Donny suggests that I write a blog post about family and how everyone used to pull together without question to help each other out. It went without saying that grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles never hesitated to open the door for days, weeks, months whenever and for however long the need.
I live with my paternal grandparents as a pre-schooler so that my parents can both work. Putting me in childcare is unthinkable. This is not to disparage childcare. This vital resource is now a lifeline to many but time was when it was not even on the radar. In summers I stay on the tiny chicken farm with my maternal grandparents.
Donny recalls his Grandma Lucy walking him most of the way to school every day. She allows him to make the final short leg independently on his own. She is caretaker for Donny & his older sister Judy so that single parent mom, Mary Elizabeth, can maintain her job as a medical secretary.
Mom sees to it that I spend teen summers with my aunts and uncles who lived in distant cities so that I can expand my horizons but also so that I can be an in house baby sitter for them.
All of the above vignettes bring us to the meat of this post. And before you read on it’s not written to be a pity post but rather a reminder of how family connections are such a strong vibrant force.
Last summer daughter-in-law Terri brings a friend and her sons along to family camp. We have a puzzle marathon and over sorting pieces Julie & I discuss living the military life in the South Pacific. She relates how while on Okinawa she becomes pregnant with their younger son and begins experiencing unexpected difficulties. She continues with how hard it is to figure out a plan for the older son with no family to help out.
The light dawns on me that this is what has tugged at my memory of a similar time for our family while we were on Guam. The memory always feels slightly off kilter to me and it never once occurrs to me that even with a big loving family there is no one at hand to help out. We are family less.
I come in from school to find a family friend waiting for me. I am told to pack some things that Mom is in the hospital and I can not stay home alone. There is no family to take me in, they are all thousands of miles away. Dad is on flight duty, he cannot take care of nine year old me. I am adrift, at the mercy of friends.
This friend takes me to a stranger’s house. I sort of know the family because their daughter is in school with me but our families never socialize together. This family just takes me in out of the goodness of their hearts and they are wonderful. They apologize endlessly about having nowhere in their tiny house for me to sleep but the couch. I don’t mind at all they are so nice. I miss Mom immensely but I am cared for and comfortable.
And then I get moved to the house of the friend that had met me after school who for some unknown reason could not take me immediately. It is a comfort to Mom to know I am with her good friends but it is simply awful to me. I like the family when we have dinners together, they are fun and cheerful. But living with them and their two rambunctious boys is pure misery. I have to bunk in the room with the boys and they are terrors. Nothing horrifying happens but nothing good either. I am a begrudged duty done for a friend.
I miss all of my home comforts and Mom. Dad takes me to see Mom on his days off but in those times no kids are allowed in hospitals so it is barely a visit. Mom’s emergency resources are available only at the distant naval base and so that is where she lands. Her room is on the ground level of a small building so Dad lifts me up to wave and blow a kiss.
If Mom had been at the base hospital I could have visited her room window at will. Kids roam the base freely without a care in the world. Mom even sends me to the base dentist on my own once. That story goes something like this. When it’s my turn I reluctantly get into one of the many chairs for what is to come. It’s a room full of dental chairs, mass mouth work. I am nervous and fidgeting. I am less than cooperative. Finally the enlisted assistant, none too happy with his job anyway, stops trying to get me to open wider and says, “If you don’t want to be here just leave.”
I look at him thinking he is joking. He is dead serious. “Just leave.” I get out of the chair slowly expecting to be yanked back by him or any other adult in the room before I can make my get away. But it doesn’t happen. I gingerly walk to the door not believing my luck. I keep looking back to be sure. The assistant scoots me along with a hand gesture and then turns his attention elsewhere, glad to be rid of me. I am free! Of course my neglected tooth decay suffers immensely even landing me in the hospital (but that is later back in Virginia and another story). Meanwhile I am a free spirit. I never tell Mom.
It will be determined that Mom is RH negative and in dire straits as is sister Suzanne. Total bed rest is the only recourse and a complete blood transfer for Suzanne when she needs to be delivered early or die. The hospital had an incubator, not a new device but it is one that is just beginning to come into it’s own in every day neonatal care and that along with the transfusion saves Suzanne’s life.
Mom will spend more weeks in the hospital and Suzanne even more gaining up to the required five pounds she needs to go home and we can finally be a family together.
Mom and I are on our return trip from Virginia to see very ill Grandma Boschen. It is January. We board the USS Morton in San Francisco and it embarks. The first night at sea is so rough Mom puts our suitcases in the closet to keep them from constantly sliding back and forth across the cabin floor. We have a roommate but she is close lipped and in a world of her own. The next morning shows no improvement in the weather and the table cloths are soaked by the crew to keep dishes and utensils from sliding off onto the floor.
I love it all. Mom not so much. She gets violently ill and ends up in sick bay. A bad case of seasickness is her diagnosis. She cannot keep any food down. The doctors try to get her to eat toast. I am allowed minimal visiting so I know this. She only wants corn flakes. They balk and so she eats nothing. I am left to my own devices.
Mom has moved us the second day to a room closer to other moms and children, much more fun for both of us, but we do not know any of them and before we can make friends Mom gets sick. The other moms feel some obligation to tend to me but barely knowing me and with kids of their own to chase down their oversight is minimal.
At first I am overjoyed, scant adult supervision for a week until we get to Hawaii! But then my drama creating mind kicks in. If I were to fall into the ocean who would know. I wander all parts of the ship seeing if anyone will stop me. They never do. I truthfully do not go deep into the bowels of the boat but do try a few doors and parts of the deck off limits to civilians. Once I decide to go from the dining hall deck to the top deck with my eyes closed. I walk into a huge steel beam with such force that it knocks me down ending my experiment. I am glad to get to Hawaii and Dad.
Being a kid on your own is not that much fun.
Mom’s stay in sick bay is not entirely seasickness. Early stages of her unexpected pregnancy with Suzanne as she later finds out.