The Best Days of Your Life

OK… think.

And you won’t even have to think too hard.

In fact, don’t think hard at all.

Just tell me some of the best moments of your life…

And I’m gonna bet a couple of things.

First you will remember big events. Weddings, Births, Graduations, Funerals. Those are important, of course. But do they really make your heart sing? Upon closer inspection… maybe not.

For me, yesterday was one of the best days of my life. And the amazing thing is that I knew it even while it was happening. In this life, short as it is, that is progress I’m proud of. Check yesterday’s post for the Fun Fun Family Day at My House. It really was special (and ordinary) enough to go in the top ten memories of my entire life.

picnicSlide

The whole family sat out in the yard with the kids playing, the older ones chatting and loads of food groaning on the tables nearby. The littlest ones may never remember it all. But I will treasure it always. The most fabulous thing in the world is that it was an ordinary day that exemplifies your life as you know it.

So here we sat… shoes kicked off… moving our tables and chairs into the shade as the sun shifted… while the littlest girls ran willy-nilly all over the yard. They are our future, you know.

So they chased each other, ran under the trees and occasionally just fell to the ground in delight. Then someone would shout “Everybody HIDE!!!” And off the little girls would go.

Do I have to remind you what it is like to be 5 years old and under? I think not. So that’s where the fun starts… Little ones think if they aren’t looking right at you – you can’t see them! And when you actually see them doing it, you remember that time long ago when you did the very same thing!

The 5 year old ran into the trees. She knew she needed shelter.

The 3 year old found a dip in the yard and laid down in it. We could see her but she felt totally underground so it was a perfect hiding place.

The littlest one went on the far side of a big flower pot and crouched low. She shut her eyes just to be sure no one would be looking.

Mere hiding

AJ and Josey, the older grands, went on the search for them. Naturally they knew the game and respected how each little girl had hid. They were kind enough to call ahead and say they couldn’t see them. All of us adults were laughing like crazy as the game played out.

Honestly, what is more fun than a day like that? You’ve got a group of special loved ones gathered together, everyone is just hanging out and it’s a most extraordinary ordinary day. Exactly what I love the most! It’s the kind of day a soldier thinks of when he’s far from home. Or a child who has rebelled and wants that family contact once again. It’s the very thing that was so ordinary you barely noticed when it happened – and now it is the most important thing in the world. Diamonds and rubies can’t buy it – you just had to be there. And we all have been if we think back…

And you know what made me realize that? An old article in Reader’s Digest originally published in 1949. It’s called “The Day We Flew the Kites” and I’m going to reprint it for you here. It takes just a few minutes to read and it says it all.

The Day We Flew the Kites

by Frances Fowler

“String!” shouted Brother, bursting into the kitchen. “We need lots more string.”

It was Saturday. As always, it was a busy one, for “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work” was taken seriously then. Outside, Father and Mr. Patrick next door were doing chores.

Inside the two houses, Mother and Mrs. Patrick were engaged in spring cleaning. Such a windy March day was ideal for “turning out” clothes closets. Already woolens flapped on backyard clotheslines.

Somehow the boys had slipped away to the back lot with their kites. Now, even at the risk of having Brother impounded to beat carpets, they had sent him for more string. Apparently there was no limit to the heights to which kites would soar today.

My mother looked out the window. They sky was piercingly blue: the breeze fresh and exciting. Up in all that blueness sailed puffy billows of clouds. It had been a long, hard winter, but today was Spring.

Mother looked at the sitting room, its furniture disordered for a Spartan sweeping. Again her eyes wavered toward the window. “Come on, girls! Let’s take string to the boys and watch them fly the kites a minute.” On the way we met Mrs. Patrick, laughing guiltily, escorted by her girls.

There never was such a day for flying kites! God doesn’t make two such days in a century. We played all our fresh twine into the boys’ kites and still they soared. We could hardly distinguish the tiny, orange-colored specks. Now and then we slowly reeled it on in, finally bringing it dipping and tugging to earth, for the sheer joy of sending it up again. What a thrill to run with them, to the right, to the left, and see our poor, earth-bound movements reflected minutes later in the majestic sky-dance of the kites! We wrote wishes on slips of paper and slipped them over the string. Slowly, irresistibly, they climbed up until they reached the kites. Surely all such wishes would be granted!

Even our fathers dropped hoe and hammer and joined us. Our mothers took their turn, laughing like school girls. Their hair blew out of their pompadours and curled loose about their cheeks; their gingham aprons whipped about their legs. Mingled with our fun was something akin to awe. The grown-ups were really playing with us! Once I looked at Mother and thought she looked actually pretty. And her over forty!

KitesWe never knew where the hours went on that hilltop day. There were no hours, just a golden breezy Now. I think we were all a little beyond ourselves. Parents forgot their duty and their dignity; children forgot their combativeness and small spites. “Perhaps it’s like this in the Kingdom of Heaven,” I thought confusedly.

It was growing dark before, drunk with sun and air, we all stumbled sleepily back to the houses. I suppose we had some sort of supper. I suppose there must have been a surface tidying-up, for the house on Sunday looked decorous enough.

The strange thing was, we didn’t mention that day afterward. I felt a little embarrassed, Surely none of the others had thrilled to it as deeply as I. I locked the memory up in that deepest part of me where we keep “the things that cannot be and yet are.”

The years went on, then one day I was scurrying about my own kitchen in a city apartment, trying to get some work out of the way while my three-year-old insistently cried her desire to “go park and see ducks.”

“I can’t go!,” I said. “I have this and this to do and when I’m through I’ll be too tired to walk that far.”

My mother, who was visiting us, looked up from the peas she was shelling. “It’s a wonderful day,” she offered; “really warm, yet there’s a fine, fresh breeze. It reminds me of that day we flew the kites.”

I stopped in my dash between stove and sink. The locked door flew open, and with it a gush of memories. I pulled off my apron. “Come on,” I told my little girl. “You’re right, it’s too good a day to miss.”

Another decade passed. We were in the aftermath of a great war. All evening we had been asking our returned soldier, the youngest Patrick boy, about his experiences as a prisoner of war. He had talked freely, but now for a long time he had been silent. What was he thinking of–what dark and dreadful things?

“Say!” A smile twitched his lips. “Do you remember… no, of course you wouldn’t. It probably didn’t make the impression on you it did on me.”

I hardly dared speak. “Remember what?”

“I used to think of that day a lot in PW camp, when things weren’t too good. Do you remember the day we flew the kites?”

Winter came, and the sad duty of a call of condolence on Mrs. Patrick, recently widowed. I dreaded the call. I couldn’t imagine how Mrs. Patrick would face life alone.

We talked a little of my family and her grandchildren and the changes in the town. Then she was silent, looking down at her lap. I cleared my throat. Now I must say something about her loss, and she would begin to cry.

When she looked up, Mrs. Patrick was smiling. “I was just sitting here thinking,” she said. “Henry had such fun that day. Frances, do you remember the day we flew the kites?”

by Frances Fowler
Copyright 1949 by the Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.

I originally read this article many years ago and was touched by the beauty and simplicity of it. And I wasn’t nearly the age I am now. I am not ancient by any means, but I’m sure getting old enough to be aware of my own mortality. I know when one of those very special days comes along. I treasure them and store them up in my memory bank for later because who can know what will happen as we go along the older path of life? I want every fond memory at my beck and call and yesterday was a treasure trove of them.

By the way…

I usually put a link to these sketch blog posts on FaceBook so my friends and family will see them and read them. And all my contacts are kind enough to make a FB comment or two along the way. But this time… if you will humor me, please comment right here on the blog. (And if you want to “follow” me, there is a link on the right side of the blog here – which just means you will get an email whenever I make a new post.) What are your favorite memories?

We all really need to know. It is our gold mine to draw on when we have little else left. I know what mine are… do you? Tell me now!!!

 

Fun Fun Family Day at My House!

Every once in a while the stars line up and you hold your mouth just right and a fantastic day happens.

Today was that day!

I’ve written before about my former mother-in-law, Betty Jean, here. She recently passed away and we are missing her terribly but we decided to have a get-together just to all enjoy each other’s company. I had done a colored pencil portrait of Betty years ago and it was sitting in a folder in my office, so I got it out and had it framed for my (former) father-in-law. (And as a side note, I’m going to stop saying “former” right now because I’ve stayed close to my married family all along.)

So today was D-Day… Daubenmire Day… at my house. And like I said, I held my mouth just right and it was a gorgeous day with NO RAIN. A minor miracle this summer in Ohio.

Now I learned a few choice recipes from Betty over the years, so that’s what I made for lunch today. You might call them ‘sloppy joes’ but Betty always called them Spanish Hamburgers. And nary a work day or moving day ever went by that Betty didn’t show up with a crockpot full of them. Served on big fat hamburger buns with lots of dill pickles, of course. And Lay’s Potato Chips. I made more than we could possibly eat so no one would go hungry.

Side dishes? Fresh green beans cooked in chicken stock with some diced potatoes and corn cut right off the cob. Yum. I even threw in a can of kidney beans for a little flair. And then a great big dish of mac and cheese for the picky kids. Always a crowd-pleaser. On the fresh-food front was a salad of tomatoes, cucumber and red onion. Which we polished off after devouring a platter of taco dip with tortilla chips.

Thanks to Kroger Bakery we had a huge Chocolate Chip Cake, a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, some powdered donuts and a tray of mini cupcakes. All of which disappeared in no time. Makes it easier to clean up, doncha think?

And if I’m not mistaken, my brother-in-law Mike was humming while he ate. “This is the same food Mom always cooked,” he exclaimed. Ummm… duh… that was the point! I’m glad it worked!

Dozens of cans of Diet Coke, Sweet Tea and Sparkling Water kept everyone cool for the afternoon. And boy did the little girls have fun in that tub of ice! Thankfully all the moms and dads are pretty laid back and just snapped photos while the little girls drenched themselves and splashed away.

I wish you could all have been here… it was that fun!

Sooo….

We started off by giving my father-in-law, Bill, the portrait of Betty. Naturally that was a tear-jerker, but we expected that. You can’t live a good life without shedding a few tears, so we cry and then we laugh. It’s all good.

Bill & Starr Betty portrait2

I LOVE my father-in-law. He’s been a real father to me for most of my life (which means I am a fortunate person to have had TWO wonderful dads!) and I treasure him. He turned 88 last week and I hope he’s around for a good long time. Here he is with his youngest son Mike, who drove him to my house today…

Mike and Dad

Then… everyone else at the party today was the offspring of either me or my sister-in-law, Becky. Here we are with her new grandbaby, Mac (Macon William – after my FIL.)

Starr, Becky, Mac

My three kids (Bill, Brad & Ellyn) all came with their broods and Becky and her husband Mike brought the Patriarch, Bill and their daughter Amanda, who has Meredith (2) and Mac (4 weeks.) Becky’s son Michael couldn’t make it.

Now we don’t get together too often, so this was a special treat indeed. My two youngest grands, who I call “the little girls” hooked up with Meredith and had a blast. And even though I have a very small apartment, I have a pretty nice yard and they ran wild all afternoon. I can only hope they sleep good tonight!

OK, I’ll shut up and show you some pics…

This is my niece Amanda and her new babe

Amanda & Mac July 2015

This is my daughter Ellyn with niece Grace

Ellyn & Grace 2

Here is my oldest grand daughter Josey – the original Princess!

Jo Jo

And my first grandchild, AJ – who is 16 and is DRIVING!!! I can’t believe it!

AJ

Of course you must see one of the world’s cutest babies… Macon William – he is a precious chunk!

Gorgeous Mac!

We also had our “little girls” whose parents would rather not have their photos online. But what a delight it was to watch them run and play all afternoon! I’m old enough to know when to store up memories now and today was a day for that. To have my grands here… and my niece and her babes… and my in-laws who still claim me… I’m tellin’ you… life doesn’t get any better than that.

It’s been a long day but a very precious one. And I’m gonna have real sweet dreams tonight. The family came together… we had enough food for an army… everyone is healthy… and I love them all so much that I am just overflowing with gratitude.

All I can say is thanks for reading what I write here. And I hope you have such good days in store in your future. I’ll be in a nice warm family cocoon when I go to bed tonight. Thank you, Big Bill, Michael, Becky, Amanda, Bill, Brad, Ellyn, AJ and Josey for making me have such a wonderful day. I love you all.

Bill & Starr 3

PS… If you have a grand daughter named Josey you can’t say “sloppy joes” – it is “sloppy joseys!”

PPS… Remember to hold your mouth just right and your dreams might just come true!!!

Colin’s Overnight and the Gummy Legos

My 13-year-old grandson, Colin, is my buddy right now. He’s at just the right age where he is old enough to spend time with me and do fun things, but young enough to still enjoy his Nonna – which is me. And “Nonna” is Italian for grandmother. The grandkids all think because they call me Nonna that we are somehow Italian, but we are not. However, I am an “Italian-o-phile” at heart, so that’s where the fascination with anything Italian comes from.

Now I am not a “baby-sitting” granny. I help out as necessary but I have never watched any of my grandkids regularly. When they spend a day with me, we are bound for fun. We watch movies, gobble up popcorn and chocolate, play Angry Birds, go out to eat, surf on the computer, walk over to the schoolyard to swing at midnight, have art lessons and other such things.

When it comes to my grandchildren, I want to leave the impression that I was/am an interesting person who loves them dearly.

And that’s a bit different from raising your own kids.

I was a strict disciplinarian with my three. Rules, rules, and more rules.

Not that we never had fun. We did. But life was based on following the rules. That meant the parents were in charge, and the kids obeyed whether they liked it or not. Fortunately for me, this pretty much worked in our household.

Of course there was a lot more to it than that, but the point is… that’s how I raised my kids and it stuck.

Now that I have grandkids, I let their parents (my children) enforce the rules while I find ones to bend. Not major ones, of course. Criminal behavior is not to be tolerated. And parental authority is always in place – since it is the job of parents to care for their children. So I respect my children (who are now parents) instilling values in their own young ones and I support that.

But I also get to have a little fun with it…

For instance, this morning, when Colin and I woke up, he said… “Nonna! You forgot our treat last night!

Starr sunburn aActually, I didn’t. But I was so tired and sunburned from taking him to the waterpark all afternoon yesterday that I wasn’t quite in my right mind. A forgivable offense at my age…

The treat in question was ice cream. I had bought a small container for each of us – his was chocolate and mine vanilla.

And then it dawned on me… ice cream is milk, right? And kids have milk for breakfast…

“So you want it now?” I asked Colin.

A surprised look came over his face. “Ice cream for breakfast?” he replied in disbelief.

“Why not?” I asked. “If you don’t tell your mom we’ll be just fine.”

Colin ice cream 1aColin was delighted as I got the container out of the freezer and handed it to him. And he sported the biggest grin as he dug in and began to slurp it down.

Meanwhile, besides going to the waterpark yesterday, I had a surprise for Colin. For weeks he had been asking me for clues. All I could tell him was that it had something to do with “LEGOS” but he would never guess what…

In the past I have bought him LEGO kits because he loves them so much. But this was not a toy. And I couldn’t wait for him to discover what it was…

Recently I had come across an online video that showed how to make…

LEGO GUMMIES!!!

Yep… gummy candies in the shape of Legos. All you had to do was jot down the recipe and order the LEGO molds from Amazon.com here. Which I did.

The recipe, however, was a different story.

I found several versions on line and couldn’t tell what exactly would be the best, so I just had to start to experiment. I hoped it would work – which it did – but I got better with each batch. And that means, YOU, dear reader, can get the scoop from me here on how to make the best LEGO gummies ever! (And this takes longer to read than to do – it really is EASY!)

It took me a couple tries, but this turned out to be the best recipe…

  • 1/3 cup COLD water
  • 2 packets unflavored gelatin (they come four in a pack)
  • 1 packet of Jello (for the color and flavor)
  • ¼ cup of Karo light corn syrup

Put the cold water into a heavy glass pyrex measuring cup.

SLOWLY add the unflavored gelatin packets while stirring them in.

SLOWLY add the Jello packet while continually stirring.

Let the mix stand on the counter for 5-10 minutes while the gelatins get absorbed into the water. It will be the consistency of thick grainy applesauce and the color of whatever jello mix you used.

Add the Karo – it should make about 1 cup overall. Stir until the sugar is blended in.

gummy boil 1aMeanwhile, fill a small saucepan half full with water and put it on the stove on medium low. This will be the “water bath” for your jello/gummy mix.

When the water is hot, set the measuring cup of jello mix into the saucepan. This serves as a “double-boiler” so the mix doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently until the mix is completely liquid.

NOW…

You can use the mix at this point, but this extra step is worth doing…

Pour the liquid mix into a tall coffee mug and let it sit until completely cool. You can even let it sit out for a couple days as this is your basic gummy mix. But here’s what happens… there is a layer of “foam” that will rise to the top. If you leave that in there it will make your gummies cloudy and bubbly. But if you put it in a coffee cup to set, then you can deal with the foam.

gummy foam 1aYou can wait to the next day or just later that day if you’re in a hurry. Once it is cool, use a knife and fork to get the big gummy blob out of the coffee cup. I plopped it into a shallow bowl.

This is when you can cut off the foam on the top end and throw it away. Cloudiness gone!gummy skim a

Put the gummy blob back into the glass measuring cup and get the water in the saucepan on the stove hot again. Place the measuring cup right back into the hot water bath and stir until it is completely liquid again. Some say this “second melting” results in much clear-er gummies. And if you do get a bit more foam on top, it is easily skimmed off with a spoon. If you even care…

At this point, you need to have two things ready…

  1. The MOLDS
  2. And A Condiment Squirt Bottle (optional, really, but you can order it from Amazon, too… here)

I tried this a couple different ways and had some problems getting the gummies out of the molds. It wasn’t pretty. So I defied instructions and did it my way – which worked!

gummy molds 1aSome websites will tell you NOT to put baking spray on silicone molds because they don’t need it.

DON’T BELIEVE THEM! THEY ARE WRONG!

Once I started putting a light coat of baking spray in the mold before filling, it made ALL the difference! Just put in the lightest coating possible and it will be fine.

gummy condiment bottle1aThe squirt bottle is GREAT! It isn’t a complete necessity since you can always pour the hot mix into the molds right from the measuring cup. But if you want a child to help, you might make it easy on them and order a squirt bottle when you get your molds. Colin loved this even if he had to hold a towel around the squirt bottle when it was too hot to touch.

And another note… put your molds on a flat baking sheet (before filling) to stabilize them. Otherwise you can’t move them when you need to!

OK…

You’ve got the hot liquid in the molds and everyone is happy. Now is the time to get some really hot water running and rinse out the measuring cup, the funnel, the condiment bottle and the fork you were stirring with. If the water is good and hot, it will wash all the gelatin away and everything is clean again.

Now you wait.

I usually leave the molds on the counter until they are pretty cool. An hour or two. (less if you’re in a hurry!)

Then I can lift them and put them flat into the freezer. This will finish the cooling and make them easy to pop out.

After 30-60 min in the freezer, go get them out.

The best way to release them is to push in on the back of the mold without mercy. This will NOT break your sturdy mold, but it will make your new LEGO character pop right out in all its fine glory! (If you use thinner candy molds you won’t have to press at all – they’ll pop out with just a bit of pressure on the bottom.)

So here are my experiments.

gummie blueBLUE…

We made the blue ones first. I only melted them once and did not oil the molds. They were very hard to remove. Ugh!

RED…

lego gummies 4The red mix sat overnight in a coffee cup and got melted a second time after cutting off the foam. But even after being cooled off and being in the freezer after molded, I couldn’t get them out of the molds without breaking them. Drats! That’s when I decided to spray those molds the next time!

ORANGE…

gummies orange 1Time for orange. These sat overnight in the coffee cup, then we cut off the foam and melted the blob a second time. Colin squirted the hot melted liquid into the molds that had been sprayed with olive oil baking spray (any kind will work!) We let them sit on the counter until cool and then stashed them in the freezer for half an hour. They popped out of the molds like a dream! Hip hip hooray!

GREEN…

gummy greenNow green. And we’ve got this… Gummy mix sat overnight in the coffee cup (since I made all the flavors the day before) and then I ran a knife around the edges of the coffee cup and pried the whole mess out with a fork. Plopped it into a bowl, cut off the foamy stuff and then put it into the glass measuring cup. We melted it for the second time in the pan of hot water. Poured the melted mix into the squeeze bottle (through a funnel) and Colin squirted it into the oiled molds. Let cool on the counter for an hour – then half hour in the freezer – and we were golden. They popped right out and looked marvelous!

gummies Colin 1a

I can’t tell you what a fun thing this is to do with your kids or grandkids! And they will think you are SO COOL!

And if you put the gummies in the fridge for a bit, you can transfer them to containers and they won’t stick to each other. Just keep them cool and eat right out of the fridge in the next week or so.

ALSO… if you are more of a health nut than I am, you can make these things VERY healthy and natural. Google to find recipes that use natural fruit juice for flavor (instead of the Jello) and unflavored gelatin from grass-fed cows (yes, it exists and is supposed to be quite healthy for you!) I’m not quite that organic myself, but many are. And I do think they might taste better with real flavors from juice. The Jello ones are a little bland – but a lot of kids won’t care once they make them.

Meanwhile Colin wanted an art lesson since he loves to draw. We picked out a couple clip art images of anime characters and he worked on those while we watched Men in Black II.

During the movie I went and heated up our leftovers from last night’s supper out at Red Lobster. This kid LOVES seafood even though it isn’t something his mom feeds him at home besides the occasional salmon. We had shrimp and crab legs and lobster – and he was so happy he hummed while he ate. Next time he wants to try scallops – which I love, so we’ll get some.

What are Nonna’s for?

And yes, as soon as Ellyn came to pick him up I heard them chattering while packing his bag. All of a sudden Ellyn shouted, “you let him eat ice cream for breakfast?”

I turned back to what I was doing and just smiled to myself.

What a good Nonna I am!!

And Then There Was Ellyn… (part 4 of 4)

Finally, Ellyn was here. A full 3 weeks late and weighing in at 10 pounds 6 ounces.

I was so tired and out of it that when they held her up to me, I could barely look. I noticed that she was very blue and quite bloated. The reason she was blue was the Pitocin had not allowed her to get much oxygen between contractions, so this delivery had been very hard on her as well. And this sounds terrible, but I tried not to think that I got my girl – and she was a bit crazy-looking at the moment…

I remained in delivery for a good hour getting repaired from having such a large baby. The doc said, “just tell me when you start to feel the stitches and I’ll numb you again.” I reminded him at least 3 times!

Soon I was taken to a regular room and it was all over. I can’t tell you the relief that washed over me. But that was purely for myself. I also needed to talk to my sister-in-law Karen who had lost her baby a mere two weeks earlier. It was hard to be so happy for my own new baby girl when she had so recently lost hers. I tell her story here.

But now it was done. We had our boys. We had our girl. Both Bill and I could relax and just enjoy our family. And we did.

I was in seventh heaven with my new daughter. Every time I changed her diaper I would check again to confirm this was a girl child. How could I be so fortunate? It was inconceivable. I was overjoyed with my newly complete family.

Within a week or so, Ellyn lost that bloated look. She had just enough jaundice to have a bit of a “tan” and she was gorgeous. And she looked especially good in pink. I had one little “sack” outfit (drawstring bottom) that flattered her immensely. I would put it on her whenever someone came to visit and they would automatically declare that she was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen. I’m not kidding!

One day a good friend, Debbie came over to see Ellyn. I had the baby propped up in the corner of the couch dressed in pink and Debbie went nuts. “She’s beautiful!” cried Debbie over and over. And after our visit, Debbie called back to see if she could bring a few more people over to see this most gorgeous baby. “Of course!” I replied with pride.

Naturally, my mother and mother-in-law were on board with this. Betty, in particular, could not stop bragging on this beautiful grand baby. She really wouldn’t stop talking about it. So finally, HER mother-in-law, Big Bill’s mother (Georgia) Grandma Daubenmire, called me up one day. “I have to come over and see this “beautiful baby” she said with a suspicious laugh.

“Sure,” I replied. “Whenever you like!”

Later that day, Grandma D arrived at the door. She barged right through and zeroed in on Ellyn. She looked her over and up and down a couple times. She sat on the couch and I handed her the baby to hold.

Grandma studied Ellyn for a couple minutes and then said, “I don’t see what the big deal is here. This looks like a normal baby to me.”

Of course I didn’t think so, but I did know what she meant.

“Oh, she’s normal all right. But I do think she looks good in pink.”

“Maybe so,” admitted Grandma. “But pretty normal overall.”

And I just recently relayed this story to Ellyn herself – almost 40 years later – and she had a good laugh about it. “Maybe that’s where I get MY personality!” she said.

So that’s the story of Ellyn making her arrival, but it doesn’t really stop there. Not at all.

Remember, this baby girl had identical twin older brothers – which she didn’t know about when she got here – and she had to learn to deal with that. Which she did admirably…

The thing is, everyone has to adjust when twins come into your life. From the time they were born – and even after I had Ellyn – I was tempted to make a sign to wear around my neck that answered everyone’s first twin questions. I dressed them alike but people still asked the craziest things. So my sign (if I had one) would have said…

Yes, they are twins.

Yes, they are boys.

Yes, I can tell them apart.

These were innocent questions, of course, but I couldn’t believe the things people actually asked. I always dressed the boys alike – usually in blue – yet people would ask, “are they twins?” and “is one a girl” and “can you tell them apart?”

Duh….

But when Ellyn was old enough, I never had to answer those stupid questions because she took over… somewhere around age 2. When anyone would stop us out of curiosity, my daughter would look them in the eye and then point to the boys. “That’s Billy, that’s Brad, and I’M Ellyn!” she would declare. She picked up early on the fact that she had to stand her ground to be even with twin brothers. And she has always done so. Never in a demeaning way – just protective of both herself and them.

And let me tell you, she is one strong personality. The boys were always marshmallows in comparison. They rarely challenged her but Brad and Ellyn didn’t always get along. Billy never made waves with either one. He is the most easy-going of all three. Brad is very focused but has a good sense of humor like his brother. And since Ellyn came after him he likes to joke that he is a “middle child.” Now that’s funny!

So yes, I got my beloved daughter all those years ago but she made me work to train her, unlike the boys. If the boys misbehaved, I would sit them on the couch for a time out and they would look at me fearfully until they could get up. Then they would run off together to console each other and recover from their “harrowing” punishment.

Ellyn was a tough nut to crack. She would stare me in the face and defy me. I would send her to her room and she didn’t care. Once, when she was two, I smacked her and she smacked me back. I had to learn new tactics to deal with her. I was thankful for years that I didn’t have two of her!

Raising Ellyn was a roller coaster ride. We had extended good times and occasional bad times. But we got through it. And we loved each other intensely every step of the way. That was never in question.

Later this year, my daughter Ellyn will be 40 years old. She has 3 children of her own that she fights her own battles with. The cycle continues.

Meanwhile, I still have my sons. But you know what? You have to let sons “go” in a sense. They grow up, get married and have families of their own. They need to “leave” their mother to cleave to their wives. I recognize that. I remember being a new wife and competing with my mother-in-law for my husband’s affection. It can be a strange balance but I want my sons to be bonded with their wives while always remembering I am also their mother. I’ve stepped down a notch in their everyday lives but never in their hearts. I know that.

But my daughter…

She is a precious love like no other. She knows me inside and out just like I do her. We talk almost every day. If we don’t, I start to worry because I need to know how she is. And if I bug her too much, she’ll say, “Mom, get a grip! I can’t be your only friend!” She’s not my only friend, of course, but she’s my most important friend. She’s literally a part of me. She is also part of my heart.

In the last ten years or so I’ve needed a lot of help with various things. House things… gardening… recovering from surgery… and on and on. Ellyn is downright intuitive about it. If she gets the vibe I need something, she’s on the spot delivering it. Without fail. Much to my amazement and the wonder of her brothers.

Bill and Brad now call her “The Third” because she was my third child. And they always say, “Thank God for The Third!” And boy do they mean it! I could never express to the boys when I need certain things or why – they would be stricken to think they were ignoring me in any way – but Ellyn just KNOWS. She always KNOWS. And she delivers.

My sister – who ran from the hospital in fear the day Ellyn was born – now calls me to talk and when the subject of my daughter comes up, she always says, “I need an Ellyn!” And indeed, everyone does.

But you can’t have mine. She is a treasure worth more than any amount of money in the world. You can’t put a price on her. And in real life, she has her own problems and doesn’t see her worth. But I do. And I will always remember the day she was born – and her growing up time – and her rebellious time – and her coming-back time as the periods of my life with her that I will always prize. Is she perfect? No. Is she the most kind-hearted, hard-working, loyal person in the world? Yes.

I’ve posted this sketch of Ellyn before, but here it is again.

Ellyn3b

And then there was Ellyn…

And as I’m sure all my friends with daughters will agree…. I love my darling girl.

And Then There Was Ellyn… (part 3 of 4)

This time Bill and I weren’t so jovial when we got to the hospital. We had done this before and knew what we were in for. And my labor had started out much more intensely so I wasn’t in a very good mood. That didn’t bode well for Bill.

Once again my mother was there when we got there, but no one else. Betty had to work that day and everyone else was just on call waiting for an announcement by phone later in the day. This actually felt like a more normal birth and I was happy with that. I was anxious for baby Andrew (boy) or Ellyn (girl) to make an appearance as soon as possible. I got settled into a room while things progressed.

Again, things did not go fast. Not fast at all.

The nurse kept checking me and it was slow. I was given IV Pitocin to speed things up. And boy did it do that! Soon the contractions were intense and there was little time between them. I was a trooper at first and then it began to get the best of me. I was wearing down fast.

At one point my sister had arrived and came back to see me in the labor room. Unfortunately, it was a most inopportune time and she never made it in the door. I was suddenly having an intense contraction that made me tense up, all while feeling like I would throw up and blow up at the same time. Surely I was going to implode and as I wailed in pain, there was my sister at the door. I waved frantically for her to go away – which scared her so badly that she left altogether. She doesn’t have the stomach for such things and decided to go home to wait for further news.

This same thing repeated over and over until I began to feel very weak. All of a sudden I retreated into myself. The pain was intense but I let it overtake me. I just couldn’t fully fight it and I wanted it to take me away. I felt like whatever that force is that makes you feel alive – it was slipping away. I was physically aware that it was leaving me.

About that time, the doctor came in to check on me. He had an un-readable look on his face so I watched him as he left the room. Right outside, in the hallway, I could see him talking to the nurse. “We have to get that baby out of there… NOW!” he said.

The nurse came in and cranked up the Pitocin. My contractions got harder and had no time in between. I was in agony. Bill wanted to leave the room for a break and I wouldn’t let him. They had put both rails up on the sides of my bed to keep me contained and Bill put his hand on the rail beside me. I grabbed his hand in both of mine and squeezed as hard as I could – pinning his fingers to the rail – to intentionally hurt him. I was so fierce he couldn’t break loose.

“If you ever do this to me again, I will kill you,” I hissed. He looked at me in fear until I released my grip. Then he backed up several steps from the bed, shaking his hand in disbelief.

Thankfully, things didn’t go on much longer. Soon I was ready to go to delivery and they started to roll my bed out of the room. I, in an effort not to scream bloody murder, was saying WHOOOAAAA!!!! over and over. I was also holding onto the siderails of the bed with all my might and they wanted me to move my hands to get through the door. I could barely let go long enough to do that, so I just kept hollering WHOAAA! louder and louder and was told to calm down.

Finally we were in delivery and I could PUSH. That, of course, is when the real work gets done. My loud “WHOAAs!” switched to very loud grunting, which again embarrassed everyone but me. And again I was told to calm down.

Good Lord – did these people not know what was happening? I am a mild-mannered person in a dire situation here. I can’t help my gut reaction to having a baby with no pain meds. I WANT to scream at the top of my lungs and they don’t like that I’m just making animal noises instead. Bloody H*ll, what more can I do?

With Bill on one side of me and a nurse on the other, they raise my head and upper back to push harder. The doctor reaches up to the top of my belly to help with a downward motion. Suddenly he looks at me in shock and says, “that baby is still clear up under your ribs but is crowning. You must be having twins again.”

I think Bill almost fainted but I kept pushing. “As long as one is a girl, I don’t care,” I grunted.

With that, the doctor sent the nurse out of the room for a monitor so they could check for more than one heartbeat.

But before she came back, my daughter was born.

“My God,” said Dr. Lifer. “This baby must weigh a good 11 pounds!”

“Is there another one?” I asked.

“No, just this one big one,” he replied. “And it’s a girl.”

I fell back onto the bed and cried with relief. It was one baby.

And it was a girl.

My dream had come true.

girl

And Then There Was Ellyn… (part 2 of 4)

The rest of that summer passed. I was so busy being preggers and taking care of the boys that I had little time to paint or draw. It just wasn’t a priority. Plus, I had my bible study with Idell, as I wrote about here.

In the last trimester of my pregnancy I got huge again. Everyone, including me, suspected twins for a second time. I didn’t think it was likely, but I sure looked like it could be. I kept asking the doctor and he said, “no… there’s just one baby.” So that’s what I went with.

My due date was November 1st, 1975 and I was so uncomfortable that one of my docs took pity on me. He had me come to the hospital the evening of October 31st to induce labor. He really didn’t think I could carry this baby much longer.

I got hooked up with the Pitocin drip and started having contractions. I fully expected to have the baby within a few hours. Surely I was so far along that this baby would just drop out on its own.

Our best friends, Beany and Kaethe, came to visit for a while. We joked about having a “Halloween Baby” and then they left. My labor got more intense.

Along about midnight, the doc came in and checked me. The labor was NOT productive. It had been six hours of contractions and there was no sign of progress. The doc said it was dangerous to force things when this baby was obviously not ready, so I was released to go home. That was not only disappointing… I had to endure the contractions until all the medicine was out of my system. It was not a pleasant night.

A couple days later we repeated this process with the same result… Hours of induced labor… no baby… sent home.

I was getting discouraged. I was enormous and my mother-in-law, Betty, was watching the boys all the time. I feared that she would be sick of doing that by the time I really needed her. And I was almost as big as I was with the twins – which everyone speculated about. I felt like the Goodyear Blimp.

The doc told me it would be best to wait until the baby decided to come on its own. I agreed, but wondered how long that could possibly be.

During this time I had occasion to visit my paternal grandmother. She took one look at me and said, “that baby will come when the moon changes again.” I didn’t know what that meant – or when it would be – but I was willing to watch the sky for signs. I was getting desperate.

The silver lining was this… my own birthday (which I still celebrated back then) was coming up on the 20th of November. I would be 24 years old and it would be nice to have a baby girl on my own birthday, now wouldn’t it? I couldn’t imagine I would go that long with a due date 19 days earlier, but it was something to focus on.

Then the time really dragged. And dragged. And dragged.

Believe me, you can only go out and hear people say “Oh, are you still here? Where’s that baby?” for so long before you want to punch them in the nose. Plus my friends and relatives would call every day and ask… “anything?” Like I was stalling on purpose. I wanted to rip the phone off the wall and throw it out the front door. I was getting VERY cranky.

But what can you do? I was beginning to think I would be a pregnant cow forever, but that never really happens. And some of my other pregnant friends… who were going early… were making me crazily angry indeed. How is it fair that some women only go 36-38 weeks and I’m now edging past week 42? Can that possibly be fair? I think not!

At any rate, my birthday came and went. I wanted to cry.

Also, at the time, we were in a monthly Euchre Club with a bunch of other couples. I had found someone to sub for me for that November time slot since I thought I would be taking care of a newborn, but here I was… still large with child and going strong. I didn’t feel like playing cards that night, so I still used the sub. And I hung out at the card game around everyone else just to have something to do. I didn’t feel great and everyone doted on me as I sank into a comfy chair that I then needed help to get back out of. At least it was a change of pace from being home feeling like The Blob.

That card game was on a Saturday night and when it was over, Bill and I went home as usual. I didn’t think I could sleep flat in the bed so I camped out on the couch. I was extremely uncomfortable all night. I’m pretty sure Bill slept like a rock as he always did. Which irritated me, but was the norm.

On Sunday morning, Bill got up early and went down the street to work for his friend Briggs. Briggs owned a local pool hall and Bill had worked for him part-time for years. Now they were renovating a building on the west side of town to move to from the original down-town location. It was an ongoing project.

Once Bill was gone and I had the house to myself, I felt like I could finally relax. I plumped up my pillows (still on the couch) and gave a sigh of relief as I prepared to have a fine morning siesta. But no sooner did my head hit the pillow than the contractions began.

Really? Now that I’m finally tired enough to get some sleep and here it comes? Is this real?

Oh yes, it was real. I knew that in no time.

I called down to where Bill was and Briggs answered. “Tell Bill it’s time,” I choked out.

“All right,” replied Briggs. “I’ll let him go if you’re really in labor.”

Suddenly I was totally offended. I thought to myself… “WHAT??? You’ll LET him go???? Like there’s some sort of CHOICE here????” I bit my tongue as Bill came on the line and said he would be right home. But I was furious. And I needed to calm down… first of all, Briggs had no children so had not been through this. Second, I was in cranky labor mode already. I had to let it go, but as you can see, it has been almost 40 years and I didn’t forget it! (Starrgirl has a very vivid memory – you must always realize that!)

So now it was for real.

Bill got home, we made a few phone calls to tell friends and family it was time, and off we went to the hospital. It was Sunday, November 23, 1975. And our much-anticipated baby was finally on the way.

And Then There Was Ellyn… (part 1 of 4)

Forward:

Lately I’ve been writing a lot of family and friend posts – everything from the joyous day when my twin sons were born to the heart-breakingly sad deaths of several very special people in my life. To lose dear ones, no matter if they had a long, fruitful life, is very bittersweet. We don’t want them to suffer but we can’t have them with us forever, either. At least not right now. And the older we each get, the more losses we will have.

To turn that around, we need to be grateful for every day we have. Rain or shine or alone or in a crowd. Never miss a chance to enjoy a friend… or say a kind word… or laugh with a child… or hug your pet… or do a random act of kindness. You can never know what a difference it makes.

And of course it is always fun to remember the most heartwarming times of your life. As long as you have your right mind… or at least part of it… your memories are your treasure. You can call them to mind any time you like and enjoy them again. No one can take them away from you – no-where… no-how. And isn’t that the best thing in the world? It is to me!

I happen to have a rich memory file in my brain. I may have embellished it a bit over the years, but I won’t apologize for that. I am an artist, an artisan, a writer and a storyteller. I’ve grown into these things with practice… over time. And I love being able to re-create a time and place that happened just yesterday – or a month ago – or 40 years ago. If I can share the laughter, the tears, the every-day-ness that is so special upon looking back… then I have preserved something timeless. And that’s why I write and sketch on this blog. It may not last forever, but it is very fun to share for now with so many friends.

Now let me get hold of myself here and get on to the subject at hand…

Main Article

I’m still being reflective over the recent losses of dear ones in my life. But I know I need to be present and talk about more good times than bad. We all need that. And like I said, I related the story of when my twin sons were born. It was a grand event in my family. However, I had another child after that. She didn’t get near the attention as the commotion those twins caused, but she was every bit as precious to everyone in the family. And she still is, of course. That’s why I say…

And then there was Ellyn.

Ellyn has been… from day one… a force to be reckoned with. She is a spitfire. But a very kind and caring one at heart. If you get to know her.

And here’s how all of that came about…

When the boys were about a year and a half old, I felt pretty in control. We had our routines down pat, I had a great amount of help with them and things were going along well. My husband pitched in fully to take care of the babes and both my mother and mother-in-law were always available. The Driver family, who lived across the street, were crazy about the boys and took them all the time.

Dale and Kathy Driver would actually knock on my door and say, “hey, can we take the boys for a while?” They would either take them back across the street and sit out on the porch swing with their own 3 kids gathering around (Rick, Roxanne and Robin) or they would take the big old double stroller off the porch and walk them all over the place.

And between the Driver kids and all the Daubenmire cousins, we had plenty of babysitters on call. So I never felt too burdened down with the boys at all. Plus both boys were mild-mannered little guys who were close to each other and never caused too much of a fuss.

So I felt fully ready to have another baby. Truth is, I wanted a girl and then I would be done with my family. I figured I was pretty tied down already with the two, so what was one more? Just get it all done with at once!

Sure enough, I was expecting a short time later and was happy as could be. Except I had an overwhelming feeling it would be another boy. Now I didn’t mind that so much, but my husband Bill and I didn’t see exactly eye to eye about it. He didn’t mind the thought of another boy, either, but if it was… then that was going to be IT.

I simply could not concede to this. I wanted a girl. Desperately.

We fussed about it. A lot. And the main reason was financial. You see, I insisted on staying home to raise my own children and Bill would have preferred that I had a full time job somewhere. We TOTALLY disagreed on this point. In fact, we had discussed it before we were married but something got lost in translation. Now here we were expecting baby number three. Another mouth to feed no matter if it was a boy or girl. Bill wanted to be sure that’s where it would stop since he was the sole breadwinner. I was oblivious.

Whenever the subject of this being “the last baby” would come up, I would balk.

“If it’s a boy, I want one more,” I always said. And then I would finish with, “I know that means I will probably have 4 boys.” Which was how I really felt. I truly did understand his concern but I had to fight my fight for a girl child. Bill honestly didn’t care one way or the other.

By the summer of 1975 I was sporting a pretty good “bump.” I was due the beginning of November so we decided on the things we wanted to do before baby #3 arrived. I wanted to take an art class that had caught my eye and Bill wanted to go to Myrtle Beach for a week. Somehow we managed to do both.

Bill’s parents, Bill and Betty, took the boys for the week we went down south. It was the first time we ever left them and after a few days we weren’t quite sure what to do with ourselves. Soon we had our wallets out looking at photos of the boys and talking about them… and arguing over whether babe #3 would be the last. “Only if it’s a girl!” I declared. And I stood my ground while Bill took a long puff of his cigarette and looked off into the distance.

The week went by pretty fast and we were back home in short order. Before long, it was time for my art class.

I was anxious for this workshop because it was taught by a beautiful young woman from Europe named Ele. She was a natural platinum blonde, living with her artistic college professor husband in rural Fairfield County. The class was on their property and they opened their home to all the students. We also got a tour of the farm.

Ele raised chickens in a small shed her husband had built but they weren’t ordinary chickens. They were quite exotic because they had feathers on their feet and laid all manner of colored eggs. In fact, that was why Ele chose them! I had never been around a chicken in my life so I was infatuated with this organic lifestyle.

zinnias-sue-zimmermannAnd the paintings! Inside the house hung numerous paintings done by Ele – a lot of which were of zinnias. A flower very dear to my heart because it reminds me so much of my favorite grandmother. I was smitten by the whole thing… the house, the chickens, the coop, the paintings and Ele’s bright hair and infectious smile. I went home thinking how much I loved her name. Maybe I would use it for my new baby if it was a girl.

It wasn’t long before I had my baby-name books out looking through the E-section and that’s when I saw it…

Ellyn.

Spelled with a y.

It struck me just the way it looked on the page.

If only I could have a girl baby.

I would name her Ellyn with a y.

I surely would.

Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 4 of 4)

Once I was baptized, Idell did not abandon me just because our Bible Study was over. She remained my friend and helped me through all the hurdles to come.

Witnesses do not celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter. And I had previously been a big celebrator. I even had a Christmas wedding and always insisted on making all of my Xmas gifts for others myself. This required that I start on those projects by August to have everything complete by mid-December. I had loved Christmas so much that Bill and I held an open house every Christmas Eve for everyone we knew. It took me days to prepare for and often lasted all night and into the next morning. For Bill’s sake, I continued to do this.

The other thing Witnesses do – much to public horror – is go door to door in the ministry work. It is what we are known for. And hated for. And made fun of for. And I did NOT want to do this one bit. Nada, nada, nada.Alligator

Never mind that I myself had become a Witness due to Idell being faithful in this door to door work… I wanted no part of it.

But I was shamed into it for the very same reason. Yes, many will reject us at their doors… but there are also those out there like me who would respond if given the right chance. And that means eternal life – no small thing. So how can you not do it?

Well, I could still certainly not do it – happily – but Idell decided to train me. She would pick me up and we would go “work” a couple streets. This is what we call “going in service.” And I hated every minute of it.

The two of us would be walking up a sidewalk to a front door and I would be looking at the ground with dread. “I’m gonna throw up,” I would say.

Idell would completely ignore me.

Knock… knock came the sound as Idell firmly announced her arrival at the door.

“Please don’t answer,” I would think loudly. “Please, don’t be home!”

Sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t. Never phased Idell a bit. If no one was home we pushed forward. If they were, she would meet their every objection with a kind answer and leave them with a scripture to consider. I was amazed at her prowess in doing this. I was also floored at her consistency in service.

I knew Idell for 40 years. As Witnesses, we turn in our service time to the congregation elders for a record each month. In those 40 years, I’m willing to speculate that Idell never had an inactive month in her life. And I’m sure her active record goes back to when she was a child.

Here’s the thing… I am a “spiritual child” of Idell. But I am not the only one. She had her own three biological children… Jim, Lisa and Laura. And she birthed many a spiritual child in the years after that. I don’t think we could even count how many. I just know she became my real mother 40 years ago and my life – and my children’s lives – have never been the same.

Now I need to digress once more.

When I first met Idell, her youngest child, Laura, was still at home but engaged to be married. Soon Laura was off on her own and I asked Idell how it was to have an empty nest.

“When you have such a joyful child as Laura,” she replied, “the house becomes very quiet. In fact, it is like 10 clowns died and left you alone.” I was touched by this sentiment but immediately my own babes started to howl and I came back to my own reality. Once again, I understood what Idell had just said but I couldn’t really relate. I was too absorbed in my own life but I really grew to love Idell as a mother.

I also became fast friends with Laura. I would ask her the things I was afraid to say to Idell and she would always answer me truthfully. Taking my toddlers and newborn infant to the Kingdom Hall was a challenge. Witnesses don’t stash their kids in a nursery – they are trained from infancy to be a respectful part of the congregation. Laura told me that as a child she would sit beside her mother, Idell, and play with her long, thin fingers. Idell would allow this for just so long until Laura was told to turn her attention back to finding the mentioned scriptures in her own bible and follow along. Like I said, Idell never wavered… even when it came to her own children.

Because of Idell, I found my spiritual home and family. With her help I was able to raise 3 children “in the truth” – which is what we call our faith among ourselves. And so far, I’ve only talked about our spiritual connections, but there was so much more…

And you know what? Now that I’m older I am much like my Aunt Vera. I’m afraid of running out of toilet paper so I stock up. And my hair sometimes takes on a strange shade much like my Aunt Doots. It’s just the way things go, I guess.

Meanwhile, Idell was always a style maven. She was a master interior decorator and extremely accomplished seamstress. She had always sewn beautiful clothing and home accessories. Idell had exquisite taste and educated herself about decorating and fabrics and style. Oh the things she taught me!

I had a natural bent towards the arts but I wasn’t very educated. Idell took me under her wing and opened the world to me. Polyester was all the rage back in the seventies, but Idell would have nothing to do with it. She took me to the fabric store and showed me the difference between real cotton, real linen and even silk. She had me run wool fabrics between my hands to get the feel of them. She showed me how to make Roman Shades before anyone else even knew what they were. I made them for every room in my house and my friends and family were amazed.

One time I was looking at clothing patterns with Idell. She was very fond of Vogue – the most stylish but also the most difficult – and she pointed out to me that women began to lose their figures when A-line dresses were current. She much preferred fitted skirts and belted pants that remind a woman when they are getting a bit tight in the waist. Those A-line garments could hide a lot of sins and that didn’t keep a woman accountable. I remember thinking this theory was a bit “out there” but looking back, I think she was brilliant to point it out. Just the sort of inside knowledge a smart mama passes on to her daughter!

Idell taught me that perennials are the basis of any garden. Get those established and your gardening will be a breeze. She helped me pick out trees that would grow in my back yard as a foundation planting.

When it came to food, Idell was a magician. She despised artificial foods and encouraged me to buy fresh fruits and vegetables – even though I didn’t know what many of them were. She took me to the co-op and introduced me to whole wheat products, raw cheeses, yogurt and more. One time I came home with a bunch of packaged goods and laid them out on the counter. My husband came in, took a look around and said, “What the h*ll are WW Elbows?” Of course that is a whole wheat pasta in traditional elbow shape, but when I relayed that comment to Idell later, she laughed so hard she couldn’t speak. And every time it came up afterwards, we laughed again.

As the years went by, Idell and her husband moved to Florida. I was a bit crushed when she left, but in true Idell style, she had me down to visit. She found out I was depressed and immediately had me book a flight to come and stay with her. This was a rare treat for me and it was very therapeutic. She took me to fabric stores, antique stores, the kingdom hall, out in service and we even went to Ybor City and had wine with lunch! I was so refreshed when I went back home I was almost a different person.

Idell just had a way of opening the whole world to you because she could read you like a book and give advice like the most skilled therapist in the world. She was so interested in people that she had tons of friends. And if you were around, she would say, “Oh, you must meet so-and-so!” And she would make a couple calls and get you together. Soon you were talking intimately with someone you could connect with because you were on the same wavelength. Idell was a “friend-matchmaker” because she not only cared… she did something about it.

Later, when some hard times came in my life, the phone would ring and it would be Idell on the other end. She was comforting and spiritual in the kindest way. And I always felt like I could trust every word she said. This was the woman who had taught me the most important things in my life and now she was reinforcing them. She acknowledged my hard times – without ever mentioning her own – and kicked me in the butt to keep going.

Idell’s devotion to Jehovah and bible principles were non-negotiable. She was what I would call a War Horse – someone who always went forward with conviction, tempered with empathy, but never wavering from the mission at hand. It wasn’t that she was fearless (although she was in many ways) – it was that she did her best to be obedient.

When I visited her in Florida a couple times she drove us everywhere. She knew the kitschiest restaurants, the best shops for everything and no matter how many hours a day we entertained ourselves, when it was meeting time, we went. This often involved her having to cross Dale Mabry Highway at the busiest times. It was a bit scary to me and she noticed. We sat there with headlights careening everywhere and she said, “Don’t worry. They come down this road like bats out of glory, but we’ll make it.” And we did. And I stole that phrase from her… “bats out of glory!” And I get a laugh almost every time I say it!

How do you thank an incomparable friend like that?

You can’t. You simply have to emulate them and be a friend like that to others in your own life. And Idell has left a rich legacy to live up to.

I recognize that Idell’s close family who had to live with her these past few years while her health deteriorated had some challenges to face. I can see the best of Idell because that’s all I ever had to deal with. But we are all annoying to someone and I’m sure even Idell tested the patience of some of her loved ones. But they stood the test until the very end and she was loved for the dear, faithful, generous person she was.

Idell was my true mother. My heart aches for her recent passing. And all I can do is take comfort in what she taught me…

Revelation 21:3, 4 talks about a time in the future when we will all be reunited on this earth. It is my favorite scripture I learned from Idell…

With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”

Idell will be back. Her family will welcome her and then her other children, including me, will get to kiss her with tears of joy, knowing that pain and death will be no more.

Thank you, Idell, my dear mother, for making my life worth living. I love you always.

Idell Boice ~ 9.3.1925 to 6.29.2015

Idell drawing 2a

Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 3 of 4)

As young people are wont to do, after a couple years in college, I got a serious boyfriend. However, I did not meet him in pursuit of my studies… I had known him from high school.

Bill and I fell head over heels in love. We were having so much fun that I didn’t know what to do with myself. And I was totally able to ignore what different people we really were. So if you hear that term, “Love is Blind” – you should definitely believe it… because it is.

I had taken every course available at the OU-Lancaster campus and had to transfer to the main campus in Athens. That meant I had to commute 45 minutes each way for classes, which cut into my work hours dramatically. Bill and I had gotten married but I was draining our resources. I worked less, was gone more and needed to do homework when Bill would have rather had us going out with friends. This became a great source of stress for us both.

Finally, in the middle of my junior year of college, I decided to take a break. That way I could work full time, replenish the coffers and not feel so guilty when I went back to school. Bill and I were both happy with this turn of events.

Until…

I became pregnant.

I thought, “oh well, I won’t be the first female student to complete her degree with a baby in tow.” So I sailed along with no worries in the world. I fully intended to go back to school and thought Bill was on board with that.

But our baby – which arrived in June 1973 – was not just A baby…

It was TWINS.

And we fell madly in love with our two new sons. But taking care of them left no time or money for anything else. However, we didn’t care. Those boys were our life and we had a blast enjoying them. I put all thoughts of school out of my mind.

After a year or so I figured if I wanted a girl baby I should just go for it and be done with generating a family. Bill was happy with the way things were, but soon I was pregnant again. I loved my life at home with my babies and just prayed that our new baby would be a girl.

About this time, I was visiting with a friend I had known since high school. D had a son the same age as my boys and we would occasionally get together during the day. We would tend our babies and talk about all manner of things. And to my surprise, D posed the question to me, “do you know anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

I did not.

“I’ve heard that if you tell them you’re Catholic they’ll go away,” I replied.

D laughed and told me that wasn’t true. She then proceeded to tell me she was having a “bible study” with one of her relatives that was a Witness but she wanted to quit and didn’t know how to tell her.

“Oh, just leave that to me,” I replied. “When is your next study?”

D filled me in and I told her that I was pretty much a bible expert from my growing-up years and I would be glad to come to her next study and sit in. And then I would tell them for her that they needed to leave her alone. D was thrilled.

The following week I packed up my babies and went to D’s house. D and I got our little ones situated to play together while her Witness aunt and a friend gathered around the table nearby. We all got out our bibles and began to converse. I don’t remember too much of the conversation except that I was very bossy and gave my “interpretations” of every scripture that came up as I understood it. We spent a couple hours doing this and I finally made the point that D did not want to “study” any more. The Witness ladies seemed to understand.

I was pleased that I had “done my job” and began to pack up my boys to go home. D’s Aunt Carol focused on talking to her while the other lady, Idell, turned her attention to me. “Where do you live?” she asked. I told her. “Oh, I know right where that is,” she said. And I didn’t think any more about it.

But the very next week a knock came at my door and there was Idell.JWs

We chatted briefly and she left. But a week later she was back. And the week after that and the week after that.

Sometimes I would not answer the door because I didn’t want to talk. I not only had twin babies, I was pregnant again and didn’t feel too energetic all the time. I mentioned this to Idell thinking she would lose interest in me. That was not the case.

The fascinating thing was, Idell would make good conversation and always steer it toward spiritual things. She would ask me intriguing questions that I wanted to know about – and then direct me to a scripture that had the answer. After she left I would go get out my own bible and try to make sense of it. This lead to me having more questions when she came back.

Eventually Idell asked me if I wanted to have a free “bible study.” I was tempted, but refused. I loved talking to her but I knew my husband would not be pleased. And if it wasn’t something we could do together, it would probably come between us and I didn’t want that. Idell had me look up 1 Peter 3:1,2 –  In the same way, you wives, be in subjection to your husbands, so that if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.

And so our study began.

At the time we had this small blue book called The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (the Truth Book) and I insisted on using my King James Bible in addition to the “New World Translation” she brought me. I didn’t want to be tricked into anything and I still considered myself very educated on the bible. After all, I had spent years in church and Sunday school – what could I not know by now?

A LOT, as it turns out. (And now I need to give you an ALERT since I am going to make a couple non-PC biblical points here…)

I think the very first thing I learned was that God has a name. And it isn’t Jesus.

I had always had trouble making sense of that Trinity business and Idell went over it with me until I finally understood it. God’s name is Jehovah (Psalm 83:18) and when you put it in perspective, it made perfect sense. Humans have a name – we don’t call each other “man” or “woman” or “boy” or “girl.” We have names, just as our almighty God does. And until we know and recognize that name we can never draw close to him on a personal basis. How do you get to know someone if you don’t even know their name? Simple answer… you don’t.

I think this was one of the most important things I ever learned in my life and it was so elementary… so basic. How do we not all know that?

Then Idell taught me about the Paradise Earth. Which boils down to this… all of us have the desire to live on this beautiful planet forever. It is our home and God created it to be that way. Now there are a few who have a heavenly hope – to be with Jehovah and Jesus in heaven as part of the coming government that will rule mankind – but for the majority of us, we want to stay right here and live forever just like Adam and Eve could have if they hadn’t screwed up. That’s what Jesus and his ransom sacrifice was all about – making sure that Jehovah’s original purpose for the earth still got carried out.

On a sidenote, I need to say that over the years, all of my questions got answered. One Tuesday evening I was sitting in our weekly Bible Study in a private home and the subject of “recognizing Jesus” for who he was came up. I immediately flashed back to that time a few years before when I was laying on my bed, reading an English assignment, and wondering about that very question. And then it dawned on me… my answer was YES. I would have recognized Jesus because the same work that went on in the first century is going on today. Jesus was the center of it then just like he is now. And I recognized him and responded in kind. I lowered my head, smiled to myself, and thanked Jehovah for sending me Idell.

Another sidenote… My new baby WAS a girl and I was ecstatic. For a baby gift, Idell brought me the oversized two-volume encyclopeadic set called “Insight on the Scriptures.” I can’t tell you how I poured over those volumes in the coming years as I continued my spiritual education.

And that was just the beginning. Within a year of studying the Bible with Idell, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and got baptized. But Idell knew I would continue to have problems. Yes, I loved and was committed to my spiritual decision, but all of my family was not. My former church community was not. And things did not go along smoothly…

Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 2 of 4)

So as I said, my dear friend Idell passed away a couple days ago and I can feel the loss in my heart.

It didn’t matter that she was almost 90 years old… she was timeless to me and such a long-standing rock in my life that I had the feeling she would always be there. And really, she will be. Just not physically in this world as I was used to.

And at least I now recognize that older people aren’t just on the sidelines of life. They have a rich history to share and we need to treasure them. And if they have a few strange aberrations, wouldn’t it be fun to find out why? I wish I had had this perspective when I was a stupid kid making fun of an old aunt for the color of her hair.

Now, thanks to Idell, I am a better person. But to tell that story I need to back up just a bit…

This blog has always been about adventure and family and sketches from my daily life. I record my stories here and people seem to enjoy reading them. And generally I adhere to the usual rules… stay away from religion, politics and inflammatory subjects. That’s the safest thing to do.

But today, I am breaking that rule because my connection with Idell had a lot to do with religion. A faith that for us, is a way of life.

And to understand that better I have to go back to my childhood… because that’s where it really started for me…

I remember being in fourth grade and liking to go to church. Why? I don’t really know. But there was a church just a few blocks from our house and I would walk there by myself to go to Sunday School. I made friends. I memorized scriptures. I even won a cross necklace in the Bible subjects competition. I wore it everywhere.

Looking back I know it was a mixture of two things…

I liked the spiritual education. And I liked the attention I got for attending on my own. I’m pretty sure I milked it for all I was worth.

Eventually my whole family started attending this church and I was more involved than ever. I was in the choir… I joined the youth groups… I volunteered in the nursery and at summer Bible camp, as a teacher’s aide, when I was old enough.

Then my family began to disintegrate. My mother was ill and she and my dad weren’t getting along. I dealt with this by reading my bible in bed at night before going to sleep. I loved the Psalms and Proverbs and would underline my favorites with a red pencil until pretty much those whole books had red notations.

This lent me a lot of spiritual support but my family still fell apart. It was a painful transition when my mother left and my brother and sister and I remained in the custody of our dad. And I can’t tell you how unusual this was in 1968!

Dad moved us to a different town where we all made new friends. I found a new church but never completely connected. And a few things happened that were disappointing to me and I began to lose interest. I just figured I was growing up and getting a new perspective on life.

I graduated from Lancaster Ohio High School in June 1969 at age 17 (almost the youngest in my class!)

I was also eagerly anticipating going to the local branch of Ohio University in the fall to study Fine Art. I was envious of my high school friends who went off to colleges all over the country, but I needed to work and pay my own way, which meant I had to stay home. But it was still exciting because I would finally get to study art in a serious way. And my ambition to be an artist went waayyy back…

When I was in the second grade – probably about 1957 – our grade school class (Chillicothe Ohio) – took a field trip to a local historic home called Adena. We all got to tour the beautiful mansion, then go to the gift shop to buy rock candy on a stick, and then adjourn to the spacious lawn out front.

ginkgoThe teacher sat us in the shade of one of the Ginkgo trees and had us examine a leaf of that tree. It was so distinctive that I remember its unique shape to this day.

Then the teacher passed out large sheets of drawing paper and asked us to make a rendition of the front view of the Adena Mansion. I was thrilled to do this and dug in with gusto, rock candy on a stick shoved comfortably into the left side of my mouth.

I drew and drew. The mansion took shape on my paper and it was time to add color. I wasn’t familiar with watercolor but was able to make a few light washes with what I had. And then I had a brilliant idea… I would do the bushes in the front of the house by dabbing them on with a sponge dipped in green paint.

Now I have no idea how I thought of that at that age, but it was a tremendous success. When the teacher came by, she gasped out loud at my effort and asked if anyone had helped me.

“Of course not!” I replied. “Who could help me here?”

The teacher looked down at me and patted my shoulder.

Later, my drawing was hung in the hallway outside my classroom and I was forever known in school as “the artist.” I loved it.

So years later, here I was, pretty much grown up, and my two main interests in life were anything connected to art… and spiritual things that I would read in my Bible at bedtime.

For the first time in my life I was getting REAL art lessons – as a student at OU-Lancaster and I would occasionally wonder how I could know more about God. At one point I was reading an assigned story in English literature that talked about the early Christians. I was propped up on a pillow in my bed and I laid the book down on my chest and closed my eyes. I wondered to myself… had I lived in the first century and been exposed to Jesus during his ministry, would I have recognized him for who he was? Or would I have been like the majority of people who thought he was some sort of oddball stirring up trouble. This question weighed heavy on me and stayed in my mind.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church and knew a lot about that history, but all my cousins were Catholic. They seemed to have more rituals and things like beautiful rosaries that you could hold in your hand. Should I go that direction to find a closer relationship with God? I wasn’t sure. How could you ever know what was the right thing to do?

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