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The Rest of the Trip

Since my son had been married in July and he had just started his job again, there was no reason for them to hurry off for a Honeymoon. They spent the morning returning clothes from the wedding and all the other tidbits of things that have to be handled. The four of us then headed to one of the two “entertainment’ destinations in that city. We went to the aquarium.

It was a beautiful day. The humidity was not quite as high as it had been before. The aquarium was situated on the shores of the East China Sea. Any time I am near a beach, the Crab that I am, I am happy. The place was crowded, but not exceptionally so. I enjoyed just taking our time and touring the exhibits. The clear plexiglass walk through was kind of fun watching all the animals swim all around us. It’s too bad it was so humid inside the tube that it was uncomfortable to stay long. Just watching my son and his wife was fun enough. Realizing that he was so grounded and not in a mood to pick a fight was even more priceless.

They had picked 9-10-11 to be wed because of some Chinese number reasoning. They were officially married on 7-8 so fortunately for my son, he should not have too much trouble remembering the dates. 7-8-9-10-11. Evidently it was a lucky day for weddings. However, not everyone could book venues on that day so there were still weddings happening on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

That evening my friend offered to take us out to dinner. We had a lovely meal, (another great George) and a good time just talking. Then we had a problem. They didn’t take Visa. My friend couldn’t pay for the meal. Fortunately, my son still had enough cash on him so we were able to leave the restaurant. We returned to the hotel and I used my debit card in the ATM to withdraw the amount to pay him back. Some how we got all our finances straightened out and the evening ended.

Fortunately, because of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Nathan did not have to return to work on Monday so he had an extra night with his wife. Monday morning the bus arrived to take him and his fellow co-workers back to work. It was quite sad to see him go so soon. We really hadn’t had much time to really visit. But on the other hand, it was nice because there was not much time to irritate him either. That is a good thing. I do not enjoy it when my son gets mad.

That night many of Julie’s family gathered to eat. It is a harvest festival, not unlike the American Thanksgiving. It’s an event  for good conversation and fun with the family. We were invited to join them. There was only one problem. It was on the fourth floor and the elevator was not working! We had to climb up three flights of stairs. Julie ran up to get some of her cousins to help us climb the stairs. Barb has arthritic knees and the muscle strength in my thighs has been severely sapped. Two people each came down to help us. I couldn’t get through to them that it would be better if I could hold onto the railing and pull myself up. I guess we created quite a sight.

Once again Julie was the only one in her family that spoke English so she was quite busy interpreting. They showered us with gifts again and I had a chance to tell them how much it meant to me to feel so accepted into their family.

Tuesday morning we had a late check out and then sat in the lobby for about an hour waiting for Julie and her mother to return from yet another wedding. Then we were off to the airport. Traffic was light. There was a World Economic Forum being held in Dalian and the government had ordered both Monday and Tuesday as traffic control days. Depending on the last number of the license plate, you were only allowed to drive one of those two days. I wondered if Americans would abide by that.

We headed for Beijing. We had three nights and two days. We had a tour of the major sites of the town and then headed to the Forbidden City where the Emperors lived for hundreds of years.

I was totally amazed. By this time I was able to walk all around without any pain. I was so thrilled. Taking myself off statins and substituting other supplements was helping tremendously.

Following that we went to a restaurant chain called the Peking Duck. They are kind of the equivalent of McDonald’s as far as keeping track of the number of ducks sold. Our certificate said the was something like the so many billionth duck! They serve every part of that duck, including the intestines which they actually did name chop suey. The trained chef makes 108 cuts in the duck. It was amazing to watch.

In the afternoon we traveled to the Summer Palace and walked around the grounds. On the dragon boat heading to the island I started a conversation with an obvious American. When I told her where I was from, she said another woman on the boat was from Fort Worth. She too was retired and last taught in a school two miles from my home!

The last major trip we made was to the Silk and Pearl Market. The large pearl market was being renovated. I can’t imagine what it looked like. This place was like the jewelry, clothing, toy, knicknack departments of Wal-Mart on super steroids. I have never seen such a place. Whole floors devoted to booth after booth of wares.

This is just one booth out of probably more than 100. As I walked around I saw a very pretty sweater. I was told the price and I said it was too much. I continued to walk. Julie stayed behind. When she caught up with me she handed me a bag. She had said to the clerk, “I’m Chinese. I know what this costs. Tell me what you want.” Believe me, it was significantly cheaper. If I get to go to such a market again with her, I’m packing my bag with space bags next time!

That was basically our trip. We did manage to have two wonderful massages while we were there and eat at a Mexican restaurant. The day we left we found a cab driver that actually agreed to take all four of us to the airport. There is a problem with drivers there. They prefer only one customer so they can pick up other paying customers along the way. It cost 10RMB plus a gas surcharge of 2 RMB for the extra distance. That’s about $7.20 for at least a 15-20 mile drive!

We had time in the airport to visit leisurely some more over coffee then it was time to board. It was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I’m not sure how I will manage it, but hopefully I will be going back some time next summer. I can’t wait to see my new family!

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An Anglo/Chinese Wedding Part 3

The day of the wedding finally arrived. The four of us went down to breakfast again and my son joined us at to our hotel (it was a five minute walk) around 9:00 a.m. It was the same strange serving as the day before. The restaurant was all set up for another wedding but they were allowing people to eat breakfast. We waited for the photographer and videographer and then returned to the room. When they arrived,  they proceeded to get all the pre-wedding pictures that are usually taken. We noticed that the air in Becky and Bob’s room was not on either. We opened the window but there was little circulation.

My son was already dressed for the day, but he had to undress for the pictures. They couldn’t take the pictures at the apartment because that was where Julie and her bridesmaids were preparing for the day. So…make believe time.

Nathan took off his shirt and tie and pretended to be putting on his undershirt. Then Bob helped him tie his tie. I think he took off and put on his socks and shoes as well, but I’ll have to wait  until I see the pictures. All this time both of the camera guys were shooting pictures of everything else that was going on in the room. It was really a crowded place.

Nathan had brought a bouquet (the first one) to the room with him because that was part of the tradition that he present flowers to his loved one. With all the people passing it around, it started to wilt rather quickly. Nathan called and was told things were not ready yet so we just waited around. Finally, we were given permission to go over to the apartment.

When we arrived, the place was filled with relatives. We could hardly walk around. Julie was in her first dress of the day. There were pictures of honoring grandmother and then me (it was the first time she was supposed to call me Mom.) After Julie bowed to us, we handed her red envelopes with money inside.

A young male cousin jumped on the bed, her parents prepared a basket of personal items to be taken to the groom’s home, a male cousin nailed up a red curtain for which I paid him. Nathan was barred from Julie’s room by the bridesmaids and then had to “fight” his way in to his love. He had to find her shoe and put it on her foot. He knelt beside the bed and presented the bouquet (further wilting had taken place). One of the maids and Bob (one of the groomsmen) sat with Nathan and Julie and ate dumplings and then all tried to feed him a dumpling at the same time. Her mother and aunts had spent hours preparing 400 dumplings for the day to feed the family. We all stood around and watched the proceedings. I later asked Julie what some of these traditions meant and she said she had no idea. It was just something they did.

Although the hotel had moved my friend and me by that time to another room, it was obvious that the room next door did not have air conditioning either. Becky and Bob were upset that they didn’t have a king size bed. There were not quite double beds instead. It was decided that as soon as the picture taking session was over we were moving to a different hotel. The Howard Johnson Hotel was about a block away from where the wedding was taking place. It was much nicer. The first hotel would have been acceptable if the A/C had worked. Now we were in a hotel, it turned out, that the A/C worked too well. Later that night, we got up around 2 a.m. and turned the A/C off!

That afternoon the entire wedding party traveled to the park for outdoor pictures of the entire group…all the bridesmaids and groomsmen, bride and groom. I don’t know if her parents went with them or not but by that time I was really losing steam. I opted to take a nap instead. As a result, I realized when the wedding was over that there were no pictures of me posed with my son and his new wife by ourselves. Oh well!

Thankfully there was enough time to recharge our energy and get dressed for the wedding. It had been warm and humid all day. By the time of the wedding, the weather seemed perfect.

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An Anglo-Chinese Wedding Part 2

When we arrived at the Beijing Airport, we had to transfer to another terminal to pick up our luggage. Things went smoothly since we followed the other people from our plane and the few signs that were in English. We were only on the train a few minutes. By the time we figured out where to pick up our luggage and went to the bathroom, we were among the last to go through the check in to get to the gate.

I was still carrying the $4.00 bottle of water I had bought in Chicago. Because the flight attendants were so good at offering drinks, I had only sipped about 1/4 of it. It was taken away from me and tossed. That’s the last time I buy big bottles that I won’t have time to drink.

The plane to Dalian was already boarding. We were supposed to meet friends of my son at the gate. They were coming from South China for the wedding. I spied someone looking around and smiling just as she got to the front of the line. She looked like her facebook picture so I waved. It was really strange when I got on board and realized my assigned seat was right next to hers and her husband’s. We had about an hour to get acquainted. I could understand why they and my son had become friends. I liked both of them immediately.

Julie’s family all turned out for the reception at the airport. There were probably ten people there. Aunts, uncles, cousins, parents…all had come to greet us. Nathan was there to greet us with bouquets of flowers. We hugged each other and I didn’t want to let go. I almost started crying. It’s hard to see your son only every 18 months or so. I had sent a message to Julie that I was looking forward to her calling me Mom. She hugged me and did just that. It sounded wonderful.

It had taken quite a while for our luggage to arrive. Nathan’s friends had gone out first. Becky was standing there holding a bouquet as well. I wondered why but didn’t say anything. Julie’s grandmother grabbed my hand. She is only about eight years older than I am but she is very strong and healthy. When we started walking, I thought she was preparing me for a marathon as we headed to the car.

The trip to downtown Dalian was really a trip! I didn’t see any accidents but I was prepared for one at any moment. Those people cut in front of each other with centimeters to spare. I get nervous when there are only a few feet in between me and someone cutting in. I was astounded at the drivers. Traffic was flowing freely, literally bumper to bumper. It was amazing. I tried to relax but I was glad when we stopped and I could breathe again.

We checked into the hotel. Nathan and Julie went with us up to the room and turned on the air conditioning and checked to see that everything was o.k. The other couple was in the room next to ours. Since it was about 10 at night there, we went to bed. About two in the morning, both of us woke up. It was getting warm. The a/c had been turned off. That even included the fan. We made it through the night and in the morning we opened the window to let in some air.

The breakfast was part of the charge for the room. Nathan and Julie joined the four of us. I had a couple of brown (soaked in tea) hard boiled eggs, some orange liquid that was supposed to be juice, and a variety of non-descript vegetables. After breakfast, a tour around Dalian by van was arranged for us.

Dalian is a lovely city…or at least it would be if there were not so much construction going on. I don’t believe we drove a single mile without seeing at least two projects. They took us along a road that bordered the coast. We could see the East China Sea in the distance.

Nathan and Julie had arranged for everyone to eat at this lovely restaurant. There were eight of us, including the two drivers who were giving us the tour. When we entered I saw tank after tank of fresh live seafood. We were taken to a private room upstairs and waited while Nathan and Julie went downstairs to pick out our food. It was our first exposure to eating Chinese family-style.

There was a large Lazy Susan in the center of the table. As the dishes began to arrive, they were placed there. The others picked up their chopsticks and began eating right from the dishes, one bit at a time. The last dish to arrive was a fresh fish (I don’t know what kind) who I called “George”…as in, “George, I knew him well….”. He was the first George. Before our trip was over, we had been served at least four more. I told the story about George Foreman and his sons to Julie. Each new fish now became another George. They were by far, in my opinion, the best part of the meal. I’m in love with Chinese steamed fish…heads and all.

After a rest back at the hotel, we met one more time for supper. This was kind of the “rehearsal dinner”. There is a popular restaurant chain called “The Hot Pot” where Becky, Bob, Barb, Julie, her parents, Nathan and I went. It was delicious as long as I, like the noon meal, didn’t ask too many questions as to what we were eating.

Unfortunately, when we got back to the hotel, we realized the a/c was still not working. Barb and Betsy went down to the desk. They thought that translators were being called. Instead, Nathan and Julie arrived. At that time of night, nothing was done. We had to sleep with the window open which meant the traffic noise was unceasing. We got little sleep. I was so proud of Nathan. He kept his cool the entire time he was trying to handle this. Here it was the night before his wedding and there were still things which needed attention. I smiled as I realized the calming effect Julie had on him. I could see the tension, but he didn’t explode. I fell in love with her even more so.

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An Anglo-Chinese Wedding…I was there!

In July I posted that my son had gotten married in Dalian, China. He did. But the wedding was scheduled for September 10, 2011. My childhood friend, who is my son’s godmother, and I were able to fly there for the wedding. She had enough frequent flyer miles to fly for free. My son loaned me the money for my ticket. It seems he chose the same summer that my air conditioner broke down and had to be replaced and hail damaged my roof to the point it needed to be replaced as well. The wedding fell in the middle of those two events and part of the foundation needing repairs due to the drought, a new crown needed for my tooth due to a cavity underneath it, and a dented car door. Life goes on!

I didn’t sleep much the night before I left. I never do. I was all packed and ready to go. I left my home at 6:00 a.m. to get to the Park and Ride. I can park my car for free and enjoy a relaxing back seat ride to and from the airport in comfort. I followed the mapquest directions until I came to the Belknap ramp split. I forgot to stay to the left until it was too late. I took the road to the right.

Instead of entering Belknap Street, I found myself wandering around an industrial area of Fort Worth in the predawn dark in an area I had never had any reason to visit. The streets were narrow and semi cabs were strewn along them. I presumed they were filled with truckers waiting for their loads. I came upon a freight train parked across the road. I had to maneuver my car around in a U turn. Next I came to a dead end road and again had to turn around.

I’m not certain how I did it, but I finally managed to follow my Garmin directions and pulled into the Park and Ride at 6:40 a.m. I thought I had been told to be there by 6:30 and was worried I’d be late. I was told the driver would be there to pick me up by 6:55. I sat down in the waiting room to let the morning’s adrenalin work its way out of my system. By 7:05 the driver appeared.

We said our good mornings and he took my bag to load into the van while I entered and buckled myself in. He sat in his seat and was just about to pull out when I realized I didn’t have my carry-on bag. Just in time I told him to “STOP!” and explained. He turned off the motor. I reentered the waiting room and found my bag right where I had left it. Thank goodness. Of course, except for the attendant I was the only person there so the bag was perfectly safe.

One must not be prone to anxiety attacks when driving from Fort Worth to the airport. One must leave at least two hours ahead of time to allow for traffic. I knew that. I knew my flight did not start boarding until 8:30 a.m. Yet it was difficult to keep that in mind as we inched ourselves the twenty five miles in bumper to bumper traffic along TX 121. Actually, the wait in the van equalled the wait I would have had at the gate. Check in and security were relatively fast and I was cleared to board. I had no more than fifteen minutes at the gate before I embarked on my newest adventure.

My friend and I met up with each other in Chicago. She had to start out even earlier than I. She flew from Florida to Houston and then to Chicago. Fortunately, she flew into Terminal B on Continental and had to find me in Terminal C. We originally thought we’d have to find our way to the International Terminal M, traveling by train, but luckily United had all its flights in the same terminal.

By the time we found each other, (thanks to cell phones) we had fifteen minutes to spare after having our visas checked (along with 500 other passengers). We once again boarded for our thirteen hour flight to Beijing.

I did not include my diary on this trip so I can’t report day to day but I’ll continue with the highlights of the rest of the trip tomorrow. Namaste. Attic Annie

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God was with them with no fires with the fireworks

It is the 4th of July…another day to celebrate our independence. Our freedom. Our desire to do as we please and let everyone else be damned. A day to assert once again that we know what we are doing and we’ll do it regardless of the consequences…so help us God!

Our village has a parade every year. It only lasts about ten minutes but it’s good clean fun. The boy scouts lead with the American flag. The fire trucks roll, the mayor sits in the back of a convertible wearing an oversized Uncle Sam hat. The citizens on patrol volunteers wear their uniforms and drive by in cars with the magnetic COP signs attached to their doors. Then there is an assortment of kids on bikes, kids in wagons, senior citizens on bikes, and, if we are lucky, the county sheriff’s mounted patrol…this is Texas after all. This is the first year where somebody actually thought about the gifts that horses often bring and decided to make the patrol the last entry in the parade instead of the first. It saves those that follow from breaking ranks and weaving around the piles looking like they started the celebrating a little early.

This day is the one day there is a possibility to actually talk to some of the neighbors. We all gather on the street to watch the parade go by. I wish I hadn’t had that opportunity today. It makes it a challenge for me to befriend this one family.

I asked the mother if they were going to watch the fireworks tonight. “Oh, we already had our fireworks. We have friends down in Joshua who have a house out in the country. We always go down there and set off a whole bunch for our kids.”

If you live outside the city limits in unincorporated areas there is no one to stop you. Now before you think what’s wrong with that…almost the entire state of Texas is under a burn ban. Except for a handful of East Texas counties, the whole of Texas is one big haystack waiting for that one match to set off unstoppable conflagration. We’ve already proved that to the west of us around Possum Kingdom.

She went on to explain that they had garden hoses to put out any fires and said the boys stomped out several of them before she even realized there were any lit. She sounded so proud that her boys knew how to handle fires.

What makes me upset is that the father of this crew is a very rigid Literalist Religion professor. He has home schooled his children and made certain they live to follow the rules of God more often found in the Old Testament with its rules and regulations with sinners and hell than in the New Testament love one another variety. He honestly believes that the world would be a much better place if everyone believed and acted just the way he does.

So what does he do? He defies the burn ban and actually teaches his children by example that following the letter of the law in the Bible does not include using common sense and following the laws of man.

Had the wind been blowing one or two miles per hour heavier last night, or had one of the rockets landed just outside the radius of the garden hoses there would have been much different results.

But then they knew God would take care of them. He always does. Namaste. Attic Annie

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For my “sister” Sue

I have not blogged in almost a month. During that time I have had to endure a number of events regarding my health and my heart mostly relating to the loss in my life. My last blog was written March 12 when I prepared to visit my cousin. She was the true sister I always wished I could have, not the sibling that I ended up with.

I did travel back to my hometown to see her. I stayed with another cousin from the other side of my family who was gracious enough to offer me a bed. Part of me wanted to stay longer than three nights, but the controlling part of me said my stay would be unwelcomed after that. I firmly believe in the saying “Fish and guests start to smell after three days.”  I can’t help it. I have to go.

I did see my cousin. I didn’t get the hours alone with her walking down memory lane refreshing our memories of our times together as I had so hoped. Our time alone was limited by others dropping in to see her. I was too tired to see her on Monday afternoon. The train ride was an event in itself that I will blog about some time soon. I spent the time visiting with my hostess cousin and her two daughters. I was the “girls'” first babysitters when they were newborns. Now they are in their 50s with grandchildren of their own. I hadn’t seen them since the mid 80s.

On Tuesday I did have about three hours with Sue while her husband ran errands. The time was filled much of the time by the hospice nurse. Sue napped and then the grandkids arrived after school. The next day about 1/2 hour after my arriving, a group of her friends arrived to hold a “birthday” party for her. They all left after a couple of hours except one who decided to visit. I tried to be subtle an hour later trying to get her to postpone her talking until she came back the following week. I pointed my head towards Sue and hoped she noticed that Sue had fallen asleep while she talked. She smiled and nodded and was quiet for about five minutes before Sue opened her eyes again.

I finally got up enough courage to ask her to come back. Sue and I had some family things we needed to discuss. She no sooner left than Sue fell asleep again. I let her sleep. Then the grandchildren arrived again along with one of  her sons who took off early to come see me, and her husband. I couldn’t force myself to say good bye. All I could do was say “Later”, kiss her forehead and smile as much as I could. I returned to the train station the following day. The next two weeks her son kept me informed by email of her status. I called her twice. Both times there were others in the house who had come to visit her and her husband. Our conversations were short. The last time she was on Vicodin and didn’t even sound like herself. I tried to ask her about her comments of seeing Jesus watching from the window. She said she was told it was probably just the drugs but she preferred to think what she saw was the real thing. I tried to ask her how he looked. “Was he dressed in modern clothes or was he traditional? ” I asked. “He looked like Jesus,” she replied.

Today a short service is being held for Sue along with a visitation. Sue transitioned Monday morning. She left me filled with regret that I had let so many years pass when we could have been closer somehow. I could have spent the money on long distance calls. I could have spent the time writing letters. I could have managed to visit her more often somehow. My life is full of could haves. Deciding to stay in Texas caused a separation that will never be filled.

Sue was there all the time if I had bothered to reach out. But I was a very busy teacher. I was a single mother. I spent ten years with CFS and fibromyalgia. I didn’t enjoy writing letters. She was a busy wife and a busy mother. She was very active in her sons’ lives. For several years she struggled on her own life path until thirteen years ago with an addiction. Her time was also filled.

Since I retired seven years ago I had the time to get closer. She had a plan that allowed for much cheaper long distance so she would call me. She finally got a computer so we could email. We saw each other at our cousins’ reunions and I visited her several times. We finally bridged the gap between us and became closer.

There is a guest book on line. I’ve been following the entries. People from many surrounding communities are leaving comments. Sue was quiet and unassuming. But the people who got to know her found a treasure. She, because of her life experiences, became quite a counselor to many others. She was always there with her brownies and cookies and casseroles whenever she felt there was a need.

I think she always felt “less than” because she didn’t graduate from college. She had some problems that I cannot remember ( I was in college myself at the time) and ended up with having to take one more course to complete her requirements for her B.A. I don’t remember the whole story but she called it quits instead of enduring that last semester. The world lost a great early education teacher. She taught in a private school for a few years then became a full time mother, never returning to college to obtain the needed piece of paper. Sue would have filled the love tanks for many children. She was just that kind.

Now Sue is gone. I tried several times to write this blog but it always ends up the same way. I type until the screen turns blurry and my nose starts to run.

I did not intend to blog today about this topic, but here it is. The idea for today will have to wait. This is in honor of Sue. She was the one person I could count on to read what I had to say. She seldom replied on the blog but we would talk about things I had written on the phone. She was my cheerleader. She was disappointed on days or weeks when I stopped writing, saying she missed her “Blog fix”. She was an avid follower. Many times I wrote just for her opinion. Somehow blogging knowing she is no longer reading does not seem the same.

She will be missed. She was one who did not hide her candle under a basket, even though her candle in many ways was a small one. It still gave out great warmth to those who found it. The world is a little bit darker this week. People who knew her will think of her and their hearts will feel a little bit heavy. They will sigh and swallow and perhaps shed a few tears. God, if only all of us could leave the world the same way. “Later, Sue.” Namaste. Attic Annie

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On the Road again…can I travel it again so soon?

I have several cousins and a sister, but there is only one left with whom I am in contact with very often. She was three years ahead of me in school. When we were very young, we played together frequently. This blog is not necessarily in chronological order.

I can’t remember walking the mile home from grade school with her very often because she moved on to high school after my fifth grade year, but I know we did.  My sister graduated to high school when I finished second grade so my cousin took over the job of walking me home safely.

One day she tripped and got some cinders in her knee. The whole village was a massive coal area. We could never fall down anywhere without skinning our knees and ending up with black flecks forever embedded in our skin. She kind of limped the last four or so blocks to my house and I took her upstairs to the bathroom. She sat on the landing with her feet on the steps while I washed the injury and applied the Watkins petroleum jelly. Why would I remember that? Because she thanked me and told me I did a good job helping her. I didn’t hear praise in my house. I tended to remember those moments.

She was much more a sister to me than my biological sibling. I can remember a few things from our childhood. I was a semi-frequent dinner guest. I believe it was in fourth grade when I was sitting at the table using my spoon as a shovel. My aunt noticed and made the comment, ” Aren’t they teaching you ANY table manners at home?” The truth was that, no, no one was paying much attention to me in any area of my life. I think she was more frustrated with the absence of any parenting but I took it as a failure on my part. I remember feeling my face turn hot and glancing at my cousin who just kind of put her head down.

We would play in the living room with my cousin’s toys while her mother played the piano. I used to love to listen to her playing and signing.  We played in her bedroom. One day I attempted a summersault and my heel hit her in her chest. It must have been when she was first aware of becoming a woman. She said, ” If I can’t breastfeed my children because of this, I’ll never forgive you.” She clutched her hands to her chest. That was my first lesson in female biology. I had no idea what breastfeeding was about. I never asked her about that when we were older.I carried that guilt and fear that I had permanently injured her for years.  She has two sons in their forties. I guess their infancies turned out alright.

For the earlier part of my childhood the road ended after her house. There were many wild berry bushes and we would spend many summer hours picking those berries. Eventually the road was constructed through the berry patches and across the ditch to extend it another couple of blocks and new houses were built further down the road and the wild berry picking days were over.

We made mud pies together in her back yard when it rained. Her dad also had berry bushes back there and we would pick the sweetest red raspberries and blackberries and take them into the house. We’d set ourselves down at the table and eat those berries with sugar and whole milk and think we were in heaven.

Her mother saw to it that I had a few outings since there was no one at my home all week who would take me anywhere. I remember the sled trip to the park and sliding down the hills. I also remember attending the children’s theater held in the auditorium of the junior high school. There were 3 D movies and trips to the drive-in complete with sacks of popcorn popped on the stove by my aunt.

Her parents gave her a 45 rpm record player and she had at least a couple of Elvis Presley records that we would sit on her bedroom floor and listen to. She began playing clarinet and I would listen to her practice. Her first three years of high school we didn’t really do that much together. Then when I was a freshman and she was a senior, we were both in band and she would provide the transportation to band events. Afterwards we would drive into the south side of Peoria and go to something called a drive-in where we bought a 15c hamburger, 10c French fries, and a 10c coke after the games.

Too soon she was off to college out of town. We wrote letters occasionally but seldom saw each other. Then I was off to college too. She married and within a year or so had a son during my final year of college. I visited her once and we sat on the swing of the house she and her husband were living in. We’d see each other at family gatherings maybe a few times a year but at that point we were leading separate lives.

She and her husband built their own home while her two boys were still quite young. She was leading her married life and I was the single 70s teacher. Our lives couldn’t have been much further apart. I married, moved away, and wrote once in a while to her father who would relay news between the two of us.

The last time I saw her for many years was at a family Thanksgiving when my son was not yet two months old. The two of us took a walk after lunch. I confessed to her I felt  that having my son was the only thing I had done right in the world. I could tell her that because I knew she would understand.

I guess it was about fifteen or so years ago when the cousins started to meet every two years for a family reunion. She and I gravitated towards each other once again. The only reason I would go would be to see her. Somewhere along that time line something was developed for mass communication called email. She was reluctant to get a computer but was finally yanked into the end of the 20th century. Long distance rates plummeted to where they were reasonable and at last cell phones.

We had ways of communicating now that kept us in touch far more often than before. We became close again. Sometimes I think we are closer now than we have ever been.

Some time in the not too distant future that closeness will end. She had breast cancer about three or so years ago and every year was a milestone that it didn’t return. In some people the effects of the chemotherapy and radiation she endured causes an aggressive form of leukemia.

She called me a few of days ago to tell me she was going into the hospital and about all the aggressive therapy they had planned for her. She called me last evening. I had planned to give her a couple of days to get into the routine of the hospital stay before I called her but she beat me to it. Her voice sounded more firm and energetic like she had already gotten some energy back. She told me that there was a 40% chance that she could go into remission. I thought that sounded somewhat positive because she had fought so hard during her earlier chemo days. Then she said there would be a 15% chance that it wouldn’t reoccur. It dawned on me suddenly what she was telling me. She said she checked herself back out of the hospital and would be spending the rest of her days with her family.

I just walked down this same road with my oldest childhood friend whom I lost in November. It is not going to be easy. I promised I would giver her time with her family before I flew back up to see her and spend time with her. She talked about the peace and calmness that her decision gave her. She’s ready. I’m not. I’ve got to work on that so when I do see her we don’t spend the time crying. I’m hoping she can provide me with some memories I have forgotten. We make each other laugh all the time. That is my prayer that when I see her we will laugh until we cry one more time.

 

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