The contribution

As we pulled out, I waved to my family. My aunt commented that my mom was really crying, and she seemed surprised that it was that hard for her to see me go for two weeks. I hadn’t been away from home for more than a night before that.

I was going to stay with relatives for two weeks and come back to our family reunion with them. It was the summer between 6th and 7th grades. We didn’t have middle school then, so the coming year was the first of junior high. I had kind of been manic in the latter half of the school year, though it would be years before I knew that’s what it was. It was kind of good in that it broke me out of my shell. I was always very shy and quiet. Unfortunately, that returned by fall and lasted for a few more years.

So, we were off, amidst the tears. I realized years later that my mom was crying because she felt so bad about my brother not getting to go too. My aunt had called my mom and made the suggestion.  I guess there wouldn’t have been enough room in their car for everyone on the way back with luggage and all, so only I was going.

It begs the question, why extend the invitation at all if it was only going to be for one? Then I thought maybe my mom should have declined the invitation. I guess she didn’t want us both to miss out. My brother and I were just 14 months apart in age, he the older one, and we did everything together.

My brother was gracious about letting me go. While he was close to our cuz too, he knew that I always had a special bond with him. I’m sure he still felt left out, though. We didn’t get to do a lot of things, or go places, because we didn’t have the money and my parents didn’t get much vacation. I don’t know if they had any paid vacation. My mom was working at a blouse mill and my dad worked at a hardware store.

Once at my cousin’s house, I had a really nice time. It was early in the summer, and the weather was great.  As I said, my cousin and I had a special bond. We only saw each other once a year, but we always picked right up where we left off. They lived in a city, and we went to museums and other fun things.

We also ate out two or three times. Near the end of the trip, my aunt asked me for money for those times we ate out and they had paid for everyone, including me. I was surprised that she was asking for it, but being only 11, I didn’t protest. The problem was, that I had only $13 at the start of the trip, some of which I had spent on a puddle jumper at the Children’s Museum.

My aunt’s response to that information was, “You mean your mother sent you out here with only thirteen dollars?”  Instead of feeling angry at her, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt inadequate. I was aware that my family was poorer than most everyone else I knew, but this was kind of a painful reminder. And, she still took the my money. I had wanted to get my brother a souvenir of some kind. My aunt said I could pick something out of a box of items she picked up here and there for our annual Christmas gift exchange via mail.

I selected a fancy plastic ruler with “wood” grain through the middle. I’ll never forget the disappointed look on my brother’s face when I presented it to him.

Well, that was more than three decades ago. (Is that possible?) I must admit I still feel resentment when I think of that incident, but I have forgiven it. I remind myself of her good qualities, which I’ll share with you now. She was fun to be around and had an infectious laugh.

My uncle worked for the post office and he used to joke that she gave him job security, because she sent cards to everyone for birthdays and anniversaries and such. She was very good about that. She kept track of everything. She worked hard selling Tupperware to help support the family. She actually won a sales contest not long before my visit. The prize was the station wagon we rode in.

She also had diabetes for as long as I could remember. She was on dialysis for the last ten years of her life, until heart complications took her too soon. I think she was 72, so she made it pretty long, considering. We all still miss her.

Mental health update

My sister was transported in the wee hours of the morning to a facility an hour and a half away from her home. At least she didn’t have to wait days for it.

I’ll have to drive my elderly parents there to visit on Saturday during the one hour all day that the facility allows visitors.  She’ll probably be there about a week before an insurance company makes the medical decision that she should go home. She will most likely not be ready.

I hope that I make it as a writer so I can help take care of her in the coming years as funding for Medicare and Medicaid is cut down more and more.  It’s scary to think about. It’s enough to think about how my brother and I are going to have time and energy, or be available to help her when our parents are gone.  Hopefully, the services she will need to rely on will still be there. We simply can’t do it all while working full time (with overtime).

I hate to be so negative, but a guy’s gotta vent sometimes. There are good things that come along and make it bearable, and she does have a caseworker who has been helping her to be more independent in the last couple years that she’s had her own place.

I know that I must have faith in God to provide, and I do, but I also believe that God works through His people. We must fight to make things better for all, while we do what we can for our own loved ones.

 

Roots for the future

My recent family reunion reminded me that it’s important to have roots in life. Everyone needs a base, a center, etc. If you’re a Big Bang Theory fan like me, then you can say, like Sheldon, it’s your 0,0,0.

Like many Americans, I don’t know my lineage beyond a few generations.  I know the Ritchey’s who settled the small town my Dad comes from were German, that I have a Scottish grandmother and a bunch of other DNA thrown in, including some Native American.

I’d like to know more of that, but for now, I’ll focus on what I know. My dad was one of eight children, of whom four are left, including my dad, thankfully.  From the time I was 5 or 6, we had our reunion at the same place every year, for a week. Yes, a family reunion that lasted a week. It was because those eight siblings and their families had spread all over the country. It was difficult to time everyone getting there at the same time and wasn’t really worth going that far for a day or weekend. Of course, many only did the weekend but I stayed the whole time almost every year.

I had one cousin, in particular, who was only about 10 months younger with whom I could pick right back up where we left off, after a year, as if we’d just seen each other the day before.

It was important to me to have this, since both of my grandparents on that side had died before I was born. I didn’t have that sense of lineage, or legacy. My maternal grandmother also died before I was born, and my maternal grandfather, the only grandparent I knew, died when I was just four, so I have few memories.

My many aunts and uncles were my only connection to where I came from.  They and my cousins were my reminder that I was part of something bigger, though I only saw them all once a year.

In the last few years, some of us have returned to the old place we had the reunion for so many years, though only for a weekend, not a whole week. There were a lot fewer in attendance this year, but the memories of those gone were shared.

As my dad’s generation fades, I’m so thankful for the time we’ve had and the time remaining. It sure makes you feel how fast the years go by.  I was also reminded that feeling old is, well, relative. Pardon the pun.

As I was talking with a couple of more distant relatives this time, and acquainting/reacquainting ourselves, I remarked that we started having the reunion when I was 5 or 6 years old, and now I’m 46.  They told me I was young yet. I was comforted by that perspective. I do need to work harder on my long term goals, and more urgently. I’ve started doing that over the last year, though. I don’t have time to waste, but I do have time. Time to be a writer, to travel, to meet my soul mate, and grow old together.

As I do all that, I will carry a legacy of a generous, spirited, warm and fun-loving family. I will strive to bring them honor, and to be the man I’m meant to be.

An Easter birthday scare

Today, of course, was Easter Sunday. It was also my dad’s 86th birthday.  He saw fit to celebrate by giving us all a scare.

Since my parents moved to a very small senior apartment two years ago, we’ve had most of the holidays at my brother’s and my shared house.  So, it was the five of us, with my sister.  As my mom and I peeled some yams and my sister worked on other stuff, my dad came out to the kitchen for a drink. He had been sleeping on the couch in a half seated, almost lying on his side position.

He stood by the cupboard that holds the glasses for a moment. I had asked him something and glanced over to see that he didn’t look quite right.

I saw that he looked unsteady and, thankfully, was able to close the distance of a few steps to him before he could fall. He fell against me as I put an arm around him and held him up while my mom grabbed the nearby stool. He was all sweaty and clammy and pale, and kept yawning a lot and putting his head down like he wanted to just fall asleep.

I said what everyone was thinking, that we should get him to the hospital, but he didn’t want to go. My mom said he has had fits like this before. I also said about the yawning, that it means the brain needs oxygen. I feared something major was happening.

My brother had come out to the kitchen by then and we switched out the stool for a chair with a back. He sat a couple minutes then insisted he use the bathroom, which is what he was on his way to do when he came into the kitchen. My brother and I led him in, for fear that he might fall. Privacy was not the priority for the moment. It was a sitting down event. When he was situated, we went out and my mom went in to make sure he was okay.  My brother and I guided him back to his chair when done.

He sat for a bit longer in the kitchen with a coat over him and his color came back. I happen to have a blood pressure monitor, since mine has been running high for a while. We checked it and it was pretty low. He said it was low the morning before, and he only took a half pill of his blood pressure medication today. Well, that’s going to get checked on, I assure you.

It was a scary and humbling moment. Given his age, we all know there can’t be an abundance of time left for him to be here with us, but this was the first time it really hit home. At least, the first time since the day of his quadruple bypass heart surgery. That was at least twelve years ago. I think more like 14 or 15.  He came through that with flying colors, and even though it was a nerve-wracking day, the risks are fairly low and I felt like it was going to be okay.

Today was different. It was somehow worse. I guess because the end is nearer, and we didn’t know what was happening. Was it a heart attack, stroke, or something else?

It’s tough to see your parents become weak and vulnerable, when you love and respect them so much. You looked up to them with unquestioning faith as a child, for comfort, guidance and provision.

I will cherish the time we have. I’ve wanted to write down some of my dad’s experiences as he tells them, to share in his memories, and preserve them. A scrapbook, of sorts. Now is the time to do that, and anything else I’ve “always wanted to do” with him.

The cycle of life spins quickly. So, get out there and live it! And, share your experiences, because we’re all in this together.

International Women’s Day: Honoring Mom

I didn’t even know it was International Women’s Day until I sat down with the laptop after work.  It was the perfect subject for a post. The thought quickly followed as to a more specific focus. Since I mentioned my mother in yesterday’s post and her concerns about her gay son’s salvation, it seems only fair to extol her virtues today. Well, maybe it won’t be all glowing praise, but I love her and respect her immensely. I’ve always had a close relationship with my mom and the differences of late have not changed that.

In case you missed it, I reported previously that my mom saw an article in a local paper written by my pastor and it mentioned that she has a same-sex spouse. I neglected to mention that, or even that it’s a gay-friendly church, when I told my family that I had started attending.  Not sure why, but we’ll get back to that. Mom gave me some scripture references on the topic. No, I’m afraid I still didn’t get time to read them. But that’s coming soon.

Mom once wrote me a nice letter of encouragement telling me that I was a happy, content, and well-behaved baby and had grown to be a great young man.  I saved the letter.  It was written when I was not working for a while due to physical and emotional health issues and had tried to start a t-shirt business that wasn’t going well. (It never did take off.) But she cited my determination and talents, as only a mother can do. I was reminded of a picture my aunt showed me once of me as a baby being held by my mom. I was wearing a bright yellow “onesie”. I had never seen the picture before, but it explained why my favorite color was always, passionately, yellow.  You’ll have to excuse all the cuteness.

Briefly, another time she wrote me a note with a passage from a poem she found called Wit’s End Corner, by Antoinette Wilson. I had described how I felt shortly before that as being at my wit’s end. How perfect. There have been other notes and words of encouragement.

She was also very stern when I, or my two siblings, got out of line. In my twenties, that period when you begin to see your parents as just people, and before you turn into them, I sometimes thought the sternness was too much. Some might call it conditional love, but I know that isn’t so. Maybe the strict discipline and disapproval made me inhibited, or maybe that’s just an inborn trait. In any case, I found the bold spirit God gave me when I needed to. I’m thankful that both my parents cared enough to bring me up right. Being told no, and facing consequences, and even feeling guilt are good lessons to prepare one for adulthood. God knows, you can’t always get what you want. (Sorry if I put that song in your head.) You win some, you lose some. When you’re made to apologize to a sibling right then and there, while you’re still hopping mad, it helps with conflict resolution later in life.

I get my strong sense of justice and fairness from my mom, along with empathy and sticking up for the underdog, whether it’s someone else or myself. I once showed her my favorite Christmas video clip, from South Park, where Kyle gets to poke Cartman with an electric cattle prod every time he screws up the words to O Holy Night. I always thought it was hilarious and thought she’d love it, but she wanted to throttle Kyle.  I explained that Cartman is the obnoxious one and was getting his comeuppance. She responded, “Well, that makes it a little better.” That’s a strong sense of justice. I still think it’s hilarious, but really, it’s not right, is it?

During the aforementioned twenty-something years, I resented both parents for a time, feeling that they gave no support or guidance. I realized that they had an awful lot to deal with and did the best they could. We struggled mightily in the financial area when I was in grade school. I found out years later that we were in danger of losing the house because they couldn’t pay the taxes. God saw us through it, though. Then there’s my sister who had her first hospitalization when she was in ninth grade, for mental health issues. She had shown signs of it much earlier and demanded a lot of attention. My brother struggled in school. (Not because he couldn’t handle it. His IQ is in the gifted range.) We’ve all had problems with depression and anxiety. We were definitely a matriarchal family, my dad being more passive, so Mom had to be strong, and she was. She is. (Don’t get me wrong. I love my Dad too, and I get my tenacity and quiet resolve from him.)

I enjoyed hearing my Mom teach Sunday School, and her reading touching novels to us in the living room. She’s artistic and I gett my writing ability from her. I sometimes wish she would have had more opportunity to fulfill her potential, but I’m determined to do just that with my life. Her strength has helped me so far. It’s a generational effort.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure your time is as limited as mine, so I’ll wrap up.

Bottom line is that we’re all just people. We muddle through as best we can. It’s a lot easier when you have God or at least some kind of support system, if you’re not religious, to help you . So, don’t resent or condemn others for their shortcomings and wrongs against you. After all, we’re all in this together.