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Posts Tagged ‘things I learn from my family’


By Marylin Schultz




My Father In Front Of The Family Ford — Earl Russell Biggs II, vintage family postcard, circa early 1900’s, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Images from long ago—letters, photographs, postcards, communicate family history, like ribbons tying up bundles of memories. I look into the sweet innocence of children’s faces and reflect on what I do know of their lives. Little Earl Russell Biggs, II, my father, placed in front of his family’s first automobile by a proud papa. There would eventually be four generations of men in the family, given that name. Family tradition had each generation alternating the names they were “known as.” My grandfather was called Earl, my father went by Russell. My brother was called Earl and his son was known as Russ, or the nick-name,” Rusty.”

The baby, Frances Louise Oliver, my mother, was as fair in complexion as E. Russell was dark. Their childhoods would also be in stark contrast. He was born in 1910, and she was three years younger. Frances was the adored, pampered baby of her family, with three brothers and a sister, much older than she. Frances always got what she wanted, I’m told, and became a woman who maintained that expectation from life.


My Mother — Frances Louise Oliver, family photo scan
© 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


Russell’s life probably began happily enough. His father and mother, Mary Dickens Biggs, lived in Childress, Texas, where he was a successful businessman in banking, and insurance, as well as owning a cattle ranch, where the family lived. Russell was big brother to Emma Ruth, five years younger than he was. In 1920, tragedy struck the young family. Mary Dickens Biggs, who was expecting their third child, died from the dreaded Influenza that took over 20 million lives in Europe and America.

The parents of E. R. Biggs, Sr. were no longer living, and Mary’s parents offered to care for the children, so the devastated father agreed. Russell and Emmy spent the next two years with the Dickens family, who were living on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, where Felix Dickens, Mary’s brother, was the BIA Agent.

E. R. Biggs married his second wife, Lillian, and the two children were moved back to their Texas home. Very soon, however, Russell, at the age of twelve, was sent off to a Military Academy, and spent the rest of his school years there, only home for the summers and holidays. E.R. and Lillian had another son and daughter. It was one of those cases of a step-mother, whose “own” children could do no wrong, and the older children felt deeply, the deprivation of approval and affection. Emma, while still a teenager, had a baby, who was immediately placed for adoption, never experiencing even one embrace of the young mother who so desperately wanted to love and be loved.




(L to R) Paul, Harriet, Eloise, Mildred, & Grace Dickens, Russell Biggs (My Father) on right, Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I always wondered what it must have been like to grow up on Indian reservations, which the five Dickens children experienced. As we know from the postcard, they were in Oklahoma, then Minnesota and later in Washington State. As a child, I remember my father’s Uncle Felix visiting us a few times at our home in California. I have a few letters that he wrote to my Aunt Emma, which were from a reservation in South Dakota. These were at a much later date, when Emma was an adult.


Side B: Back of the Postcard of Seger Indian School, Colony, Oklahoma, March 17th, 1912, vintage family postcard, photo scan © 2011 by Marylin Schultz. All rights reserved.


I finally met some of my Dickens relatives in an unusual way. After the deaths of my mother and father, I received all the family documents. In going through the papers I learned that Mary Dickens was born in McGregor, Iowa. My husband and I were scheduled to drive from our home in Bismarck, No. Dakota to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a convention, the very next day. I looked at a map and saw that McGregor was only a few miles south, and across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien. I decided to see if I could find a trace of the Dickens family in the small, riverside town of McGregor.

It was a cold, gray November Saturday. The trees along the river were bare, but the drive along the river was peaceful and I was feeling hopeful. When I entered the town, I saw a building marked “Museum,” and I parked. The sign on the Museum door said something like “Closed. See you next Spring.” The only place open was the Hardware Store, so I went in. The woman behind the counter gave me a warm welcome. I told her of my quest for family members and asked if she knew of any Dickens who were still living in the area.

“Harvey Dickens lives about five miles west of town,” she replied. “Would you like to call him from here?” I answered in the affirmative just as the phone rang. She spoke to the person for a few minutes, and then I heard her say, “There’s someone here who wants to speak to you,” and handing the phone to me, with a big smile, she said, “It’s Harvey Dickens.” I gasped in amazement at the coincidence, and took the phone. I gave a very brief explanation of who I was. He invited me to come to his home, and I scribbled down the directions he gave, handed the phone back to the woman and thanked her. She smiled and wished me good luck, and I hurried to my car.


Harvey had given good directions to his farm, and I found it with no problem. The plain, two story home, painted a soft yellow, with dark green shutters at the windows, was well cared for. There was a row of pine trees to the west of the house, offering a buffer from the prevailing prairie winds, and a hedge of Lilac bushes between house and out-buildings. The tires of my car made a crunching sound on the neatly graveled driveway. Harvey opened the door of the house before I started up the steps. His smile was wide.

“Come on in, little lady, it’s cold out there!” He introduced me to his wife, Louise, and immediately I felt the genuine warmth of their welcome. They already had a box of old papers and photographs for me to look at. Harvey was a slightly built man, about 70 years old. Louise, looking comfortable in sweater and jeans, offered me coffee, as we sat down around the kitchen table.

“We have four children, but they’ve all moved away,” Louise said, filling my cup.

With a sigh, Harvey added, “Not much to keep them in a small town in Iowa, and none of ‘em was interested in farming.” Harvey took photos out of the box, pointing out each individual by name. “Better write down those names on the back,” Louise gently chided. “No one but you can identify them anymore.” I listened carefully, not recognizing any names until he said, “And this is Uncle Felix.”

“Yes,” I said, now excited, as he handed it to me. “Did he have three daughters, who lived in Washington?” He smiled broadly, and replied, giving me their names. We had made a connection, as it turned out that his grandfather was my great-grandfather. We looked at more photographs and he gave me the names and addresses of other cousins that had done more research into the family history.

We were engrossed in each others’ family anecdotes, laughing at the funny little quirks that all families have, and the morning flew quickly by. I turned down an offer of a noon meal, and told them I needed to get back to La Crosse.

“Now, if you can come back, I’ll take you to the cemetery; quite a few Dickens there,” Harvey said.

“You keep in touch,” Louise whispered in my ear, as we exchanged a hug.

“I promise I will, and thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to meet you. I feel like I’ve been with old friends,” I replied.

“Nope, better than friends, we’re family!” Those were Harvey’s last words to me as I got into my car. That brief visit opened up a whole new chapter in my family history, and as I drove across the bridge over the wide Mississippi, I felt truly blessed.




Editor’s Note: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, professional photographers offered customers the choice of placing photographs on postcards, like the “packages” they sell today. Some were taken in a studio and others at different locations. The photo of Frances was taken in a studio, and the other two at the homes of their clients. Images From The Past was partly inspired by conversation on the postcard piece Joshua Trees & Desert Sands — Jan 25 1947.




_________________________




About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) is a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She has written essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune and collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children. She currently writes with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for red Ravine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy and a Writing Practice, Kindness.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.


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By Bob Chrisman


The idea of spring cleaning stayed with me through the night, but vanished this morning, when outside, sleet peppered the streets. My tax appointment required me to catch the bus to go downtown. I rushed around and all thoughts about the meaning of spring cleaning disappeared.

As I pulled the front door closed behind me. The sound of sleet hitting the grass and trees sounded like the dry, clacking bones of dancing skeletons. What an odd association. I played with that idea as I walked.

Monday, February 28, would have been my father’s 97th birthday (and the third anniversary of my mother’s death). Perhaps they returned as dancing skeletons to remind me.

My relationship with my father has troubled me for years. I’ve written about it and published the pieces on red Ravine. The troubled times between us and the difficult life he lived aren’t all I remember about him. Perhaps the idea of the skeleton came to me as a spring cleaning of sorts, a chance to pull out the good memories I hold of him and air them.

From my dad I received a curiosity about the world and the people who inhabit the planet. My father observed the goings on around him. He liked to see how people acted in different situations and could predict what they would do. He frustrated me with that ability when he would say, “I can read you like a book.” And he could too, which made me mad.

My father read voraciously: books, magazines, newspapers, whatever printed words he could find. When he attended family gatherings he would collect reading material and retire to a chair where he would spend the time reading.

His greatest pleasure came when he found a box of books for sale. He bought it, carried it home and searched for reading treasures. The contents of those boxes rarely disappointed him because he liked books about any subject. Really he just liked books in general. He passed on that love to me.

He instilled in me the importance of questioning everything, especially religion. We had the Bible in various editions, which the late 1950’s required in the fight against godless communism, but we also had The Book of Mormon and the Quran. Although a Presbyterian, he didn’t believe that one denomination, or Christianity itself, had an inside edge over other religions or spiritual practices.

He knew how to fix cars and kept our used cars in working order. We never owned a new car, only different ones. He bought odd cars like the brown, streamlined Hudson with the plush interior when the cars of the time favored extravagant fins over aerodynamic design.

He brought home a Simca, a tiny French car, and probably the only French car in the entire city. Unlike most American cars, the gearshift stuck up out of the floor rather than off the steering column. When the shaft broke off one afternoon, Dad welded a metal bar in place and would have driven the car forever had the giant hole in the rusted floor board on my mother’s side not allowed water from a giant puddle to gush up and soak my mother’s favorite pair of Sunday shoes.

The last car he purchased before his stroke was a Corvair, the Nader deathtrap. I learned to drive in that car.

He loved the outdoors and took us on long drives through the countryside to see how the land was doing. Despite my hatred of those drives and my frequently voiced wish for Indians to scalp us, I learned to love the landscape around me. Seemingly pointless drives in the countryside bring me peace nowadays.

He helped out the neighbors. The elderly man next door spent a lot of time at a bar. He sang and shouted as staggered up the sidewalk. He fell. My mother would say, “Len, go help him. He won’t make it up those stairs to his house without hurting himself.”

Although Dad left for work at 5:30 a.m. and the neighbor returned home well after midnight, my father pulled on his pants and went outside to help the man home. Frequently my father assisted the wife in putting her drunk husband to bed. He never judged the man and never complained about the loss of sleep.

My funniest memory of Dad involves a Sunday morning church service. As an elder, he introduced applicants who, as a part of the hiring process for ministers, preached a sermon. During the weeks prior to that Sunday, Dad had worked many long hours and not had much sleep. He introduced the minister and then sat down in one of the plush, red velvet cushioned chairs on the platform and promptly fell asleep. My father snored like an approaching tornado.

Aunt Annie, director of the adult choir, motioned for someone to wake him up. Despite a variety of hand signals, no one moved. My father snored his way through a rather lengthy sermon. When the guest minister finished, he waited for Dad to announce the final hymn, but my dad had died to the world.

My aunt asked the choir and congregation to stand and sing. Dad slept on. When the ministerial candidate realized that my father wouldn’t say any final words, the young man approached the podium. “I hope I’m not responsible for Mr. Chrisman’s sound sleep.” My father remained oblivious to the world and to the congregation’s laughter. The minister shrugged his shoulders and walked down the aisle alone to the main door to shake hands with members of the congregation. That incident became a church and a family legend.

As I write, sleet continues to fall. The skeletons dance outside my window. In my mind spring cleaning reveals fond memories of the man I called my father. Happy Birthday, Dad!




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his family. His last pieces for red Ravine were Exit The Telephone, Desecration Day, and Uncle Howard At The Cemetery.

Other pieces of Bob’s in which he writes with humor and compassion about his family members include: Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He also published these pieces about the life and death of his mother: Hands and In Memoriam. And he produced a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad. Spring Cleaning In The Attic Of My Mind was inspired by the birthday anniversary of Bob’s father and Writing Topic — Spring Cleaning.

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An Open Letter To My Father

An Open Letter To My Father, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I haven’t seen my father since I was six years old. He reached out to me that day for the first time since I was a toddler. But I was scared and didn’t want to come out of my room. I was only a child; he had become a stranger. I never saw him again.

I keep a pack of letters tied with red string in a shoebox on the top shelf of my closet. What is important comes in small packages. Snippets of correspondence become family heirlooms; letters are reminders of people whose memories and handwriting I want to remember.

One letter is from my mother, dated August of 2000. I had a hard time that year and (in an extroverted moment) reached out to 7 people in my inner circle. I asked if they would write a letter and tell me what my good qualities were; at the time, I just couldn’t remember. My mother wrote a beautiful letter to me from Pennsylvania, a story about the day I was born.

In the same shoebox is a letter from my father’s two sisters. Several years ago, by an act of grace, I reconnected with my aunts after 50 years, and stood with my mother and Aunt Annette under the Georgia pine over my Grandmother Estelle’s grave (the back story and photographs in Georgia Pine Over My Grandmother’s Grave.) It was a few months later, New Year’s Day 2009, when my aunts sent the letter from South Carolina, and something more:


I feel so badly our family never got to see or know you before now. I know Mother would be so pleased about our reunion. Mother left this ring to me and I would very much like you to have it. She had it a long time and wore it as a pinky ring. This is not much, but I never want you to be left out of our lives. I hope you feel the same about us. Maybe you could try to come for Christmas one year while Annette and I are still here. We are all very much family oriented and want our kids to know you. I’m proud to pass your grandmother’s ring to you, her granddaughter.


It’s as if all that time between us never happened. My trips to the South with Mom to research and explore family history have paid off in unexpected and miraculous ways. During our brief visit, my aunts showed me old family photographs and filled me in on the paternal side of my family. They told me my father had been estranged for 10 years; a dispute had erupted after my grandmother died. I don’t take serendipitous events lightly. I believe we are reunited with the past for reasons beyond our understanding.


Letter From My Mother

A Letter From My Mother, BlackBerry Shots,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo
© 2009-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


That’s why when I called my aunts on Christmas Day 2010, they told me my father had called them out of the blue; he has cancer. He found out in September 2009, a few months before they mailed the letter with my grandmother’s ring. He didn’t contact them until a year later. During their visit, they told him they had seen me and my mother on a recent trip to Georgia. He did not jump at the chance to reconnect. Maybe for him, the past is the past.

My father was 17 years old when I was born, my mother 16. They divorced two years later—still teenagers. My mother went to work and provided for us. She eventually remarried a wonderful man who became my step-father.  After the age of 6, I never saw my blood father again. And now I find I may never get another chance. Should I write him a letter? What would I say?


Dear ______,

A few years ago on a visit to Georgia, I reconnected with your sisters, my aunts, after 50 years apart. They briefly filled me in on the family history; it made me think of you. I live in Minnesota now, have lived in the West and Midwest for most of my adult life. I try to get home once a year to visit family — for me, home is both Pennsylvania and Georgia. I may be visiting the South again this year and thought it might be a chance to touch base. Maybe we could meet for coffee or dinner.

Your daughter,

__________


I start the letter, I stop the letter. The drafts seem to fall short. What would you say? Should the salutation use his proper name? Or Father. Would you ask him to meet for dinner? Or talk on the phone. What if he doesn’t want to have contact with me? Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation where you haven’t talked to a close family member in many years. In reconnecting with my father’s sisters, it’s as if we were never apart. With parents, no matter how old you are, they are still your parents. Should I send a letter to my father?


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 6th, 2010

-related to posts: The Dying Art Of Letter Writing (Postcards From The Edge), You Can’t Go Back, WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, WRITING TOPIC — 3 QUESTIONS

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Taco Soup

Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Family Recipes

Family Recipes, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Simple Taco Soup


1 lb. lean ground beef
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can Mexican chili beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can kidney beans
1 large can petite diced tomatoes
1 package taco seasoning mix


Brown ground beef and stir in the taco seasoning. Add canned veggies and simmer until flavors are blended — about 20 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with your choice of cheese, sour cream, cilantro, or tortilla chips.




Top With Your Choice

Top With Your Choice, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Comfort Food - Taco Soup

Comfort Food - Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sometimes it’s a gift to be a product of a blended family. There are different sets of parents, plumes of siblings, cousins galore. When I was in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago visiting my brother after his liver transplant, part of my Southern family showed up on the doorstep and surprised me. After driving the 10 hours from South Carolina, they literally stepped right out of the front seat of their car and into my brother’s kitchen. They came bearing gifts for a celebration of Thanksgiving. It was the first time in 45 years the Robertson side of the family had been together.

Though I’m not much of a cook, I love easy-to-make meals. One of my favorite gifts was a spiral bound recipe book. Daddy and Judy had handwritten simple recipes they collected from different members of the family. And behind the pages of the recipe cards, they tucked vintage family snapshots.


Like this one:


April 1973

April 1973, Vintage Family Snapshot In Recipe Book, Morristown, Tennessee, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


If you look closely, you might spot me there in Tennessee, in a half circle with my paternal grandparents, Ada and Jess, smirking behind that 70’s smile. So many memories.

Back in Minnesota, it’s a lot colder, and I’m a lot older. I pull the ground beef out of the freezer and open the handmade recipe book to Taco Soup. Since I’m late getting home, Liz starts dinner (if you are from the South, you might say “supper”), and I walk right into the middle smell of a family memory. The recipe book makes a creative Holiday gift. All you need are recipe cards, a fast writing pen, and a strong wrist. Food and family photos are a natural combination, a memory maker that keeps on giving.


-posted on red Ravine, with gratitude to my family, Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

-related to post: Memories, Writing, & Family Recipes

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What's Under My Fridge - 297/365

What’s Under My Fridge – 297/365, BlackBerry 365, Golden Valley, Minnesota, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


On October 17th my brother had his third liver transplant. By all accounts, it is a miracle. And something that’s hard to wrap your mind around. It all began with a text: 10/17/2010 @ 9:48am — they called me with a liver. going to Philly now. Will let you know if they will be doing the operation. I’ve been trying to write a piece about it ever since. Eleven nights have passed; the day to day ekes away energy and time.

If you put all the days together, well, that’s a lifetime.

We think we can prepare for what lies ahead, try hard to be in control. Sift, collect, let go, wait. Sift, collect, let go. Wait. Yeah, we spend a lot of time waiting. The best laid plans fall hard. Somewhere between collect and let go, there are surprises. Laundry spins, rattling the floor, defying gravity. Water and fire boil, cooking spaghetti for dinner, but only as fast as the barometric pressure will allow. No amount of wishing can make the dust bunnies go away.

You would think that would be disappointing. You would be wrong. Vacuum under the desk, behind the piano bench, above the paper towel holder. Slide the giant green bottle brush under the fridge again and again and again. Thick rolls of cotton batting dust slide easily over freshly mopped floors. But what are those brilliant points of light, gleaming stars through the Pigpen fog?

Exactly 26 Mr. Stripeypants balls. Silver, gold, and the primaries, blue, red, green and yellow, lost to the swipe of the mighty Pants paw. He loves the small ones with the soft sparkling spikes. He would keep me playing fetch for hours every morning if I didn’t grab the purple lunch pail and fly out the door, late for work. Liz has a big heart for the animals. She carefully peeled and plucked the dust off of every tendril, washed each felt ball with warm water, and sat the bunch on the counter to dry.

Life can change in an instant. You can’t come back the way you came. It’s the simple things that make the day. They are as big as the miracles that make me a believer. In something bigger and better on the other side. Are there dust bunnies in heaven? I like to think they hop to a different beat.

My brother came home from the hospital on Tuesday, Frankenbelly 3 in tow. His 4:25 text said: on the turnpike – ETA 6:45 to 7:00 PM. I’ll eventually write the piece about his transplant. Tonight culminates in the midnight ramblings of a harried woman….and a plane ticket to Pennsylvania. ETA November 9th, 11:28am.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, October 29th, 2010 – 1:45am

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — MY REFRIGERATOR, yellow sock haiku

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YELLOW SOCK

Hello From L&P Sock Puppets Invade Osteo, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, September 2010, photo © 2010 by Pam Wilshere, haiku by Louis Robertson. All rights reserved.






yellow sock haiku

footed yellow sock
breathe deep the essence of earth
love, my yellow sock






NOTE: My brother Louis has been pretty sick for the last few months. A few nights ago, he went into the hospital where he still resides this evening. Earlier today, his partner Pam sent me a text message, followed by a photograph. This photograph. I can’t tell you how big my smile was when I saw that yellow sock puppet pop its head up on my BlackBerry. My brother’s sense of humor is shining through. A glimmer of hope. It made me happy when they said I could post their collaboration on red Ravine. 8)

Louis wrote with us a few weeks ago when he was inspired to join us on the WRITING TOPIC — SCARS. He also sent along a photo of his liver transplant scar (not for the faint of heart). To meet Frankenbelly 2 and learn a few things he’d like to pass along to his kids, see his Writing Practice post PRACTICE — SCARS — 15min.

Thank you L&P Sock Puppets. You lifted me. I have so much gratitude for the gift of family. And laughter.

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By Bob Chrisman


My mother met me in the lobby of the nursing home quite accidentally. She had taken her afternoon stroll pushing her walker up one hall and down another, visiting other residents she knew from the dining room. She arrived at the front desk as I walked in the front door.

She looked up and smiled. “Never thought I would see you again. It’s been awhile.”

“Mom, I was here last week. Remember? I took you to out to have that roast beef sandwich you wanted.” I waited for her to acknowledge that she had forgotten.

She ignored the question, instead she looked away and down at her walker. “Well, it’s good to see you anyway. Has a week passed already?” She started down the hall in the direction of her room. I knew I was to follow.

I asked, “How are things going here? Did you go to church services this morning?”

“No, the minister is nice enough, but he’s a little too serious for my taste. Too much death and sin to interest me at my age.” She nodded to the women who sat in wheelchairs in the wide hall. Some stared into space unaware of the greeting. Other responded with a soft “Hello.”

“A new woman moved in just two doors down. She’s married to Herbie. You remember Mildred’s husband? You always liked Mimi. Well, the poor thing is two doors down from me. Herbie came to visit a few days ago and stopped by to see me. Shame about his second wife and her poor health. I think she’s mental because all she does is beg people to find her some underwear.”

We passed by a room and she jerked her head toward the open door. “That’s where she stays.”

As we walked into her room I noticed her telephone is on the floor at the foot of her bed. “Mom, what happened to the phone? Is it broken?”

“You might as well get rid of that darn thing. No one calls, except people who want to sell me something. It rings at all times of the day and night and I’m afraid it will disturb my roommate.”

“I thought you wanted a phone. Don’t you call people from church?”

“No, take it out. Might as well not waste your money to pay the bill when I don’t use it. Besides, no one is ever home when I call.”

She sat in her chair. I took my place on the bed.



She had told me not to put a phone in her room at the nursing home. She hadn’t wanted to learn a new number. I insisted that she keep it. I even worked with the phone company to transfer her old number to the new phone. I held onto the idea that she wouldn’t die if she kept in contact with her friends.

She had kept the same phone number for fifty years. When she left her house for the senior citizens center, she left behind the heavy black phone with the battered receiver from countless drops on the floor, and the tattered cloth cable that connected it to the outlet. She kept the old phone number.

I bought her a new phone. She hated it. She wanted her old phone, her old house, her old life but she couldn’t have them anymore.



She shook her head. “I’ve tried calling Vera and Anna Lee for the last few days and no one answers their phones. What could my sisters be doing at all hours of the day and night? It’s beyond me. They even turned off those dang machines that take messages. I hate those things, but I would leave a message if I could. I wonder what they’ve been up to.”

I didn’t know what to say so I opted for the truth. “Mom, it’s a good thing your sisters didn’t answer the phone because they’ve been dead for years. I would be very concerned if you talked to them.” I watched her face to see what effect my words had on her.

She looked at the backs of her hands, covered with age spots and bruises, as though too preoccupied to reply right away. “Guess it is a good thing they didn’t answer. I thought they had died, but I wasn’t sure. Sometimes things aren’t so clear in my head anymore. Funny, how I can remember their phone numbers, but forget that they died.” She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. “Just take the phone out of my room. I don’t have anyone to talk to anymore.”


When I left that day, I took the phone and made a mental note to terminate her service. The phone number I had learned as a preschooler some fifty years ago would cease to belong to the Chrisman family, yet another sign that my mother was dying.




About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his family. For Memorial Day 2010, we published Desecration Day, Bob’s humorous yet moving piece about a grave decoration day that got a bit out of hand, followed in June by Uncle Howard At The Cemetery.

You can see these other pieces of Bob’s in which he writes with humor and compassion about his family members: Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He also published these pieces about the life and death of his mother: Hands and In Memoriam. And he produced a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and PRACTICE — TREES  — 15min, a Writing Practice on the Topic of Trees.

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