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Posts Tagged ‘parents’

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 …

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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.

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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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CPO Sterling L. HornsbyI spent the last few days in Dallas, helping my mother while Dad was in the hospital yet again for another painful and debilitating health problem. He’s 87, and the last few years have been hell for him, and for the rest of the family too. He was always strong and healthy and used to being the head of the household and taking care of everybody. Now it’s time for him to let us take care of him, but he just can’t let go, and it’s breaking my heart. I finally got him to promise he’ll quit driving – that was a Big Thing, long overdue, his last grasp on freedom, and I know he’s really hurting if he’s ready to give up the car keys.

I know he and Mother don’t have too much longer in this world, and we certainly can’t say they didn’t have long, full lives, but it’s still hard to realize the end is near. What I never wanted for them was to be in the shape they are in right now — physically almost helpless, in Mother’s case, and mentally drifting in Dad’s, without enough money to make their big old house safe and comfortable or to hire full-time help, but with too much to qualify for government help. Enter the V.A. Aid & Attendance pension we’ve been trying to get for them, if we can figure out exactly how.

My dad served 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941, on the U.S.S. Elliott. His ship was one of the few that were out on training exercises when the attack happened. His best friend John P. Lynch, who’d joined up with him, found out when their ship got back to port that his brother was lost on the Arizona. The Elliott later took part in the battle of Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands. He changed to the U.S.S. Lowndes in Aug. 1944, married Mother in Long Beach on Oct. 4, 1944, and then shipped off to the Pacific, where the ship took part in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was so proud to serve his country, and it’s time for his country to serve him back.

What’s the next step? We need to file the papers for the pension, and then wait up to 6 months for approval. Some of the family members think they should move into assisted living, me among them. Others, like my “disabled vet” brother, who’s been sponging off them for years, are against it. Gary is truly physically disabled, although not nearly as severly as our mother, who continued to cook for him up until last week when she just couldn’t do it any more. He served in Vietnam, but not in combat. His main disability is his refusal to take responsibility for himself. It was only because I took him by the hand and walked him through the application for disability that he has any money at all, a small V.A. pension because he is disabled and served ina war zone. My subsequent attempt to help him were met with hostility, and I’ve given up. Luckily our sister Gwen still likes him. When we had our first Family Meeting 4 years ago, he let it be known that he planned to stay on in the family home when our parents are gone. Nah-uh, said we all. The house, if it isn’t sold to pay for their care, is left to the 3 of us and will be sold ASAP after Mother & Dad depart. He doesn’t have enough $ to keep it up, and at almost 100 years old it needs a lot, so he’s gonna have to make other arrangements. I knew how bad the situation had gotten when I saw Gary actually cook something for Mother – he sees the writing on the wall. My oldest niece, a bossy young lady, says they’re only staying in the house so they’ll have something to leave us. I say we don’t need no stinking inheritance. Gwen & Gary have pretty much already used up their share, and I can get along fine on my own. Dad has some savings, not much, he was saving for a rainy day. Dad, look around, it’s pouring! Use it on yourselves already!

There is a lovely facility where Dad stayed for a couple of rehabs after surgery, and he likes it. Mother doesn’t want to give up her home, but she’s almost blind, can’t keep up with her meds & insulin shots, can barely bathe, has severe pain … the home health care she’s finally gtting is not enough. I know she’ll like the apartment, and she likes to be around people, she just hates the idea of leaving her home and her stuff for the unknown.

My dear son Jeff went up to see them while I was there. He was almost in tears afterwards, seeing them in such a bad situation. He has taken up his dad’s role as caretaker, but he doesn’t have his dad’s funds to really help at a material level. He’s going to take charge of the V.A. process, and do all the other things he can think of to help. What a Good Boy he is. I told him I’m making it easy for him when my time comes – I’m already getting rid of some of my stuff, and I will head for the Old Folks Home as soon as possible.

Onward through the fog …

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