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One soul departs, and another arrives . . .

One soul departs,

and  another arrives.

I have read the letter that follows many times and each time my heart—my soul, my spirit—soars to incredible heights, and then descends to incredible depths. I know that I am not worthy of those heights, but I would like to believe that I do not deserve to remain at those depths.

I have vowed that in the time I have remaining above ground on this sphere—this earth—I will dedicate my efforts, my will, to live my life in a way that honors my wife, my family, my friends and my God. I hasten to add that I will accord that honor in my own way and not necessarily in ways favored by our society, nor by actions sanctioned by various religious denominations. I know that I cannot undo the things I’ve done in my lifetime that I should not have done, but I can try with all my might to do the things I should do in the time I have left in this realm.

I will begin this writing by saying proudly that I have the finest neighbors anyone could possible have, a beautiful couple that lives just a few feet away on the west side of our house. The husband is a self-employed architect and the wife is an educator-at-large in local school districts. They have two grown sons and a brand-new granddaughter.

My wife was in hospice care, and shortly before she died our neighbor gave her a gold chain with a pendant fashioned into the I Love You symbol in American Sign Language. She expressed her sorrow to my wife for her illness and her sorrow that she could not be with her until the end—her elder son’s wife, living in a distant city, was near child delivery and the doctors anticipated problems with the baby. My wife died before the neighbor left, and the neighbor’s sorrow—her sadness—is eloquently expressed in the letter she gave me before she left.

With her permission I have reproduced the letter and am posting it exactly as written, including the pen-and-ink sentence at the top of the page. She professes little talent for writing, but in my opinion, unlettered and unfettered though my opinion may be, she has a tremendous talent for writing and should pursue that talent, whether as a vocation or as an avocation.

Her letter follows, exactly as written. The first sentence just above the poem—This was in my heart today—was written in ink in the upper margin:

This was in my heart today:

Courage is not the towering oak
That sees storms come and go,
It is the fragile blossom
That opens in the snow.
—Alice MacKenzie Swalm

Dear Mike,

You hurt so deeply…..so, so deeply. You are sad, on top of sad, on top of sad. And all I know to say is, “I’m sorry.” So trite…..it screams out that I can’t even begin to feel your pain. I want to just sit and cry, cry, cry with you. Janie left you for another. That will always break your heart. She left you, she left you…how could she? You were always there for her. Year after year, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second…..you were always there for her. But she left anyway. Gone, gone, gone. You always knew that she would leave you. It never mattered. You would do it all over again if you could. If only you could.

She said that you were a “Good Man.” A good man. A loving man. A caring man. A clever man. A funny man. A loyal man. A knowledgeable  man. An interesting man. But a man all the same. Not perfect, but not a requirement for Janie.

And there lies the real beauty. Janie left room for others to live their own lives. To make their own mistakes. To make their own amends. To write their own stories. To make their own verses and rhymes. To be their own selves. To find their own beauty. To find their own strengths. To find their own weaknesses. No matter where you were in life, whether in the good or the bad, she welcomed you home when you were ready to be home. She didn’t push or prod. She just waited. She knew you would eventually come home. She led by example. Every needle, every probe, every surgery, every bruise, every doctor visit…she said, “Be strong. Be strong, be strong, be strong. It was her battle cry. No words needed. She screamed it out with the softest of cries. So strong…..yet so, so gentle.

I’m your neighbor. I’m just simply a neighbor. How could I be touched this way? For me, death and birth are coming at the same time. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. But here it is, saying choose, choose. Janie’s example said to pick life. Choose life, she said. It is with sadness that I go. Even when I should be filled with bubbling joy. Be strong, she says. Go and be strong.

You are a good neighbor. The best. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong. “Live” she says. Be strong. She will wait for you to come Home.

With Sad, Sad, Sadness,

Your Neighbor, Your Friend,

Kathy

Postscript: At the memorial for my wife, our daughters placed the “I Love You” pendant in their mother’s hands, along with a small card with Biblical quotations given to her many years ago by her sister, Christine. The only other jewelry was a gold chain with a small pendant that I brought home many years ago from a foreign assignment while in the military. The pendant has a French quotation that translates as “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.”

My neighbor is back home now and back in work harness. Her granddaughter, Caitlan, was delivered successfully by Caesarian surgery. The baby weighed eight pounds and two ounces at birth, and she is healthy, happy and growing by leaps and bounds.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Cemetery scene: Having lovingly placed a bouquet of roses at the head of a grave, the visitor to the cemetery watched smilingly as an elderly Oriental man lovingly placed a steaming bowl of rice and chopsticks at the head of a nearby grave, and then asked him at what time he figured his friend would come up to eat the rice. The other man replied, “He will come up at the same time your friend comes up to smell the roses.”

Having set the scene, I will continue with this posting. On this cold blustery day in San Antonio, Texas I traveled twelve miles from my home to Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I placed fresh flowers on the grave of a great lady that was transported from this earthly realm to her just reward in God’s heavenly realm on the evening of Thursday, November 18, 2010 just one month and eight days before her seventy-ninth birthday. Our three daughters were present at her death, at her memorial and her interment, but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from being with me to visit her on this day.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She was born December 26, 1931 on an icy Saturday in a small south Georgia town. We met in 1952 and were married just four months later on a Saturday afternoon on the thirteenth day of December in 1952, and we completed fifty-eight years of marriage thirteen days ago on the thirteenth of this month, December of the year 2010.

To complete the fifty-eight years of marriage I included the days between her death on 18 November and our wedding anniversary date of 13 December. I included those days because we remain married and will always remain married, albeit on a spiritual level rather than on a physical level.

We are separated physically but our spirits are intertwined, an inextricable unity that will never be separated. I refuse to allow our marriage to dissolve simply because we exist in separate realms. Her spirit—her soul—has returned to God from whence it came. She is in heaven with Him and I remain on earth. I am well aware that adherence to our marriage vows will be more difficult for me than for her, but I readily accept the challenge and I will not falter.

I still wear my wedding ring on the ring finger of my left hand, and when I join my wife in the grave that contains her earthly remains—the same grave that will contain mine throughout eternity—that ring will still be in place.  If it should be lost I will replace it, and if that replacement is lost I will purchase another, as many times as necessary. I also wear my wife’s 1949 high school graduation ring on the little finger of my right hand. That one will be a bit more difficult to replace, but I will make the effort should it happen.

Yes, in the same grave—with space at a premium in our national military cemeteries, husbands and wives share the same burial plot. I have no problem with that procedure, nor does my wife. We have discussed it at length over the past several years, and we agreed with the premise that the closer, the better. And on the subject of matter, the contents of our grave constitute mortal material matter only, as do the contents of every grave.

The immortal essence of that matter—the soul, given by the grace of God—was never there, having already gone to its promised reward before the remains were placed beneath the sod—its direction dependent, of course, on certain requirements having been met, a point that should be foremost in how we decide to live our lives.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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Cure for itch: Sulphur and molasses . . .

At some time in my fifth year of life and my first year as a Mississipian, my mother became convinced that I and my sister, eighteen months older than I, either had scabies (the itch) or would surely become afflicted with the disease based on our having played with the children next door.

Playing with the kids next door was forbidden because they were somewhat different than we were—actually they were not different than we were, except that theirs was a nicer house and their family was more prosperous than we were—they just looked different. We were white and they were black, and folks in Mississippi in the 1930s frowned on the races mixing, regardless of the ages involved.

Our mother always said that she had nothing against blacks  “as long as they stayed in their place.” When asked specifically about the nature of “their place,” she would say, “Well, you know, in their place, the place where they are supposed to stay.” That pretty well explained it as far as she was concerned.

Although we were forbidden to play with the neighbor children we still managed to get in some playtime, and because of that contact our mother decided that even if we did not have scabies we would probably soon show symptoms of the disease. I have no doubt that my sister and I itched and scratched in all the places that kids—and adults for that matter—normally scratch, but I do not believe we had the itch. We never exhibited any of the symptoms associated with the itch. If any reader is inclined to learn everything one needs to know about the itch—scabies—click here.

You will learn that sulfur, mixed with a petroleum jelly and applied topically, is effective as a treatment for scabies, and sulfur is what our mother used on us. She took powdered sulfur and mixed it with molasses, stripped me and my sister right down to the buff and smeared the mixture on every part of our body, every square inch of skin including cracks and crevices, and even worked the mixture into our hair and on our scalps. I was the first to have the “medication” applied and my sister giggled throughout the process, giving our mother instructions as to various areas and items and ways to apply the mixture.

I watched as my mother smeared her with the mixture, but not being as worldly and wise as she was I did little giggling—we were a very private family and I was not accustomed to seeing a naked female—in fact, a fast trip back to my earliest memories reveals no instance of my ever having seen a naked female of any age prior to that day—and now that I think of it, a significant amount of time would pass before I was privileged to see another one.

I searched diligently on the internet for images of a naked little boy and a naked little girl and following a prolonged search I found the two pictured at the right. I trust that none of my viewers will be offended by the graphic nature of the images. I felt very fortunate at finding an image of our skin color prior to the application of sulfur and molasses, and another approximating our skin color after the application. The upper image approximates our before skin color and the lower approximates our after skin color. Who would have ever thought I would be so lucky in my search!

I am reminded of a business card I saw in later years—the business part was on one side and the other side showed a line drawing of two naked children, a little boy and and a little girl, and the little boy was saying in the caption below, “No, you can’t play with mine—you already broke yours off!” I suppose that if I thought anything about my sister’s  physical characteristics, my thoughts echoed the words of that little boy—either she broke hers off or was born without one. The card was not quite as graphic as the images I found on the internet.

Our skin took on a yellow sheen from the sulfur and for several days we could not sit on any chair or sofa. We sat on the floor, we took our meals on the floor, and we slept on the floor on sheets and blankets that were cleansed in boiling water after we used them.

I had not yet started the first grade, so our restriction to the house and our banishment to the floor had no effect on my education. My sister, a first-grader, missed several days of school but apparently suffered little from that absence—to my disappointment she was promoted to the second grade, thus dashing my hopes that she would be retained in the first grade so I would be equal with her in school—bummer!

Eventually our mother decided, since no symptoms of scabies appeared, that the medication had apparently done its work and we were allowed to remove the mixture of sulfur and molasses. Many years have ensued since the scabies incident, and I have told that story more than once over the years—some listeners believed it and others expressed considerable doubt as to its veracity. Please believe me, it’s true and I can prove it. I can show you the house where it happened because it’s still standing. It’s on the west side of Fifth Street South one block from the Palmer Orphanage! Click here to read an essay that includes information on my association with the Palmer Orphanage, now known as the Palmer Home for Children —it’s worth the visit!

On hearing the story most people ask whether the molasses attracted ants, flies, bees, roaches, mice, spiders and other pests in search of sweet treats. My answer to that is that we were not bothered by such—my theory is that pests were powerfully attracted to the molasses but were equally repulsed by the sulfur—one canceled out the other.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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