Writing My Life

Now and Then


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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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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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A Lone Woman in a Household of Guys: A Tribute to My Husband and Sons

One Saturday morning in early January 1989, we received one of those dreaded calls that many families have experienced: a “you have been laid-off/fired/let-go/get-lost” calls. We pretty well knew it was coming as the technology company G.E. worked for was always “restructuring”, and he had been pretty lucky to avoid the repercussions over his 10 years of employment. Nevertheless, we were devastated, and losing a job that provided a good salary at age 41 was more frightening than being laid off during the “entry-level” years of one’s life.

Realizing our luck would not always hold, I had gone back to college part-time in 1987 to finish my teaching degree. By 1989, I had completed my general education credits, but still had a long ways to go because I changed my major. I had long wanted to complete my degree, and I knew I should have started sooner as there was no career I wanted to undertake more than teaching. Nevertheless, I did apply to work as a secretary at my brother’s-in-law accounting firm, but I failed the typing test miserably, and we wisely agreed that secretarial work was not the best fit.

Of course, there were unskilled jobs I could have pursued, but after much discussion and many prayers, G.E. and I decided I should do everything I could to finish school as that would benefit our family more in the long term. This meant applying for every grant, loan, and scholarship I could find, carrying a heavy heavy class schedule, and attending school year round. It was a huge decision that placed a significant burden on our entire family.

For my husband’s part, he collected unemployment benefits – which barely scratched the surface of our needs – plus picked up every odd job he could find. These included janitorial work, delivering Yellow Page directories, and yard work once spring came round. He even worked construction with a fireman friend who also owned a small handy-man company. G.E. was willing to undertake any project that would enable him to provide for our family and put his wife through college.

For our boys it meant many things more than just downsizing a lifestyle that included activities and opportunities they enjoyed and planned for. Andy and Joe couldn’t go to the International Boy Scout Jamboree as their older brother Chris had because we didn’t have the money or the time to help them with fund-raisers. None of the boys could attend all the sport camps they had hoped for, but they were able to play Little League Baseball because of the generosity of the Draper Youth Baseball League who waived their participation fees – something they were willing to do because of G.E.’s long-time association with that organization’s board and coaching staff.

Because of the change in our financial circumstances, the older boys willingly helped their dad with his side jobs in addition to their summer employment. Over the years, Chris and Andy worked at some pretty “interesting” places – the smelliest and dirtiest of which was the egg farm.(I’m surprised they still like omelets!) Employment at the nearby elementary was a relief in comparison! Joe, 12, joined his brothers and dad in cleaning offices and delivering the Yellow Pages, and 8-year-old Tim became the resourceful entrepreneur who sold toys, video games, and other odds and ends to get money for the things he wanted or needed.

Like Tim, G.E. and I sold everything we could. The first to go was our fairly new Suburban. My parents gave us their old car to drive, and Gar’s father gave us a dilapidated 1968 seafoam-green stationwagon and a utility trailer to use for the yard-care business. Sometimes, out of desperation, 14-year-old Andy had to drive the thing because he was the only one available to complete the appointment to mow, trim, and edge!

Even with the class-load I carried, it took 2 1/2 years for me to finish my degree. This was the era of keeping in touch via pay phones and long distance charges. Because I went to BYU in Provo, I became a long-distance mother. I purchased a “1-800” card that allowed me to call home and check on the boys. Home-cooked meals for them often meant eating cheese quesadillas on the run or in between homework, chores, part-time jobs, church and school activities. For the most part, they handled it all splendidly – better than their mother.

I knew the toll it was taking when I read one of Joe’s school essays based on the book Banner in the Sky. The assignment asked students to share a challenging experience in their own lives, and our son wrote about the impact of his father losing his job. He earned an “A”, but the essay made his teacher and me cry.

While G.E. obtained employment a few months after the layoff, the pay was just over a third of what he had been making. That meant he and the boys continued to clean offices, mow lawns, and work other jobs. One year, Joe hired on at Taco Time and bought his school clothes and Tim’s.

Over the course of that experience, a neighbor tried to recruit G.E. to sell a multi-marketing product, but my husband said no because he couldn’t live in the “iffy” world of straight commission. We needed to know exactly how much money was coming in and when he’d be paid in order for us to meet our obligations. The neighbor’s response was that he would never perform manual labor as G.E. did to bring in a few dollars here and a few dollars there. But somehow our patched-together income was enough to keep us afloat for the several years it took us to “swim to shore”.

In the meantime, I finished college and started teaching middle school and finances improved. Whenever I count my blessings – which is often – I always include the fine men in my life who made that possible. As a result, I enjoyed a wonderful career in an area I loved and was able to significantly contribute to our family’s income. When financial challenges struck again – which they did – we were able to tackle them in a better, less stressful way.

I adore my “boys” – G.E., Chris, Andy, Joey, and Tim –  who have all had to overcome many difficult trials in their lives, And today I want thank them for putting their mom through school over 25 years ago!

I love you all – and Happy Father’s Day, 2015


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When Life Turns on a Dime

Last Sunday started like the Sunday before that and the Sunday before that. G.E. and I slept in. Upon waking, I wrapped up in my favorite robe and he dressed in his comfy sweats, or “daytime jammies” as I call them. Next I stirred around in the kitchen while he sat at the bar and poured over the Sunday paper, and then the phone rang.

Before picking up the receiver, I predicted that a member of our church congregation was on the other end in search of a Sunday School or Primary substitute. I was wrong. Before picking up the receiver, all was right with the morning. That’s when life turned on a dime.

Within a few minutes we learned that a loved member of G.E.’s extended family had received a life-threatening medical diagnosis and was scheduled for surgery within hours. We quickly cleaned up and headed to the hospital where we greeted many family members who had gathered together in love and support. The well-wishers filled the room and spilled into the hallway. Smiles and laughter intermingled with tears and hugs. It was a warm sight and an even warmer feeling.

Everyone stayed in the waiting room while our loved one was in surgery, and so we were there to hear the surgeon report the results. They were pretty much what he predicted they would be. Silence descended and quiet tears, followed by hugs and more hugs.

And now the trials of faith. Prayers will ask Heavenly Father for a miracle, for our family member to beat the odds, for “the cup to be lifted”. We know those things could happen. But we also know the miracles could take other forms as in added grace. Our Father in Heaven did not intervene in Gethsemane, but He sent an angel to comfort the Savior, and so we’ll look for the attendance of angels and increased love flowing from family and friends in heaven and on earth to buoy up that dear family.

As for the extended family, I am very grateful that G.E.’s siblings have met for dinner several times a year for nearly a decade to strengthen ties. We’ve held yearly reunions to include children and grandchildren for the past 3 years. Those traditions made it natural and comfortable to rally together during this time of need. We are not strangers to one another. When life turns on a dime as it did this weekend, that is a wonderful comfort.


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Mother-Care: A Responsibility and a Joy

The flu bug bit me Sunday – luckily it was the size of a gnat as the mild achiness lasted only a couple of days. YaY for the flu vaccine!

Yesterday, while recuperating in the recliner – a necessary piece of furniture for senior citizens – Mom called to see how I was feeling. She was concerned about her little girl. This tenderness came from a woman who had just survived a much worse round with the virus herself. Our tougher-than-nails, 89-year-old mommy continues to shock and awe us.

First of all, Mom’s little body – from neck to toes is riddled with arthritis. She has been diagnosed with one torn rotator cuff, but probably has two. Only a shoulder replacement can remedy that problem, but at her age she says, “Forget about THAT!” She did try a couple of pain shots and decided being impaled by a six-inch needle wasn’t worth the trip to the doctor – even though she thinks he is a handsome rogue.

Her golfing and driving days are behind her, but she prefers using her walker over riding a scooter. Which is a good thing as it keeps her moving – not as much as she’d like, but as much as is safe. Falling is the big worry, but after a couple of doozies that resulted in black eyes but no broken bones, she recognizes her limitations and moves very carefully. She even pulled herself up after her last fall over a year ago. We are confident that angels were there to give her a boost.

Mom prides herself on possessing a “high pain threshold”, and that is an understatement. She so rarely complains that Connie and I have to play 20 questions to make sure she isn’t hiding something. On one rare occasion she said her back was bothering her a little bit. This concerned us because she experienced serious back problems about 3 years ago that terrified us and really set her back.

After a couple of days of wondering, she asked me to check her back to see if I detected anything suspicious. I saw nothing until I pulled her pants down a bit to see her lower back and discovered a terrible rash. Further inspection revealed a horrendous case of shingles that traveled down her right side, ending near her knee. I felt terrible and immediately whisked her off to the doctor. I could not believe she had endured such a breakout with hardly a word!! While we didn’t catch the condition as early as we would have liked, the antibiotic did help, and she bounced back yet again.

It is hard to watch Mom “wind down”. While she usually puts on her make-up daily, it is a tedious job to shower and change clothes. She remembers that Wednesdays are card-playing days with her friends, but she forgets what she told us just minutes before. She doesn’t feel like eating, but will give in if we heat something up for her. She prefers to stay home, but is always ready to go to the Hale Theater with Connie and me. Her hearing and sight are deteriorating, but not much gets past her! She loves our visits, but misses Daddy terribly – a hole neither we nor her puppies can fill.

Connie and I are so grateful for each other and for our attentive husbands. Among the four of us, we make sure her needs are met – groceries bought, bills paid, prescriptions filled, sorted, and administered, etc. One or both of us are there nearly every day. Nevertheless, we miss things – a lapsed prescription, the shingles vaccine, a check-up – and we feel guilty. We even feel pangs if we don’t miss something. When I take Mom to the doctor, Connie feels bad that she didn’t. When she and Randy clean Mom’s house, I worry that Gar and I should have been there, too. And so it goes.

I dreamed the other night that Mom drove her 1994 Lincoln Continental somewhere and it broke down. She used the carphone to tell me what had happened and where she was. The dream turned into a nightmare when I dallied around and took three days before I went in search for her. When I found her, she was all cheerful and reassured me that she had been fine because she ate the candy bars and drank the water that was in her trunk. My eyes are tearing up as I write this. I don’t need a dream-interpreter to tell me I am worried that I am not doing enough for her.

Yes, caring for Mom is a huge responsibility, but it is also an honor and a joy. Through all of these ups and downs, there are many things we treasure. We are so happy that she holds on to her darling and quick wit. She loves Gary’s and Randy’s teasing, and she can dish it out, too. She keeps us laughing, and we love making her laugh. Mom is also appreciative. She expresses her gratitude to us over and over. If we mess up, she is forgiving. If we’re sick or hurting in some way, she worries and prays for us. If our children are excelling or struggling, she wants details. If we accomplish anything big or small, she cheers for us!

We love and adore our darling mom, and as hard as times are for her, we ache when we think of life without her. And so we ramp up our efforts and hold onto her as tight as we can, appreciating every minute, hour, and day we have with her.

Mom and Her Girls

                           Mom and Her Girls


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Mom & Me – Mother’s Day 2014

Unlike many baby-boomers, I am beyond fortunate to still have my “greatest generation”, rascal of a mother with me. At 88-going-on-89, she still makes us laugh at her quick wit and other shenanigans! Case in point: the other afternoon when I set about sorting her pills, I congratulated her for remembering to down her evening menu of pink, white, and yellow-striped capsules. She is faithful in taking her morning allotment, but is hit-and-miss with the latter.

Seconds into my sorting routine, she shyly said, “I’ve done a bad thing.”

Panic rose as several scenarios screamed through my brain, the first being, “OH NO! She took all her night pills at once!” And then “OH NO! She dumped them down the toilet!” (They aren’t exactly cheap!)

But I calmly asked in my sweetest, slightly teasing tone, “What did you do?” (Smile)

“Well, I poured them all into an empty pill bottle,” she said – rather sheepishly, I might add!

“Why? Am I that mean when I tease you about forgetting them?” I asked as I remembered a childhood of hiding empty Jello boxes  after I consumed the contents – “raw” Jello was a precursor to Pixy Sticks in my time.

Like me, I guess she hates “getting into trouble”, and we can both be a little sneaky to avoid that!

One of the sneakiest things she did, however, dates back to spring, 1966. I can’t remember if it was yearbook day or Senior Sluff day, but a bunch of us planned to spend the afternoon at the beach. Yes, there was a beach in Southeastern Idaho – The American Falls Reservoir, not exactly Malibu or Santa Cruz, but somehow, we made it work.

For the occasion, I bought a  2-piece swimming suit. Far from being a bikini, the lime-green and white pleated skirt bottom with daisies covered my belly-button, and though the square neckline was cut a little lower than normal, it was still something Annette Funicello would feel comfortable wearing on a Disney set. At least, I thought so. Unlike popular Jantzen swimsuits of the time, this two-piece was made from a duck-cloth type material, and I paid a pretty penny for it at Fargo’s Department Store where I worked part-time. I think I put out $25!!!

After the purchase, I took it home and modeled it for Mom and Dad who smiled approvingly. Or so I thought. A few mornings later when I headed out the door to my day of high school adventure, I grabbed my beach bag packed with towels, baby oil, and the new swimsuit. When we arrived at the beach – a rather cool, windy Idaho day, as I recall – the girls had to change into their suits in cars, a dubious affair that required performing acrobatics under beach towels.

While twisting and turning to get into mine, I realized that it was not exactly the  one I bought! The 2-piece had been modified! Yes, it was green and white with a pleated-skirt bottom, but the top was different! It was still white, edged with green piping, but it was cut higher, and a row of matching green buttons ran along a seam that marked the addition of more white duck-cloth to raise the neckline!

Shaking my head in disbelief, I was shocked, but not upset. It was adorable! Mom had jazzed up a rather plain top into something fun as well as modest. And she had performed such a professional job that no one could tell I did not buy it that way.

I don’t remember the discussion that night as I talked with Mom, but something tells me that when I modeled my purchase for her and Daddy and then bent over to retrieve the shopping bags, she knew changes needed to be made before I paraded my swimsuit-clad body across the sands of the American Falls reservoir in the spring of 1966. I presume she thought I would be angry with her so she decided to seek forgiveness instead of permission. Yes, she is sneaky like that. Thanks, Mom!