Karen and The County Fair, Karen Series Part 7 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

If there was one thing Karen loved, it was the County Fair. And if you have ever been to Fairfield County in Lancaster Ohio, you will know that it is the most beautiful county fair in the entire country.

fairgroundsThis fair is the last one in the state of Ohio for the year and always happens in early October. The fairgrounds is situated at the base of a local landmark, Mount Pleasant. The grounds feature an historic round Cattle Barn and a horse race track like no other. In fact, these grounds were used as a backdrop in the Robert Redford movie Brubaker because they are so iconic-ly beautiful. If you are from Lancaster Ohio, you simply love the fair. And Karen really LOVED the fair.

Me… I was into art from an early age and part of the fair is an art competition. It is strictly small potatoes as far as the art world at large goes, but having a prize-winning artwork in the fair was always good for local recognition. EVERYBODY goes to the fair and EVERYBODY checks out the barns where the art displays and grand prize pies and beautiful canned goods are on show with prize-winning ribbons attached.

So every year I would pick up the booklet that outlined competition guidelines and pay a small fee to be able to enter all kind of contests. The entry fee was a bargain because when you paid it, you got a fair pass good for free entry to the fair each day plus parking. So you really weren’t out anything at all – and if you won a prize you’d get a few bucks on top of that! And back then, a $25 prize went a long way. Also, you might even get your photo in the paper and of course everyone in town would know you were on the fast track to being talented and famous. Just like Mayberry RFD. And I’m not kidding in the least. This was serious local business.

Anyway, Karen and I got to talking about the fair and I mentioned to her all the perks I got from entering my artwork each year. She couldn’t believe you could enter some small thing and get a free pass to the fair all week. How was that possible? I assured her it was. And then we didn’t talk any more about it.

So in the early 80s I was still on a mission to win a lot of fair prizes. I would draw and paint and bake and sew and enter every category I could. Man I wanted to win! And it only cost a few bucks to be part of the action. But the funny thing was, I didn’t like the fair itself all that well. I just liked all the arty competitions and couldn’t wait to get there to see how it all played out.

One year, I anxiously got in on my free pass and made my way to the barn where all the exhibits were. I’m sure I got a paper cone of French fries with malt vinegar along the way – and probably a slice of pizza – but what I really salivated over was the home and garden and art displays. Finally I walked through the door and the first display right in front of me was photography. I stopped to take a look.

I hadn’t entered anything in the photography division so imagine my surprise when I saw a photo of my three kids that I had taken in the field out back of my current house. It was a great picture. And there it was with a first place ribbon on it in its category. I stood and stared for a moment because I didn’t remember entering it. And then I saw it…

blueribbonFirst Place… Family Photos… Karen Wohrer of Lancaster Ohio…

Whaaattttt????

I read it again. Photo by Karen Wohrer. My kids. Her name.

And then all I could do was laugh out loud. That devil Karen had entered the photo to get that free fair and parking pass for the whole week of the fair! And she didn’t know she would actually win anything – she just wanted that cheapo fair admittance! So now imagine her surprise when I called her up and congratulated her on her winning photo!

“Oh geez…” she said. “I just wanted that pass and I didn’t think you would ever find out!”

“Karen…” I replied. “I’m good. I usually win stuff. But you didn’t know that and I understand.”

“Wanna go to the fair with me?” she asked. “I’ll buy you whatever you want to eat. And we can park for free…”

“Sure,” I said. “But I’m not riding any of those goofy rides that they set up and tear down every week because I don’t trust them. All I want is some good fair food. And you’re buying.”

And we did. And it was another thing that bound us together and made us laugh. Really, what are friends for?

Karen and The Big Move, Part 6 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

I will be telling you more about Karen taking credit for some of my work – which is hilarious – but first I have to pause for one of my favorite Karen stories of all. It happened around 1976 when Bill and I bought our first house on Oakwood Avenue in Lancaster Ohio.

Good grief, but this place was a wreck. And we were glad to get it. But oh what a job it was to get ready to move into.

The Daubenmire clan all came together – often under Karen’s direction – and helped us completely scrape down the walls, as well as repaint and refurbish everything to get it livable. On weekends everyone would be there with a mop bucket or a paint brush and a lot of beer.

Most weekdays, Betty would pack a cooler with sandwiches, chips and that famous diet cola “Tab” and her and I would spend hours working there. She did this without fail. And usually, during lunch time, Karen and/or her dad Bill would stop in to see how things were going. It was both exciting and exhausting.

The thing was, I was a mere 24 years old and Betty pretty much took over. I deferred to her because she bought us things we couldn’t afford ourselves and because she was a very dominant personality. I didn’t feel I had a choice. So I was kind of mealy-mouthed since I wanted to be grateful and I figured I could make changes behind her back later if I needed to.

Not Karen. The minute Karen hit the door she would challenge things… and me…

“Why are you letting Queenie make you do this or that?” she would ask.

“I really don’t mind,” I would reply.

“Well you need to get over it if you want this to be your house,” declared Karen.

But we all went along just fine and soon it was moving day. All the Daubenmire men and a few friends had gathered with trucks and muscle power to move all our worldly belongings across town. Betty was watching my 2½ year old twin sons and infant daughter at her house while the move took place.

The whole thing was a disaster. The guys had started drinking early on and paid no attention to me. They didn’t care if a box was marked “kitchen.” They just set it down wherever they felt like it and carried on with their party. Things turned into chaos.

movingEventually Karen showed up and saw what a mess I was in. She was appalled and immediately went out back to confront the moving crew. By this time they were whooping it up in the garage and I was buried in the house with boxes of stuff I couldn’t begin to organize. She let them have it. But by that time they were beyond reasoning with and responded to her rebuke by setting off some monstrously big old fire extinguisher in the alley out back. Karen knew all she could do was come back in the house and help me the best she could.

She got me going again and we began to make progress. Just when I was feeling better, Betty came breezing through the front door to have a look around. I was frozen to the spot I was standing in because I knew she would be angry. Many, many times Betty had told us her moving stories and how she was so organized that by the end of moving day the beds were made, dinner was on the table and you would never have known they hadn’t already lived in that house for 10 years. And my place was looking nothing like that.

Betty took one look around and fixed her gaze on me. I think I saw steam come out her ears. I was scared.

“Do you mean to tell me…” Betty started… and Karen promptly interrupted by saying, “Queenie!”

Betty turned and glared at Karen. “Do you mean to tell me…” she repeated, “that I have been watching three babies for days and this is all you have to show for yourselves?” Then she continued, “I’ll have you know that when I moved we…”

But she didn’t get any further. “I know, I know,” retorted Karen. “You had everything in place and curtains hung and dinner made the first day. But you didn’t have those yay-hoos out there in the garage moving you so you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Betty was incensed. “I’m leaving!” she exclaimed. “Good!” said Karen. “Go home!”

I was still rooted to where I stood and totally amazed at this exchange.

Betty wheeled around on her heel and stomped out the front door. Karen followed her and locked the screen door behind her so she couldn’t come back in.

All I could think was… Oh my… things were going from bad to worse…

locked doorBetty heard the click of that lock on the screen door and flew back around and grabbed the door handle. She was locked out and she was furious.

“Unlock this door right now!” she demanded.

And to my utter amazement, Karen stood on the inside of the door and stuck out her tongue. “Nah, nah, na na na!” she cried in delight. I thought I would faint.

And as Karen taunted her, Betty jerked on the door handle and said, “if I get this door unlocked I’m gonna come in there and smack your fat face!”

“Nah, nah, na na na!” Karen repeated. “Go home, Queenie!”

I honestly did not know if to laugh or cry but Betty stormed off the porch and left. And Karen grabbed me and said “let’s get busy before those idiots in the garage do anything else we have to clean up!” And so we did.

Now this may all sound a bit shocking to someone who doesn’t know the Daubenmire family but it really was all in a day’s events for them. They were perfectly used to dealing with each other this way and there really was no harm done. Later, when a bit of time had passed, Karen and Betty both thought it was the funniest thing ever. And when I told Bill about it he didn’t blink an eye. “Oh, they do that all the time” was all he said. And I guess it was true.

Neither Betty nor Karen ever held a grudge so all was fine. And we had many a fine get-together in that Oakwood Avenue house. Everyone loved it because they had all helped clean it up and get it ready for us to live in. And they were always available to come over for a picnic or family get-together and just have a good time. Especially Karen, who was always there for support and a bit of fun. She just had her own way of doing it!

Karen and I “Work Parties” – Karen Series, Part 5 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

When I first married into the Daubenmire family my mother-in-law worked as a waitress at the Country Club. She loved her job and had a lot of friends there, both on staff and among the clientele. But in 1973, the Club changed management and all the current employees were let go. That didn’t stop Betty one bit.

home barThe first thing Betty did was encourage all her former clientele to entertain at home and let her run their parties. It was a raging success. She partnered with her friend Rosemary who served as a cook and she hired me and Karen to be bartenders and waitresses. She trained us with an iron fist. The bar was to be set up a particular way so that any of us could work it without searching for things. Everything had a place and we were all disciplined to do any task interchangeably. Betty was so professional that she would watch for guests arriving outside and order their drinks while they were coming up the walk. Karen or I would make them and Betty was ready when each guest hit the door. The guests, of course, felt pampered and special.

Betty also made sure we earned very good money. She charged a minimum of $25 for 3 hours or less per person, then $10 an hour per person after that. And these people were very good tippers so we were well taken care of. To go home with $50-$100 or more a night in 1973 was amazing.

But Karen was rather spoiled. She had a full time day job already so she would be tired by the time she got to one of our party gigs. Then the complaining would start. Karen called her mother (Betty) by the nickname of “Queenie.”

“Queenie,” she would say, “when are we getting out of here?”

“Whenever the work is done,” Betty would answer.

“Don’t these people have homes?” Karen would complain. “Why don’t they leave us alone?”

Betty would sigh and roll her eyes and just keep working.

Still, Karen was essentially a hard worker and always did a good job even though she gave her mom a hard time.

Over the years we built up regulars who trusted us in their homes. The beauty of having us work a party was that we cleaned up everything so well that you never knew a party had happened when we were finished.

Then, Anchor Hocking, the local glass manufacturer, decided to buy a historic home in the downtown area for entertaining out of town guests. They remodeled the place beautifully and hired Betty and Rosemary to run it. Naturally Betty brought me and Karen and eventually another sister-in-law, Rita, in to work the bigger events. We all worked together there for years and Betty took mighty fine care of us.

The only thing was, the Anchor brass and their spouses would get me and Karen and Rita confused. Betty was blonde, as was I and Rita, so people always thought we were the daughters since Karen’s hair was dark. And I had the most distinctive name, so very often everyone would call all of us “Starr.” Rita would grit her teeth and smile but it never bothered Karen a bit.

For instance… one time the CEO of Anchor went to Asia to visit buyers. He was given a very valuable hand-woven tapestry as a gift. When he brought it back, he wanted to hang it in the front room of the Anchor House and asked Betty to get it done. Since I am the crafty one in the family, Betty called me in to consult. I told her to have maintenance mount a hanging rod on the wall by the fireplace and I took the tapestry home to hand sew a rod-pocket on the back. We were able to get it hung before the next major event to surprise the big wig guy, Ray. It turned out really well.

So the next big party comes along and we’re all buzzing around the Anchor House serving cocktails and getting ready for dinner. I can’t wait for Mr. Big Wig to see the tapestry hung and tell him how I did it. I know he’ll give me a proud “attaboy” for my fine work.

tapestry

Later I’m walking by the front room with a tray of drinks and I see Karen and Mr. BW standing in front of the tapestry getting their photo taken. He has his arm around her shoulder and she is grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. After the flash bulbs die down, Mr. BW gives Karen a nice hug and thanks her profusely. She graciously excuses herself and comes out in the hall to talk to me.

“What was that?” I ask.

“Oh, you know…” she explained, “they all think we’re you, so I just let him think it!”

“You told him you did it?” I cried in alarm. “How could you?”

“No, not really,” she replied. “I just didn’t correct him. Are you mad at me?”

The look on her face was so mischievous I couldn’t be mad at her. (Well, maybe a little…) And every time we looked at that tapestry afterwards we would howl with laughter. It really was a perfect prank because the Mr. and Mrs BWs of the world didn’t care who did it. And it was our own little private joke.

But that wasn’t the last time Karen pulled that on me. Wait till you hear what else she did!

The Family Grows and Goes on Vacation – Karen, Part 4 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

Finally, Karen and I are fast friends. And the great news is, Karen’s not done having babies! Yes, we lost Tara, but Karen is ever hopeful and soon she is preggers again. It is 1978.

Naturally we are all concerned because we don’t know why she couldn’t carry Tara to term and on one level we are all holding our breath for the new baby to get here. And again, I want to have a baby shower because we are all so excited. I did and soon Jamie Jo made her appearance on October 13, 1978. What a joy it was to welcome her! Jim and Karen were thrilled and showed her off every chance they got. What a happy time it was.

Then, a few years later, Karen is expecting one more time. We are all a bit surprised because now Karen is 32 years old – and will turn 33 just before the baby arrives. Isn’t this a bit old health-wise? At the time, it seemed so, but I have to tell you, that is no longer a concern today. My daughters’-in-law didn’t even start their families by that age – let alone be having some sort of “late” or “mid-life” baby. But that was the thought back then. And I was worried.

However, Miss Julie Justus arrived on January 19, 1982 and was healthy as could be. And unlike her previous sisters, Julie really favored her dad. She even had what my kids called an “upside-down mouth” that gave her the cutest quirky smile.

Both girls were a delightful addition to the family and oh what fun we had for years to come!

Something we all did as a family was take an annual vacation to the Lake Erie shore each summer. Years before, our family heads, Bill and Betty used to rent a cabin near Vermillion Ohio. Now, as it turned out, this little family-owned rental place had a total of 5 cabins on their property. And what we would do is rent all five for a week to make it a Daubenmire getaway. It was not only right on the lake, it was just a few minutes drive up the road to Cedar Point for a day trip so the kids could go the park for a day.

Now let me tell you, a Daubenmire excursion is One. Big. Deal. My father-in-law had to rent a trailer just to transport all the things we would need to survive for the week. And that was in addition to the car and truck-loads of stuff everyone else brought! We had everything from fishing poles to charcoal to croquet sets to Frisbees to electric skillets to beach towels and foodstuffs for an entire week. We were literally loaded for bear.

Not only that, Bill and Betty would squeeze her parents, Grandma and Grandpa Tisdale in the back seat to stay in their cabin with them. Next to them was a cabin for me and Bill and our family. On the other side was Rick (Peanut) and his wife and family. Across the way was Karen and Jim and the girls and the other cabin had dibs between Mike, Kristen and visiting relatives who would come up for a day or two because they were afraid they’d be missing something if they didn’t.

TV with rabbit earsKaren, of course, was notorious on these trips. She was a master packer and would sneak in a portable TV so she could watch the weather or the news. She also had an extra box packed that was purely her personal “stash.” It usually contained chips and/or chocolate that she didn’t really want to share.

At first we didn’t know she was doing this. But it didn’t take long. Someone figured it out and went in and snagged a bunch of her stuff. Later, as we were all sitting on the deck watching the sun set we heard a loud bang…. It was Karen throwing her cabin door open so forcefully that it hit the front of the cabin before it swung back shut.

All of us turned to look to see what was happening.

“WHERE ARE MY HO HOs???” Karen screamed.

We looked on from the deck in amazement. Who knew she even had Ho Hos???

There was no immediate answer so Karen slammed the door and locked herself back inside.

It turned out later that the youngest sister Kristen had been snooping and found the ho hos and got into them. Which meant Karen had to find a new hiding place… which meant Kristen would keep snooping. It was a never-ending circus.

Big Bill, the patriarch, nicknamed Karen “Miss Congeniality” and it stuck.

But the best part for me was Karen was a master at ditching everyone and sneaking away into town and she would usually take me with her. She loved to poke around the little gift shops and then go to the Root Beer Stand for a chili dog. So I’d be on the watch for a signal and off we’d fly. Later, when we returned, some of the others would say “where did you go?” And “why didn’t you tell us you were going into town?”

Karen was innocent as can be when she replied, “oh! I didn’t know you would want to go! Next time I’ll tell you…” Then she would give me a sideways glance and grin.

Root Beer Stand2

But she always rounded up everyone for the excursions to Cedar Point. That’s when she was Leader of the Pack. She was the only one who could coerce my timid boys into riding the BLUE STREAK and later the CORKSCREW. I certainly did not get on it with them but somehow she convinced everyone else it was what they had to do. She would send me off for a little private gift shop time with a wink and a smile. And I didn’t need my arm twisted for that! Of course she expected to be paid with some homemade fudge from the old time candy store that was on my way to meet them when they got off the roller coaster. We both knew the deal.

ho hosLater she would shoot down the mine ride with all the kids and come off soaking wet but cool as a cucumber. The kids were crazy about her and she rewarded them with more rides and plenty of junk food. She really never stopped until she got back to the cabins and retreated to her darkened room lit only by the TV with the rabbit ears and her hidden stash of ho hos…

Here’s a photo of Karen sitting outside her cabinat the lake2

And one of her outside Bill and Betty’s cabin with infant Julie

Karen and Julie2

And another trip when we all stayed at the Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point

family hotel breakers2

Here’s Karen and Jim fresh off the mine ride

Mine ride2

And Julie and Jamie on a kiddie ride

Jamie and Julie

How Karen and I Really Became Friends, Part 3 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

Now it is 1975. I’ve known Karen for a few years and we have battled just as often as we have gotten along. It is a very tenuous friendship but we do seem to like each other deep down. Sometimes you would just never know it.

When warm weather hit in 1975 I was halfway through my second pregnancy and Karen had gotten engaged to Jim Wohrer. I said I would like to have a wedding shower for her and arranged to have it at my dad’s house on Sixth Avenue. My family had a bluegrass band that played a lot of local functions and they agreed to do a gig for this party.

Karen and Jim2The shower went well. All the Tiptons and all the Daubenmires and all the Wohrers were there. The band played and there was plenty of food and gifts on hand. But Karen was a bit green around the gills. I have photos of her and Jim that night and Karen is looking pretty miserable. Later we found out why… she was pregnant and feeling nauseous.

Once Karen revealed her “secret,” we got together and were happy that we were going to have babies within a few months of each other. I was due in November and she in March. But that’s not what went down.

When early November rolled around I was big as a house and had no signs of a baby coming. Also, I wanted a girl so bad I was manic about it. Through my whole pregnancy my husband and I had fought – he wanted this to be our last baby no matter what. We had twin sons already and I pretty much figured we were having another boy. It just felt like it to me. But Bill didn’t care. He said 3 boys was a perfect family and enough was enough. I said if it was a boy I would try one more time for a girl and probably end up with 4 boys. He said no. I held my breath.

My due date came and went. I was miserable. Then, on Friday, November 7th, Karen was leaving work and went into some sort of spasms on the street corner while waiting for the light to change. She was taken to the hospital where they gave her medication to keep her from going into full-fledged labor. All I could think was “Lordy, why isn’t this me, not her?”

A couple days went by. Early Sunday morning Karen called me from the hospital. “I think I’m dying,” she said.

“No you’re not!” I cried. “Why would you say that?”

But the sad fact was she had been in slow labor for almost 48 hours and things weren’t going well. She was feeling her life slip away and she was scared.

“Please,” she pleaded with me. “Take care of Beth Anne and don’t let her dad take her.”

“Don’t talk like that, Karen,” I demanded. “I’m leaving now to come out there.” We hung up.

I drove across town in a blur. I prayed all the way that I would be allowed to see her and that things would work out all right.

I walked up to the maternity floor and nearly caused a panic. Since I was 9+ months myself, the first nurse who saw me said, “why aren’t you in a wheelchair?”

“Because I’m not in labor,” I replied. “I’m here for Karen Wohrer. She’s my sister-in law.”

The nurses all looked from one to another. Then they looked at me. Finally one of them exclaimed, “Thank GOD!!!” and rushed me to her room. Turns out Karen had been quite a handful over the past couple days and they were glad for some help!

Karen and I embraced and she immediately calmed down. I began to talk soothingly to her and told her I would coach her since I had just finished my Lamaze classes that she hadn’t had a chance to take. And at that point I think we both thought things would turn out ok.

As the day went on Karen and I were able to sit and talk about intimate things. In between, Jim would come in the room and take over to give me a break. But it wouldn’t be long before Jim would come and get me again. “She wants you,” he would say.

By happenstance, Karen’s labor nurse was a friend of mine from high school named Linda who filled me in on the situation. “Don’t let her push,” said Linda. “The baby is very small and will probably be stillborn. Karen has a systemic infection that we need to treat but she won’t let us put in an IV. We’re hoping you can help us with that.”

I went back in the room and told Karen she needed medicine that would have to be put in her veins. When I explained that they would put an IV in her elbow she immediately flexed both her arms tight to her chest. But I got her calmed enough to get the IV inserted. Karen looked at me with a pained expression like I had betrayed her. I told her it was necessary to keep her and the baby from dying.

Eventually Linda came back in and said they were going into delivery with another patient and again I should not let Karen push if she felt the urge. I was left alone in the room with my sister-in-law. We talked for a couple minutes and then I began to explain that she might feel like she wants to bear down when the baby is ready to come but she shouldn’t do that.

All of a sudden, Karen looked at me in alarm and said “here it comes!”

“NO!” I shouted. “I’m just telling you about it… it isn’t really happening!”

“Yes, it is,” she screamed! And again I said NO! And again she said YES!

Crap! I rang the nurse’s button and then ran down the hall to get Jim. Both descended on the room and I ducked into the waiting room with my mother-in-law Betty.

Sure enough, when I stuck my head back out the door of the waiting room, Karen’s bed was being wheeled into delivery with Jim racing along behind it. Betty and I were breathless.

A little while later Jim arrived at the waiting room door. “The baby is here,” he said. Betty and I looked at him in anticipation. He seemed to be in shock.

About that time, Dr. Lifer stepped in the room with a swaddled bundle in his arms. We all looked at him in alarm.

“What we have here…” he said… and his voice trailed off as he began to unwrap and unwrap and unwrap a tiny preemie, “is a….”

I put my hands over my ears and closed my eyes. All I could see was the drops of blood on his shoe covers and I was horrified at what he must be about to show us. I sank down onto the couch for fear I would faint.

I didn’t hear the rest of what he said but later I remembered it being “… a 26 week baby… about 1 pound 12 ounces… less than 12 inches long…”

Dr. Lifer turned on his heel and headed for the nursery. Jim and Betty and I were left standing in a daze.

“What was it?” I asked when I took my hands off my ears. “A boy,” said Betty. “No, a girl,” said Jim. We exchanged glances and Jim took off down the hall after Dr. Lifer. Betty and I dropped into nearby chairs. I could barely get my breath.

Soon Jim was back. “It’s a girl,” he said. “They’re putting her in the nursery and they say she won’t live but a few minutes.” And I think he mentioned something about a priest coming (or having been there) to administer last rites.

All the air went out of me. I didn’t know what to think. We all sat in stunned silence.

squadAt some length we were told that the baby was still alive so a team was being sent down from Children’s Hospital in Columbus to transport her there. Jim and our father-in-law Bill followed the ambulance and Betty and I went home exhausted. Karen was taken to the maternity floor to start to recover.

A couple hours later, Jim was at my front door. “Guess what!” he cried jubilantly. “Children’s says she is still breathing on her own and has a 50/50 chance of making it!” And at that he picked me up and swung me in a full circle – despite the fact that I was the size of a barn! I laughed in delight and was overjoyed with him.

Even though I was exhausted, I went back out to the hospital to see Karen. When I walked into the lobby, my father-in-law Bill was sitting there waiting for me. “Sit,” he demanded, and patted the seat next to him.

“I just want you to know,” he said, “that I’ve talked to Karen and she says you saved her life today. And she is so sorry for anything she ever said or did to hurt you and she wants you to know that.” And I knew those words came straight from Karen’s heart and my father-in-law was thrilled to relay the message.

From then on, Karen and I were the best of friends. Not that we didn’t still have differences from time to time. But nothing ever came between us again. And I am so happy for that.

preemie-feet

EPILOGUE

Karen and Jim’s first daughter, Tara Nicole Wohrer, born the evening of Sunday November 9th, 1975, only lived for a couple days. We’ll never know if she would have made it had she gotten immediate care and not been allowed to breathe on her own for several hours before the trauma team at Children’s was called to come and get her. Babies that size routinely live today but she was just a bit ahead of the medical technology of the day.

After Tara died, Karen and Jim shopped for doll clothes to dress her for the open casket. Preemie things weren’t widely available then. They also went to a local jewelry store to buy her a gold necklace as a token of their love. I was too distraught to attend the funeral since my own baby was overdue at that time.

Two weeks later, almost to the hour, my daughter Ellyn was born. Sadly Karen had a 26-week preemie and I had a 42+ week baby that weighed 10 and a half pounds! If only I could have let my baby share that weight with Tara!

I was overjoyed that I had my girl. And I was devastated that Karen would have to face this situation. Karen called me as soon as I got back to my room from delivery. She said, “I knew it would be a girl and I am so happy for you.” And we both cried. My other sister-in-law at the time, Linda, was spending the night with Karen under the circumstances. She later told me that Karen laid awake and cried the entire night. And how could I blame her when I had a warm baby girl to hold in my arms and she did not. But she never held it against me. She was truly happy for me and Ellyn in spite of her loss because she was a good person at heart. And I can never forget that.

And remember that wedding shower I had for Karen and Jim at my dad’s house on Sixth Avenue? Shortly after that, Dad wanted to sell the house and Jim’s brother Mike had been at the party that night. He had commented to my dad, “if you ever want to sell this house, I’d be interested.” So, Mike and Jenny bought that house and lived there for years!

Also, Karen and I were of different religious faiths. This was never a problem. She had originally been Lutheran and married into a strong Catholic family. I had originally been Lutheran and became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As time went on (and before Karen had her other kids) she asked me what I thought would become of Tara. I explained my hope of the resurrection and how Tara would get life again when the time comes for that. She looked at me in earnest and asked, “do you really believe that?” “Yes, I do,” I replied. And without hesitation, she said, “if, for some reason, I don’t make it, would you go and get Tara for me?” “Of course I will,” I said. “But you will be there to get her yourself.” And I know for an instant she believed me and wanted it to be true.

And that is the story of Tara, who we never got to know. But there is so much more, so this series will continue. I hope you will keep reading of my dear friend and sister-in-law, Karen. I still love her so.

The Karen Series, Part 2 of 10

Note: I am continuing here with my story of my sister-in-law Karen Daubenmire Wohrer. Please see the previous installment for the beginning of this tribute series.

Like I said… in the beginning Karen and I only got along part of the time.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like me. She just didn’t have a lot of patience for me. Nor I for her. Karen would borrow my clothes and return them ruined. She did not see this as a problem but I was infuriated. I told Bill that I didn’t want her coming around because she was disrespectful of my things. He, however, didn’t think it was any big deal and we would fight. His solution was simple… “you don’t like how she returned your dress? I’ll give you money to get a new one, so get over it.” Oh… but that wasn’t good enough for me! No I had to fight and make an issue of it. “She ruined my dress!” I shouted and stomped. “She needs to pay!”

Meanwhile, Karen was off to bigger and better things and I was stewing about a dress that was easily replaced. And that’s the kind of things we fought about. Stupid stuff. Because she was a free spirit and I only claimed to be.

Over time, however, we spent more occasions together and slowly connected. You really couldn’t call it friends. I would watch Beth and Karen would not only pay me, but bring me a new pair of shoes or some other treat. If she found out I needed or wanted something, she would make it happen. And she began to look out for me.

Things took off when I got pregnant the first year I was married. Karen, of course, had the original grandchild, Beth Anne. And she was a bit distressed to think that my baby might be a boy and overshadow Beth somehow. It was a justified fear. In those days, the male heir to the family name was a pretty important thing. And we didn’t have sonograms so no one knew ahead of time what the new baby would be.

While I was expecting, Bill and I only had one car, which he drove to work each day, so Karen often came and got me to take me to the obstetrician. That meant she skipped her usual lunch and took off during the day whenever my appointment was. It also meant she drove a good ways to pick me up, drop me off and get back to work.

Before the end of my pregnancy I learned I was having twins. Karen took over. She was at my beck and call and was among the first at the hospital when I went into labor. She organized everyone and made the nurses let them all stay for hours. (Family “participation” was not exactly welcome at that time.) She ordered food so no one went hungry. And she had her ear against the hall door when the first baby cry came through. “It’s a girl!” she declared. But she was wrong.

TwinsIt was a boy. And another boy. And Karen was happy for me and her brother through her tears. She doted on those boys. And two weeks later when I got a 104 degree fever and mastitis and had to go the doctor for a shot every day for a week, she used her lunch hour to come and get me and run me across town and back. She must have driven 20 miles each lunch hour on those days!

So we were becoming friends but still we would have our fallouts. There were always basic disagreements with one thing or another and we would part ways for a while. And it was true that my twin sons had upstaged her daughter big time. But there was nothing either of us could do about that. In addition, I was one of those earth-mothers who didn’t want their kids to have sugar or preservatives in their diet. I stayed home baking bread and making yogurt while Karen had to feed her daughter pop tarts for breakfast so she could get to work on time. We were definitely not on the same page, but we were family. And that was about to become all-important.

My friendship with Karen was tentative for a couple years. Then two things happened. One, she met her future husband, Jim Wohrer. And I got pregnant for a second time.

I’ll tell you in the next installment how all that changed our lives…

The Karen Series, Part 1 of 10

Since I’ve been recording family stories here in my blog I’ve decided I want to do a retrospective on an old friend of mine, Karen Daubenmire Wohrer. I want to do this for a number of reasons…

  1. She was my first “sister-in-law” back in the early 70s
  2. She was an incredible and lively person like few you ever meet
  3. She died of breast cancer 17 years ago in April of 1998 just after turning 49 years old
  4. I want to tell her daughters the fun and fascinating things I remember about her so they will have a record of it
  5. I loved her dearly

Now I have to caution you about that last statement…

Yes, I came to love her dearly. But it was NOT love at first sight between us and it took a good bit of time to get to that point. But it was a great journey and a story worth recording. And I will make as many blog posts here as I need to so that I get her down in writing. She is worth it.

And keep in mind that these recollections are how I remember them and may not be how others do. But they are my stories and I’m sticking to them! Take them with a grain of salt if you have to.

Sooo….

When I first met Karen I was dating her brother Bill. One night Bill said we were going to Karen’s apartment to babysit her toddler daughter, Beth Anne so Karen could go out with friends for a while. I said “great!” because I loved kids and was all for it.

When I first laid eyes on Karen I was stunned. She looked so much like Bill that I felt like she had his face on a girl’s body! And what a character she was. She was loud and sassy and sort of frightened me with her exuberance. And even though she was only a couple years older than me, she had a young child. I didn’t quite know what to think. But it was circa 1970 after all.

And that wasn’t the whole story.

As I got to know the family I learned that Karen – and her MOTHER (also my boyfriend’s mother!) – had been pregnant at the same time. While Karen was a teenaged high school student, her mom was expecting surprise baby number five. And if that wasn’t shocking enough, they both went into labor within a day of each other. But it doesn’t end there…

No… mother and daughter ended up sharing a hospital room with their newborns! Karen’s baby Beth was just a day older than Karen’s own new younger sister Kristen. And get this… Karen wanted to name her baby some variation of the name “Christian” after a dear friend she had lost in the Vietnam War. But since her mother had beat her to the punch and named her baby Kristen, she waited until Karen was asleep and filled out her papers, naming Karen’s baby Beth Anne.

Have you ever????

Now this sounds very dramatic – and it was – but by the time I came along a few years later it was old news and something everyone joked about. Both Beth and Kristen were adorable toddlers that everyone loved and doted on and I was soon among that score.

Before long, Bill and I got married and I became one of the Daubenmire clan. For better or worse. And as far as Karen was concerned in those early days, it was usually worse.

Karen was much more adventurous than I was and she was in the “wild-oat-sowing” time that she missed as a teenager. Plus she knew absolutely everyone in town and everything they could possibly have been doing. She worked full time but she was always out and about as well. Although, I can honestly say that looking back, she was a normal girl who just liked to have a little fun. I was too timid to do the same. But I would go to Karen’s to babysit Beth and be freaked out by her shenanigans with her friends. However, Karen was a natural politician and would keep me calm while she went about her business. And she always swore me to secrecy about anything that might incriminate her with her parents.

I don’t mean to make Karen sound like any sort of rebel. She was not. We just weren’t on the same page to begin with and I was always a bit wary of her. In addition, I was always trying to get along with everyone and Karen had no problem calling me out for being such a wuss. She literally scared the bejeebers out of me. But not for long…

Karen might have been acting out a bit back then but she had a heart of gold, which I was soon to discover. And that’s what makes our story so interesting. Because Karen did take me under her wing and was the best friend in the world – once I could catch up with her.

So the reason I want to be frank here is because I want her daughters to know how she was as I saw her – not some fairy tale person that didn’t really exist.

Karen was the real deal. And yes, I sometimes wanted to shove her down in a dark alley for being such a wild card. But it wasn’t long before she was one of my best friends in the world. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Here’s a photo of the high school Karen attended in the late sixties… (the same one Bill and I graduated from in June 1969.)

1967 LHS

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