Winter has brought many good memories and wonderful stories while we gather together and and listen to one another talk of life and happy times.
What can be better than being at table with friends enjoying chili together on a cold winter day? A pretty table with bread made by the host is icing on the cake, but the true cake is enjoying each other while we make new friends and hear life stories. (The lemon cake served for dessert was very good, but still not as good as the stories, Laughter and stories cannot be surpassed. ) How will we ever forget that the long-married couple across from us first met when they were just eleven and nine?
He was visiting her church and playing the piano. He looked around and saw her and thought she was the cutest thing possible even though he had come with another girl who was considered his “girl friend.” Sealing the deal, the little girl he thought so cute winked at him!! She seems quite proper today; but even in the church house, she knew the proper response to his admiration at that early age! They married a few years later, and have led a productive life rearing two fine sons and sharing their many talents wherever they have lived. Since their childhood homes were miles apart , I do not know how they continued that love at first sight. If we are fortunate, maybe we will someday learn how that was achieved. There was another great story about his car break down when he tried to visit her as a young teen. Obviously, this successful couple both knew who they wanted, and the world is a better world because they did!
Last week besides his own doctor appointments, Gerald made several trips to Cape Girardeau to visit his brother Keith. His heart disease had become seriously worse. Then at the end of last week, sadly Keith was sent home with Hospice help.
Actually he amd Barbara have wonderful help already there on their rural hilltop. (They have wonderful help because Keith and Barb have always been quick to provide help to everyone they know.) Both his daughter-in-law Glenda and his granddaughter Lauren are outstanding experienced RNs and live almost within shouting distance of Keith and Barbara's, and they are very attentive and devoted. Their granddaughter Amanda also lives at the foot of the hill with her parents DuWayne and Vickie, so they also have a trained beautitian for manicures and pedicures along with many other services that the nurses and granddaughter Andrea are happy to provide for the grandparents they love. Their granddaughter Tracy has years of experience in the dental field and was able to give Gerald some advice while she was down from Saint Louis to see Keith and Barb. Sons Tim and DuWayne, grandson-in-law Eric, and grandson Greg are all close enough to visit and help and be involved taking care of cattle, dogs, poultry, or anything else Keith would want done. Grandson Mark, though not living adjacently is within a few miles of Keith and Barbara's farm as is our brother Garry. Add on to that Keith's cousins nearby and all the friends he and Barb have collected and you have a community of help available.
Tim and DuWayne encouraged Gerald to come down when he can because they feel like the brothers--only Gerald and Garry now since we lost brother Kenny to leukemia-- make Keith laugh more. (Our kids always loved to have the brothers together to hear all the laughter that was produced as they talked of childhood exploits and neighborhood characters.)
As soon as Ernestine and Don heard how seriously ill Keith was, they started here from Wyoming. Ernestine was the only girl in that family. They were able to bring along their daughter Leah and granddaughter Emmerson called Emmie since Leah is home schooling Emmie this year. Despite living so far away, Emmie has made close ties with the Illinois relatives because she loves the farms and especially all the horses and dogs and kittens and chickens and ducks that she finds on the Union County farms. The Gamble clan arrived late Sunday night to Garry's place exhausted but eager to visit Keith and Barbara. Gerald was eager to see them, of course, but decided to stay away on Monday, so Ernestine could visit that day without competition while Keith was most strong. Those two were the youngest siblings.
Yesterday, however, we could stay away no longer. After a quick visit with Katherine, we took her hugs down to Keith and Barb. I was able to repeat to Keith the loving memories that Katherine had of him. “He always hugged me and whispered in my ear, and I had no doubt he loved me,” she said.
Tim had stayed with him again the previous night since DuWayne is scheduled for future nights. Family were pleased that Keith had slept better than usual the night before. The established routine for Keith was to get up and dress and have breakfast before going to his recliner. The TV screen is adjusted for his chair where he continues his habit of watching his favorite cowboy movies which Barb said he probably has memorized by now. Visitors come sit near him and tell him what they need to tell him, and he responds with typical love and laughter. When he tires, he lapses into sleep and that is good. Lauren, who was on duty yesterday, was quick to anticipate his every need. After lunch he goes into his bedroom to sleep if he wants to, and people visit him there. Once I glanced in to see Lauren lying on the adjoining bed laughing with him and the visitor.
Before Ernestine and Don, Leah and Emmie arrived, Barbara had told us how much fun seven-year- old Emmie had with our warm weather allowing her to play in the yard the day before. (Snow was deep when they left Wyoming.) She took good care of all the kittens, and with permission and encouragement from Barb had created what she called a “kitty buffet” with piles of food for each cat. The zenith of her visit though was to see a chicken fly up into a pan of straw there in the yard and then leave it cackling gleefully! Emmie was amazed to find a warm egg left there, and so was Barbara as she said they were not laying right now. Barb asked her if she would like her to cook that egg for her, and Emmie was delighted to eat the egg she had gathered.
When their family arrived, Leah reported Emmie woke up talking about that egg and said if she found one today, it was going to be for her Uncle Keith. Soon Emmie was carrying out cat food for the kitties again and snuggling with each one by one. Next Vickie Sue arrived from their home up near Carbondale on Rocky Comfort Road, and she had a Valentine gift for Emmie and colorful decorated cupcakes for all.
Just as Gerald had explained of his previous visits, their adjoining dining room had a table full of food that loved ones had carried in. (DuWayne was not above sending Gerry way down in Texas the mouth-watering photos of his Aunt Opal's famous egg custard pies that she and Bryce took down to them.) All the people coming and going were fed freely if they were hungry, and people usually were when they looked at the food. Garry had brought in buns and pork from Jonesboro's famous Dixie Barbecue along with pies. We had just finished eating, and here came our cousin-in-law Morris with this huge huge pan covered with foil explaining he wanted to get it there while it was still hot from the oven. People started exclaiming that not only did it smell good, but this home-made tea ring was a work of art. Lauren was quick to hand out servings to everyone, but I had to go look to see how beautiful that tea ring was. Barbara explained that Morris and cousin Judy are known as these generous cooks who regularly show up with tea rings and home-made pies for the sick and their families. Morris always donates a similar large tea ring to the local fall festival, which raises money for the school, and people will bid it up to fifty dollars or more.
After lunch, Emmie was quick to go back outside in the warm weather. One by one, each kitten was carried in and visited with us. Since there were three dogs n the room (Keith's beloved Hash, Lauren and Eric's little Murphy,and Don and Ernestine's Finley), there were a few snappy interactions if the kitten escaped Emmie's arms. That provided a bit of excitement, but the best part was the kittens inspired Barb to start telling Emmie about all her pet animals down through the years. Barb pulled her wheel chair toward Emmie, who was soon enthralled.
I remembered sitting in their living room long ago and suddenly seeing a terrapin come crawling slowly out from under the couch. I assumed that like most farmer's wives, Barb had baby pigs and calves inside to warm up. But I had forgotten about the pet ground hog. Barb said Keith had found a tiny pink animal no bigger than your hand out in the yard and brought it in. They had no idea what kind of an animal it was, but Barb got out the baby bottles and the formula she used for baby pigs and started caring for the tiny thing. It turned out to be a ground hog and remained a loving pet for a long time until it was full size. It finally bit her after she had been asked to take it to school for the kids to see, and perhaps that excitement over stimulated it. There was also a story about a raccoon although it must have been a short story because I cannot remember how that one showed up, but the photograph of it high up the wall sitting atop their horse collar lamp was adorable.
But the best story was of the pet skunk Barbara had briefly as a little girl. The family saw it on the highway, and Barb's dad stopped and retrieved it and handed it to Barbara. She loved it, of course, and the only time it ever sprayed was once when a dog threatened it and once when it hurt its foot on a loose wire. She kept it until her mother found Barb had it inside her bedroom and decided it was time for the skunk to go elsewhere. Perhaps the sweetest part of Barb's stories was getting to watch wide-eyed Emmie hearing them. A tiny little thing, Emmie has huge blue eyes in a little elfin face and almost a perpetual smile. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious.
It was getting late in the afternoon; and though we were reluctant to go, we needed to. But then Keith and Gerald's cousin Irma and husband Jim arrived from Jonesboro, and we wanted to visit with them when they were not in the bedroom visiting with Keith. At Gerald's suggestion, I had put on my coat and gone into the yard where he and Irma were visiting, when Gerald realized his cousin Joyce, who was driving over from Cape Girardeau, was almost there. So while Irma and Barbara directed her on the country roads to find the farm, we were back inside for yet another family visit.
I loved being in that familiar living room again. Let me tell you about it. While they were adding this room to the house the Holly Sitter family had left behind, a swallow had found one of the overhead beams they were using on the ceiling. They enjoyed watching her build her nest of mud attached to the beam and raise her babies there. Barb would not allow them to clean the beam after the bird family left. The nest has remained these many years with a tiny cloth bird sticking its nose out of the top. The outside wall is all rock with a fireplace in the middle, and three mounted deer heads from long-ago hunts. The room-length mantle is filled with framed photographs of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, horses, and other beloved animals. A pleasing collection of baskets hangs down from the mantle.
Beside the carpeted room with lots of seating is a long tiled walk from the front door to the kitchen and dining room, and that wall is filled with more photographs and memory-filled art work made by the grandchildren. Perfectly clean now, I know that tile walkway has had much traffic from muddy farm boots and the muddy barefoot feet of a host of happy children.
Oh, I must mention the two large gray hornet's nests—one on each side of the beam separating the living room and dining room. I have never seen a hornet's nest in anyone else's living room, but I love the looks of them in this room. Oh, now I do remember part of the raccoon story. Her nephew Kerry had giving Barb one of the hornet's nests, and that raccoon climbed up there and started to destroy it. He quickly became persona non grata, and that was the reason for his departure.
Today brother Garry phoned that Keith was much weaker this morning, so Gerald and Mary Ellen went down after lunch. Vicki Sue was there and had posted on Facebook she was sad, so I am dreading today's report when they return. I hope Garry and Gerald were able to make Keith laugh again today. Regardless, their hearts will be warmed this cold day by the love in that house on the hill, but at the same time their hearts will also be broken as they watch their brother's health deteriorate.