Archive for February 2011

Salad, Secretariat, & a Dash of Sad

February 27, 2011

Steve's Spinach Salad

You might be asking, “What’s she writing about now?”

Well, I don’t blame you. I wasn’t sure myself until last night. I had some ideas, but nothing was coming together and hadn’t for the past several days. So I slept on it. That’s one of my sure-fire methods to get to the heart of what’s bothering me whether it’s a personal problem, a memory problem, or a writing problem.

And this morning, I knew what to do. Of course it helped that the sun was trying valiantly to peak through the ever present cloud blanket that’s been hanging over our area for most of February. 🙂

So first the salad. You’ve glanced at the photo. I snapped the photo. My oldest son made the salad. It will always be a memorable one: obviously the fresh spinach was a base—never would I have believed he’d be using fresh spinach based upon his childhood eating habits where green wasn’t something that thrilled him. Then hard boiled egg whites, a few bits of crisp-fried bacon, a mustard-sour cream-egg yolk dressing, all were carefully placed to look appetizing.

It didn’t disappoint.

The occasion was a family dinner we decided to have the evening after my other son, Jimbo’s funeral. The main course was his favorite meal, steak au poivre.  Jimbo never missed a meal if he knew that was on the menu. If for some reason he couldn’t be here, he made sure to stop by the next day for his leftovers. Despite the sadness of that reason for gathering, we had a great evening and a fantastic meal. Jimbo would have loved it, including the spinach salad.

I will treasure this photo always because it will remind me of that evening.

How does Secretariat, or Big Red, as he was often referred to come into this?

From the movie

Well, last night my husband and I finally got around to watching the movie.  Secretariat was a special kind of horse. His records still remain. His owner and others believed in him when most of horse racing didn’t. The movie had some sadness in it since the deaths of Penny Chenery Tweedy’s parents caused her to become more involved in the family business. Death is sad. But it doesn’t have to stop others from living. In Mrs. Tweedy’s case as for others around her, those deaths and the birth of the red foal provided new meaning and directions in their lives. There’s a powerful message there for me and others.

No, the movie wasn’t great by awards standards. But it was heart-warming and had a message. I got it. I’m not sorry I watched it.

And that comes to the third element of my blog title—a dash of sad.  SAD is a disorder that affect many people in low-light, dreary climates during the winter. Sad is an emotion that all of us have at one time or another.  It is not a disorder. In fact if we are truly living our lives, we must expect to encounter sadness and deal with it. I realized over this past week that sadness is like the spices I have in my kitchen, the ones I cook and bake with. If I didn’t have them, I’d have no chance of being adequate at either. Sadness is like the pepper that makes Jimbo’s favorite meal the great dish it is. Or the bacon and spinach flavors melding together to form the great salad. It’s the salt on fresh popcorn, the nutmeg in my pumpkin bread.  We need sadness. It can be the motivator that helps us move on or create something worthwhile. It can be negative if we let it overpower us or control us so others avoid us. Think garlic here.

Lake Michigan Break;up

So I’ve had another dash of sad in my life. But I’ll not dishonor my son by letting it turn bad. I’ll use the sadness to make me stronger and better. Sure I’ll be sad sometimes, but in a good, positive way. After all, winter is leaving us. I can see it do so on our lake.  Like winter, the mourning part of sadness is drifting away; the good memories remain. And spring will come again soon.

What do you think?

A Family Time Capsule

February 20, 2011


My Mom & Dad--photo found in drawer

This past week has been a busy, hectic and emotionally draining week. My oldest son Steve lives in Alaska, and he was able to extend his stay to help me go through Jimbo’s home after the funeral. I took advantage of the extra help, and we managed to clear out all the dresser drawers, desks, closets, cabinets, cupboards, and cubby holes. It was a gargantuan task. Without help, I’d be working at it for months. But it’s done now.

We sorted, organized, pitched, sent to Good Will, took things to the dump, filled at least 35 huge black trash bags with general garbage and recyclables. We dispensed to friends and family the items we knew they would want and/or Jimbo wanted them to have. We also filled several boxes of things I need to go through. Right now those boxes are in my living room where I can empty them at my own pace and not be surrounded by everything that Jimbo touched, used, lived with for the last twenty years.

I discovered some traits about my son. He was a packrat. Although the family knew him to be frugal, we found that he owned fishing equipment enough for ten fishermen. He had drawers full of socks, underwear, and closets stuffed with clothes, jackets, boots etc. e kept every receipt  He kept every receipt for even minimal purchases. For example I found receipts for 6 donuts, two cups of coffee and a loaf of bread. Now why would anyone keep such a receipt? For 10 years? But that was so Jimbo.

And photos. I have 8 large photo albums staring at me plus 2 full boxes and a shopping bag full of loose photos. Some photos are in beautiful frames and very old—of people I’m not sure who they are. Others I know and so did Jimbo, but he wasn’t even born when many of the photos were taken.

Which gets me to the title of this post. The time capsule.


Aunt Gertie--Jimmbo's godmother, found in box

Among the detritus we found treasures. Jimbo bought his home twenty years ago from my mother. Mom was moving into an apartment and left a lot there for Jimbo to use. Or throw out. Or store. We found the very old, circa 1940s hand clippers that my father owned and used to cut all my brothers’ hair. We found the Bible that was given to my father’s family when his mother died. We found a very old, glass oil lamp in perfect condition, a photo of Jimbo’s great aunt and godmother as a young girl—judging from her hair style and clothing, early 1920s. I found newspaper clippings of my grandfather’s untimely death while snow shoveling in 1959 and pictures of factories no longer standing. I also unearthed the cheap cardboard manger which held the nativity scene our family put up every Christmas when I was little.

Nestled right near his modern archery equipment and hunting gear were my dad’s very old arrow quiver, his hunting gear, old and antique arrows and bows. We found pieces of very old mismatched sterling silver flatware. Obviously they belonged to someone in our family, but I have no idea who. Stuck far back in a closet was a punch bowl and cups, not glass but porcelain with hand-painted designs. I’m stumped. I don’t ever remember seeing that, but some female relative must have loved it and passed it on to my mother.

On his nightstand, Jimbo still had the rosary he’d taken from my mother’s bedside after she died. Also in that room in a place where his eyes would often  glance up to it was a framed collage of photos of Jimbo with the woman he loved and lost.

Grampa Dieter, Jerry & Mary Jo

Yes, his home was a time capsule—one that allowed me to stray down memory lane while being poked into finding out more about our family and our history because of things we found and don’t recognize.

So many times this week as my son Steve and I worked through each closet, cupboard, drawer, or desk, I thought about how these past few weeks have impacted me, how I’ve thrown out my emotions in the words I’ve written in these posts. I know that in some manner what I write will be affected. I know who I am, the essence of me, has been further tempered and forged. I may have been strong before, but now I’m more so.

Thank you all for being my sounding board.


A Most Unexpected Ending

February 13, 2011

Icy Cove

I filled this past week with busy work in preparation for my son Jimbo’s memorial service. As I shifted through many lifetimes of photos—my parents, mine, my siblings, my sons—I was searching for the photos that would best depict Jimbo in all of his phases, in all of his moods.

With each photo I reviewed, I triggered memories. Some good, some not so good, such as the photo showing Jimbo all bruised and cut up. Riding his bike home from work (he was saving money to buy a car), he had an accident which landed him in the ER. That late night phone call wakened me and off I rushed to the hospital. When we brought him home a day later, we took photos of him in case we needed them for any reason. And maybe just to remind ourselves that he was so lucky not to have life-threatening injuries.

I found the newspaper article and photo taken of him at about age 9 with his grandmother and great-grandmother. The occasion was Grandparents’ Day at school, and he was handing them cupcakes after the program. It was during that same year that Jimbo would wait for me at the bus-stop where the bus from Madison dropped me off on Fridays. I was going to graduate school then and didn’t take a car to Madison. On Sundays he’d ride with my mother as she drove me back to Madison for the next week of classes. He never missed a trip. And his loving me and seeing these activities as his “responsibility” (“making sure you get to school”) made me realize every moment I was in class how important it was I do my very best.

On Friday evening we had our Memorial service for Jimbo. All the picture gathering, snipping, placing, and gluing were worth it. Just as going through the photos jump-started my memories and a few tears, they did the same for the many friends and family gathered for the service. Jimbo’s boyhood friends, former coworkers, neighbors from areas we lived when he was growing up as well as new neighbors—all showed up on a snowy, cold evening. They shared their memories. The photo collages and artifacts of a busy life cut short too soon prompted many others. Everyone agreed the essence of Jimbo’s spirit watched over our sorrow.

But the imp in him showed up.  Once the service ended, the food was eaten, and people eased away into ebony night, we started gathering up those collages and artifacts. Those doing so insisted I not worry about it, they’d get it done. And they did.

Once we got home, in a heavy snow squall of short duration, got our youngest son (whose wheel chair gets cranky in snow), carried in those collages and artifacts, my husband and I settled down for a quiet reminiscing about the service and all the memories and emotions stirred during those hours. My eyes scanned the room, the box of artifacts, the bags of cards etc, the foam-board collages, but I didn’t see the simple, beautiful, hand-crafted wooden repository with Jimbo’s ashes. We rechecked our car.

Icy Lake Quilt

No Jimbo.

I called my son who had the other car. Was Jimbo with him? “No, Mom; he’s with you.” I called my brother and Jimbo’s biological father. I got the same response.

Jimbo was AWOL.

Frantic, I called the funeral service. Yes, Jimbo had been left behind. We could pick him up in the morning. I breathed a sigh of relief and then I laughed. So like him. He wanted another night at the lake, where the fish always bit, where he’d catch his limit, where he found his peace after a day of work.  When I repeated my earlier calls, I got lots of laughter too. Everyone had the same thought.

So Jimbo. So fitting. So missed. So loved. I hope he’s caught some heavenly record-breaking musky since he’s died. I also expect he’ll pull a few stunts wherever he is. He may even slip quietly into a dream some night to let me know how he’s doing.

About A Son’s Death

February 5, 2011

Jimbo 3 months

This past week I discovered yet another link to my mother.  In the space of a few months she buried her two adult sons. As her oldest child I worked with her to move through her grief. So did the rest of her family and her small group of remaining friends. My mother was in her 80s when this happened and her circle of friends, siblings, and cousins had diminished.

Five years prior to these deaths, my second son (age 37) had died right before Christmas. She often told me at that time she didn’t know how I could stand the pain, but I should be strong and pray to the Lord. I would find the courage to accept. I repeated those words many times to her as she mourned them. And she prayed I would never have to bury another child in my life.

This past Wednesday during the worst blizzard our area has encountered in many years, my third son suffered a cardiac event. I got a call from the ICU doctors who asked about instructions and fortunately, I had Health Care Power of Attorney and his written end of life requests should those ever be needed. I certainly couldn’t get out in the storm but the wonders of technology allowed me to fax the information.

My son survived the next 24 hours which allowed the storm to eventually leave our area and for us to (sort of) get dug out. Putting my SUV into 4-wheel drive I gunned through the 4 foot drift slammed up against the garage door and headed off to the hospital despite the dangerous conditions on the road. You do not keep a mother long from her critically ill child—no matter what his/her age.

When his nurse and doctor walked into his room with me on Thursday, I spotted my son on the bed, all hooked up to various machines, busy bleeping, blipping, and flashing. I went over to him, took his hand in mine, touched his cheek, spoke his name, talked with him a bit, squeezed his hand several times—and got no response at all. In my heart I knew my son with the gentlest of hearts, a sensitive soul, beautiful hazel eyes, had lost his battle. He really wasn’t there.

Winter 2003

Then the doctors and nurses talked with me and explained their findings. They didn’t have to tell me. I knew. He was gone. To be with the grandparents he loved, his brother, his uncles and great-aunts.

I’m glad I gunned my SUV that morning. I had some hours with my son. To sit and watch as he moved into another realm. To talk to him of those waiting for him. To tell him how I loved him—as we all did.

His name was Jim, but he preferred Jimbo—a nickname his father gave him the day he was born. It stuck. He was my beautiful, big, onyx-haired baby boy who grew into a man who worked hard all his life and watched out for others. He had his demon—alcohol. In the last few years of his life that demon took Jimbo from us, his family and friends, the healthy, happy, dry-witted man he had been.

My mother and I once again have a connection. I will have buried two adult sons. Right now I’d love to have my mother’s arms around me, whispering her encouraging words. I give thanks for all those around me who are reaching out in comfort. I can use it. My mother is not here any longer.

I will get through this.