Thursday, November 24, 2011


I think about him in the summer when I lie down for a nap--the fan whirring in the stifling summer heat while the Oklahoma sun peaks through my shades. My bed is comfortable; my mattress topped with memory foam. My hips and back and elbows sink in, find what relief I can from this rheumatoid disease. Some days good. Some days not.

With the sound of the fan, the heat outside, I close my eyes and I am in his room, thirty years before. Wood floors. Windows with shades drawn for his afternoon nap. A mattress not nearly so comfortable. A whirring fan to keep him cool. The same disease. Texas, not Oklahoma, but same red dirt. My sisters and I tiptoe through the room, not realizing he is in there yet. We are playing; we head to another part of the house, hoping not to wake him. The floors creak under us, and he stirs but doesn't fuss. Doesn't call us yahoos.

His disease has nothing to do with us, we think. We are sad for him but don't understand, not really. At this point, when I was 13, he has been ill for nearly 30 years already. He has fought against it, tried every medicine and doctor and home remedy available and come home to buffered aspirin and his chair. Very little is ever said about it in my presence, though we are sometimes reminded not to jump on him or pat his shoulders too hard when we are sitting in his lap. He grimaces but never complains.

My Dad tells stories, though, when I am older, of driving him to every specialist in the region. Of all the medicines he tried. Of watching him drink a shot of whiskey first thing in the morning then hook his arms and hands around a pole to pry them open. They drew up again at night, but he owned a feed store then, having already given up on farming, and had work to do. He still went, within my memory, to soak in the springs at Hot Springs, Arkansas to get some relief. A doctor in Denver in the early '60s, probably about the time it is discovered that prednisone is not the miracle it was thought to be, tells him that most of the medicines will kill him before the disease will and that he should go home and learn to live with the pain. We all think that it was the War that has caused the disease. We blame it on the War and it is no danger to us.

I think about him now, today. Thanksgiving. He had been a cook in the Army, and he was often and while he still could, the maker of our Thanksgiving turkey. We sat down around a table filled to overflowing with salads and rolls (my Grandmother has surely burned them) and cornbread dressing, and my Granddad then asked, "I wonder what the poor people are eating today?" His way of giving thanks. He was one of the poor people, and yet he sat at that table of abundance with his family.
Granddaddy in 1942 before shipping out
Granddaddy and Grandmommy with me and my sisters.
I am the oldest. They were always proud, proud grandparents,
celebrating every accomplishment and encouraging us all along the way.
A cantankerous soul, he was often missing from large gatherings, weddings, graduations. He was a man from a different time. And we misjudged him, maybe. He walked a harder path than we realized, and we knew it was hard. How terribly devastating for a man in West Texas to be unable to support his young family. And have no hope of it ever getting better.

I am the one missing from the family gathering today, though hopefully tomorrow I will gather myself together and make it to visit my family.
My Mother-in-Law's beautiful table setting!
We were celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas today, but I didn't make it.
I walk a bit in his shoes now. I have missed more trips and events this year than I want to try to remember. When I was first diagnosed, I declared "attitude is everything." And it is, but it is not a cure. My medicines, such as they are, still work better than buffered aspirin and whiskey (though I am sometimes tempted). My mattress is comfortable. People in general understand far more than they did then and medicine has come light years. And when I am home alone I am inundated with skype calls and sweet texts making sure I know I am missed and loved.

I wish I could have given some of that to him.

I just finished off a Thanksgiving feast of mac and cheese. I wonder what the poor folks are eating tonight?



  1. I only spent 4 thanksgivings around him, but he was always very gracious and accepting of me as the first stranger in the family.

    The poor people are eating turkey leftovers. Poor, because they are not with you.

  2. Sherry,
    You have such a way of saying these things. . . And have so well summed up what I feel about how I misunderstood or didn't think about others' pain around me, and now I have my own.
    Gentle hugs!

  3. Angi--It all looks so different to me from the other side. And now I find it rattling around in my head. Thanks for the comment. Hope you are feeling better since your procedure. Love you, sweet friend.