I’m back on home soil – North Carolina, that is – and most of the past week has been a blur.
My dad has been only too glad to share historical points that have eluded me over the years. He seems to enjoy the diversion (me, too) and the instructional chance for his grandkids. We either set aside the information now or we lose the chance. What has been gleaned is beginning to re-surface in the weekly letter. My guess is this ‘knowledge sharing’ will go on for some time to come.
My brother and I have uncovered a trove of family artifacts; photos from as far back as early last century on through the ’40s, my dad’s early report cards (“we’re glad to have him here as a student” said one teacher), his war records including his pay stubs ($3 extra for a B-17 mission is hardly hazard pay), my mother’s baby book created in the late 1920s and early 1930s, plus more. When I was younger, I would not have given this much of a second thought. We can look much of this up online, but it’s far more fun to have it in your hands.
Here is last week’s letter to Ellen and Reid.
June 6, 2010
Ellen/Reid: I’m at the keyboard of your grandparent’s PC. The house is pretty much empty in the major rooms, all of it having been moved to the new spot out in west Omaha.
Your grandparents seem to have adapted grudgingly to their new surroundings. Your grandfather is, I think, more okay with things than your grandmother who asks me over and over “when can we go home?” She has her moments of clarity and her moments of agitation. She is in the current room that we signed up for before your grandfather had his intestinal surgery. Grandpa is in a completely different recovery wing. But we move her on Tuesday into the ‘memory unit’ for those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or stroke-related memory loss owing to her being found roaming outside last week. It’s going to be a battle because they require that she stay in the contained unit – no potential for escape – for a solid two weeks to become used to her surroundings. The rules say no visitors. It will be tough for her. Your grandpa knows this will come down and he acknowledges, too, the difficulty. He can use the time to rest up and tend to his own needs. We’ve told both of them time and again that at least they are in the same facility. They limit the amount of items she can have in her new room. Only a certain number of clothes, towels, etc. She was short on bras, and trust me you haven’t lived until you step up to a check out line at Target to buy your 84 year old mother two 36-D bras. She did see some of your wedding photos, Ellen, and that was a moment of joy for her.
Your grandpa isn’t faring too well. He’s retaining a lot of liquid – edema, they call it – and that’s a residue of both the cancer and the bowel surgery. He’s very weak, and there’s no way in hell he could have possibly card for your grandmother. He slept a fair amount yesterday and we watched some golf on TV. He has no appetite and at most can eat a couple of bites from an already small portion on his plate. They have ice cream available 24/7 which I try to tempt him with but he will have none of it. I gain weight, he loses it. It was heart wrenching to watch the nurse undress him tonight to put on his PJs. He literally is skin and bones.
We’ve talked at length about his final arrangements. He wants a military internment whereby an honor guard does the final salute followed by a memorial service at their church. We picked out his clothes and put a timetable to the service. We talked about the main points for his obituary. He’s trying to prepare us as best he can. It’s odd being in a chair next to his bed as we calmly talk about this although it is probably a good thing. There are moments of great difficulty for me but for the most part I’ve stayed composed.
I’ve taken a lot of notes on family history stuff, mainly on his side of the ledger, and much of it was unknown to me so I’m glad to have asked question after question. Your grandpa’s family is English-Scottish-Irish. Seems his side of the family has a sordid past. One of your unfortunate forebears was unfortunately hanged in England for stealing a horse. Once that episode passed, the rest of them made their way to the New World as indentured servants in the Carolinas. There is no doubt as to your Southern roots; your grandfather’s dad (my grandpa Ed) had the middle name of Yancey. You don’t get more Southern than that. Your grandpa’s mother, Mary (my grandmother) was born in 1887 in a soddy in rural Nebraska not too far from Omaha. A soddy is just that; a home made of cut sod with each slab piled atop another to form a wall. Quite common in the plains states. Your grandpa is not certain how they met but she and Ed married in 1918. He ran an electrical company down on 13th street in south Omaha that I remember going to as a kid. I can still see the narrow, floor-to-ceiling shelving that was loaded with wire and gear in a dusty, dark building. (You’d think an electrical company would be bright and white.) If you ever see turn-of-the-century photos of old stores, this was it. I’ll put all of this down on paper at some point relatively soon. We’re not certain of your grandmother’s side – the Andersen’s – other than a big chunk of it is Danish. Your grandmother’s brother, Henry, will be here tomorrow from Oregon to make his final farewell and I plan to ask him about some of this past so at least we will have some information to go on.
Keep your phones on so I can keep you abreast of events. This is just another element of life that all of us must deal with as best we can.