Wednesday, January 18, 2017

STILL WALKING

(For you who read my last blog, this is a continuation of that post. A journey with my dad through his letters to my mom during the Korean War.)

                                              INSTALLMENT 2

The news is unsettling: One 2-star general and one 1-star general are coming to Captieux to inspect the camp. Not music to Dad’s ears. Nor mine, as I know my Dad’s unease with any sort of confrontation.

That happy news is accompanied by the acquisition of five new ambulances, a dentist and several more troops coming to join his outpost. He is happy about the ambulances, not so much about the increase in enlisted men to supervise.

Because of the increase however, the army sends over a new major, who outranks dad (a captain), and assumes authority. The major is “hopping mad” because they made him leave a very soft assignment in Boston and sent him to what he thinks is the worst assignment in the world. Dad says the major feels he has been “banished to Captieux.”

Dad is neither upset nor threatened. He is relieved about now not having to be camp spokesman when the generals come to inspect. Dad is let off the hook! The first day, the major asks Dad if he will get up for the early sick call, and if he will, he can leave at noon. I am pumped along with him for an afternoon off!!

A few letters later, it is clear that the "job-sharing" arrangement with the major is more permanent than one day. Dad is very content with this.

The Army has finally given Mom a departure date on the Queen Mary ocean liner for Feb. 9, a month away! I wonder how long she and Mike have to sail. Dad is ecstatic and now counting down days. She is bringing with her a washer, a car, and a refrigerator for starters. Dad is adding to the list daily! He says they are so expensive in France that shipping them over and selling them when they leave will make them money.

He has secured his lease of the old house but still living at the inn with the officers. Fleas are still a problem. He has bites everywhere and I wish I could give him some 2016 remedies. Right now, I cringe as he sprays his room with DDT...all the officers are using it. He wears long johns to bed to keep the bites at a minimum. Madame Salm continues to make extraordinary meals for the men staying in her hotel, Lion D'Or. Good thing Mom was an excellent cook or she would be feeling slightly threatened with the meal standards that Madame Salm is setting feeding her husband!

The men still sit around after dinner and "share their Kodakchromes." Pictures and slides being mailed back and forth from families stateside is something he writes about almost daily. The Kodachromes are lifelines.  As are all these letters filled with such love: ”I will have enough staples bought at the commissary for us because we’re not going to want to leave the house for 2-3 days when you get here" and "You are due for beaucoup loving; come prepared!” I am warmed by their love as I read.

I wince mockingly as he writes to mom that he wonders if he could ever love another child as much as he loves Mike. I wanted to whisper in his ear that he could. And did. Lavishly. Never was a daughter more loved.

I love this daily accounting of Dad's army career, thoughts, decisions, feelings and tasks. He sometimes writes twice a day and then sends both at one time. Mom writes daily to him. In our digital culture,we have lost the treasure of a letter written on paper, in long-hand and found in our mailbox....to be read over and over. I feel so blessed to have these.

....now the last leg of the wait for Mom and Mike....

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

WALKING WITH MY DAD

I am on a delightful journey these days. With my dad. For about an hour every night, I am with him.  I have thrust myself into the movie of his life, for about 4 months in 1951-52, reading all of the letters he wrote to my mom while stationed in France during the Korean War. I feel as if I am walking with him daily as he goes about his business and longs for the arrival of his wife and 2 year old son.

The letters begin when he leaves his medical practice in North Dakota and puts himself under Army command for the next few years. He hangs out in New York City at a hotel, checking in daily at Ft. Kilmer, until his troop transport ship is ready, seeing some Broadway shows and eating well at restaurants with his best friends from med school who happened to in the same contingent.

When the ship leaves port is when I really engage with him. I stand next to him on the deck of the ship while he barfs his seasick guts out. I sit beside his rocking bed while he tries to get down some tea. I put my arm around him to steady his wobbly sea legs when he gets off the boat.

When he arrives in Germany, I wait with him, sharing his angst as he waits to find out where the Army is sending him on assignment. I had to smile behind his back at his description of being sent to “the worst assignment ever” in Captieux, France (only because I knew it ended up being a blessing in disguise). He was made Commanding Medical Officer of a dispensary (clinic) at an ammunition storage site, “full of dirty, vulgar, VD-ridden enlisted men.” He tells Mom how let-down he is and how miserable this is going to be.

The letters are fraught with love and longing. Every single one, without exception, has at least 2 paragraphs of him expressing his deep love for her and how intensely he misses her and my brother Mike. He is so lonesome. After 2 months of letters, he has yet to use my mom’s given name….just “darling” or “honey”…..if I was a teenager, I would say, “Gross.”

The letters have been both mundane and highly entertaining. I raise my eyebrows when he decides to buy a gray sweater to go with his PINK “trousers.” (must have been the trendy color in the early 50’s!) I avert my eyes when he takes his baths in his small metal bathtub. I laugh at his very graphic descriptions of the other officer’s wives (just a few follow) after a Christmas party: “The colonel’s wife is nice and looks like a boxer, has a nose like Buddy Baer. The major’s wife is nice-looking, neurotic, 35, and drinks like a fish. The captain’s wife is a very buxom type, former Army nurse, pregnant and very hard.”

Together we saunter down to the open air markets and see all the fresh bread and veggies and meats. He tells mom that she will have lots of fresh food. I am relieved with him when he moves into an inn/boarding house with other officers awaiting their families. His landlady, Madame Salm, becomes a dear friend and pseudo-grandmother to my brother.

Before Mom’s arrival, Madame Salm rents him one of her old houses in the town of Bazas. For now, she cooks 5 course dinners for the guys every night and it isn’t unusual for them to spend 4 hours to eat and drink wine (The French like their wine!). She makes things like oysters on the half-shell, filet mignon, fresh salmon, and very elaborate desserts. Where I am in the letters, Dad tells mom he has put on many pounds!

His obsession with cameras and photography: begun here. His utter commitment to keeping his family close to him: begun here. His preference for writing instead of talking: begun here. His disgust with rude, dishonest, unkind people: begun here. His obsession with financial details: begun here. He reports to mom every purchase he makes and details the cost. He managed their home accounts with precision from France. It is interesting to see the genesis of some of my dad’s traits through these passionate letters to mom.

Mom has just received her approval from the Army to go, so dad is now instructing her about what and what not to bring and reassures her that even though conditions in France are very antiquated and dirty, together they will create a clean, cozy home for themselves.


I will get to live through his excitement as the day comes closer to her arrival….he is near beside himself! Thanks, Dad, for this gift of a journey I could never have taken with you if you had not put it all down. I wish you were here so I could tell you what a total delight these letters are.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 UPON US

I want to wish all my blog followers a happy new year. I am going to try to be intentional about keeping this blog up. So many times, I feel as if I have no words to share that are relevant to anyone's life. And there is only so much of writing about myself that I can stand!! Thus, the great gaps in posts.

We went to Mpls the day after Thanksgiving and spent that weekend with the kids, just hanging out. They came home for Christmas....only could stay 48 hours, but it was meaningful time together. If you are a FB friend, you may have already seen the family pic I posted, but for you non-FB friends, here is our newest. Photography compliments of Gretchen Hieb Schuett, our niece.




I have my next set of brain and lung scans in 3 weeks or so. Anxious to see what the tumors are doing. I have gone from a woman highly-anxiety ridden facing these scans to a woman who doesn't even blink anymore when they clamp the MRI helmet onto my head. No small achievement, that.

Happy New Year! I hope for us all, 2017 will be full of contentment and God's grace.




Sunday, December 11, 2016

ANOTHER WAY INTO AMAZON

Can a mother make a shameless plug for her son? 

If you are going to order anything from Amazon, could I suggest that you access the amazon link via Sam's coldomaha.com web site. They have a large amazon access point on the right side of their home page and it takes you right into amazon.com where you shop and order as usual. His Cold Omaha Sports team gets a percent of whatever you buy.

Again, that is coldomaha.com

THANK YOU!!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A HOUSE QUIETED

I have spent the majority of my days this fall purging my home. It was long overdue. I am far from a hoarder, but we had saved far too many things for various reasons. We got rid of things out of every closet, drawer, cupboard, bin and room. We took loads to charity, the garage, the landfill (old furniture and broken bikes), and sold stuff online. We went through every Rubbermaid bin the storage room and got rid of stuff that we have had forever and were not using.

I finally gave myself the grace to let go of some things I had been keeping "because Dad liked those on me" or "because Mom made it for me." I was ready to not stuff drawers any longer with cards that I once got that Sam has absolutely no interest in reading or keeping some day. Much of this doing is for him. I don't want him to have the laborious task someday of going through this stuff (and admittedly, much of what I sorted was just "stuff") and throwing it all away cavalierly. Better for me to triage it all and leave only what is meaningful.

Everything is labeled and easy to get it. Shelves are neat and not crammed with anything. Minimalism takes on a life of its own once the purging has started!!

The lightening of our load has not only left us with a very organized and clean house, but it frees me in a big way. I want how I live to matter, and what I choose to keep around me shapes my life. What I choose to let go of allows my life to lose weight. It has re-calibrated my soul with simplicity. 

In the purging, I find more space in my life for less.




Tuesday, November 8, 2016

GREAT WEEKEND

We had a super fun weekend with Gretchen and Sam on his birthday weekend. Sam had given us tickets to the Vikings game on Sunday for Mother's and Father's Day. It was an amazing experience being in the new stadium. Truly mind-blowing. The Vikings' loss was super disappointing, however.



The kids served fabulous meals and we took a walk and watched a truly good movie, "Concussion," and just generally hung-out together. 

Came home and starting today, I am upping my dose of chemo for 3 months to see if we can knock out those last tumors. That is my prayer: remission. Hope I don't have any more side effects than I already do.

Richie is in Mexico for the week so I am the keeper of the keys around here. It is quiet.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A QUART OF ALE

I had a lung scan yesterday and it looked relatively stable. I always want to hear "remission" but I accept stable. One tiny patch had increased slightly in SUV uptake, but she was not concerned. I won't have to have another til January; I made the decision to have a brain MRI and a lung scan the same day. Lucky me.

Yesterday they found that my lung which had been slowly getting more and more fluid in it had taken a large leap. My doctor made a phone call and 15 minutes later I was over at Avera Hospital getting my lung aspirated. I felt like a maple tree being "tapped" for syrup. They showed me the jar. ONE QUART of fluid. He said, "You'll lose two pounds!" It looked like a stein of beer with froth on top!! So the past day and a half have been pretty uncomfortable, painful at times, as the lung is adjusting to this empty cavity. I am trying to stretch it by taking occasional deep breaths, but my whole side and shoulder ache. This is to be expected.

In a week I should be able to deep breathe without difficulty. ONE QUART! I didn't hear "sloshing around sounds" once!!!

Richie is going to Mexico in 11 days for our nephew's wedding. He's trying to brush up on his Spanish. His sister has a whole week of activities planned so he should have a great time.

We are having a beautiful autumn "last hurrah." Hope you are too.