Remembering Aunt Bertha

 Dean, Bertha Mae (Larson) by Cheryl DeanBertha Dean

One of the most respected teachers in Torrance Co. passed away February 27, 2016.

Bertha was born November 24, 1914 in Moorhead, Iowa the daughter of Frank and Effie (Montgomery) Larson. Bertha, her parents and brothers Voyle and Merrill settled in the Estancia Valley in 1932. Bertha began her teaching career when she was eighteen in a one-room school house in Gran Quivera, NM with thirty students, grades one through eight.  She also taught in East View and Pedernal. Bertha taught fourth and sixth grades in Moriarty, retiring in 1976 after thirty-two years in education.  As a dedicated educator she served on the PTA book review and selection committee, participated on a committee for government aid for handicapped children and served as officer in the NM Education Association. She was honored in 1970 as one of the Outstanding Educators of America for her exceptional service and leadership in education, as Teacher of Today three times and  represented Moriarty for State Teacher of the Year in 1975. Bertha received her degree in Elementary Education from UNM in 1959.  Her students remember her as always there to help and inspire them to be the best they could be.

Bertha was a devoted Christian and always tried to teach good Christian values by her example to those around her.  She was one of the founding members of the Moriarty Baptist Church serving in many capacities through the years. Bertha served at the state level for six years on the Board of Directors of the NM Baptist Children’s Home and six years on the NM Baptist Mission Board and was honored by the NM Boys and Girls Ranch for her many years of support. One of her favorite quotes was I have seen yesterday, I love today and I am not afraid of tomorrow.

She enjoyed playing the piano, her flower and vegetable gardens, oil painting, needlepoint and many crafts. Bertha and her husband Bruce traveled in their RV to thirty-five states. In 2003 she took a cruise to Alaska with her daughter Peggy. Her family has many wonderful memories of her “Grandma cookies”, waiting for her Christmas boxes filled with their favorite holiday cookies and candies and special times on the Dean ranch. She will be greatly missed by her family and her many friends.

She is survived by son Dr. Allen Dean and wife Cheryl of Albuquerque, daughters Peggy Dean and Judy Spangler and husband Randall of Dallas, grandchildren Jimmy Thompson, Debbie and Kevin Dean, Larry and Jack Saiz, Rhonda Orr, Brett and Scott Spangler,  8 great grandchildren and 11 great great grandchildren, sister- in- law Zelda Dean and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband of 62 years Bruce, brothers Voyle and Merrill Larson, sisters-in-law Lois and Frances Larson, Ellis (Dean) Neel, brothers-in-law Crile Dean and Bud Neel and grand-daughter Lisa Spangler.

The family would like to thank Montebello Skilled Nursing for their kindness and care these last years. Also thank you to Ambercare for their support to Bertha and her family these last weeks.

In lieu of flowers you may make donations in her memory to The Ranches, 6209 Hendrix Rd, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110 or NM Baptist Children’s Home, P.O. Box 629, Portales, NM 88130.

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fly high…and sing your song…

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

We lost another one this week.  That makes two in the last eight days.  First, Bob, then Charmaine.  Elderly, frail friends of Mother’s.

People she knew for nearly forty years from church.  People, who were hardy, still working with busy productive lives when she and Daddy first met them.  People, whose lives morphed and changed into retirement, followed by the death of spouses and the total rearrangement of how they lived; people, who once self-reliant, at the end, relied upon others.

Mother hasn’t been feeling well, so I told her the news carefully.  She seemed to take it in stride as part of the everyday markers of her elderly life.  After all, Daddy’s gone too, and he was her mainstay.

Charmaine and Jim retired and moved back to the mid-West to be near their kids.  Maybe ten years ago?  Then Jim got sick and died and Charmaine’s daughter was around to do the caring.  Now Charmaine’s gone.

Bob nursed his ailing wife while he worked full time and then she died.  Mother says he was never the same after those exhausting years.  Is that why Alzheimer’s took over his capable brain?  In the end his daughters had lie to him to get him to leave the house so that they could get him care.  Bob’s gone now, too.

A flurry of birds in the backyard catches my eye as sparrows dart, flutter, and settle on the grass and the green is painted into a polka dot green blanket with hopping browns and grays.  Today’s sunshine reveals a glitter in the multi-layered hues of their feathers.

Squawk!  A blackbird clutched to a swaying high wire interrupts and the sparrows take chirping flight up into the bare oak branches.  Low to the ground, along the fence perimeter, there’s black fur that moves stealthily.  Feral cat.  Could be that squawk was a warning, right?

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

So, those ended elderly lives?  Makes one think; ponder; if you get my drift.  The shortness of their lives doesn’t hold a candle to the song bird, the Cedar Waxwing, trilling on the bare Apricot branches.  Those dudes only live two or three years.  That’s short, my friend.  Or it is when compared to Mother’s eighty-plus-year-old friends that just sang their last, breathed their last.  Well, you get the point.

But, does it seem short to the Cedar Waxwing, or does it seem normal?  They’re born, they’re fed, they learn to eat and to find their own food and water; their instinct keeps them moving ahead, they make music, they make baby birds, they feed them and push them from the nest.  They make more music.  They die.

It’s all perspective.  The light we’re seeing from the stars, by the time it gets to us, those stars have died.  The music of Chopin or Pachelbel, it’s ours because they lived and created, but they’re done now too.  Even so, they left something behind.  So do the stars, so do the Cedar Waxwings.  Their beauty and their songs are captured and saved on YouTube on in some documentary for us to enjoy.

Here’s what keeps crawling around the edges of my mind, “Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you worth more than they?”  That was Matthew, a Jesus follower, noting down his observations of the cycle of the birds in the skies above him over 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

Matthew’s been gone a long time, but he caught the truth and left a record of it for us.  It’s life.  The value of life.  The preciousness of life.  Your life.  My life.  The bird’s life.  Ok, I’ll admit it, as much as I don’t like feral cats, the feral cat’s life, as well.  Life.  We see it replicated from one bird to another; one cat to another, one human to another, but it’s a gift.  Matthew said it was a God given gift.  It is.

image: google images

image source: google images

I see that.  I feel it inside.  I’m aware life is a gift and not something I can make or bring into being.  Nor can I control how long life lasts.  Oh, I suppose I could throw in the towel to my life’s fight and find some way to end it.  The problem is that’s only the life that exists in this earthly world; the one we can see and touch.  But, it’s not the soul.  There’s no ending to the soul.  The soul comes from God and he controls its destiny.  I need to remember to hold it in an open hand, because I can’t control it.  Just like I can’t keep that Cedar Waxwing living on forever nor can I predict how long before Mother loses life.  Her life and soul came from God and back to God she will go.  I will go.  You will go.  Take comfort.  God loves you and the soul he gave you.  Meanwhile, fly high and sing your song.

Christmastime

image source:kansastravel

image source:kansastravel

Christmastime is here.  Carols on Cd’s and choirs on TV, tear-jerker movies of lost love and found meaning and purpose, laughter at silly lyrics of ‘you’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch’ and ‘No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses, I only like Hippopotamuses’ float across the air, the dark night lit by twinkling lights on houses and yards decked out with clear LED strings around trees, over fences, up chimneys and draped on bushes.  Whole streets are transformed into wonderlands of colors and sparkles and strings of lit icicles along roof lines.

There’s the flap on the media about how much more polite and less threatening it is to say ‘Happy Holiday’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ and kids now have Winter breaks from school instead of Christmas break.  They’re still out of school, though, and most of them still go to bed on Christmas Eve all hyped up and excited about those wrapped gifts under the tree.

The politically correct police try to pretend there’s no deeper meaning than Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman and apparently big business agrees as we’re inundated with advertising to urge us to shop, shop, shop, spend, spend, spend, until we collapse from all the stress and turkey and pie overload.

But there’s something deeper, richer about the last days of December than the other days of any given year.  After all, why do people decorate the outside of their houses, put up trees inside, bake goodies to give away and spend hours shopping and wrapping gifts?  If it’s all just a marketing ploy why does the time of Christmas mean excitement or joy, or peace or any number of other feelings to millions?  Oh, sure, not everyone has a happy Christmas memory from childhood but why do we all long for the warmth, the promise of peace and the happiness that seems to go with the time of year?

How could the world’s people, so different in their customs, their traditions, their histories and their memories all want the same things, peace and joy?  And keep on wanting those things generation after generation, time after time?  And keep on trying to make life less bleak, less dark, less painful.  More filled with light and beauty.  And peace and joy.  Why?

Unless.  Unless, we were made with a soul and a spirit that respond to joy and peace.  Made with a soul and a spirit that crave the knowing that we were made for something greater than the everyday.  That we were made for joy and peace.

It was that same craving that sent those three Wisemen on a road trip, following a star that they believed would lead them to the very originator of joy and peace.  They found that joy.  It came to the world in that tiny baby, Jesus.

image source:jimmyharmon

image source:jimmyharmon

Every year we go through it all again, we wrap those presents, decorate that tree.  Every year we search for peace and joy.  Every year we’re reminded of the real meaning of life.  And if we listen to the twinkling lights, the rustling of the wrapping paper and the faint sound of carols through the night, we’ll find that peace and joy.  Just like the Christmas carol says, ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come.’  Come for you.  Come for me.

Adventure

image source:jalopyaustin

image source:jalopyaustin

Tried a new eye doctor this week.  Not sure why as I decided to make a change from one discount store doctor to another discount store doctor; just had one of those itches to do something different.  Turns out it was a good change as the new doctor thinks my astigmatism has corrected and she knows of a lens that should perform better than the one my last doctor prescribed.

That’s not the only change.  One of my nieces is changing cities, states and jobs because her old position has been phased out.  It will mean leaving the city and state where she’s lived for at least a couple of decades which includes leaving her daughter and son-in-law as well as two of her sisters, one of whom will have to find a new place to live, since they shared an apartment.

I remember those days of feeling footloose enough that if I wanted, I could change jobs, change cities, change friends, leave extended family in one city and fully believe that I could do whatever it took to make sure the distance would not erode the bond between us.

To borrow a phrase, it felt like the call of the wild.  The lure of the unknown, the new experience, new town, new apartment, new roads to drive, new shopping centers to find, new churches, new libraries and new museums, new friends to make and of course, a new job to finance all this newness.  The possibilities were bright and shiny, the road trip adventurous and stimulating, every curve along the winding highway a glimpse closer to an elusive dream that I was sure was not a mirage; the pull palpable, the satisfaction rich on the tongue.  New.  New and different drew me on.

You get what I mean, right?  It’s like an adventure around every bend, a way to try new possibilities, to hope there is a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, to believe that glow that shimmers in the desert when you’re flying through the night towards Las Vegas will turn out to be nothing but good luck.  You just have to go and find out, am I right?

Before one of my moves across the country, Mother asked, “When are you going to settle down and stay in one place?”

I could see worry, concern and disbelief on her face while she moved around the kitchen making the salad and brewing loose tea leaves for sweet tea.

Daddy just smiled and looked proud and I knew he was confident that I was in God’s hands so wherever I went, it would be ok.  I pulled open the silverware drawer and took knives, forks and spoons to set the table for dinner.

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked back, “Besides, it’s your fault for moving us so much that I went to six different grade schools.”  That did nothing to lessen Mother’s stress but Daddy smiled again.

I was excited by my decision to move, to be independent, to try my wings at this new job and this new place to live, yet there was always some underlying tug that said part of my job in life was to make Mother comfortable and secure.  I always had to find a way to alleviate her anxiety.  I was torn between the need to be me, free and strong, and the need to take care of Mother.

I wasn’t torn enough to stay in town, though, because I’d learned that wherever I followed that lure of a new adventure, I always took me with me and that me could be just as concerned about Mother’s well-being in a new place as I could when living in the old place.  So, I would be upbeat and confident and hope that my positive emotions would rub off on Mother.

These days Mother is content with being table surrounded by familiar things and her everyday routine.  These days I’m the one watching other people glasses take the risk to go someplace new.  I’m settled now.  Settled into Mother’s spot, Mother’s house, Mother’s routine.  It chaffed at first and I struggled against the tethers but the choice for me to settle dance had to be made since there’s no money to pay for a retirement community for Mother.  I couldn’t do that to fence her nor could my siblings, even if there was money for that type of care.  I began to feel my age.  The age it said on my driver’s license instead of the age I felt inside.  Was this it?  The end of the road to things new and unknown?

image source:cathyday

image source:cathyday

Not the end of the road as it turns out.  Oh, I’m settled here but I find myself straining less against the confines as instead I explore a whole new, magical and breathtaking world of letters and words and lines and pages that fly across my mind, swirl in the wind and coalesce into journal entries and flash fiction and short stories and novels.  This adventure just might be one of the best.

DESIGN

image:google images

image:google images

“You said you had this worked out,” Wilson threw the bolt tight against the door and lurched around on his one good leg, dragging the other mangled stump behind him.

Billy was making trails through the dirt as he pulled a heavy wooden workbench across the concrete floor.

“I did.  It was.  I mean, you saw the plan,”

With a final shove the workbench was up against the door.

A few feet away, Wilson had eased himself down behind a metal rimmed, wooden barrel.

“Ok, genius, what’s your new plan?”

“My six shooter’s gone,” Billy said as he squatted down behind a half wall of an old stall.  “Just gotta find something we can use to defend ourselves.”

The sound, Wilson thought, was sort of like buzzing bees or the far-off low murmur of a gaggle of geese and it was coming closer; headed their way.  He pressed his hands up and down his mangled leg, taking stock of the damage.

“They don’t sound too reasonable.”  Why couldn’t he feel anything?

“Who don’t sound reasonable?”

Still squatting, Billy ran his hand along the wall to get his bearings.

Wilson could see the light begin to seep through the cracks in the walls of the old barn.  It gave shape to the unused farm tools stacked in the large, open area and made strange shadows as it bounced off wooden boxes and barrels.

The sounds, like a rustling of movement and a low chanting, were closer now.  They pressed up against the door then spread out sideways until the barn was surrounded.

As he left the corner and made his way slowly along the wall, Billy squinted, then opened his eyes wide, then tried squinting again.  He couldn’t see much and bumped into barrels and boxes, his hands moving jerkily, searching for some sort of weapon.

“That was my favorite six shooter.  It was the fall that made me lose it.”

“You ever heared a choir, Billy?”  Wilson slid down flat on the floor.  Perhaps that would stop the dizziness, and the light, and the sound.

“Maybe.  Back before I started riding rough.”

Wilson’s eyes almost hurt, the light was now so bright.  It glowed.  Or they glowed, Wilson wasn’t sure, but the light had faces, and hands that reached out to him.  Was he floating?

Billy stumbled as his foot hit against Wilson.  He hunkered down and patted what he thought was Wilson’s arm.

“Wilson, you hang on.  I’ll design a new plan to get us out of this.”

“There’s somebody else designing this, Billy.”

“Wilson.  Wilson, don’t you go leaving me.  Wilson?”

Rivalry

hot sun rays

image:cloverleafherbs

Day three of no A/C.  The small fan helps me sleep, but in the day’s heat, not much helps except to sit still at the dining room table under the ceiling fan.  Mother is suffering more today.  She went out in the sun to put water in the bird bath, then boiled water to make hummingbird feeder syrup and Jell-O, which heated up the kitchen further.  There’s nowhere to cool off.

“I’m headed to the post office to mail this package,” I said.  She sat under the dining room fan, crumpled, wilted and miserable in her sleeveless flowered shirt and white culottes that ended just above the tops of her compression hose.  She stared at the hand full of pills she takes every morning.  The classical music from the radio was doing nothing to soothe or cool either of us.

“When I come back, we’ll escape to the library for a couple of hours to cool off.”

She picked up a pill and her insulated water bottle. “Ok.”

That surprised me.  When I’d suggested it yesterday, she refused.  I’d decided today that we were going, even if it was forcibly.  Elderly people die in the heat all the time and since it’s my job make sure she’s ok, she was going to go cool off whether she liked it or not.

Post office and bank errands done in no hurry as I cooled off in the car’s a/c, Mother was waiting when I got back.  She’d taken her pills and changed into a short-sleeved, purple, red and green flowered blouse and purple slacks.

“Well, look at you all spiffed up.”  Mother goes nowhere public unless her hair is combed and sprayed and she’s dressed in nice clothes.

The a/c on high, we drove slowly to the library only to find an empty parking lot.  I left the engine and A/C running while I tried the big glass doors.  They were locked.

“I checked the library’s hours,” I said to a teen-aged girl sitting on the steps.

“The library?” She said.  “It’s closed from August 18th to Sep…tember…ish.”

“Thanks.”

Back in the car we headed to Taco Bell to get Mother a Strawberry Mango Frutista.  They’re mostly high fructose corn syrup.  Mother loves them.

“I hope we don’t have an earthquake in this awful 98 degree heat,” Mother said.

“Well, if we do, maybe it will be a huge one that just takes us home to God.”

“You hope.  But what if it just leaves you in misery?”

“That’s what I mean.  A big one bad enough to kill us and then we’re home with God.”

“But that would be painful,” She said.

Arggh.  She is so negative it makes me crazy.

“But it would be so quick it wouldn’t matter,” I said

“But it would still hurt.”

“Well then,” I said, “I hope you get just what you want.  Lots of pain and misery and don’t die for ages while you suffer.”  I looked at her in frustration and she looked belligerently back at me.

“I wouldn’t want you to not experience your predictions,” I finished in a huff.

We pulled into the Taco Bell drive-through line.  I took a deep breath.  “There are two things we have to do today,” I said.  “We can’t go back into the house until we’re cooler and feeling better and we can’t sit in the car and argue.”

“Fine,” she said, “I won’t say a thing.”

Help me, God, or one of us just might not survive this.

[1st Place Winner – LinkedIn Writing Contest #16]

NIGHTMARE

dandelion sky

image:wallpapersforest

It felt good to know who I was.  My job paid enough that I lived in Beverly Hills adjacent.  Just a one bedroom apartment but fine for a single, career woman.  Only ten minutes from work and in Southern California’s one to two hour commutes, I was living easy.  My circle of friends from church and I went to movies, ate out and cared for each other.  I was loving it.

When I moved back to California, Mother wanted me to live and work near her and Daddy but my skills meant LA’s financial center and living near them in Pomona meant a two hour commute.  Still, weekend trips were doable.  I had the best of both worlds.

I had lost weight, had a new wardrobe, learned which colors and hairstyles looked good on me, was taking voice lessons and singing regularly at church.  The new pianist had a red sports car.  He was cute.  Life was good.

Mother was working on family genealogy when I got to the house that Friday night.  The dining room table held picture albums and family tree info.  She jumped up, piled things together and fretted over how she meant to have the table cleared for dinner.  At his desk, Daddy gave me a warm smile, a kiss and a hug.

Mother made Daddy’s favorite meal of steak and baked potatoes.  As we ate, I asked Daddy about his work driving around Southern California to meet with churches that needed financing for construction.  The talk turned to the genealogy Mother was compiling.

I was content.  The old, Spanish house with craftsman hardwoods was filled with pictures of my brothers and sister and their kids, Mother’s plants and knick-knacks covered every space, her various projects were stacked around.  The book shelves were overflowing.  Cozy and lived-in.

Daddy pushed his chair back, took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin.  Mother was still eating tiny bites.

“I found pictures of the house we lived in when you were born.”  She said.  “I had two babies and a toddler, all in diapers.  Your father was out working all day.  We propped you up in the corner of the couch with your bottle.”  She sipped her iced tea.  “Mama” she went on, “came out for the weekend and said, ‘That baby is failing; if you don’t want her, I’ll take her.’”

A knife-like pain hit my gut. I couldn’t breathe. I flushed hot.

“Well, it scared us to death, of course.  We never did that again.  We held you for every bottle.”  Mother went on cutting and chewing.  Daddy smiled at me and stood and carried his plate to the kitchen sink.

image:google images

image:google images

My head was spinning.  I didn’t remember the rest of the evening, but in the spare room, the twin bed tight against storage boxes, my sleep was flooded with old thoughts and feelings.  I didn’t fit in at school, was afraid to take an art class or join in sports or school clubs.  I could never make Mother happy.  She never approved of my hair, what I wore, what I wanted to do.  I never felt pretty or useful.  I was worthless.  I jerked awake as bile rose and threatened suffocation.  The pain in my gut told me I finally understood.

The next day I limped back to Beverly Hills adjacent, wounded and scarred.  One part of me weighed the facts: she was a young mother, busy, overwhelmed, tired; Daddy was working; they did the best they could.  The other part of me felt pain in my gut; ache in my heart; the need to know I was loved and valuable to Mother.  Life with Mother had always been about her, not me.  I felt weighted, drugged, my nose barely above the surface of heavy water, the swirling mists taking the shape of Mother.

I opened the door to my apartment and knew I had to choose.  I could drown in the nightmare of old memories, old programmed responses or I could embrace the new person I had become.  There was only one way out.  It would take time, but I couldn’t go back.  I would have to forgive.  I pushed through the heavy funk that swirled around me, opened the drapes and let in the light.  The specter of Mother in the murk faded away.

[3rd Place Award, LinkedIn Writing Contest #14]