Writing My Life

Now and Then


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My “Uniquely Boring Life”: Turning Point – CaNcER

G before his scope and scrape.

Step 1: Awaiting the “scope and scrape”.

Lives have so many turning points that I wonder what kind of map is created by all the crooked cow-paths. I think most people could fill a book based solely on the turning points that direct their mortal journeys. But today, I want to chat about our latest turn of events.

Enter February, 2017. G.E. learns he is a candidate for Type 2 Diabetes and must check his glucose once a day. I panic. This man has NEVER watched his eating as long as I have known him – 48 years. He doesn’t know what “nutrition fact” food labels are, and he is confused about problems associated with carbohydrates. But he surprises me by taking charge of his health, learns the devastating truth behind sugar, and bids farewell to his candy jars and ice cream bars. Yay for him. Yay for me. He loses pounds and lowers glucose readings.  I don’t gain weight. A plus.

In comes March 2017 like a lion, a monster, a devil. After a month of “spotting”, G.E. starts bleeding before, during, and after peeing.  The episodes are similar to menopausal women’s periods in that they last a couple of days. Stop. And start again. After two trips to the emergency room because we can’t get into a urologist until March 20th, he is diagnosed with Urinary Tract Infection. In spite of antibiotics, bleeding continues and possible kidney stones are blamed.

March 20th finally arrives, and the physicians’ assistant suggests weekly urine samples after reassuring us that many situations can cause bleeding, but most are harmless. Relax. The on-again/off-again bleeding continues – but NOT when urine samples are due. G. doesn’t feel well, and urination becomes difficult and painful. Third sample is filled with blood, and G. refuses to leave the urologist’s office without talking to the doctor.

April 13th. Gar undergoes a scope ‘n scrape. (This procedure has a long official name and a short acronym, but I can remember neither.) I face the urologist M.D. all by myself to learn he removed tumors in the bladder and a larger one in the urethra to send to pathology for a diagnosis. Our conversation continues like this:

Me: What do you think of these tumors?
Doc: Do you want me to be forthright?
Me (thinking – No please lie to me, and then make it so.): Yes.
Doc: I think they are cancerous.
Me (pausing to process): If it is, what can be done?
Doc: Probably surgery to remove the bladder and penis.
Me (thinkingI don’t care as long as he lives. How am I going to tell Gar? I am totally numb. I can’t even cry.): When will we get the results back?

April 20th. We receive the results. The doctor is right about the cancer, but it is more serious than he thought. “Crazy”, he says. So crazy, he refers us to Huntsman Cancer Institute. And Dr. Christopher Dechet. And so our lives turn. But the urologist was wrong about one thing: no penectomy.


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Barbershop Saturdays

Based on memories from my childhood, I penned the following poem for my creative writing class. This creation follows the “complex French verse form” called a sestina. While it was difficult to write, it led me in a direction I hadn’t fathomed. I dedicate “Barbershop Saturdays” to my wonderful father and his barber Frenchie Brasseur.
My best to you,  Renae

 

The morning sun highlights customers captured in the giant mirror
that stretches across the back wall, duplicating rows of glass jars –
some filled with liquid green and blue; others with puffs of cotton.
Frenchie, with his pencil-thin moustache, trims and tapers – measured clips.
Scissors snip, gum smacks, chatter snaps; trademarks of the slender man.
The room is warm. Sandalwood scent fills the air. No one minds the wait.

I stand by Dad as he searches the scene, then asks, “How long is the wait?”
“ ’bout fifteen,” answers Frenchie. He whirls the man in the chair towards the mirror,
and Dad sits on a vinyl chair. I sit on his knee. Frenchie whips the cape off the man.
While the client pulls dollars from his wallet, I gaze at the contents of the jars:
all lengths of combs and scissors, razor blades and metal files. And one bottle of clips.
I like it here; the cluttered order of the shop; the informality of khakis and cotton.

On this Saturday trip with Dad, I sport a ponytail, a suntop, and shorts of red cotton.
This man’s world doesn’t intimidate me. I sneak peeks at ARGOSY while we wait
‘til Dad snatches it, then hands me LIFE Magazine. I blush and listen to scissor clips
and talk of weather and baseball. I skim headlines and scan photos, then mirror
“Audrey’s” smile, “Marilyn’s” pout, Khrushev’s scowl. His shoe-pounding jars
me. I fear his words. I fear his threats. I fear his bombs. I fear this man.

I wonder, “Does he take a little girl to the barbershop?” This scary, bald man.
The notion fades as I snuggle onto Daddy’s lap, inhaling Old Spice and pressed cotton.
Dust motes waltz in sunlight’s shafts. I smile at prisms of azure refracting from jars.
The welcome bell jangles me, and I sit up to stare at the boy who joins the wait.
Frenchie nods hello before clicking on the trimmer to buzz the man in the mirror.
He had ordered a crewcut. Tiny hairs drift to the pile of Frenchie’s snips and clips.

The barber whisks away the heap of calico curls. Deftly, he wraps the cape and clips
it closed ‘round the patron’s neck. I think of my ponytail. I am glad I am not a man.
Still, I might like the trimmer’s tickle, spinning in the chair and whirling past the mirror.
Pixie cuts are “in style”. Could Frenchie style a pixie cut on me? Mom would cotton
to the idea. Maybe. She likes curls, and that means home permanents. I think I’ll wait.
Dad slides me off his lap. “My turn, Honey.” I settle into his chair and start counting jars.

Daddy climbs the chrome-plated step and sits. Frenchie draws clean combs from the jars.
I smile when the barber pushes a lever to lower the chair for my tall father. Then he clips
and combs my dad’s dark hair. And soon he will look even more handsome. I can’t wait!
Without his horned-rimmed glasses, he seems so young. But he is our Super Man!
Dad fought a war, found his love, and begot two daughters. All without a red “S” of cotton
on his chest. And Saturdays he gets his haircut as I watch, loving that man in the mirror.

Innocently, I store these gentle memories in the jars of my mind while learning to man
the fast clip of life. I have safely wrapped those faraway Saturdays in layers of cotton:
tender recollections that patiently wait then emerge – blurred images in the mirror.

 


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Mom Remembered: Her Life Sketch

 

Rebecca Howe Barrett was born at home on October 15, 1925 in Arimo, Idaho, creating an even dozen children in Rebecca and Fred Howe’s household! (Youngest brother Lloyd showed up five years later.) Her mother wanted to name her “Laura” after her dear sister, but her father wanted to name her after his faithful wife, Rebecca; and so the discussion appeared to be over. It was only in 1971 when Rebecca the younger sent for her birth certificate to obtain a passport that she learned her mother entered “Laura Rebecca Howe” on the birth certificate!

Rebecca reaped the advantages and the disadvantages of being towards the tail end of a large family. She could sometimes get away with mischief, and she was often spoiled by her loving sister Wyoma; but she was also the focus of merciless teasing by her older brothers, especially Reed and Russell. Nevertheless, she thought the world of them, and they loved her in tender ways that she never forgot.

The Great Depression was the backdrop of Rebecca’s childhood, and she spent her teens supporting the home-front during World War II. After graduating from Arimo High In 1943 where she was active in the marching band and editor of the school newspaper, she went to work counting ration stamps for Kraft Foods in Pocatello. While there, she became friends with Margaret Barrett who was instrumental in starting her “on the road to happiness when she introduced Rebecca or Beckie to her brother Henry Dale Barrett. Her “heart literally stopped when [she] saw this tall, handsome man in uniform get out of the car and come towards [her]”. After dancing the night away in the student union building at Idaho State College, he took her back to the car where he kissed her and asked, “Where have you been all my life?” Three days later, her soldier proposed marriage, and after two and a half months, 19-year-old Beckie took the train to Champaign, Illinois where Dale was stationed, and married the “love of her life” on June 1, 1945.

After Dale’s discharge from the Army-Air Corps, the two lovebirds settled in Pocatello, Idaho where Renae and Connie were born, thus creating their little family. They spoiled their daughters with much love and all the advantages they could provide. Beckie worked for Idaho Bank and Trust and then Idaho Farm Bureau to finance the spoiling. She was so proud of her girls, and they never wanted to disappoint her. Those were such precious years.

In 1966, Dale’s job transferred him – first to Portland, Oregon and then to Stockton, California. Eventually, they moved to Southern California when Dale joined another company. These were rough years for Rebecca, and she had to overcome hard challenges, but overcome she did with the love and support of her sweet husband. Blessings followed especially when they retired to Sun Lakes Active Adult Community in Banning, California. While living there, the two danced and golfed and traveled.

When Dale’s health began to fail, Rebecca wanted to move closer to her girls, and after two years in St. George, Utah, she decided that wasn’t close enough. In 2004, she and her sweetheart moved to American Fork, just a few miles from Connie and Renae.

Dale passed away 2007, but Rebecca stayed for eight and a half more years so her daughters could grow even closer through many joyful activities with her and tender service to her. The three went to lunches and dinners together and sometimes invited Randy and Gary. Mother and daughters especially loved attending plays at the Hale Center Theater for seven seasons!

Rebecca looked forward to playing cards with her great friends every Thursday afternoon at Mount Timpanogos Village, and they absolutely loved her great sense of humor. Of course, Grandma Beckie especially enjoyed visits from her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was always so proud of who they were and that they were part of her posterity. In between times, Betty and Lilly, her furry Maltese-Shiatzu “babies” kept her company so she was never alone.

As her health declined, especially after celebrating her 90th birthday, Rebecca decided she had been away from her Dale long enough and went home to him on Friday, February 5, 2016, the golden anniversary of their temple sealing. We know their love and dedication to each other, as well as their spiritual growth over the years, have bound them together for eternity. We relish the vision of their happiness in being together again for their life is truly a romance for the ages.


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“Face-Lifting” a Fabulous Foto

New Fallen Snow

Photograph by Colleen Ussery Down

One of my sweet friends from my days in Hidden Valley posted this enchanting photo on FaceBook. So many elements came together to create this image: new fallen snow, a full moon, Christmas Day, and a thoughtful photographer.

I told her I wanted to steal it for my blog banner, and she “liked” my comment; therefore, I am accepting that as approval! And I am giving her credit and my thanks! And I am customizing my banner to feature Utah in winter!


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Dr.CrazyLove: Or How I Learned to Stop Apologizing and Love the FaceBook

Renae FB

I know there are scores of reasons to dislike this social medium; nevertheless, millions of folks hang out there anyway. We post what we are thinking, doing, eating, seeing, etc. We rant and rave, curse and criticize, stalk and gawk, brag and validate ourselves and others, all the while claiming to hate FaceBook. And I was among those until recently.

I know browsing can suck the time out of a day quicker than we can click “Like”, but sometimes, a few minutes (or hours) is just what we need to buoy our spirits, pat our backs, pinch our cheeks, or cheer us onward. Let me give you an example.

Recently, my sister and I made the VERY painful decision to move our aging mother to a senior living center in order to provide the increasing care she needs. This meant giving away her two darling puppies who provided hours of emotional comfort, but little in the way of physical care. Even Connie and I could not keep up with her minute to minute needs.

Of course, this broke her heart as well as Connie’s and mine. Then my sister posted the story of our experience on FaceBook, and so much love, understanding, support, and virtual hugs poured in from cousins, aunts, friends, neighbors, former school mates and colleagues,  as well as a gentleman whose last name we share who thinks we may be distant relatives, but we don’t know for sure!

Probably the sweetest gift we received from this strange source is the reconnection to a dear old friend and neighbor from our childhoods. I have written about Susan and her family before, and it was such a delight when she found Connie on the “Remember Pocatello” FB page.

Besides remembering days gone by, Susan has also shared her journey of caring for her darling 90-year-old mother Mary, whom Connie, Mom, and I also love and admire. Susan has given us helpful ideas in caring for Mom in her new home, and she has posted photos of the Jones family that we have shown to Mom. And then we talk of our good times in that neighborhood and of the lovely people we enjoyed there.

The point is that I don’t know if Connie and I would have found or felt so much kindness if we were not a part of the FaceBook community. So while there is still much that I ignore or sometimes block when I visit FB Land, there is also much that I savor.

Thank you people who use this social medium to lift the spirits of your FaceBook buddies!


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Pure Religion Found

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. ~ James 1:27

The author of The Epistle of James is regarded to be the son of Mary, the Savior’s brother, and so few could be better prepared to share Jesus’ messages of love, compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice, mercy and more.

Today I reflected upon James’ definition of “pure religion” as G.E. and I attended church with Mom. In this senior living center, we watched two shiny young men pass the sacrament of bread and water to outstretched hands weathered by years and experience. We noticed how some frail widows pressed bread into the palms of their neighbor’s whose infirmities numbered a few more than their own.  We listened to shaky voices pray with gratitude for received blessings and plead for continued strength to serve as the Savior had served.

I thought it would depress my spirit to visit these meetings. Instead, the simplicity of the service, the expressions of love from members of this tiny congregation, and the kindnesses of the leaders reminded me of James’ admonition. And my heart was filled.

Christmas Program

One of many holiday programs for the residents at the senior living center.


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One of My TRUE Stories Illustrating the Power of Reading

I am an admitted read-a-holic. I constantly listen to audiobooks, too. There are worse addictions – like Facebook. (I struggle with that! What a time-sucker!) Anyway, back to reading. I’ve been thinking about it a lot: why it is an important part of my life, how it enriches my thinking, why it finds my heart, and how it straightens me out.

I suppose a friend’s recent comment about books in general and novels in particular stimulated this thinking. She said, “I’m having trouble figuring out how a novel could be useful or helpful for anyone.” And that’s when I remembered the two Ruths. The first Ruth is a young mother I once knew, and the second Ruth is Ruth White, author of Belle Prater’s Boy and many other young adult novels.

A favorite YA novel of mine.

A favorite YA novel of mine.

The two Ruths came together when I agreed to lead a book discussion as part of a Relief Society monthly meeting. (The “Society” is the Mormon Church’s women’s auxiliary.) The hardest part of this assignment was choosing a quality book that would not shock, bore, or overwhelm the participating women. While many were well-read, some were not, which meant I needed a novel that was not too long, too simplistic, too challenging, or too popular.

Because I was a middle school teacher, it was not hard for me to turn to adolescent literature where I can always find rich options that appeal to young and old alike. The reading levels may not be high, but the subject matter can be multifaceted. I decided upon Belle Prater’s Boy as it features fine writing, likable and unlikable characters, charming humor, plus a complex, heart-wrenching theme about loss.

Author Ruth White

Author Ruth White

As I recall, all the women enjoyed the book, and our discussion was filled with excellent insights, diverse viewpoints, and intelligent analyses. My friend Ruth’s response, however, was the most touching, but she did not share it that night. I saw her a few days later at her half-sister’s house, and she pulled me aside to tell me how much she loved the book. Ruth then told me she suffered from dyslexia, and her schooling included special education classes where teachers usually read the novels aloud. Belle Prater’s Boy was the first novel she had personally read from beginning to end. It had taken her the entire month, but Ruth read every word.

If that wasn’t enough to start my waterworks, Ruth then shared her favorite part of the novel. It seems that her mother had taken her own life when Ruth was young, and, of course, the event haunted her. But a passage near the end of the book brought a level of understanding and peace to her heart and mind.

In chapter 23, twelve-year-old Gypsy and her cousin Woodrow go to a treehouse to watch the sunrise and to commemorate the day Woodrow’s mother Belle disappeared the year before. During the conversation about their losses, including the suicide of Gypsy’s father Amos, the two youngsters face the fact that their parents left their children on purpose – not because Belle and Amos did not love the two of them, but because “their pain was bigger than the love.”

That choice encounter has never left me. It is one way a novel can be “useful or helpful” to someone.