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Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

The Look of Love

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A few days ago I posted a photo of my parents that was one of my favorites, but when it comes to my maternal grandparents – I have many that I adore! The reason I enjoy looking at them is because in photos of just the two of them, their love for each other just radiates off the photo. Take a peek!

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The Library of Congress’ Today in History page reports that on this day in 1918, the “American Expeditionary Forces…launched its first major offensive in Europe as an independent army” led by General John J. Pershing. My family has a connection to “Black Jack” Pershing in two different ways. As seen in the photo above, my grandfather met the General in the days of WWI when Pershing inspected my grandfather’s squadron. In a letter to my grandmother back home in Indiana, my grandfather mentions the inspection and meeting. Pershing is the first man in uniform from the right (not standing on the car) and my grandfather, Glen R. Johnson, is the third from the left.

The second connection is through my husband. Pershing State Park in Linn county, Missouri lies across US 36 – 16 miles from my husband’s father’s farm. Each time we drive that road, we see the signs about Pershing and the Park.

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A Special Photo

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The photo above is one of my favorite pictures of my parents. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you probably have noticed that I don’t post many pictures of my parents together. I’ve done that because I wanted to respect both of them since they were divorced when I was twelve. My father is still living but isn’t connected to a computer or the internet. I post this here today because for me, this photo represents a time when they were in love with each other. They were young and looking toward a future filled with possibilities.

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Today, September 10, marks the 13th Anniversary since the last day the United States was “normal.” I am not really sure what I was doing on September 10, 2001 specifically. I dropped my son off at the high school – not sure if I took my daughter or if she caught a ride with her friends. I took my youngest to middle school. It was a Monday so I went to work at my church. And I was still fresh off my trip to my brother’s funeral in Alabama. There were still sad moments during the day. I worked my three hours and went home to grab lunch. More than likely, I turned the television on to watch the rest of the noon news before one of my daytime shows started. I’m sure I fixed dinner that evening after my husband and kids were home from work and school.

According to USA Today’s online article “The Day Before,” items that the American people were reading about or watching on the news concerned the trial of actor Robert Blake, suicide bombings in Istanbul, Michael Jackson’s first live concert in quite awhile at Madison Square Garden, and President Bush’s trip to Florida. It was by all accounts, a day just like thousands of days that had come before. But that would all soon change.

Just like those alive on December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963, we all know where we were and what we were doing the morning of September 11. I’ve written before of my memories and thoughts. Before we realized it, whatever we considered “normal” was gone. For many days the airspace over my house – close to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – was silent. Growing up near an air base in Ohio and living in my present home for so long, airplane noise had always been normal for me. The silence overhead was eerie. People walked around with a look on their face as if they didn’t know whether to be sad, confused, or angry. Everyone wanted to talk about it. Most of us were glued to our televisions as those horrific scenes were played over and over again and listened to the stories of those who had escaped from the towers, the Pentagon, or had heard their loved one’s last words via a cell phone high above a Pennsylvania field.

When the airlines began flying again, instead of the “normal” sounds above, I would look up and wonder if there would be another plane right on the heels of 9/11. What used to be normal for travelers had all changed. There was a list of banned items, new rules and restrictions in place for luggage, and no way to see your loved one’s off in the terminal just before boarding. When family would fly in to D/FW in order to catch another flight somewhere else, there wasn’t any way that I could go visit with them until they left; it just wasn’t allowed anymore.

Children grew frightened. The American people pulled together – at least for a short time – because it was OUR country that was attacked; OUR people were killed; OUR airlines were hijacked. Churches were packed with people looking for answers and praying for the nation.

And normal now? Homeland Security Agency – part of the government that didn’t exist 13 years ago today. Pat downs, luggage inspection, and getting body scans at airports. New vocabulary has entered our lexicon: Al-Queda, Taliban, “weapons of mass destruction,” ground zero (meaning where the twin towers once stood), and the war on terror. Children born after September 11, 2001 (and some that were young) will never know a world of “normal.”

This is a sad anniversary – the Last Day of Normal.

 

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Home

This is the only house I lived in until the spring before I turned sixteen. The picture above, taken in the winter time, shows how young the plants and trees are.

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As time went by, the landscape changed. A blue spruce and pine trees were planted in the front yard. The vast backyard changed to include plants, places for a child to play, and an in-ground swimming pool.

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Where there wasn’t really an entry way, my dad built in a barrier with a bookshelf and wrought iron railing and tiled the floor.

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After moving away in the spring of 1977 – to a town home across the highway, we’d have occasion to go down the street and see our old house. It really never changed. Then after I left Ohio and moved away, it seemed that when I did visit the area, the fir trees in the front yard had grown taller and taller.

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Until I moved to the house I’ve now lived in for over 26 years, the house above was what I always thought of when I thought of home.

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Happy Grandparents Day!

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On August 3, 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day (Wikipedia). So if you are a grandparent – Happy Grandparents Day! If you are lucky enough to still have your grandparents living, make sure you give them a call today and thank them for all they have done for you! If you are a parent of young children, call your own parents to recognize them today.

AARP has stated that “almost 7.8 million children are living in homes where grandparents or other relatives are the householders, with more than 5.8 million children living in grandparents’ homes” and “2.5 million grandparents are taking on the responsibility for these children” (AARP, Grandfacts, January 2014, http://www.aarp.org). According to the American Grandparents Association (AGA) the average age of first time grandparents is 48 (grandparents.com, Surprising Facts about Grandparents, AGA, 2014, http://www.grandparents.com). My family is a part of the statistics. Not only do we have three generations under our roof, but have been primary caregivers for one of our grandsons since he was a year old.

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The day I became a first time grandparent!

I was much younger than the average age the first time I became a grandparent at age 39. Too young to be considered a “grandma,” I decided that I did not want that as a moniker. I flirted with “Granny” but that was mainly because on the Robin William’s version of Peter Pan (“Hook”), Dame Maggie Smith was called “Granny Wendy” (and if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you are aware of my affinity with “Peter Pan!”) My kids laughed at me and said it made me sound older than what “Grandma” would. As I had read in several publications about grandparents, grandchildren are the ones who eventually give your the name. I can still remember the day that I walked through the living room and my grandson said “Nana” and looked straight at me. So that’s what I am called by all the grandsons! My husband was not so particular – he was a Grandpa and that’s what he was going to be called. Well, my grandson could say the “pa” part so he doubled it. My husband became Papa!

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Vesta (Wilt) and Glen R Johnson – Nana and Granddad

My parents – also not conventional – didn’t want to be Grandma or Grandpa either. My mom was under 50 when my sister had her first child so my mom became “Grammy” and my dad became “Gramps.” My maternal grandparents – Glen R. Johnson and Vesta C. (Wilt) Johnson – were Nana and Granddad to their many grand- and great-grandchildren. When I show my grandsons pictures of them, I say that they are their “Great-Nana” and “Great-Granddad.”

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Lloyd & Ella Amore

My paternal grandparents had passed away before I was born so I really didn’t call them anything – other than “Dad’s parents.” Of course, researching family history, I’ve become more personal with them and call them “Grandma” and “Grandpa” Amore – and sometimes their first names.

One of my cousins is “Mimi” to her grandsons and her late husband was “Poppi” while another cousin (my first cousin’s daughter) goes by “Grandma” which is hard for me to believe that she is a grandmother! An older couple from our church use the German monikers of “Oma” and “Opa.” Someone I knew years ago called their mother-in-law “Honey” as her grandmother name.

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Papa with five of our six grandsons!

It isn’t what a grandparent is called, it is the relationship. Two of my grandsons live in our home. Two others I see if not once a week then at least twice a month. Two others are our new grandchildren that we were blessed with upon the marriage of our daughter to their father. One is now away at college and the other we get see at least once a month. That is a blessing that we are so close to them, see them, and have a real relationship with them.

So what are you waiting for? Call those grandparents – even the honorary ones (aunts, uncles, the older couple at church that has taken you and your family under their wing) – or grandparents – call your grandchildren! Without you – those grandchildren wouldn’t be here!

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During the last few years of my mother’s life, I would casually glance through boxes she had stored in her basement, closet space over the stairwell, and in the closets of the guest rooms knowing that someday my sister and I would have to figure out what to do with all of those items. For a good number of years, after my grandparents had passed away in the early 1980s, there was a big box in the furnace room in the basement that contained dry cleaning bags my grandmother had saved as well as wrapping paper that had been ironed in order to re-use it time and time again. I would just shake my head. My sister had asked her once if she could do something with some of the stuff, but my mother grew anxious so nothing happened.

By the time we knew the end was near, my sister and I had already resigned ourselves to taking a good amount of time just to clean out the house. One wouldn’t think that there is that much room in a three bedroom townhome with a basement. One would be very wrong! Mom had lived in that home for 32 years. Between everything she had accumulated and kept throughout her life, she also had items from my grandparents’ estate as well as things that had belonged to me that I never could find or thought enough about to take. There were knick-knacks my grandparents had bought while they lived in Europe, items my mom had brought back from living in Japan, tons of photo albums (hers and my grandparents’), tons of record keeping paperwork, and genealogical treasures!

Since both my sister and I did not live in the same state as our mother, we were far from our homes at her side when she passed away. Neither of us had our husbands with us, except a brief period of time (memorial service), and even though we had cousins close by, that just wasn’t the same. Mom had a reverse mortgage so we knew that time wasn’t on our side. We had to get everything taken care of before the broker figured out that she had passed away and came to collect their money or forced a sale. Funds were low but we were lucky that it gave us not quite a month to get everything done.

Those few weeks after Mom died, it seemed there was blow after blow which compounded the grief and anxiety. There was no legal will which meant we had to find an attorney quickly. The clerks in the Probate office of the county courthouse were not very helpful. They wouldn’t even tell us which forms we needed but instead told us that they could not give legal advice.

Amongst planning the Memorial service, finding an attorney, and dealing with our grief, we managed to contact the correct agencies to remove the items that had pertained to Mom’s care: oxygen tanks, lifeline service, hospital bed, etc. We started with one room at a time. I have heard many stories about people who can’t bear to clean out a departed loved one’s closet to get rid of the clothing, but my sister and I didn’t have a choice. Through the removal of clothes out of the closets and drawers, we shared laughter and tears. Our focus was on emptying the house. This pile was for other family members to go through in case they wanted something. This pile was my sister’s. This pile was mine. Neither one of us could really wear any of her clothes as most of them were several sizes bigger than what we wore. That only brought home the realization of just how much weight she had lost in her final months. Each day we would take at least one or two carloads to the local Goodwill. We held a “look and see” day for our cousins and family to go through items before getting rid of them – an exercycle that Mom had once used religiously; tools – which we realized just weren’t up to snuff; Christmas ornaments and other decorations; dishware; linens; and other household items. My children and my sister’s kids had already told us what items they wanted. Those were in another pile.

We had jewelry to untangle and sort out. We had a file cabinet and other boxes of papers. Sitting in my mom’s walk-in closet going through items that had been in her “safe,” I found the marriage license and certificate of my second great-grandparents. I found divorce papers, birth certificates of my mom and her parents, and letters. I found my mom’s old medical records, all of her work history information, and her association memberships and information. There wasn’t time to enjoy the finds or do a “happy dance” because of the circumstances surrounding the finds. More often than not, items would end up in the trash – but they were unusable, broke, or not worth taking to Goodwill. Items we were taking with us were packed which meant we had to find boxes.

In between the attorney, Goodwill, and cleaning out the townhome, our cousins made sure that we were fed by having us over for meals or taking us out to dinner. When we ate at the house, we spent time coming up with meals out of all the canned goods and freezer items. Though my sister had to leave before I could, we had most of the house cleaned out. The furniture was over forty years old but we tried to contact people in the phone book who advertised that they bought and picked up old furniture. Apparently, it either wasn’t antique enough or vintage enough. By the time my husband came to pick me up to bring me home, the house was as stripped as it could be. The master bedroom suite was still left – it was such a shame as the dressers were still in beautiful shape. The appliances were left – washer/dryer, refrigerator, microwave, and range. The living room end tables, couch and chair. All of the consumables, clothing, linens, decorations, etc. were gone – either to family, Goodwill or trash. We knew what Mom’s wishes had been as to who got what (which would have been really nice had it all been spelled out in a legal will instead of one of those “do-it-yourself” booklets), so we were able to make sure items went to those people she had specified. At one point, the attorney was all upset because I was taking one of the televisions (I think he was afraid that it wouldn’t be there to sell in order to get more money for his fee) until he found out it was an old television that even Walmart wasn’t even selling anymore.

Now, five years later, I still haven’t had much time to do the genealogy “happy dance” about some of the items I found at that time. I am, however, enjoying quite a few items I brought back from Mom’s – dishes and utensils. I enjoy the knick-knacks that had belonged to both my grandparents and my mom. In many ways, I’m glad that we had such a short amount of time to do an estate clean out because it kept me focused on a goal instead of spending days in a grief-stricken fog. I had a plan and needed to follow through.

Preparing to write this blog post, I came across several other blogs from people who have had to deal with this same thing. Each one gave tips on how to make it easier such as trying to downsize prior to a loved one’s death. Sometimes this is inevitable if the person needs to be moved to an assisted living facility, nursing home, or a long term care center. Other posts advised to “let it go” and that is easier said than done. Parting with some items were much easier than others. I was aghast that no one wanted the wooden, carved desk plaque of my grandfather’s name. It had sat on his roll top desk for as long as I could remember. So I took it. I still have it. I don’t have a clue what I’m ever going to do with it. That was probably something I should have just “let go.” I have huge (and I mean huge) pictures – some sort of photographs – of my grandfather’s family when he was a child. I’m never going to have a place to hang them. Who would want to sleep in a room with huge photographs of these people staring at them all night? But I had never seen them and being the family historian that I am, I had to have them. The advice of “pace yourself” is laughable. That would be good advice if the house had been paid for (not on a reverse mortgage) or even in the same city, county, and state (it wasn’t). It’s hard to pace one’s self when time is not on your side. For me, it was about keeping some of the items “in the family” – didn’t matter if it was my sister or her kids, my cousins, my nephew, or me and my kids. My OCD was that I knew where it was. That was from years of hearing my mother say things like: “It better stay in the family” about certain things or her being upset when something had been given to someone and then they sold it/gave it away without asking. I know, that sounds rather selfish. “Here you can have this but don’t you dare do anything with it even though now it’s yours to do with what you want, unless you ask permission first” – that’s what it sounds like. So rather than incurring my mother’s wrath from beyond the grave, I became a little OCD that way. Don’t judge!

For others, the only bits of advice I will give are these: make sure your parents (and yourself) have a legal will so that way everything that they (or you) want to have happen to your belongings will be done; do it the best way you can – slow, fast, with other family members, alone, cry, laugh, and remember. For in the end, it’s the memories and time spent with the loved one that matters the most – not the stuff.

(Image of boxes courtesy of What’s Your Grief? – no copyright infringement intended.)

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