Monday, February 27, 2012

Upside and Down (for a while)

This morning, as I looked out my front window to greet the day, it filled me with hope and cheer because the sun is shining brightly and makes everything look just beautiful!

Ah. Now this is the way to start a day and a great way to start off a new week then too, isn't it?

When the outside world looks like this as the month of February is drawing to a close, it speaks loud and clearly to me that God is on His Throne and things are right with the world. Well, at least the first part of that sentence is valid and who knows, maybe one of these days things will truly be "right" with the world too. Sure would be wonderful if those things were completely in sync, wouldn't it?

This past weekend though brought sadness into my life as I received a phone call Saturday evening from a cousin telling me her brother had passed away that day. He'd been dealing for a number of years now COPD and for the last 2 plus years, had been either in the hospital or a nursing home, most of that time also on a ventilator -if I'm not mistaken. His family and the extended family have known that his time with us was very limited, that he would never be coming back to his home, and thus, knowing a loved one or close friend is in such a place, I guess we all then brace ourselves for that day when they are gone.

Yes, prepare for that time, is what we try to do and yet, when it does arrive, are we ever really prepared?

This cousin was the third of the grandchildren born into my Mom's family and as such, he was also my maternal grandparents' first grandson. Carl, his older sister Nancy (who was their first grandchild) and my cousin, Barb, I've often said were the fair-haired trio of the 11 grandchildren who eventually came into the family setting and the rest of us -the other 8 -were all sort of "Johnny Come Lately" material. Not that my grandparents didn't love us too -we weren't neglected or anything like that -but I knew because I grew up with my grandparents and heard the things they often said, knew by the tone of voice as well as the words chosen when they spoke about Nancy, Barb or Carl that they were held in very high accord.

There were -for openers -a whole lot of pictures of the trio from the time they were babies and through the years as they grew up and not near as many photos of the rest of us. Typical, that is though, isn't it in any family as the first born gets pictures taken at the drop of the hat, the next child too often gets in the limelight a lot too but frequently by the time a 3rd or 4th child comes along, interest in taking pictures tends to wane a good bit. (I confess that with my own children there are a lot of photos of my oldest, a goodly amount too of my second child -probably because the first was a girl, second a boy, thus very different ya know and warranting extra snapshots because of that. My youngest -well, she wasn't excluded completely from the photo scene, but not near as often did the camera come out after she entered the family and I attribute that to being busier trying to manage caring for them as well as not having as much spare money to buy film and then, get it developed too! (I wonder, had digital cameras been around when my youngest was born if she would have been photographed equally then in comparison to her siblings but I know too, the ease of having more photos because of a digital camera also would have required having a computer too -which wasn't a commonplace thing 30-35 years ago though so a lot of other things would have had to have existed for my youngest to have been competitive in the family photo department.)

The news of my cousin Carl's death though sat heavily Saturday night feeling like a combination of a lump and a hole in my body now existed that didn't belong there. I haven't been sleeping well for sometime now and Saturday night was no different but I can't say if that was because of his passing or just what has become what seems often to be the norm for me lately.

Sunday morning, getting myself ready for church and helping with the kids to get them ready too, it seemed Kurtis had by osmosis perhaps, picked up on the undercurrent of my feelings as he was really whiny and very crabby. Not a totally unusual thing for him but it did seem like he had an extra dose of that kind of attitude going on within him. At one point, he walked as he walked through the dining room and past me, he looked up and gave me a warning glare and told me "You are NOT my Grandma!" Hmmm. That comment took me a bit by surprise as he was really emphatic on the topic!

The feeling deep inside me though persisted through much of the service at church, that is until the Offering. The Children's Choir was to sing yesterday during the Offering and both Maya and Kurtis are in that choir now. (Although Kurt doesn't do much singing, doesn't always want to participate in learning the words and melody to songs but does like to stand up front with the other kids and play the little "ham" when the kids sing.) The song they were to do yesterday just so happens to be one of my favorite hymns and it holds within it many, many memories too, especially of my Grandfather -who taught me the words and music to it many years ago -both in English and in Swedish too. This song -"Children of the Heavenly Father" has always been not just my Grandpa's and my favorite, but also of most everyone within my Grandpa's whole family and as such, it has often been one of the hymns chosen to be sung at many funerals within our family as well as within other families who are members of our parish too. Very much an old favorite especially with those of Swedish ancestry.

Listening -and watching -as the kids sang -first a verse in English, then the first verse in Swedish, then another verse and they repeated then the first verse in Swedish -and the reaction within me was immediate in that it brought tears to my eyes. But then too, it brought a sense of calm, of relief within me which was a most welcome feeling. After that, the closing hymn - "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" which is also one of my favorites -and was one that I had chosen as a congregational hymn at my Mom's funeral -and provided more comfort within me then.

After services, some of the women of the church and I were up in the Sunday School room getting the tables and other things set up for the refreshments we were going to be serving last night after the Lenten service sponsored by the community ministerium group and the children were there to practice the song they will be singing two weeks from now which is "On Eagle's Wings." If you aren't familiar with this particular song, the melody is so pretty but the words are so meaningful .

Here's the words to the chorus which you can see then for yourself why it brings peace and comfort:

"And I will raise you up on eagle's wing, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of my hand."

As the children practiced this, the director also was giving them instructions for hand gestures they are to use as they sing too which gives the message much more impact then.

All of these things impacted me in a positive manner, gave me a much needed spiritual lift.

I've been trying to reach a couple cousins to let them know about Carl's passing, give them information as to the funeral arrangements and such, but thus far, having not met with any success in finding any of them at home so this morning, I'll start calling again and hopefully make contact with them.

I didn't learn until late last night when I got an e-mail from Carl's surviving brother with whom I have always been very close as he and I are a mere three days apart in age. I am the old one, he is the younger and never lets me forget that either! Unfortunately, it is unlikely that I will be able to go to the funeral though as it will be held out on Long Island -a six-hour drive from here, one way, and a distance that I wouldn't want to try to cover with my old jeep but also, an area where I have never been before, all kinds of massive city driving and more opportunities than I care to think of where I could and probably would get lost trying to find my way there and back. My older daughter had said she would try to be of assistance and help me get to the funeral -meaning if she could get a sub at work, she would drive but that was before I found out where the funeral will be held and when we thought there might be a possibility they would bring him back to Pittsburgh for a funeral there.

Carl's brother also reminded me in his e-mail of another loss that had occurred in our family 30 years ago this coming Thursday (March 1st) as that was the date that the youngest brother of Carl's died. David was 2 years younger than me so at that time, he was only 35 years old and way too young to leave us -for openers. But the fact that he had chosen to end his life was what really brought us -as an extended family -virtually to our knees. Not quite as raw thirty years since that happened, it is still a wound that reopens easily though. And I had thought of that Saturday night too while talking to the surviving sister as well.

The things that go through one's mind though when faced with the death of a family member or close friend -the memories that are conjured up then do fill us periodically as sometimes the smallest of things will pop up and cause thoughts that might bring tears but also, will also bring smiles and allow for some sunshine to peek through for us. Thoughts that elevate us up and help to restore us to a balance point perhaps.

I remember so well, the summer of 1952, when I was 7 years old and my cousin Carl spent the bulk of his summer vacation from school here, in this little village and we shared our grandparents that summer, he and I. The only child that I was, I relished having Carl here with us because it gave me some of the feelings, the experiences, others have who are blessed with siblings. Even down to the pesky ways smaller, younger kids have of meddling in the lives of a family member a bit older which is what I did to Carl that summer.

He was going on 15 then to my 7 and boy, I could really bedevil the living daylights out of him! Our Grandfather's older brother was still living then and his home was about 6 houses down the road from ours. That, plus his only grandson often came here and stayed for weeks on end during the summer and "Little Eric" as he was called (his Grandfather being big Eric but not called that) was almost 13 so the age factor plus that Little Eric lived in Pittsburgh, Carl's family in Monroeville and the families belonged to the same church in Pittsburgh, so the boys were already close allies. They were also both at an age where they were recognizing differences between boys and girls and LIKING those differences too and there just so happened to be that our next door neighbors had a daughter going on 13 as did another neighbor who lived beside Great-uncle Eric's house and the boys each liked those girls!

One night, 2 of the younger sisters of one girl, and 2 sisters who lived 2 doors from our house and I decided to do some stalking of Carl and Eric and the two girls and that led us to watching the four older kids horsing around in the garage behind our house. Actually, what was going on was Eric was "showing off" for the girls by standing on the rungs of a ladder and then, using the ladder almost as if it were stilts, he was walking around the garage by holding on to rafters in the ceiling. Carl was perched -sitting in a tire in a corner, a girl on each side of him and an arm around each girl, while he sat there, acting like a big shot, smoking a cigarette.

Nothing horribly bad for sure -not by standards of the 50s and definitely very innocent activities I think by the standards most kids have today -except for the cigarettes, that is. THAT was something that I knew automatically I could use against Carl with Grandma!

We girls -the stalkers -had watched this whole procedure through the gap where the garage doors met (there were two big doors that opened out to the stall for my Mom's old car and they didn't close completely there). We were lined up by that gap, five heads, one pretty much atop the other, watching these kids and their silly antics.

The next day, after Carl got up probably as close to noon as possible (he loved to sleep really, really late), I approached him and whispered to him that I -along with Louise, Frannie, Rose and Kate -had all seen him and Eric the night before, along with Carol and Marlene, and that I knew what they had been doing and definitely, I had to lord it over him that I was going to go and report in to Grandma in mega detail too, what terrible things they had done!

Carl's immediate reaction was, as he stuttered it out, "D-d-d-d-don't you tell Grandma! Please, d-d-d-don't tell her cause she will get mad at me and make my Dad come and get me and take me home!"

So of course, being the rotten little cousin, spoiled brat that I was, I immediately went and told Grandma!

And her reaction? She howled laughing as she envisioned in her mind's eye, the entire scenario!

See what I mean about Carl being one of her "fair-haired" grandchildren, one of the terrific trio? Yep! Carl could do no wrong where Grandma was concerned. And guess what? Today, I can see that same trait in me towards my oldest grandson too! That he is by being the oldest, of course, also the first -well most certainly I can now understand Grandma's feelings that Carl could do no wrong!

Carl was a good kid though, really he was. He was a willing worker who helped my Mom immensely that summer and between the two of them, they hauled sand home in the trunk of Mom's old run-down Plymouth, the lugged bags of cement home too, built framing around the house where there had been a worn-out bricked sidewalk of sorts and they put in concrete sidewalks in front of the house and around the house, clear back to our cellar entrance. With the old bricks they dug up from the former sidewalk, those that were still usable, the planned out and build a fireplace down in the back yard too!

Two summers later, Carl's Dad, my Uncle Bert, planned his summer vacation as always to be spent here at the family homestead and in doing that, he also planned to have his two older sons -Carl, then 15 and Ray, who was then almost 9, were enlisted by their Dad to be the gophers as well as the laborers too in helping my uncle replace the entire roof over this house!

Because their Dad often either did a lot of the repairs needed to the homestead or on some that he didn't have time to take care of but thought my Mom could handle, he would give her instructions as to what to purchase, how to work with it too, and then be able to get more repairs done without having to spend what few dollars came into the family till! It also gave my Mom many side skills besides the nursing for which she was already trained to do and often worked private duty cases. As a result, my Mom would tackle plumbing, carpentry, masonry -anything EXCEPT working involving electricity! That was one area that she left fully to one or all three of her brothers to handle!

As a result of the many "vacations" cousin Carl spent here -which almost always involved some type of home repairs -he was very knowledgeable too -not just about how to do all kinds of work this stuff involved, but also in things that existed and where they were located in this old house. That was something I found out a few years back when the township was putting in a sewage system throughout the villages and countryside here and I needed to know stuff about drains that my uncles had put in the basement of this house. Carl's cousin Ray suggested that I call Carl and see if he had ever worked on any of that stuff as a kid, helping their Dad and maybe he might just recall some much needed information that I needed.

And so, I had phone Carl, told him what I needed to know and he proceeded then to tell me where and how the various drains were located and what things they serviced then too -bathroom, laundry, kitchen, furnace -he remembered the entire layout and was able to tell me how the drains were positioned! Incredible and it saved me from hiring someone to come in and check things out, possibly not be able to figure things out and then, tell me I would have to dig up the basement and have all those drains redone! Saved me a small fortune that phone call did!

Memories come back to me now too -some of my earliest memories really -of being a pre-schooler and at Christmas with my Uncle Bert, his wife and their five children here along with my middle uncle, his wife and daughter (who was one of the terrific trio) and those three older cousins -Nancy, Barb and Carl -teasing the four younger kids here -cousins Joan, Ray and David and me -telling us to run to first one set of double windows in the living room to look outside to see our youngest uncle and if we didn't see him there, they would push us to run to the other set of double windows to look there for him all the while encouraging us by yelling "Lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie!" (Our youngest uncle's nickname being "Cookie" and him being still single then or perhaps newly married but with no children yet, he was invariably the favorite uncle then to all of us kids. I can still hear the voices in my mind as I remember how much fun, how exciting, that little game was that those three older cousins played -or teased -the younger kids with!

So many of the things that happened back then with me, my cousins, were not really what kids today probably would consider to be exciting, much less special, but to me, they definitely were that! We played games outside -- kick the can, croquet, even a little fooling around with balls and bats now and again as well or we often wandered about in the woods near here with my Mom's brothers on walks where the grownups would talk about how the landscape was back in the 20s when my grandparents had moved back here from West Virginia, or about where this or that feature of the mines had been located or where the kids of their generation had gone in the winter to ice skate.

Carl always had a very bubbly, friendly personality and a great sense of humor too and he loved to joke and tease his younger cousins as well as his aunts, uncles too alike. But in whatever he did, I will always be able to remember the look in the eyes of my Mom, my aunts and uncles, then and late in to their lives the way the mere mention of Carl's name and their eyes would just light up!

He was, indeed, one very special cousin and one who played a big part in my younger years -whether he realized that or not after he grew up, married and had a family of his own, but he did!

With all the health issues he had the last years of his life -especially the last 2 years, existing on a ventilator, unable to eat or drink anything, he had told either his sister Nancy or his wife, the one thing he really wanted though, was craving -if only he could just have a cup of coffee.

And in learning about his release from the sickness, the pain, the misery he had dealt with for so long, I certainly do hope that whoever was there to greet him on the other side, that the first thing done for him was to please, give him that long desired cup of coffee.

Rest in peace, Carl. You will be missed much more than you ever realized, I'm sure.


Sandi McBride said...

Having lost a dear friend this weekend I know exactly what you mean. You express yourself so well...

Anonymous said...

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you so much for your post about my dad.

You are right he never did realize how important he was to the people around him, especially his family. He was always helping us and giving us a hand.

You wrote about many stories that I never had heard before and they brought chuckles as well as tears. I think that he learned to love the outdoors while on his summer pilgrimage to his grandparents home. I did hear many a story about his summers and some of the trouble that he got into also!!!

His journey on the earth is over he is now with the Lord. We will miss him but are thankful that we had him.

I miss you daddy!!!

Love, Terrie

Sandi McBride said...

And darlin' Jeni, this is why we pass on the stories to our kith and kin and strangers who may need cheering or who don't know when they're well off til they get to walk a mile in the shoes of a writer.
Warmest of hugs to you!

terri said...

What wonderful memories of your cousin. I am so sorry for your loss.