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Monthly Archives: November 2013


IMG_0025I’m taking a short break from frantically dashing from store to store looking for the turkey, the sage and other miscellaneous ingredients that I seem to need only at this time of year, to sit and think about the meaning of the holiday we celebrate tomorrow. First, I have to admit that I’m thankful this year is almost over as 2013 was a rough one for my family and me. But, upon reflection, there are always reasons to be grateful.

1) I’m thankful that the childhood rock ’em, sock ’em fights in which my brother and I engaged while our little sister looked on tearfully, begging us to “STOP,” was not a precursor to our ability to get along as adults. We’ve had a tough year but have all done our part and have even managed to laugh together to keep from crying. I know in my heart he’s sorry he moved the kiddie pool as I was descending head first down our slide, resulting in a face plant in the mud. And, I still feel bad that I beat him severely about his head and face with my flip flop somewhere between the Panhandle and Red River, New Mexico when our parents briefly exited the car. My sister does not appear permanently scarred.

2) I’m thankful that my Dad is living at home again after spending a quarter of the year in hospitals in San Antonio. He survived brain surgery, hospital-acquired pneumonia, the placement of two feeding tubes, and a month of rehab. It’s a true miracle!

3) I’m thankful that it’s not November 2012 when our family was in a complete state of flux. Last year, all three of our children were living at home, but as I glanced around our Thanksgiving table, I realized I had no idea where they would be “next year at this time.”  All 0f our girls were waiting to see where their presence would be desired in the world. Our oldest was recovering from an arduous application process to doctorate programs across the country, and waiting to hear. Our middle was recuperating from numerous job interviews and biding her time working retail, and the youngest had just mailed her last college application. To say that there was tension in the air would be an understatement. Now I can breathe again, knowing that our three children have made it through a crazy year of transition. And, tomorrow, they will all be seated around our table, having arrived from Auburn, Alabama; Sewanee, Tennessee; and Dallas.

4) I’m thankful that my husband and I have survived, WAIT, thrived, in an empty nest. I admit I was a little nervous about my role in the home with all three kids gone. But, I’ve discovered there’s more to life than cooking, cleaning, and carpooling. There are good restaurants in San Antonio, and movie theaters that serve wine with my popcorn!

5) I’m thankful for friends, some of whom I’ve had for years, and some I’ve recently met.  I don’t know why they put up with me, but I’m sure glad they do. To know me is to know all about me, and my friends seem okay with that! Maybe it’s the wine…

Here’s wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving. May it include family and friends and blessings too numerous to count. And, thank you very much for spending time with me over the last few months through this blog site. Writing is therapy for me; hope it evokes smiles from you.


“Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye”

220px-JohnFKJohnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” the title of a book written in the ’70’s by personal friends and aides to President Kennedy, has come to mind often in recent weeks as the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination approaches. Americans hardly knew their 35th president, yet, judging by the vast number of books still being written about him, and television specials on nearly every channel every night this week, we are still fascinated by him and the facts surrounding his death. I certainly never knew him, as I was merely 4 1/2 years old when he was assassinated. But, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the years trying to get to know him and his family, as JFK always had a special place in the hearts of my mother and father. Dad was Democratic party chairman of DeWitt County at the time of Kennedy’s election, and was especially thrilled that Kennedy’s Catholicism hadn’t prohibited him from winning.

On Thursday, November 21, 1963, my father was due to celebrate his 41st birthday. My parents learned that President Kennedy was expected to appear in San Antonio that day on a swing through Texas to boost his ranking among the Democratic party prior to the ’64 election. So, Mom and Dad decided to leave my brother and me with a babysitter, and spend a long weekend in San Antonio, hoping to catch a glimpse of the glamourous President and First Lady, dine at a nice restaurant, and get a jump on some holiday shopping. On that crisp, sunny Thursday morning , my parents found their place on Houston Street, and had an unobstructed view of Jack and Jackie as they rode in a celebratory parade through downtown. The crowd was joyous, smiling and waving at the first couple, all caught on film by my father with his 8 mm reel to reel camera. Friday, November 22, my parents began their day shopping at Frost Bros., which had been on the parade route. Dad noticed a crowd gathering in the electronics department of the store, muscled his way toward the television sets, and was told the president had been shot in Dallas. Shortly afterward, he learned the horrific news that his vibrant, charismatic president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, age 46, was dead due to a bullet shot through his brain. He and Mom decided to immediately check out of their hotel, leave San Antonio, and return home to Cuero where they spent the weekend watching the grim non-stop news coverage on our black and white t.v. I don’t remember the assassination; I simply remember the deep sadness of my parents. Although I didn’t feel or understand their sorrow, I knew something was terribly wrong, different, changed. There was an air of somberness not usually felt in our home. I recall coloring quietly at a small table near the t.v., and catching glimpses of the president’s children, Caroline and John, holding hands with their grief-stricken mother, and thinking they were around the same ages as my brother and me.

Last week, I happened to be at Dad’s home when a local newspaper reporter, working on a 50th anniversary piece, came to ask him about his recollections of that infamous weekend in 1963. Tears welled in his eyes as he tried to explain to the young woman the amount of grief he felt then, and continues to feel to this day. He said that when he arrived home from San Antonio, there was a feeling among most Cueroites that something needed to be done; a memorial hosted, or a church service held. But, there was nothing to do. She leaned toward him and asked, “How did this event change the way you viewed your world?” He replied flatly, “I don’t have any philosophical thoughts to share with you. Just sadness. Deep grief and sadness. I believe this was one of the most tragic events in America’s history.” He explained that despite numerous crises facing our nation at the time, it was a period of great hope and expectation for America’s future, because of the young president, and he was stunned to think that was all gone in an instant. The young reporter turned off her recorder, thanked Dad, shook his hand and left. As I showed her out, I noticed a small bronze bust of President Kennedy on a desk in the living room.

I helped Dad back to his chair in the den and told him how I’d enjoyed hearing his recollections. Then, I said goodbye as it was time for me to return to San Antonio. As I drove home, I tried to understand my own fascination with  John F. Kennedy and his family. I grew up reading books about him, watching t.v. specials, and quizzing my parents about him. I once wrote a long, heartfelt letter to Caroline, trying to explain the empathy I felt for her and her brother. She never replied. As time went on, the shine wore off the rose, as they say. Dad was extremely disappointed to learn of Jackie’s marriage to Aristotle Onassis, which he considered a betrayal of sorts, and, we were all shocked by the news of the president’s frequent dalliances, Dad preferring to look the other way. What we know now is that despite his charismatic good looks, beautiful wife and idyllic family, he was a flawed man. Still, I’m fascinated.  Two years ago, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg gave a reading at our local Trinity University to promote her collection of poetry, “She Walks in Beauty.” I was so excited to be there to meet her and get her autograph. Although I delighted to hear her personal recollections of her parents reading to her and her brother, I was disappointed to find that she was a terrible public speaker, reading from her notes with her head down in a monotone, completely lacking in the charm that came naturally to her father. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that her mother, father and brother are all dead. She’s all that’s left of the Kennedy mystique. 

It is fitting this week to remember that time in American history, the early ’60’s, a time of great unrest and confusion in our country. Perhaps the Kennedy charm is what was needed then. Perhaps it would have dissipated had Kennedy lived through his first term, and certainly through a second. But, perhaps because he was killed in his prime, he and his charisma will live on forever, and people like me will continue to read and learn about him, and be charmed.

Change of Seasons

53117612.ChristmasShoppingHave you all noticed the sudden change of seasons? No, I don’t mean the Arctic blast of our first real cold front sending us charging into winter. I’m talking about the fact that just two weeks ago we were celebrating Halloween, then, the next day we were thrust into the Christmas season, skipping right over Thanksgiving. I know this happens every year, and nothing makes one sound old like griping about this shove into the holidays. But, really. A few days before Halloween, I noticed that my local grocery store had tossed all of the decorations and candy associated with the holiday into giant “half-off” bins so that the shelves could be stocked with Christmas goodies. On November 1st, ALL of the shelves were filled with Christmas candy, stockings, paper goods, lights, even Christmas cards and wrap. And there were cranes outside erecting large lighted trees and garland all over shopping strips in every direction. Rather than put me in the holiday spirit, it simply made me wonder, doesn’t all that candy, especially the large chocolate Santas, go stale by December 25? At least I’m not hearing Christmas carols in every store I enter; not yet, anyway.

I’m conditioned from my days as a young mom to feel an instant state of panic when stores and t.v. commercials indicate that the Christmas season is here. My mind immediately starts ticking off all the things I have to do and the gifts I have to buy in the next 45 days or so. Better make a list, I tell myself. Time to pick out a Christmas card picture, one of which everyone in the family approves, and head to the post office for holiday stamps. Perhaps purchase some new wrapping paper and ribbon. Plan holiday meals now and bake some things ahead for once. There are friends and neighbors I’ve been planning to entertain all year; there’s still time to consult the calendar and plan a party! Catalogs fill my mailbox daily and are piling up on the coffee table, making me feel that I must look through each of them soon, before it’s too late to order on line. Magazines arrive with helpful articles that ratchet up my nerve center, such as Southern Living’s November issue, “80 Prized Holiday Recipes,” and “Pretty Ways to Set Your Table.” Just the sight of Traditional Home’s November/ December issue has me reeling. “Sparkling Ideas from Treetop to Tabletop,” “Make Memories You’ll Treasure,” then, “Put the Joy into Your Decorating & Entertaining.” Are you kidding me; all these ideas are supposed to make me joyful? No wonder I’m stressed. Someone should write a magazine article entitled, “Moms – Time to Take a Holiday Chill Pill. It’s Not Your Job to Make Every Holiday Perfect!” or, “Fun and Easy Ways to Get Your Husband Involved in the Holidays!”

I think back to those days when I had three little girls at home who believed in Santa Claus. The minute the Toys R Us catalog arrived, I handed it and a crayon to my little one’s with the instruction, “Circle a few things you’d like from Santa.” Boy, did they! Before long, nearly every toy, doll, bike, pair of skates, dress-up costume, video and story book  had been circled. The time I thought I’d save shopping, was spent deciphering who circled what, and searching for that ubiquitous item that t.v. marketing had convinced every child they wanted this Christmas. Remember Tickle-Me-Elmo? It seems like I spent every day in December searching for the perfect toys, books, even pajamas for the holiday photo. Finally, Christmas Eve would arrive and I could breathe a sigh of relief. Then I’d count and find that I had one more thing for the eldest than I did for the other two. Off to Walgreen’s for a couple of last minute stocking stuffers!

This year, my first as an empty nester, I’ve decided to relax a bit. Shortly after that first pang of panic hit on November 1, I heard a little voice in my head. “Wait! You don’t have anything you need to do; your children are grown, you’re not busy, you have all the time in the world!” Ahhhh. I feel better. Maybe this year I’ll actually have time to decorate and entertain with joy and ease. It’s going to be the best Christmas ever!

The Bewildering Brain

Isn’t the brain an amazing organ? I don’t know if you’ve thought about it lately, but I’ve spent the last three years becoming well acquainted with the vagaries of this center of all we do, think, and feel. First, I observed my mother suffer with at least two years of debilitating dementia, ending with her death last January. (See “Adios Mamcita,” previously posted 2/7/13.) Then, three months later, my 90 year old father underwent brain surgery to drain a large hematoma that pressed on his brain for so long that it shifted its hemisphere, causing a great amount of confusion, and a prolonged, complicated hospitalization. (See “NPCU,” “Hospital Survival Guide,” and  “Letter I Wish I’d Sent,” previously posted here.) We were told that recovery would be a long process, as the removal of the hematoma would leave a space that the brain would need to expand to fill. What an understatement! Dad spent 5 weeks in the hospital recovering from surgery and subsequent numerous complications, followed by 4 weeks in a rehabilitation facility before we gave up and took him home figuring that all efforts to rehabilitate him had been exhausted. That morning in June when we went to the hospital to pack up Dad’s few belongings and bring him home, he cried, “Hurry! They will try to stop us. Why are you wasting time? Let’s just go!” He was paranoid and so confused that he didn’t remember where his home was. He thought he’d spent rainy nights outside under bridges. He thought his children were in trouble and no amount of reassurance from us could console him; he blamed us for making light of the situation that seemed very real to him. So, we took him to the home he’d lived in for 60 years, now with 24/7 care. He had to be transported via ambulance and entered his house through the back door on a gurney. His long-time housekeeper turned away, tears in her eyes. “You’re home, Dad!” we exclaimed. “Am I?” he quietly asked as he looked around, seemingly not recognizing this place. We settled him into the room that had been my mom’s, as it was outfitted with a hospital bed. Needless to say, the move home didn’t solve Dad’s problems. He remained confused, and a feeding pump was required to push nutrients into his body; the trauma to his brain had caused the loss of his ability to swallow. The nursing aides came and went, working 12 hour shifts and adding to his confusion. The feeding pump ran 16 hours then stopped awhile before it began its cycle all over again. Because of it, Dad was tied to his home and didn’t leave it for five months.  Therapists marched through the house; physical, speech, behavioral and a home health nurse, all asking the same questions, yet serving as  necessary distractions. A few friends came to visit at first, and a faithful parishioner brought communion to him every Friday. But, my father, who loved people, his law office, his Wednesday lunches at Lions’ Club, was seemingly eternally homebound.

Today, thanks to the loving and patient care of many, I am happy to report that Dad’s feeding tube was removed last week. The incessant pump and the cans of “liquid nutrition” are gone. He is eating three meals per day, albeit very small meals, is slowly gaining weight, and, overall, he’s doing very well. He enjoyed a DQ junior burger and small chocolate shake last Saturday, and he looks forward to going out for a celebratory meal on his 91st birthday, later this month. Last weekend, he attended Mass at his beloved St. Michael’s Church for the first time in 6 months.  He has visited his law office a couple of times, to the great delight of his secretaries and law partners. He enjoys rides around town and out in the country, amused by all the activity in the Eagle Ford. He can talk at length about his ancestors and the history of his community, and regularly inquires about each of his children and grandchildren. He religiously reads the newspaper and can discuss current events with his usual democratic slant. While still not completely back to “normal,” we are amazed and delighted that his brain is continuing to heal.

The brain is truly an amazing thing. And, so is the power of prayer. We are thankful.