but I did. Quietly. Next morning, she didn’t eat any breakfast, and she didn’t care for the coffee. My sister came around lunchtime with snacks, shower curtain, and other necessities, and I told Mother I had to go back to Houston. I’d told her at the beginning of the weekend I would be leaving Sunday, but she looked at me with sad eyes and said “I was hoping you could stay another day or two.” I explained again that I don’t have much vacation saved up. I didn’t say I was saving it for when the time comes that I’ll need to be there, the time when she takes that last journey.

It’s been almost two weeks now, and she still doesn’t have a telephone. I get my news from my nieces, my sister is too busy taking care of things. I heard that she complained that an old man had been grumpy with her at dinner – I wondered if it was the Cigarette -Smoking Man. I want to go see her this weekend, but I’ve promised her a 3 day trip to her hometown of Comanche to put flowers on her parents’ graves, and to Dublin to visit with her cousins, nieces and nephews. That trip from Houston to Dallas has gotten longer and harder on me physically and emotionally, but I will keep making it as often as I can.

Looking into the future

Leaving Home, Part One

I remember vividly my first day of kindergarten. Because of my September birthday, I was the youngest in the class, and very shy. In those long ago days, mothers usually didn’t work outside the home, and kids didn’t routinely go to day care. This was the first time I was away from my mother for more than an hour or two, and I was scared and homesick, and I cried. The teacher called me to her desk and let me sit in her lap (probably can’t do that any more, but those were innocent times)  Finally I calmed down, and I soon learned to love school, but those first days in a new environment were difficult.

Shirley Jean Hornsby

The first time I had to leave my two-year old at day care, he wailed and hung on to me as tight as he could. A grandmotherly lady (she probably looked like I do know, but I was 30 and she looked very old) took him into her arms and sat in a rocking chair. She told me he’d be fine, and eventually he was, but I felt such guilt sending my baby into the care of strangers.

Jeff 1975

One of the hardest goodbyes took place the summer after my divorce was finalized. I went to Missouri to work on a dig, and my sons stayed with my parents. They came to Missouri to celebrate Jeff’s fifth birthday. Jeff wasn’t yet old enough to understand that things would never be the same after that summer, that something precious was broken, but his big brother did. The pictures are heart-breaking. Jeff is smiling, splashing in the swimming pool, giggling about the trick candles that wouldn’t go out. My dignified dad was wearing a party hat, but his face was solemn.  In one shot, I have my arms around the boys. Jeff is smiling, I am trying to smile, and Baylor looks  like he’ll never smile again. When it was time for them to go, he held on to me for so long my father finally had to gently pull him away. It took all my strength to get in my car and drive away, when my mind was screaming, “quit that job, take your sons, and go home,” but there was no going back.

Velma Ruth Stewart and Grandma Davis 1921

Now I am a grandmother, and my sons are all grown up, and I will be taking my mother away from her home of 41 years, trusting strangers to care for her. She is 89, closing fast on 90, and we all tried to honor her wish to remain at home until the end, but she is almost blind now, is a brittle diabetic, has congestive heart failure, and the list goes on. She knows she will be safe and well-cared for at the assisted living home – she’d better be, or the staff will answer to a very large and angry family.

PaPa surveying his kingdom

I’ve written about how my silver-haired daddy took care of her every need when she became so ill, even as he grew frail and his mind started wandering. We tried to get him to take it easy and let us help. I asked him “what will you do if you fall and break your leg, who will take care of Mama then?” He replied “I’ll take care of Mama even with my broken leg.” Then he did fall, and he broke his elbow, and the doctors couldn’t fix it, and through a series of hospital and nursing home neglect and error we lost him on Christmas Eve, 2009. For the first few months, family and friends and neighbors rallied around and stayed with Mother, fed her, managed her medications, but as always happens, the help gradually stopped showing up. Medicare sent a nurse and an aide after each hospitalization, and there have been many, but once she was “well” again that stopped. My brother, a disabled Vietnam vet, lives with her, and he tried as best he could to help, but it wasn’t enough.

We tried various ways of keeping Mother at home, hiring a housekeeper who didn’t last long, paying grandchildren to help, but things weren’t done the way Mother wanted them to be, and her needs were greater than they could manage. We had big yelling, screaming “family meetings”about what to do, and every person had a different idea. Mother just wanted to stay at home, but after burning herself badly two times trying to cook for herself – she is a stubborn lady! – her doctor said she couldn’t stay in the house  virtually alone, and she couldn’t afford care 24/7. Her nurses and I tried to talk about the good things about assisted living – she’d get all her meals and snacks served to her, she’d make friends, she’d get to go on field trips, there wouldn’t be any more stressful family meetings … She tried to be enthusiastic, then she’d say “I don’t want to live with all those strangers, I just want to crawl under the bed and stay there …”In her weary eyes I see myself all those years ago, begging just to let me stay home.

Tomorrow I will drive to Dallas to help Mother gather up the last of the special things she wants to bring to her new home, and Saturday the furniture will be moved  and she’ll get settled in. I can’t help with the physical aspects of the move, but I’ll try to help with the emotional side. I think I’ll take her out for breakfast, and then maybe an outing to Walmart, so that she doesn’t have to watch her world being dismantled and reassembled. She said she would try not to cry when she walks out the door, but I told her to cry all she wants to, I certainly will.

For the first time, she’ll be able to have photos of both her husbands on her walls:  2nd Lt. Hulbert H. Robertson, her first love, who died in WWII:

2nd Lt. Hulbert H. Robertson, 1943

Gwen at her father's grave, Cambridge American Cemetery

And my father, Sterling L. Hornsby. They celebrated their 65th anniversary in October, 2009 at that old house.

Sterling L. and Velma Ruth Hornsby, Gwen Robertson

Jan. 2010 Velma Hornsby with her second folded flag

CPO Sterling L. Hornsby

DFW National Cemetery

Several generations of our family gathered on that front porch through the years:

The Scoggins family

Front porch Oct. 2009

Gwen, Shirley, Velma, Gary, Sterling L. Hornsby

65th anniversary Velma Ruth Stewart Robertson Hornsby

Great granddaughters Lindsey Wiggins, Megan Scoggins, and Maddie Mansfield; Great-great grandtwins Gage and Clare Wiggins

 

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