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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

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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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

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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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Or, my New Reality. The past year has brought many changes into my life, most of them not good. I finally got my doctor to listen to me explain that my swollen ankles and rapidly increasing shortness of breath were not just due to my being fat and lazy. Nope, I have a heart condition called dystolic dysfunction, meaning the blood is slow to fill up my heart and move on to the other chamber. Nothing too serious, apparently, she didn’t even refer me to a cardiologist, I did that on my own. He confirmed that diagnosis, but said he was more worried about my lung function. Off I went to a pulmonary specialist … after months of tests, drugs, one blot clot scare, I was told my “exercise-induced asthma” is really pulmonary hypertension, and when my symptoms didn’t improve with drugs and a C-Pap machine for the sleep apnea that MIGHT have led to this, he put me on oxygen. Here’s what ph is:  “Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure that affects only the arteries in the lungs and the right side of your heart.”  It is not necessarily related to overall high blood pressure – my bp has always been low to normal.  “Pulmonary hypertension is a serious illness that becomes progressively worse and is sometimes fatal. Although pulmonary hypertension isn’t curable, treatments are available that can help lessen symptoms and improve your quality of life.”

That caused me to wonder “why me?” I have gained weight in the last 15 years, but most of my family are as large or larger. I exercised, until I couldn’t handle it any more, I never smoked, never did illegal drugs, have a fairly healthy diet, good blood pressure, but I’ve got a progressive health condition for which there is no cure except a lung transplant, and nobody else in my family has this. Why me? Why not me? Is it genetic, or does it have something to do with the miracle diet drug combination that was all the rage 15 years ago – until people starting have problems with enlarged hearts and other inconvenient side effects. I got checked, my heart was fine, no harm, no foul, and no weight lose.  When I began researching my health problems, guess what popped up in the adds for lawyers in the sidebar – yes, that drug combo is rearing its ugly head again. People who took the combo as long as 15 years ago have developed primary pulmonary hypertension, among other things. I have to try to get my doctor’s attention to find out if that’s the kind I have – and if it is, I might get a settlement from the drug company, but I might not live long enough to spend it. If my granddaughter happens to read this – DON’T WORRY! This is probably not the kind I have. My mother has similar issues and a lot of other health problems I don’t have, and she is 89. She feels like hell most of the time, but she’s still here, and at least her mind is sharp, even though her body is shot. My doctor assure me there are new drugs in the testing stage, new treatments, we’ve caught the problems fairly early, time is on my side.  But listen, I’ve had symptoms of both conditions for years, but when I told my doctors, they just blew me off. I was fat and out of shape but otherwise they found nothing wrong. Be your own advocate, you know your own body, insist on being taken seriously when you think there’s a problem.

It sucks to realize I may be disabled within the next decade, or maybe the next 2 years. My new reality is that I will have to lug a heavy oxygen bottle around when I “exert” myself – i.e. walk more than 5 minutes, do housecleaning,  go to the mall … Doctors can diagnosis these things, but as my friend Connie, who has COPD and a long history of dealing with the medical profession, tells me, they don’t tell you how to deal with what comes next. After I had a lung catherization that showed no blood clot after all, the nurse called me to tell me to “keep doing what you’ve been doing!” with a big smile in her voice. Doing what I’ve been doing hasn’t helped, the breathing problems just keep getting worse.  I’m trying to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, getting my affairs in order, trying not to let my mother know how serious my condition is becoming, learning how to navigate my world with a heavy oxygen bottle strapped over my shoulder, thinking it may be time to ask for a handicapped hang tag because I can’t walk up my stairs without gasping for breath.

My new reality – I had planned to travel after I retire in 2 years, but the rules and regulations involved in flying when you’re oxygen-dependent are mind-boggling. I have begun knocking items off my bucket list – I’ll probably never return to Thailand, never see Angor Wat, maybe soon I won’t be able to go to western Massachusetts for Arlo’s October concerts … Will I be around to see what my brilliant granddaughters become, will I be able to go to their weddings, hold their children? This sucks, did I mention that? Time will tell …

My other new reality – I’ve had my first Christmas as a fatherless child, the first Father’s Day with no one to send a card to, no one to call me his baby girl. I’ve had the first Memorial Day when I visited my dad and talked to a carved headstone. There’s a quote I think about by Mark Halliday in Keep this : “Everybody’s father dies  But when my father died, it was my father.” I can say now that my father died last Christmas Eve, and I can believe it and accept it, but when I remember how his last minutes on earth were spent choking and gasping for air because a medical “professional” gave an unconscious man who couldn’t swallow a dose of liquid medicine, well, that anger is still with me, as well as my anger over the lawyers who said we had no case because he was so old his life had no value, legally speaking.


I’ve learned that now that he’s gone, some members of the family are not treating Mother the way he treated her, with love and respect, taking care of her until his frail body gave out. Her last months, or weeks, or days are not peaceful, her very large extended family are not flocking around her, and I have tried to make things better but I’m too far away and it’s breaking my heart. Here is a woman who devoted her life to her family being ignored, neglected, or treated as a nuisance. How can that be?  Gotta stop now, my eyes are leaking …

Well, I think I’ll end this now. It’s taken me a long time to put the words on the screen. Isn’t there a quote about “misery shared is misery halved”? I feel better now.

Aug. 5, 2010. I’m feeling better today, physically and emotionally, and I’m ready to add the part where there’s Light at the End of the Tunnel, and It’s Not a Freight Train, Every Cloud has a Silver Lining, Into Every Life a Little Rain Must Fall … I was thinking of a song Pete Seeger, one of my personal heroes, wrote years ago about aging. Pete’s in his 90′s now and still going strong, BTW.  The chorus is

“How do I know my youth is all spent? My get up and go has got up and went.

But in spite of it all, I’m able to grin, when I think of the places my get up has been.”

I have been to far away places with strange-sounding names that most people only dream  about -  China, Siam (Thailand), the Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia, Turkey, Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras,  England, Scotland, Wales …and I almost forgot the Arlo Guthrie Blundering through the Alps tour that sent my life in a whole new direction – Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy …

Copper Canyon, Mexico

Shirley, Arlo & Annie in front of the Matterhorn

I have worked on archeological excavations in some of those places, even though I never finished that dissertation.

I had wonderful parents, and my dad lived to the ripe old age of 89, and my mother is 89 aiming for 90. I have known love, even if it wasn’t forever, and I have two sons I adore, and four granddaughters any grandmother would be proud to claim.

I’ve done some writing that got published, and even got praised. I’ve got a job I enjoy, and I’m not likely to lose it before I reach retirement age, and I have good health insurance. Way too many Americans don’t have that security these days.

I’ve followed a different path than I’d thought I would, way back in my youth, and it’s been interesting and exciting and sometimes strange, but rarely dull. I’ve met some wonderful people, some famous, most not, who have become great friends. You know who you are, and I want to tell you how much your support and love and strength has meant to me through the years, through the good times and the hard times, and I know you will be there for me in the unforeseeable future, come what may. I might have a lot of years left, there may be a miracle cure in somebody’s lab at this very minute, or maybe not.  Whatever happens, I’ll still be able to look back and grin, when I think of the places my get up has been.

Latest news from my friend Connie, who keeps up with this stuff:

DefaultPotential Treatment for Pulmonary Hypertension Discovered

ScienceDaily (Aug. 11, 2010) — Researchers in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta are one step closer to a treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension, a potentially deadly disease.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the lungs, currently has only a few treatment options, but most cases lead to premature death. It is caused by a cancer-like excessive growth of cells in the wall of the lung blood vessels. It causes the lumen, the path where blood travels, to constrict putting pressure on the right ventricle of the heart which eventually leads to heart failure.

Evangelos Michelakis, his graduate student Gopinath Sutendra and a group of collaborators have found that this excessive cell growth can be reversed by targeting the mitochondria of the cell, which control metabolism of the cell and initiate cell death.

By using dichloroacetate (DCA) or Trimetazidine (TMZ), mitochondria targeted drugs, the activity of the mitochondria increases which helps induce cell death and regresses pulmonary hypertension in an animal model, says Sutendra.

Current therapies only look at dilating the constricted vessels rather than regression, so this is a very exciting advancement for the lab.

“In the pulmonary hypertension field they’re really looking for new therapies to regress the disease, it might be the wave of the future,” said Sutendra. “The other thing that is really exciting is that TMZ and DCA have been used clinically in patients so it’s something that can be used right away in these patients.”

Clinical trials are expected to be the next step. Michelakis is currently working with a college in the United Kingdom to have patients with pulmonary hypertension take DCA.”

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I just finished writing my most depressing and serious post, one it’s taken me six months to put down in words, about my New Reality. I’m not going to publish it yet, I decided to write about a Good Thing that just happened for our family a week ago. My grandfather, Thomas Ervin Stewart, used to tell me and my cousins what we considered tall tails about his grandfather, who rode with Capt. Rip Ford and Big Foot Wallace and fought Indians and did all kinds of heroic stuff. We were too busy playing Cowboys and Indians to pay attention, and oh, how we regret it now. It seems Great-great Grandpa Elisha E. Stewart WAS a true Texas hero, one of the earliest Texas Rangers. Yes, he fought and killed Indians, and my son asked if I thought that was so great, our having a fair amount of Indian blood ourselves, but that was the way it was back then. The Indians he fought were killing or kidnapping white settlers, torturing their victims … they just did not want to GET ALONG. Anyway, Texas would not have been settled if men like my Grandpa hadn’t done what they did.

Several months ago I saw an article in the Comanche Chief about the Cunningham family, who had a special Texas Rangers Cross ceremony for the five members of their family who had been Texas Rangers. I looked up the link to the Former Texas Rangers Association and saw that any former Texas Ranger could be so honored. I told my family about it, and we all agreed we should get a cross for our Texas Ranger ancestor. Then they all agreed I could be in charge. What does that always happen? I don’t mind, really. I dug into the research – my cousins Virginia, Betty and Mary Hart had already done the hard part, gathering the official documents that proved he was a Ranger, and pretty soon that cross showed up at my door. Now to plan the ceremony … I saw examples of elaborate ceremonies with people in period dress, men on horseback in buckskins, color guards … those were all wonderful and meaningful to the families, but I knew we had to get ours done fairly soon – Mother is at 89, and her health is not improving, so maybe she would be here in the fall when it’s cooler, or maybe not. She is the oldest living descendant of the line of Elisha E. Stewart & Ruth Wilkinson — James Isaac Stewart and Winfred Adeline Harman–and Thomas Ervin (sic) Stewart and Sarah Elizabeth Davis, and she knows how proud her father was of his grandfather, and she had to be there, so on July 25 a herd of Stewarts, including one descended from another of Elisha’s sons, who drove from Arizona to be there, showed up at the Salado Cemetery, Salado, Texas, to honor our hero. We’d been assigned our own retired Ranger, Capt. Carl Weathers, to participate in the ceremony and help as needed, and he and his friend Capt. Jack Morton helped way beyond the call of duty by digging the hole for the cross through 3 feet of rock.

Capt. Carl Weathers & Capt. Jack MortonCapt. Jack Morton and Capt. Carl Weathers, retired Texas Rangers and mighty fine men

Elisha and Ruth Stewart, Addie Harman Stewart, her infant "Buddy"

Here’s part of our Stewart clan:

Texas Ranger Cross ceremony

Part of the Stewart Clan honoring Texas Ranger Elisha E. Stewart

Our ceremony was short and simple, befitting the heat and the wishes of our family. My cousin, Rev. Mike Whisenant, opened with a prayer. I talked about Elisha and his family, then Capt. Weathers explained the purpose of the FTRA and told how the men of Capt. Ford’s Old Company paved the way for the Rangers who followed them. I read a quote from Capt. Ford’s memoirs talking about the bravery and honor of his men, and what fine citizens they’d all turned out to be. Capt. Weathers then read the Texas Ranger Prayer:

Capt. Weathers reads Rangers Prayer

Texas Ranger Prayer

Texas Ranger Prayer

Finally, my mother and Christi Stewart-Trenhaile, a descendant of Elisha and Ruth’s son William Melvin, unveiled the cross:

Velma Stewart Hornsby and Christi Stewart-Trenhaile

Velma Ruth Stewart Hornsby and Christi Stewart-Trenhaile

It was a moving and emotional time for us, but the best part was sharing our story with representatives from the Bell County Historical Society, the Chamber of Commerce, the Salado Village Voice editor, the head of the cemetery board, and other local dignitaries, and getting to know some new kinfolks and catch up with the ones we already knew. And I got to hang around with several heroes:

me and my heroes

Me and my heroes

Left to right: Capt. Jack Morton, Capt. John Aycock, Capt. Carl Weathers, Shirley Wetzel, Frank Irions Sr., U.S. Army ret.

cousins

Beth Stewart, Stephanie Ponder, Tawna Stewart Ward

The Stewart family and friends

Our story in the Comanche Chief, Comanche, Texas

Texas Ranger Cross for 3rd Sgt. Elisha E. Stewart, 1825-1900

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One might say each life is precious, and you can’t put a price on it. One would be wrong. I found this out when my father died, and we discovered that his life was shortened by inept care and one very wrong procedure that took him from us before his time. He did not go peacefully into that good night, but choking and fighting to hang on just a little longer.

On investigating nursing home neglect, wrongful death, and medical malpractice, I learned that his life was worth exactly nothing, legally speaking. If a person is young, rich, and/or with many years of productive life ahead, and if that person, or any person, lives in a state where live is valued and medical and nursing home personnel are held accountable for their mistakes, a life might be worth quite a lot. If one is old, middle class or less, and lives in Texas, like my 89-year old dad, it doesn’t matter that obvious mistakes were made, that he was so neglected by nursing home staff that he arrived back at the hospital so dehydrated and malnourished the doctor didn’t expect him to make it through the night. The doctor, I’ve been told, was furious with the nursing home, but 4 days later he was sent back there, without anyone asking us. A few hours later, he was back in CCU, a few days after that – you guessed it, back to the nursing home, even though he pleaded with the doctor not to send him, he was not strong enough to go back to “rehab.” Whether that was due to the doctor’s decision that he WAS strong enough, or whether, more likely, it was Medicare’s insistence  on freeing his hospital bed, I don’t know. What I do know that is he went to the hospital with a broken elbow just before Thanksgiving, talking and walking and doing well for a man of his years, and over the next month he got weaker and weaker until he rarely even woke up. I saw him on Dec. 23rd, and was delighted to see him not only awake, but sitting up in a wheelchair. I’d been praying for just one more Christmas, but that prayer was not answered. Early the next morning, Christmas Eve, shortly after my nephew spent an hour watching him sleep, struggling to breath, after watching someone on the staff do something my nephew thought was odd, and was told “Oh, he’ll be fine in a little while,” we got a call to rush to the hospital. Mother already knew what the news would be. When the ER doctor gently told her “we did all we could, but we couldn’t save him,” she said “I know.”

We coped as best we could. We thought maybe it was not a bad thing that he left us when he did, because most of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren had come to celebrate Christmas and got to see him one last time. We knew he was getting weak, and his mind was slowly fading away. We wished we could have been with him at the end, and we knew he’d been treated badly, but we accepted it.

Then the death certificate came. Instead of writing some vague cause of death like “heart failure,” the doctor spelled out 3 conditions that were directly attributable to the treatment and lack thereof he’d received. We were stunned, and Mother was heartbroken all over again. She wanted to sue, to make sure that what happened to our loved one and our family would not happen again. I thought it was an open and shut case. I thought wrong. I’m a librarian, and I know how to research. I found similar cases in other states where the surviving family members were awarded punitive and actual damages. One in Arkansas a few years ago was practically identical to ours, and the family received several million dollars (less the 40% to the lawyers, of course) But Texas is not Arkansas, or California, and the medical lobby is very powerful.

I started looking for a lawyer to take our case, confident I would find one who agreed it was a strong one. First I asked a friend, who has a very successful practice specializing in this kind of case. He listened, he checked with medical and legal professionals, and kindly told me he couldn’t take the case because there was little chance we’d win, and he didn’t want us to suffer any more then we already had by going through the pain of reliving his last weeks to no avail. By then I’d figured it out – at 89, his life expectancy was less than zero. It didn’t matter that he’d been taking care of my invalid mother, that he had a good life and many people who loved him, legally speaking his life was worthless.

My friend told me to seek a second opinion, so I tried one of those big television firms that promise to be on the side of the little guy, to fight and hammer and win … When I talked to a representative, I mentioned it started with Dad tripping and falling – “Where did he fall?” the guy asked, and I could virtually see “trip and fall case” lighting up his face. He was very disappointed when I said he fell at his home, but he politely listened and asked more questions. A couple of hours later I was informed they were so sorry for our loss but they couldn’t help us. That pretty much showed me the lay of the land, but a couple of weeks later, when I was visiting my mother in Dallas, I saw an add for a “Christian law firm” that made all the big promises the others did, but it was even better because they had CHRISTIAN values! I sent an e-mail to one in Dallas, and never even got a response.

It’s been almost 3 months since our dear daddy, husband, PaPa, uncle, friend, Christian, war hero Sterling L. Hornsby has been gone. We’ve given up on the lawsuit idea, but when we feel strong enough to go through the hurdles we will file a complaint against the nursing home. I decided to get his medical records so we could document what he went through, and did you know, if there’s anything potentially incriminating or derogatory in those records, the hospital, the nursing home, and the doctors don’t have to give that part to you!

What’s the point of this post? These are words I needed to put down in writing, and I hope this might prove of value to others as a cautionary tale. If you have a loved one in the hospital, or – especially in a nursing home – and if that loved one can’t speak for him or herself, try your best to be there as much as you can. I still regret leaving Daddy the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when I could see his breathing was bad and he couldn’t be woken up. I mentioned it to the nurse, who assured me he was fine, but after I left for Houston he was rushed back to the hospital as nearly dead as he could be. As it turned out, maybe it was good that I left, because the only time he got attention was when one of us pointed out something seemed wrong. Anyway, when I got back to Houston, I discovered the bout of “food poisoning” my mother had Thanksgiving night and the next 2 days wasn’t food poisoning, but the intestinal virus my dad picked up during his first hospital stay. It knocked me for a loop for 4 days, and I realized why he’d lost all his strength so quickly. I recovered, as did Mother, my brother, my mother’s nurse, and her neighbor, but he never did.

I wonder if I’d gone up and stayed with him that first week I could have made sure he had food and water, and he wouldn’t have gotten in such bad shape, but we were told he was doing fine. DO NOT believe that! The nursing staff might hate you, but you have the right to make sure they’re doing what they are supposed to be doing, and telling you the truth about the patient’s condition. Ask questions, and keep asking until you get the answers you need. Sure, I know, they don’t make much money, but that is no excuse for causing harm to the helpless people who depend on them for their very life. I always tried to speak kindly to them, and to the hospital nurses, telling them to take good care of him because “he’s the only Daddy I’ve got.” It wasn’t enough.

I guess I’ve said as much as I can say, and my heart feels a little lighter for having said it. Unlike most of my posts, there is no humor, no happy ending, to this story. For those who read this, I pray that you and your family will never have to find out that your loved one’s life is worthless, according to the law.

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The holidays were not kind to my extended family. My Aunt Loez Stewart, wife of my mother’s brother Bill, left us at Thanksgiving at age 92.  My Uncle Jewel Whisenant, husband of my mother’s baby sister Frances, followed soon after, shortly before Christmas. And in the early morning hours on Christmas Eve, that silver-haired daddy of mine took the Express Flight to Heaven.

Most of my cousins lost their last aunt and/or uncle during this sad time. Charlie, Sharon and Beth lost their sweet mother, Mike lost his dad, and Gwen,  Gary and I lost our father. Only my mother is left  – as Beth told her, “Aunt Vete, you’re the last ‘tater on the vine!”

Some of my cousins at my parents' 65th anniversary

Aunt Loez, Beth and Shirley

I adored my Uncle Bill and Aunt Loez – and their unique love story earned me my first money as a writer, with both a newspaper article and essay in a Cup of Comfort anthology about Uncle Bill’s “Two Dollar Wife.” He left us years ago, but last time I saw her, many of her memories lost to Alzheimer’s, she told my mother and me “Bill’s around here somewhere, giving me the devil like he always did! He’s still in the service, you know.” (Uncle Bill left the Army in 1950) Mother thought it was sad, but I knew Uncle Bill was probably right there with her, and it made her happy, and that’s what counted.

Uncle Jewel Whisenant and my dad were running buddies in their wild youth, before they went to war, married those Stewart girls, and settled down. Jewel had a true battlefield conversion. He was badly wounded in one of the big European battles, and woke up to find himself on a stack of dead soldiers, with a tag on his toe. A nurse heard him groan, and he was rushed into surgery. He’d been shot in the head and lost one eye, and a bullet hit him square in the heart. What saved him was the steel-jacketed Bible Aunt Frances sent him just before he went overseas. The bullet stopped in the chapter on Lazarus, where “the young man arose from the dead.” He was bigger – and louder – then life, and at his funeral all of the ministers he’d trained mentioned his frequent use of his favorite word – “Aaaaaamen!”  He and Frances and Dad and Mother were close friends, although Mother wasn’t much of a fan of his song writing/singing abilities.

Jewel and Frances Whisenant

S.L. and Velma Hornsby, Jewel and Frances Whisenant 2000

Looks like Daddy’s already got his wings, and Mother must be tired from listening to Uncle Jewel’s latest tune :-)  Aunt Frances died in 2005. During one of our last conversations, she told me confidently that “he’ll be following right behind me, he can’t survive long without me.”  Well, he fooled her … I could just see her standing at the door to Heaven, tapping her foot and asking “What took you so long?”  And she might have had a few choice words to say about all those church ladies who flocked around him, one of whom even proposed to him.  He politely turned down the offer. He might have had dinner with a couple of the ladies, but his heart belonged only to Frances. Also, Mother reminded him, when he said he was taking a lady to dinner, that her sister had threatened that if he did survive her and find another wife, she’d be sitting on the headboard glaring down on them!

And now for the greatest loss … I knew the day must come, and it did, but somehow I don’t feel that he’s really gone yet. I used to wonder how and when it would happen … Only suicides and prisoners on death row know the hour and the manner of their death.  I had hoped it would be like so many obituaries say “He died peacefully in his home, surrounded by his loving family.” It didn’t happen that way, but it was okay. I just talked to a friend who lost her dad a couple of years ago about that. She said she and her sister stayed with their dad all night, but when they left him briefly the next morning he slipped away. She said they realized he didn’t want them to see him leave – like my dad, they’re from that Greatest Generation, and want to be in control and to keep their family from going through painful events.  Dad wasn’t alone in those last hours, though. His grandson Kenneth, who’d been working all night, was on his way home at six a.m. He got to a crossroads and had to make a decision – turn left and go home to sleep, or right to the nursing home to sit with his PaPa. He went right, and sat with his grandfather for two hours, talking to him even though he never woke up. Shortly after he left, after mentioning to the nurse he didn’t seem to be breathing right, we got the call that Dad was being rushed back – for the third time in a month – to the ER. Mother was distressed as we hurried to get ready, but she said “he’s already gone. I knew from the beginning he wouldn’t make it through this time.”  When the doctor solemnly told her they’d done all they could, but Dad had passed away, she said quietly “I know.”

This is how I envision the scene when he reached Heaven’s Gates. St. Peter looked at him, said “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, I don’t even need to check the book. Go on in, there’s a whole bunch of people waiting for you.” The Pearly Gates opened, and he walked into his mother’s arms, holding her tight for the first time in 81 years. His papa was standing next to her, and he said “Son, I’m so sorry I had to leave you before you were even old enough to remember me, but your mama and I have always been watching over you, and we are so proud of the life you led.” His brothers and sister hugged him next, Aunt Genieve standing on two good legs, no longer bound to the wheelchair she’d used for most of her life. Then his little buddie Trent, forever almost five, came running and his PaPa picked him up with a big grin. Trent’s brother Jeremy came along at a more dignified pace, and all the other loved ones lined the street of gold that Dad followed to stand at the feet of his Redeemer. Daddy believed that, and I so hope it is what happened.

Pictured below: standing, left, Gurnsey, Grandma Bina, little Norman, Alec. The little dark-haired boy with the puppy is my father, Sterling L. Hornsby, and next to him is his sister Genieve. The other photo is Dad on leave from the Navy, early 1940′s, with his sister

Dan, his mother, brothers Gurnsey, Alec and Norman, sister GenieveDan and Aunt Genieve

Dad and Aunt Genieve

Dad loved his Minnesota girls, my son Baylor’s daughters Ashley, 15, and twins Amber and Autumn, almost 14. I kept urging him to get better because they really wanted to see him, and he would say he wanted to see them too, and he tried so hard to hold on. They arrived on Wed. morning, and we went to see him after lunch. He was sitting in a wheelchair, gazing at the Christmas tree in the lounge. His weary eyes brightened when he saw his girls, and everyone gathered around as a woman began playing the piano and the girls sang Christmas carols.  It was a special afternoon, and later on it began to snow, and it snowed all Christmas Eve – not so special for the girls, but Dallas had its first white Christmas since 1926. I think Dad arranged it so they’d feel more at home. Mother asked them to build a snowman in the same place their daddy and his little brother Jeff made one about thirty years ago.

Snow in November - Baylor, Jeff, Grandpa Hornsby

Dec. 25, 2009 Ashley, Autumn, Amber & Evelyn

The days passed in a fog. We did what needed to be done, with help from relatives, friends and wonderful neighbors like my new sister Fran. She’d been a friend to my parents for years, but this time she went above and beyond friendship. When she saw me struggling to get Mother, her wheelchair, and her oxygen bottle into the car that sad morning, she looked at my face, and my hands shaking as I tried to use the keys, and simply asked “Do you want me to go with you?” “Yes!” “Do you want me to drive?” “I sure do!’ She was our appointed chauffeur for the hospital, the private and open viewings, the funeral, and the military ceremony. She fed us and cheered us up and enlisted the other neighbors in helping and keeping watch over Mother in the days to come.  Fran, you will always be part of our family, and we all love you dearly.

Fran Gaconnier, chauffeur supreme

There were so many things to do, sometimes we’d forget why it was we were doing it. Daddy sent a few reminders – when I was standing, lost, in the middle of the kitchen floor that morning, a spice jar jumped off the counter. Later, my niece was startled by a leaping salt shaker, and my granddaughter swore she was nowhere near the glass that escaped from the dish drainer. Then the pennies started showing up, and the quarters, and the Mercury dimes, and the box of silver dollars – the location of that box is known only to Mother and me, so don’t be looking for it!  When I went to his closet to pick out his clothes, one of his ties appeared front and center – a blue tie with a design that said NAVY. Got it, Daddy! He looked so handsome, once we instructed the funeral director in how to properly comb his hair, his beautiful silver hair. His face was unlined, all traces of pain gone, only peace.

It was left to me to chose the photos and music for the DVD to be shown before the service. When the tech guy told me I could chose any songs I wanted, not just hymns, I knew just what to pick. Louis Armstrong’s version of It’s a wonderful world, Anchors Aweigh, fading into the Navy hymn, for the war years, Honkey Tonking by Hank Williams, and Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down by Kris Kristofferson were meant for his wild younger years, but somehow the music wasn’t quite in synch with the photos. When Kris sang “and the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for desert…” a photo of my nephew Rick holding his 8 month old son appeared – a bit of unintentional humor. Dad loved that song because it reminded him of how he used to be and wasn’t any more. Being a fan and friend of Arlo Guthrie, I had to include Someday, a beautiful and poignant song he wrote when his mother died. I ended with Alan Jackson’s When We All Get to Heaven, from the gospel cd we listened to the last time I took Dad to White Point Cemetery, where most of his folks are buried, for the annual meeting.

The funeral service was on New Year’s Eve. The people at my parents’ church made a huge lunch for the family, and we took home buckets of fried chicken. We also had fried chicken on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day … Mother hates fried chicken, saying she had fried too many in her life and would never cook or eat it again. The neighbor brought her some brisket, and we thanked him by sending him home with a bag of fried chicken.  The service was lovely. My cousin Mike, who had just buried his dad a few days before, gave an emotional eulogy and tribute to his beloved uncle, and Mother and Dad’s long-time friend Brother Tom Heath did the service. My oldest son Baylor read the poem his 13-year old daughter Autumn wrote for her GREAT granddad, and my youngest son Jeff ended the program with a hymn he wrote, inspired by his grandfather, called The Sailor.

Because of the great number of veterans being buried in the DFW National Cemetery, we had to wait until Monday, Jan. 4, for the burial service. Dad got all the military honors he’d earned, proudly serving his country in WWII and for sixteen years after that. We were met at the funeral home by the Patriot Guards, and I can’t say enough about how special these men are, and how much we appreciated their being there to escort Dad to his final resting place and to honor him for his service to our country.  It was a beautiful day, clear blue sky, but very, very cold and windy. It didn’t matter. The honor guard carried his flag-draped casket to the pavillion, performed the ritual flag folding, then presented it to Mother. She held up so well through everything until the bugler started playing Taps, and I went to her and held her as she cried.

Here are a few photos of that day:

Patriot Guard

Honor Guard

Mother receives the flag; Kenneth and Fran look on

One thing I’d worried about was that Dad couldn’t remember where his medals and ribbons were. When I started searching, I was guided to the suitcase and dresser drawers where they resided. In Heaven, everyone must have perfect memories again.

Dad's flag, medals and ribbons

From his grandchildren:

Beloved father, husband, grandfather

And to end on a happier note – here is Dad with his oldest granddaughter, Terri, her husband Larry, and the latest additions to the dynasty, their grandson Gage and his twin, Clare

Terri, Gage, Clare, Larry, Dad

Goodbye, dear Aunt Loez, I know you and Uncle Bill are causing a ruckus in Heaven, and Uncle Jewel, I hope Aunt Frances isn’t too miffed with you delaying your reunion for so long. And dear, dear Daddy, I wish you fair winds and following seas in Heaven. And in the words of Arlo Guthrie,

“Someday we will meet again, when we meet, our sorrows end

If you only knew, I’ll be there with you.”

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I just spent several days in western Massachusetts with some of my dearest friends, hanging out, catching up, and attending 3 mighty fine concerts in the Alice’s Restaurant Church, now known as the Guthrie Center. We were the test audience for the 9 month tour that starts in a day or two – the Guthries Ride Again. Last time Arlo hit the road with the wife and kids, his youngest, Sarah Lee, was a little girl. Now she’s all grown up and has two little ones of her own. So does big brother Abe and sister Annie. Cathy has one little girl, but I have a feeling the Guthrie clan isn’t finished yet. All of them, along with “adopted” drummer Terry a la Berry Hall-Guthrie, will be doing shows all across the country, so be sure to see them if they come to your town.

As part of our attempt to have mini-20th anniversary of meeting each other in the Alps reunions as possible (does this sentence make sense?) Judy B. and I posed in front of the church with Sherry Hochman Bouldt. Sherry was a kid back then, and she dragged herself out of a hospital bed to make the trip. Her mom Joyce and Grandma Pauline came too. We all fell in love with Grandma and she let us be her grandkids too.  Here’s Sherry, Judy, and me, photo by Jay Rury:

Sherry, Judy and Shirley at Guthrie Center Oct. 2009

Sherry, Judy and Shirley at Guthrie Center Oct. 2009

On Friday, Arlo couldn’t make the show because he’d hurt his back. People were offered a refund, but only a few took it. The rest of us enjoyed a wonderful show put on by the Guthrie kids & grandkids – even the littlest one, Sophia, got into the act – in fact, she stole the show. Arlo and Jackie’s littlest, cutest kid, Sarah Lee, took her dad’s role in keeping things more or less together, and a fine job she did! There were too many special moments to include, but here’s a few: The 3 Guthrie sisters singing an old Leadbelly song, “Bring me ‘little water, Sylvie,” Abe’s son Krishna, whom I’ve seen grow up, doing some terrific guitar solos, Cathy Guthrie, who looks like an angel, singing one of the songs from her Folk Uke album (Willy Nelson’s daughter is the other half of the duo, and the songs are not … hmmm … well, there’s adult content and language) – “Sh-t makes the flowers grow” – and the antics of the little ones … Annie’s daughter Jacklyn and Sara’s oldest, Olivia, did a song called “Cousins” and Sophia sang along on “Don’t I fit in my Daddy’s shoes.”

We laughed, we cried, we had fun. The 2nd night, Arlo was able to come on for half the show, walking with the help of a walking stick. You had to look really close to see that he was not feeling quit his best – he’s a trooper and a pro.  The third night, some of the twinkle was back in his eyes, and when it came time to end the show, he sang one encore, and we got ready to leave, then darn if he didn’t start singing another – “This little light of mine” – and then another.  He was smiling when he said goodbye to those of  us still lingering after the crowd was gone. So were we.

Deb Fitzgerald brought a video of her wedding to Arlo’s bus driver for many years, Dennis, who was a dear friend to all of us. We gathered in Sue Schier’s (the flower lady) room and watched it. They were married last summer. Dennis, who worked for the state during the winter, was working 24/7 to clear the roads during a bad blizzard in December, and his big heart just gave out. They did have some years together before they finally married, and I’d never seen him happier. She told us how she would only agree to marry him if Arlo performed the service (he is licensed to do so, but rarely does), and if they could get married in the Guthrie Center church, and that’s what they did. Arlo wore a Hawaiian shirt … As we watched, we laughed, we cried, we had fun. That was the theme for the time we spent together.

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Wavy Gravy is famously supposed to have said “If you can remember the ’60′s, you weren’t there.” That may be the case for you and many others of our generation, Mr. Gravy, but I do remember them, and I was there.  I kinda wanted to be a hippie chick, but my parents were strict, my college, Texas Tech, was in the middle of the Bible Belt, and my husband was a law student at Baylor University, then an Army captain, so my hippie plans didn’t work out for me.

Until August of 1989, when I answered the call from Arlo Guthrie to join him on a trip to Europe to avoid the commercialism and hype of the 20th anniversary of Woodstock. I wasn’t sure what might happen, thinking the other travelers might be aging, microbiotic-eating, shaggy-haired and bearded people with whom I couldn’t relate. I had am image of Arlo as a good guy, a hero of my youth, and I didn’t want to find out he had feet of clay. I took the chance anyway.  Boy, was I wrong on both account!

Shirley, Arlo and Annie, Matterhorn in the background

Shirley, Arlo and Annie, Matterhorn in the background

Thanks to Janet Alley, here’s a photo of some of my fellow travelers. The Japanese tourist, who look variously happy or terrified, weren’t part of our group:

Blundering through the Alps

Blundering through the Alps

Some of us tried to plan a 20th anniversary of our escape from the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, but we couldn’t pull it together. Instead, there were mini-reunions at various spots around the country. Here’s a photo of my mini-reunion at the WoodyFest with Judy B., Margaret Barton-Ross, T-Shirt Cathy and me – thanks to Shelley Caldwell for the photoshopping – note, this is still a work in progress:

Judy B., Margaret B-R, T-Shirt, Shirley at the Blundermaterhorn

Judy B., Margaret B-R, T-Shirt, Shirley at the Blundermatterhorn

The trip was the start of my new life. I met some wonderful people who are still my friends, and some I haven’t seen again but remember fondly. I discovered that Arlo Guthrie is who you want to believe he is, no feet of clay. And through him I did get to meet some amazing people – my guru, Ma Jaya, and my guru bai at Kashi Ashram, all of Arlo’s kids & his wife Jackie, a strong and fabulous woman, Kris Kristopherson, Richie Havens, and a bunch of other performers who came to the Indian River festivals in Florida in the early 1990′s. Oh yeah, at Thanksgiving 1989 a bunch of us reunited at Arlo’s Carnegie Hall show, and I got to go backstage, and one of my biggest heroes of all time, Pete Seeger, offered me some popcorn. I even met Wavy Gravy, who was standing in the pond at Kashi that represents the River Ganges, playing a ukelele and singing “The Old Gray Goose She Ain’t What She Used to Be.”   It was a surreal moment, and I’ll never forget it.

Twenty years ago, on the twentieth anniversary of the weekend that would change my life twenty years later (do the math) I was with Arlo & the Blunderites at a little hotel in either Austria or Switzerland. Some of us were sitting outside, when the hotel manager came out and said “Mr. Guthrie, we’re showing the Woodstock movie inside, do you want to watch it?” Arlo declined, but the rest of us decided it was a fine idea. The manager looked at Arlo, his hair now a reddish shade somewhat like a lion’s mane, and said “You know, you don’t look the same.” Maybe not, but he was the same inside, and still is, even though the dark curls are now all gray. Thanks, Arlo, for being who you are and for changing my life in such a good way.

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