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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Storage Closet

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Boxes of envelopes;
envelopes small.
Could conceal in the
palm of my hand.
Envelopes long
from wrist to fingertip.
Once white,
grayed;
once red,
paled.

Years stuffed
in little envelopes.
Dust motes fly.

I bend to
drag the boxes
from under the stairs;
trail
across asbestos
tiles.

History’s trail.
Years and years and years
marked by envelopes.
Decades
of effort
of sacrifice
of giving
of planning
of believing.
It’s down to this.

I run my hands through
my hair and ceiling popcorn
kernels dance in the air.

Pretty precise tiny handwriting
floats across the envelopes;
the gift marked,
the giver denoted,
the register
straight,
documented with deliberation.

I recognize some of the names;
Mother’s tales of
busy church life.
I recognize Daddy’s method.
The stuff he stored in neat, tight
packages.
Earlier years
dumped humble-jumble,
before his time here.
No one’s done storage since.
Did organization die with him?

The ghosts of worship services,
classroom flannel boards,
babies and toddlers nursery,
men’s softball teams,
Women’s Dumb-M-U,
Vacation Bible School,
Christmas pageants,
Easter cantatas,
they’re all here.

This life has nearly ground
halted.
The old guard, anyway.

The generations
who began,
succored, labored,
loved,
gave;
now gone.
I’ve seen
epitaphs,
visited grave sides, sang at
memorials.

Yet, life goes on,
similar,
tho’ different.

These old walls
to be painted,
asbestos tiles
replaced,
choir loft converted
to worship band stage;
failing pews faded into
sturdy chairs,
their rows march.

It’s a whole new world.
Strange to Mother’s
ears and eyes.
Different name,
different affiliation,
different heritage,
different style,
yet the same
point.

Worship
Train
Give
Love
Tell
Believe.

So great a cloud of
witnesses
smile,
applaud,
know they
laid the groundwork,
ran their race well.

This place is temporary.
This life is temporary
I remember.

Still, I’m comforted by the
sameness,
the continuity.
I like the purpose I find here.

I know
one day someone will
clear out my
storage closet.

I’m headed for the eternal
just like the generations before.

Fly, Soul, Fly

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

Stacked up newspapers
wait to be devoured.

Mother doesn’t do computers.
She’s old school.
She reaches to touch paper;
devour crosswords,
comics, recipes, an
historic article, anything
fauna or flora.

I take the pages up
one by one,
turn my fingers black.

Images flash, letters scramble,
words jolt. Stories full.
Big desire,
small attainment;
huge graft born of petty theft.
My eyes cross.

He suffers. She kills;
a dog is maimed,
orators promise,
a bird goes extinct,
blood flows,
a nation crumbles,
an infant cries,
an Oscar is won.
A child is sold in slavery.
Solutions hollow out.

Can I still breathe?
I’d swallow
if it would just go down.

His or her
way is as good as mine,
so they say.
Live and let live.
Yeah, dude.
Coalesce, co-exist.
It’s all the same.
We all die, right?

Mist in my eyes
bathes the trying of
life’s whirly cesspool.
I can’t read any more of this.

Just what has all this
inky pontification
to do with rescue,
relief,
regard,
reality?

On its own,
I see no freedom;
no fleeing the downward
pull of self
in this avalanche of
worlds and words.

Yet, still we drown in
the futility of trying.

Is there not some point?
Is there not a higher need?
Fly soul, fly.

image: google images

image source: google images

Is there not a bigger resource,
Is there not a healer
greater than life?
Fly, soul, fly.

Is there not a bigger help
than this spinning ball’s
undertow?
Fly, soul, fly.

I think I see a glimmer of
a grand design in
care for the
stray,
damaged,
irreparable.
Yes, there it is.

Fly, soul, fly.
Back to the start,
back to when it was beautiful;
back to the beginner,
back to the one who started it
all.

Hey, I hear you, skeptic.
You’re right, those who
seek a higher power
should be mocked;
unless that power can
eradicate
transform
transfigure
illuminate.
You with me?

Fly, soul, fly.
I admit I’m helpless;
any help must come to me;
from the eternal.

Fly, soul, fly.
I cry; I yearn.
Wash my soul, I plead.
Clean the black off my fingers;
dry the mist of my eyes;
open them to the beauty
of him who loves purely,
of him who can more than
repair
reclaim
rehabilitate;
of him who transforms.

Fly, soul, fly
To him who with a puff
of air
gave life.

To him who with a wave
of a hand divided seas
from land.

To him who spoke
and the world was born.

To him who put the survival
will
in each spirit
then set that
will
in a body.

Fly, soul, fly.
To him who loves us.

To him who grieved so at man’s
selfish choice,
he threw himself into the world’s
mad crush to show the way out.
Fly, soul, fly.

Hello, God.
I read the need for you
in the news today;
there in the pain,
there in the trying.

Who can go this alone?
I can’t.
Change me;
walk beside me.
Be my guide.
Make a difference.
It’s not real life without you.

I breathe deep.
I can make
it through this stack
of papers.
If you’re here With me.

You wash the black
off my fingers.

You wash the black
off the world.

Fly, soul, fly.

The do…

image source:picsbox

image source:picsbox

I wonder if we choose
cadillac shine with fingers to the keys and
synapsis firing
or do the pistons lift and fall to the unseen?

Fingers filled and colored bright        glued           stationary
where they   float   push    pull
GRASP             reach   tug      despair
d

r

o

w

n.

How they soar to the music and bleed into the camera,
emerge, wholly frac  tured.

I try to wrap my head around that beauty, that strange
drama of pain, fulfillment, Joy.  Driven determination.

They leech into my sleep.
Dreams skate across the wrinkled blanket and
fall into the abyss of sweet and fearful.

“Like a sparrow in his flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
a curse that is causeless does not alight.”

Proverbial sight pierces dark.  Not proverbial until birthed,
right?  I mean, the proverb started somewhere, get it?

Begin the beguine, trip the light fantastic
right down to the drive, the sit, the start, the do, the do, the do.

Was that really so hard?  The barrier releases and the flood
bursts
OR trickles, trickles, trickles,
rains, splatters, downpours, floods;

OUT they spit, the letters, the a, the c, the qu, the z
after one, two, three   Squat.

So, if outside, implore;
if inside, explore
else denying dry DIE crackle and Never have life.

Certainty

image:elliottback fir tree

image:elliottback fir tree

Choices, decisions, blue sky revisions into gray.  Live Christmas tree settled into its new hole in the center of the backyard.  All by itself at three and ½ feet tall with great expectations of one day rising higher than the fence then towering over the garage.  But first its roots will need to expand, stretch, wriggle their way further into the rocky, root soil under the winter grass.  When and if it survives and grows and towers, its tips could fill the yard, closing all paths of access to the grapevines and the alley and the garbage cans.  How would Miguel mow the grass in the back quarter of the yard?  How would we get to the nectarine bounty that returns each year to the tree in the back corner, next to the butterfly bush?

But that’s all years away, right?  It takes time to grow, my friend.  There’s a pattern and a sequence programed into this tree’s DNA that even plant food can’t replicate, if you get my drift.  But it’s the years flying by at super-speed, that I’m seeing here, trailing changes as wisps of clouds or sifting as the smoke from that fire in Angeles National Forest last week that made the sky red and brown and black for a while until it cleared and revealed it’s handiwork of change.

We hadn’t been that direction for days, so when Mother and I drove to church on Sunday, in the beautiful blue sky morning, as we crested the hill where the 57 on-ramp merges into the northbound lanes headed for the 210, I looked to the hills for what the fire had left behind and saw an expanse of black hill like one part of a patchwork quilt, rising between the billowed up greens and browns and yellows of the rest of the rolling hill patches.  But what surprised me were the small, scattered here and there across the hills, spots of gray.  Bare spots like the hair on a dog has been pulled out at random.

From the church parking lot, closer to the hills, they were even more evident.  As we were leaving, I put the bag with our Bibles and study books in the car and waited for Mother to make her way out of the building.  Her movement is slower these days, but she still gets there, hair permed and styled and sprayed, purple slacks, flowered blouse of pinks, purples, greens and yellows under a white sweater.  Her pinkish-purple lipstick matching her necklace of Sugilite pinkish-purple stones that she loves to wear.

image:lauramariemeyers

image:lauramariemeyers

“See those bare, gray spots on the hills,” I said when she got close enough to hear what I was saying.

She stopped walking, steadied herself with her cane and looked up, “Yes.”

“That’s where the fire was spreading from Glendora to Azusa.”

“Oh, it did get close, then, didn’t it?”

We get settled in the car, without hurry as Mother puts her cane in the floor of the back seat, carefully settles herself in the front seat, putting her purse on the floor and tucking the purse strap over the edge of her seat and under her leg.

My thoughts alternate between flying forward in time to seeing myself no longer at this slow-Mother-pace and back to moderating my speed to give Mother time to get where she’s going.

Will I be in this town, live in this house long enough to see that live Christmas tree spread and grow and fly high in its growth in the yard?  Mother could live another ten years or die in her sleep tonight.  Only God knows.  Only God knows the beginning spark of life that wrote the DNA in the tree and the DNA that with time will fill up those gray spots on the hills.  He’s the one that will hold Mother’s soul and spirit when the slow life of her DNA takes its last breath.  I try to envision the future, to find some comfort in picturing what might come next, but that’s as futile as believing for a certainty that I can tell which side of that Christmas tree in the center of the yard will grow best now that it’s out in the wind and sun and cold and heat.

I long to know my certainty.  I need to know.  I think life will go on after Mother’s speed has one day slowed to a stop.  I want to know my life will go on; at least for a time.  I do know my turn to slow to a stop will come.  Someday, sometime, somewhere and when that happens, the unchanging constant is that the creator of all DNA will be there and his time does not slow and run out.  He continues beyond eternity.  After all, since he’s big enough to create DNA, he’s big enough to hold the future.  My future.  This I know.  For a certainty.

Laughing all the way…..to the laundry

image source:menslifestyles

image source:menslifestyles

Who knew laundry would be such a big deal?  I suppose it makes sense that many of those things that Mother did for all of her adult life would be hard wired into her brain as automatic responses, including which dirty clothes need to be bleached and which ones need to be washed on the gentle cycle, using only Woolite for delicate fabrics.  It appears it’s that hard-wiring that makes it tough for her to trust that laundry left in my hands will actually turn out clean and fresh and wrinkle free.

The funny thing is, she taught me how to do laundry and sent me out over forty years ago into a brave new world with the skills that kept me from shrinking and destroying un-washables by dumping them into hot water or accidentally dying everything pink by washing a bright red with lighter colors.

Meanwhile, washing methods and machines and products have evolved some in the years since I learned to do laundry.  At least they have for some of us.

When I returned in Mother and Daddy’s elderly years and took up the responsibility for the laundry in their house, Mother was still using the old standard washing powder, in hot water with bleach and yet to me, the clothes seemed dingy and the effort greater than the task required.  I’d experienced a reduction in that old product’s effectiveness myself a couple of years earlier and decided the product must have changed.  So I switched to a liquid product and was happy.  I made the same change for Mother and Daddy’s laundry with good results.  In cold water, too, which is close to heresy to hear Mother tell it, but less expensive.  So, a no-brainer.  For me.  Not for Mother.

There are some things that still need hot water and bleach.  The white washcloths and towels for Mother’s bathroom and the cotton sheet scraps she uses with cleansing cream to remove her make-up.  This is a very small load, however, so I usually wait until I have at least a half load before washing them.  And this becomes the fodder for today’s drama.

Behind me, through the door into the kitchen, Mother’s sings a Christmas carol in her shaky little voice as she putters around the kitchen, heating up left-over pizza for her breakfast, filing her insulated cup with ice and water.  The sound of her cane clonking back and forth across the room as she moves.

“If you will pull out the white towels, from wherever you’ve hidden them,” she puts the bag of ice back in the freezer, “I’ll put them in the washer.”

“Wherever I’ve hidden them?”  I am amazed but don’t turn away from the computer.

“Well,” she gets a coke from the cabinet, “where are they?”

I have to stop laughing before I can answer.

“I’m glad you think I’m so funny,” she puts the warm coke in the refrigerator, takes out a cold coke can and plops it down on the kitchen island.

“Where are they?” her voice rising.

“In the bottom of the clothes hamper, Mother” I keep on typing, “right where dirty towels are always put.”

“Really,” her tone is one of sarcasm and disbelief, “I can’t image a load that large would even fit in the bottom of the hamper.”  She moves out of the kitchen, her plate in one hand, her other hand on the cane for balance.

“You’re a trip, Mother,” I’m laughing again.

“I can’t hear you over this Christmas music,” she yells from the other room.

“You don’t want to, Mother,” I’m still laughing.  Mostly because we keep having this conversation about why her towels disappear after she uses them.  I’ve gotten over being irritated and frustrated.  The only thing left is to do those tiny loads in hot water and bleach, and forget trying to save money on Mother’s white towels load.  Her hard wired brain can’t comprehend how her favorite four white washcloths and white towels don’t stay clean and fresh for continual use.

I could do like a friend of mine did once.  He hated going to the Laundromat so he just kept buying new packages of underwear.  When he had a pile of about 100 dirty ones, he finally decided to do laundry.  I’m contemplating my options.  Do more laundry?  Order a clean towel service so that Mother always has what she wants?  None of those are cost effective.

Face it, Victoria, her ability to reason is leaving her, so you can either give her no occasion to have to reason out why she doesn’t have perennially clean towels, i.e., wash them every few days, or get over making her happy and let her use other towels and washcloths.  That means ignoring her questions and irritations.  Think you can do that?  Not likely.

The dirty clothes hamper calls, I have to go now.

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.