Guest Blogger, Theresa Barnhart: Aunt Ruth, A Beautiful Lady

Update-your-salonMy Mom called me this afternoon and told me she had been writing about my Great Aunt Ruth and her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She wondered if I might post what she wrote as a guest blog. Of course, I said yes. Although she does not write about it here, my Mom also worked at a nursing home for several years and she has always had a tender heart for those suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As she says, September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day and I think we all know loved ones who are affected by it everyday. I’ve included a link to ALZinfo.org right here if you would like more information about the disease or what you could do to raise awareness or help others in need. My Mom’s words brought back many sweet memories when I read them tonight and she’s right, our Aunt Ruth was a beautiful lady.

Aunt Ruth, A Beautiful Lady!

This has been one of those weeks when I have been thinking of my Aunt Ruth and how this beautiful vivacious lady was robbed the last few years of her life by this disease known as Alzheimer’s. Early in the week, I started to receive a newsletter from the Kansas Association of Alzheimer’s. Mid week, I found Aunt Ruth’s memory card I received at her funeral. Then today, I saw on Facebook an article about Sunday, September 21,2014, being World Alzheimer’s Day. I thought maybe this came for a reason. Everyone forgets occasionally how to spell a word (I’m famous for that all the time) or forgets where the keys are, etc. I believe we all have memory loss now and then, but it’s more noticeable as we age. It doesn’t mean we are getting Alzheimer’s, but it is something to be aware of. Aunt Ruth was always a happy outgoing lady and I wondered, “How can this happen to a lady who has always put others before herself?” She was a beautican. Her salon was in her home. There she could take care of her family. When she started to cut back her work, she would still take those ladies who were more like old friends instead of clients. She even started picking up her clients who didn’t have a way to the shop and do their hair and then take them back to their home. Those ladies for various reasons could no longer drive. Now that’s service! That’s just how she was. She loved all those who entered her home and those who entered her shop. Everytime we would stop by to say hello she would greet us and always introduce us to whoever was there. So lovely and outgoing, you couldn’t help but feel the love she had for us as if we were the most important people in her life. The first time I came to Kansas with Ray to meet his parents and siblings he said he wanted to take me to Dewey to meet his uncle and aunt. It was well into the evening and Uncle Ken had a early morning flight so they went to bed earlier. I was sorry we got them out of bed but when they greeted me it was the nicest, sweetest moment as Aunt Ruth gave me hugs and let me know they were glad to meet me and, of course, see Ray. (He couldn’t do anything wrong by them.) It was love at first meeting. We were married two weeks later and came to Oklahoma and Ray got a job at Phillips 66 in Bartlesville. We moved to Bartleville. Uncle Ken and Aunt Ruth were just a few miles away so I was able to go see Aunt Ruth at the shop and spent part of the day with her. About once a week her mom would come in and visit and have her hair done. She was also a very sweet lady and I enjoyed visiting with her, too. You might say Aunt Ruth was her mother’s daughter. Aunt Ruth’s daughter too is like her mother. Phillips moved us to Kansas City then turned around and sent him back to Bartlesville for some training and he was there and I was in Overland Park with a baby about eight weeks old. We would go down to Dewey several times and Aunt Ruth opened her home and took me and Ray Jr. in. One time while we were there, Ray Jr. started crying and I couldn’t get him to stop. We checked him over making sure his diaper pins hadn’t opened. They didn’t use the tape on throw away diapers at that time. Anyway Uncle Ken took him in his arms and rocked him to sleep. I have so many beautiful memories of her. Even when she got to where she didn’t know us we could feel her love and we hoped, in her mind, she could feel our love. Even though she couldn’t remember us we could still remember her and love and cherish those momeries we made with her. As long as there is life, someone will remember and never forget. Pray one day there will be a cure for this devastating disease. It can take away a person’s mind, but there is always going to be someone who will remember. God blessed us with this beautiful lady. Before she passed, I whispered in her ear that I loved her and that I would see her again. I told Ray I thought she heard me. I will remember for you ’til someone remembers for me.

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My Sweet Mama

photo-39As I type this, my parents are driving from Kansas to Los Angeles to see me. My Mom won’t see this for a few days, perhaps not until after she gets home to Kansas in a couple of weeks. I love the fact that my Mom reads my blog, it keeps me from writing about things I probably shouldn’t write about.

A few days ago, I was swimming my laps and there was a woman, probably in her 30’s, who was attempting to swim in the lane next to me. She’d splash, flap her arms against the water, kick mightily. She had no sense that the water was there to buoy her, propel her even. She’d never had swim lessons, clearly. And I give her credit for being out there, with goggles and swim cap, no less, trying to figure it out. She made me think of my mother, who also never learned to swim. I think the reason I became a swimmer was because she wanted me to take swimming lessons every summer, she wanted me to have something she longed for as a child.

When you find out the story of people’s childhoods, sometimes you wonder how they ever made it to adulthood. If they’ve grown into a person who thrives, it’s even more of a miracle.

My Mother is the fourth of five children. Her Father died when she was two and she was raised by her Mother and three older brothers, Sam, Rocco and Mike. There was never very much money. Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying about money and (as far as I know) I don’t have 5 children to feed. I marvel that my Grandma, singlehandedly, could have raised 5 children to be 5 big-hearted, funny, smart, loyal adults, but she did.

There are things that my Mom missed out on by not growing up with a Father. Swimming lessons was the least of it. There were no Father-Daughter banquets, no one to make a Father’s Day card for, her brothers were the ones who taught her to drive.

And because my Grandmother worked so much and because she was one of 5, I think my Mother was always hungry for her love. At my Grandmother’s funeral, my Mother was so bereft she tried to crawl into her Mother’s casket as the family was saying their final goodbyes. Her brothers had to pull her away. I remember standing there, wondering if I should go to her or hang back. I was 20 at the time, not the best years in our particular Mother-Son relationship. I was a little embarrassed, but also I wondered if I might one day do the same thing with her one day. (My Mom and I have both probably seen the end of Imitation of Life one too many times, to be honest.)

I’m still haunted by the matriarchal character Violet Weston from August: Osage County, played onscreen by Meryl Streep. Her adulthood is so embittered because her childhood was so difficult and cruel. It made me think of my Mother, whose hardscrabble youth must have been similar, and yet she grew into my Mother, a woman who is loved by all who cross her path. A woman who always makes my favorite pork and potato burritos when I come home, a woman who is deeply sentimental about Lifetime Christmas movies, a woman who bakes butter pecan cookies for Eric every Christmas, a woman whose first words after her son came out to her were, “Nothing will change my love for you.”

My Mom’s favorite song is The Rose. Whenever it comes on the radio, she reminds me that this is the song she wants sung at her funeral. I won’t forget. I love the song almost as much as she does and though I’ve never told her, it always makes me think of her, too. If I had a dollar for every tear I’ve shed while listening to this song, I could buy my Mama a solid gold casket.

So, this song is for my Sweet Mama, I love her so.

Guest Blogger, Michele Medlin Laikowski: Mr. Blue Sky

3451142218_b62b4a8380_zWhen I was at the William Inge Festival last Spring, I attended a symposium where the topic of 9/11 came up. A Kansas playwright posed the question, “Did 9/11 personally affect you?” Perhaps because I once lived in New York and have friends that still live there, I was shocked by the question initially, I believed that 9/11 affected everyone. But as the people in the room weighed in, I realized many felt that 9/11 was something very sad, a tragedy to be sure, but not something that affected their day to day lives.

On the morning of 9/11, my Mother woke me up with the phone call telling me that the twin towers had already fallen and that the Pentagon had been attacked. I remember my sleepy brain trying to process what she was saying, it was unreal. And one of my Mother’s most pressing concerns was whether I had talked to my good friend Michele, who at one time had worked at the World Trade Center. This is something my Mother reminded me of on Monday when we were talking about 9/11. So, prompted by the conversation with my Mother and remembering the discussion at the Inge Festival, I asked Michele if she would share on my blog, her memories of that day. Whether you were on Manhattan or 1190 or 2451 or any other number of miles away from that island, I still believe 9/11 affected all of us.

Mr. Blue Sky

On September 11th, 2001, I was early for work. Not particularly unheard of at the time but of note because otherwise, I’d have missed seeing the events come to fruition as they unfolded. I worked at JP Morgan. We had news on 24/7 because the bankers needed to see what the money would do that day. So, coming in, a little early – changing from my sneakers to my heels – sitting in my cube, I heard the panic first in the news reporters voices and then I heard it in the voices of the other employees who were watching and then, I went to the little screen and heard it from the voice in my head. You’ve all seen it, I’m assuming, so you know that feeling of horror and disbelief I experienced. Still to this day, I find it hard to believe. That kind of horror belongs in a picture show and it should have a giant monster behind it – not misguided men who have hate like a tidal wave, flowing out of them. No one should have that much hate. It’s ironic then that what they did that day while hateful bred love that is what I remember most from that period.

Anyway, the day went on and it became apparent that this wasn’t a mistake and the panic in my head made its way out to voicing my concerns to my boss that perhaps, staying put in midtown Manhattan, was possibly not the best option. He tried for business as usual for several hours until he realized that the trains were stopping to run out of Grand Central and he’d be stuck, like the rest of us, on this island. So he hoofed it to the train to his lovely home in Westchester. We got to leave around 10:30/11, my friend, Leigh, who was a temp for some clothing company was forced to stay until something insane like 2 … BECAUSE WHAT IF SOMEONE CALLED THERE. Her location was right next to the Empire State building. We were on the phone for hours until you couldn’t get a signal any more. In retrospect, it may not have been hours. Having a clear view of that day, years later is fraught with half-truths, I’m sure, it’s so hard to know a timeframe beyond once the towers were hit. She was also my neighbor so as soon as she got off, we got together and smoked a ton of cigarettes and drank beer and if it weren’t so awful, it would have been an amazing day. The weather was absolutely perfect. There wasn’t a cloud up in the sky. Well, except for the clouds of smoke that billowed towards us from downtown, the clouds of people grey people making their way home and the clouds of war eminent on the horizon. But, those clouds, were dissipated by the amount of pure love that we all felt for each other that day. I have never in my life seen or felt anything like it. It started on September 11th and it lasted for a month, 2 months – just this feeling of kindness flooding the streets. I don’t wish for this to happen again, it goes without saying, but I would adore to feel that love once more. This will be the 12th year since it happened and for the most part, the majority of NY’ers have moved on and brushed passed it but every year at 8:46 AM, a shiver runs through all of us.

Guest Blogger: Theresa Barnhart

carrie-closet-1040kk052410-500x399A few days ago, some friends of mine suggested to me that I ask my Mom to write a guest blog.  When I asked her about it, she hesitated initially, but I think the idea appealed to her.  She IS a writer, she’s been writing me letters since I was 12, when I went away to camp for the first time.  If you think my writing leans toward the sentimental, you only have to read the following to see where I get it.  Enjoy:

I was asked to write a guest blog for Ray. I told him I wouldn’t know what to write.  Later, after our conversation, I thought, yes, I will write about my summer experience.  First, you have to know that I save everything.  I have boxes, manila folders and file cabinets filled with my memory keepers.  We have eleven closets in this house and I bet I have some memory keepers in each one.  Does it sound like I am trying to find an excuse not to get rid of the Christmas cards or baby teeth from my son’s mouth or those special drawings and homemade cards from my grandchildren?   Of the eleven closets, three of them are walk-in, including the closet in our bedroom that doubles as our tornado safe room. I have tried all summer (school starts next month, I work at the high school) to get rid of some of these boxes and folders and other paraphernalia. I started with a box here and a folder there, not finishing  one.  I got rid of a few things, but I just couldn’t part with a newspaper article about my son and his bunny rabbits and how they came to live with us.   Another newspaper article about a play called “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” with a picture of a boy with a bag over his head.  I knew it was my son even with the bag over his head, a mother knows these things.  Right?  So back in the folder with these other special treasures they go.  Now back to the safe room, my closet.  One afternoon, the tornado sirens started, so I gathered my dog Ruby and a chair.  Why a chair? I knew if I sat down on the floor it would take a tornado to get me up.  There we sat, Ruby and I,  only Ruby wanted to look in my boxes where some of my treasures were stored.  My thinking was, if there is a tornado I wanted to save my treasures or at least the ones in my closet.  As I tried to get her nose out of the box, I discovered what one might call the “mother lode”. I found three accordion folders!  Each one had hundreds of papers in them dating from the mid 80’s through the mid 90’s.  I had written down appointments, how many hours I worked, prayer requests, praises, books I read, movies I’d seen, movies I wanted to see, personal thoughts and prayers and more. Well, I couldn’t shred them ’til I read them, so you can guess what happened.  I shredded a lot, but I couldn’t part with all my memory treasures.  I guess there will be another summer to clean out those treasure boxes.  I still have all my Christmas cards, birthday cards, etc. from this past Christmas and birthdays.  Next summer for them! 

 

 

Moms

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Recently, I posted on Facebook a status update about how I never get tired of pictures of dogs, people’s parents when they were young, and cake. My friend Aaron saw the post and sent me this video tribute his brother Matt Levitz made for his Mom a couple months ago. He promised the video had dogs, cake and many pictures of his Mother. It goes without saying that it’s a loving tribute. Linda is the star of this movie and she is as magnetic as Julia Roberts, with a smile to match. From baby photos, through childhood, wedding, young motherhood, not so young motherhood, involvement in the Adelines, etc., her life is documented. At the end, I felt like I knew her and in a way, I do know her. I had a real reaction partly because the video made me think of my Mom, Theresa. Like Linda, she was born in 1944 and married in 1965 and as women who have travelled through history at the same time, they share other similarities. I asked Aaron to ask Linda if it would be okay to share this on my blog. She responded, “How sweet! I absolutely give permission, provided that he gives Matt credit.” I thought to myself, what a proud Mom. I knew that’s the kind of person she is from watching her movie, but I also know that’s the way Moms are, from knowing my Mom.