Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Family

On My Mother’s Table | Memories

Photo taken in 1948, before Mother came down with polio in 1949
Ruth, Elouise, Dad, Mother, and Grandpa Gury

I’m reposting this in honor of my mother, Eileen Gury Renich, born 12 July 1921.
I often wonder what she would have been like without polio or the pain of her childhood.
It colored everything that happened in my life.

A graceful old table
With fold-down wings
On each side and
Beautiful scrolling
Along the edges
Sits there in the kitchen
Small and old with just enough
Room to turn around

A small pantry hides beneath
stairs to the second floor
A window looks out
Above the small porcelain sink
With ridged sideboard

A small walk-through kitchen
With four doors
Impossible to miss stands
Ready and quick to reach

There on the table they sit
In their permanent space
Neatly arranged on a medium-size
Round tray never messy always tidy
Kept just next to the short wall
Out of the way not in your face
Part of the scenery
Normal things needed daily in
My Mother’s kitchen

Salt and pepper
A sugar bowl and bottle of creamer
Instant coffee and paper napkins
Or were they paper towels
I’m not quite sure
Vitamins and minerals
Aspirin and toothpicks
Small round Rx bottles neatly arranged
At least a dozen sometimes more
Coming and going as needed
New and old as prescribed
One on top of the other
For the latest pain or muscle discomfort
Carefully labeled and marked with her name
Mother’s name only not anyone else’s
Her cafeteria of pain-killers and relaxants
Old friends from polio days plus
New friends added to her
Growing collection of pills or
Were they drugs from
Multiple doctors with multiple solutions

A potent mix of ingredients
For multiple ailments in multiple periods
Of her pain-ridden sleep-deprived life
Sit neatly on the table
Ready at a moment’s notice
Would you please bring me
My phenobarbital and a cup of coffee?
Caffeine and barby doll her friends for life
But at what cost?
Drugs free from a friend’s prescription shop
But at what cost?

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2015, edited and reposted 12 July 2021,
the anniversary of my Mother’s birth (12 July 1921 – 17 Feb. 1999)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2021
Tourist photo taken in 1948

Carolina Fraser’s Grand Prize Photo

Greater Roadrunner, Los Novios Ranch, Cotulla, Texas

This was my absolutely best news of the day! One of our granddaughters, Carolina Fraser, won Audubon’s 2021 Grand Prize for amateur photographers. Are we psyched about it? Absolutely!

If you’re interested in seeing all of Audubon’s 2021 Amateur Awards, here’s the link. The photos are fabulous.

Below is the write-up Carolina submitted with the photograph.

Category: Amateur
Species: Greater Roadrunner
Location: Los Novios Ranch, Cotulla, Texas
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon 500mm f/4.0 lens; 1/3200 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

Story Behind the Shot: One of my favorite places to take photographs is among the oil pumps and open space at Los Novios Ranch in South Texas, where wildlife weaves through cacti and birds perch on fence posts. On a blazing hot summer day just before sunset, I found myself lying facedown at an uncomfortable angle, my elbows digging into a gravel path as I photographed this roadrunner. I manually adjusted the white balance until I captured the bird bathed in golden sunlight as it took a dust bath.

Bird Lore: An icon of the southwest, the Greater Roadrunner is uniquely adapted for living on the ground in dry country. It can run considerable distances at 20 miles per hour and derive the moisture it needs from lizards, rodents, and other prey. When water is available, it drinks readily, but it seldom if ever uses water for bathing. Instead, frequent dust baths are the rule for roadrunners, along with sunbathing on cool mornings.

The other news of the day is pretty routine. We enjoyed a lovely, very warm walk early this morning before today’s temperature soared into the low 90s. Other than that, it was all about household stuff, and making sure the bird baths were clean and ready to go.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2021
Photo of Greater Roadrunner taken by Carolina Fraser

What I never wrote to my father

Dear Dad, thenextfamily.com


When it came to disciplining me, my father often referred to several verses in the King James Version of the Bible. One of his key verses was Proverbs 16:18 (KJV):

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

He believed he was responsible for beating pride out of me. From his perspective, my anger proved I was a prideful daughter intent on getting my way. According to him I thought I knew better than he when it came to punishment, rules or decisions.

If I didn’t comply with his will, another proverb told him what to do. I’ve changed the personal pronouns. Proverbs 23:13-14 (KJV) says,

Withhold not correction from the child:
for if thou beatest her with the rod, she shall not die.
Thou shalt beat her with the rod, and shalt deliver her soul from hell.

Before you get angry with my father, think about this: Like many other parents, he passed on what his father did to him. I can’t exonerate him. He  did what he did. He was responsible for what he did; I was not. I do, however, have compassion for him. I know from experience how difficult it is to raise children.

Here’s the so-called Good News Version (TEV) of the same verses in Proverbs 23:13-14:

Don’t hesitate to discipline children.
A good spanking won’t kill them.
As a matter of fact, it may save their lives.

Nonetheless, even a “good spanking” can kill a child’s spirit. Do you or I know a child’s inner spirit? The spirit of this child may be terrified because her main agenda is to grit her teeth and get through whatever you or I decide to do to her vulnerable body.

What is a “good spanking” anyway? Sometimes I needed discipline. Yet I never needed my father’s version of corporal punishment. Corporal humiliation is never a “good spanking.” It’s humiliation of the weak by the powerful. An abuse of power.

Whatever this “good spanking” is about, it isn’t about humiliating a child’s body or spirit. If the point of the proverb is to say parents mustn’t hold back when it comes to disciplining their children, that can be done in other ways.

As an adult, I’m responsible for welcoming children and young teenagers into my life. They’re strangers I’m privileged to get to know and learn to discipline appropriately. It isn’t always easy. Yet hospitality offers another way to relate to them and to myself.

  • Hospitality welcomes children and young people God sends into my life.
  • Hospitality isn’t overbearing and doesn’t make quick assumptions.
  • Hospitality asks questions and listens.
  • Hospitality gets interested in what children and young people think and feel.
  • Hospitality doesn’t pry, or spy on others.
  • Hospitality listens, affirms, and collaborates to solve problems.
  • Hospitality isn’t rude, bossy, impatient or quick to take offense.
  • Hospitality creates and maintains reasonable, healthy boundaries.

In other words, hospitality is the shape of love.

Here’s what I never wrote to my father:

Dear Dad,
Please treat me as a human being created in the image of God. That’s all I want. I don’t want to fight with you or disappoint you. I want to be myself and count on you to help me without humiliating me. I want to be proud of myself and proud of you.
Your first-born daughter,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 November 2015, edited and reposted 20 May 2021
Image from thenextfamily.com

A personal letter

fraser_s_0238b

~~Mom Elouise and Daughter, 1974, Altadena, California on a Sunday morning

Death and dying are on my mind these days. Not just because of Covid-19, but because of how I’m feeling about my own death, plus regular reports of friends dying or facing end of life decisions. I’ve lightly edited this post from February 2017. 

Today was our adult daughter’s last full day visiting us. Tomorrow she flies back to the West Coast. I’m teary, lethargic, achy, sad, and already lonely.

I’m also feeling the certainty of death these days. Nothing in particular. Just the awareness that every time I see our daughter it might be for the last time. So what do I want to say to her before she leaves?

I lay awake a bit last night thinking about this. Whatever I say, I don’t want to pretend I’m taking life for granted, as though neither of us is going to die just yet. I also don’t want to say simply, “I love you.” Even though I will and I do!

Here’s what I want her to know.

  • I want you to know how honored I am to be your mother, and how much I admire you as a woman. You’re a fighter. A brook-no-nonsense human being. An artist in every way, especially as a musician.
  • You’re an intelligent, gifted woman who knows how to engage others, and when to disengage. An astute political observer. A woman who knows how and when to get help. A survivor of trials and tribulations. A wise observer of human nature and of yourself. A faithful ally and friend.
  • I’m grateful you’re in my life. You’re a touchstone. Sensible and funny. Kind and clear. And you’re my daughter! I still don’t understand how you became the woman you are today. I do know it was “through many dangers, toils and snares….”
  • I gave you to God decades ago, knowing I would never have the answers to all the challenges you would meet. Instead, I pray for you regularly, that God’s grace that has kept you so far will lead you home. No matter whether you go first or I do.

One more thing. I feel old age coming on. Not like a flood, but with slow certainty, accompanied by a number of health issues that challenge me. I don’t want to give up. I want to be fully alive, and alert enough to enjoy my family and friends as long as I can.

Not so many years ago I was afraid to let my heart show to my family members. I was afraid to let them know how much I’ll miss them if they die before I die. Better to stay cool and calm than show my feelings. That way maybe the pain of loss won’t be so great. But that’s another topic.

Thanks for reading and listening with your hearts.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2017, reposted 17 May 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, 1974, Altadena, California

My Mother’s Depression

I’m reposting this in honor of my Mother and all other mothers who have suffered from depression. As you may already know, depression is a widespread problem here in the USA. Especially for mothers.  

My mother’s depression
Is not my depression

It doesn’t belong to me
Nor did I invite it in to stay
Yet it lives in me now and again
A link to this woman who bore me

Deftly intertwined it moves
As though it were mine
A weight I bear unbidden
My lot in this half-life

What would it be like
To let it go as an alien?
To visit without falling into the pit?
To understand it from her point of view?

I’ve been turning things like this over in my mind and heart for the last week. The insight isn’t mine. It’s a gift from a friend who has walked with me for several decades.

‘My’ depression isn’t mine. Yes, it’s real and present. Yet it was and still is my mother’s deep depression, fed by my father’s behavior toward her and toward me.  It’s the sad price of being a gifted white woman in post-depression (ironic) and post-World War II life in the USA.

Held back, kept in check, insanely busy with housework and babies, submissive preacher’s wife, versatile church musician without a pay check, resourceful volunteer ever ready to help others in return for nothing, cheery and even-tempered, industrious and persistent, she held it all together in her bent and broken body.

Uncomplaining, weary, in pain 24/7 and depressed. Sometimes crying herself to sleep. Other times waking with horrifying cramps.

My heart goes out to her today in ways it couldn’t years ago.

Yet I can’t accept her depression as my depression. It isn’t mine. This one insight invites me to stay connected to her reality without making it my reality. I can only breathe my air, not hers.

These days it seems ever more acceptable to trash women of all colors and make them into problems they are not. In response, I want to do justice to the woman my mother was while showing mercy to her as the woman she could not be or become.

She was not the problem then, just as I am not the problem now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2018, reposted for Mother’s Day on 8 May 2021
Book cover photo found at bookdepository.com

Chasing Spring at Longwood | Photos

This morning I woke up wishing I were in Longwood Gardens. So here’s a quick tour of my first visit to the Gardens nearly one year after breaking my jaw in April 2016. Our daughter and her husband were visiting from Portland, Oregon. 

Two days ago we took a chance on the weather. D and I, our daughter and her husband piled into the car and drove to Longwood Gardens. My first visit since April 2016. The forecast promised breaks of sun during the day, and temperatures above 60 degrees F. Here are choice photos from our great adventure. Enjoy!

The garrulous catbird in the top photo greeted us in the parking lot.
Never missed a beat.

Here’s a first glimpse of Spring 2017 at Longwood Gardens,
just outside the visitor’s center.

These giant copper beech are across the field,
a first gorgeous sight as we leave the visitor’s center.
Note tiny people on the left side of the tree walk.

Heading toward the flower walk, we’re walking into
the small desert garden of sun-lovers.
No trees overhead.

Turning right, we start down the ‘cool’ color end of the flower walk.
Imagine masses of flowers that look like a living
patch-work quilt that changes each season and every year.

Just to the right of the center fountain in the flower walk
is a beautiful sunken garden
with a serpent fountain overlooking a water pot.
Imagine the sound of water almost everywhere in the gardens.

Now we move into ‘warm’ colors, followed at the end
by a patch of cool green foliage and flowering whites.


Finally, gorgeous blooming wisteria in a shady space
just downhill, beside the flower walk.


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 May 2017, reposted 5 May 2021

Photo credit: DAFraser
Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, Philadelphia

Farewell, Savannah

secrets of the Deep South
are etched in and on my body

scars and memories fester
even as they grow faint with age

what I love about Savannah
no longer makes up for what I loathe

steaming fear and flashbacks
to my growing up years sometimes boil

transporting me back to childhood trials
and the belief that I’m a misfit

not entitled to happiness or joy
or feelings of deep satisfaction

hence the necessity of these two words
I don’t want to say–

Farewell, Savannah

I’ve been pondering these two words for the past week. My youngest sister (#4) is selling the last house she and her deceased husband, and our deceased parents lived in.  It’s a small, cozy, beautiful little house. Full of memories and full of heartache.

I didn’t grow up in this house. I grew up in a large house that looked out on the Vernon River (above). I only know the house that’s now up for sale because I visited as often as possible after my parents moved in. It’s a lovely house in a small semi-rural community. A great place to visit. Neighborhood houses are built along and near marshy muddy banks and creeks near the end of the Vernon River.

It isn’t that the house holds memories (it does). It’s the reality of the Deep South and the way it both encouraged  and covered up abusive behavior in families like ours, in churches, in schools, and in work places.

Sometimes, when I’m discouraged or frightened, my mind, body and emotions revert to childhood fears and realities of my growing up years in the Deep South. Especially, but not only, my father’s treatment of me. I’m tempted to believe The Big Lie that says I’m Nobody. Or the other Big Lie that says Things Will Never Change.

It’s time to move on. Which is exactly what my youngest sister is doing. I celebrate her bravery and her sense of adventure as she moves from Savannah to be with her granddaughter and family far from the shores of the Vernon River.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 April 2021
Photo of the Vernon River taken by DAFraser in 2010

Easter Lilies and Justice

Easter Lilies

This story still makes me teary. As a nation, we haven’t figured out how to ensure justice for today’s children. Easter offers an opportunity to ponder this tragedy and ask ourselves what we’re doing on behalf of our children. All of them. Diane is Sister #3 in our family. She was born on Easter Sunday in 1949, and died of ALS in February 2006.

Dear Diane,

Easter Sunday always reminds me of you. Not just because you were born on Easter Sunday in 1949, but because the Easter lilies at church always take me back to your funeral service and heaps of Easter lilies around the casket at the front of the church.

Today was no different. I walked in, saw the Easter lilies and tulips, and dissolved into tears as we sang the first hymn. It all came flooding back, along with a story Dad told me when he was in hospice care.

The story was about you and his flower garden in our back yard. Maybe you remember it. That was when we lived on the river. The flower garden had tons of flowers, including Easter lilies and Dianthus, all planted by Dad. He used to say the Dianthus were there because they reminded him of you.

Dianthus

One day Dad noticed that some of his special Easter lilies were missing from his flower garden. When he went back into the house he found them–in flower vases and glass jars here and there!

It didn’t take long to find out you had done this dastardly deed. He said you listened quietly without tears. Then as you turned to walk away you asked, “Where are the flowers for the children?” Cut him to the quick, he said. And I have to admit, he had tears in his eyes as he told the story.

Do you remember that square patch of flowers near the rear of the back yard? It wasn’t very large. Maybe 5 feet wide. It had posts with twine supports for some of the flowers. Most were bright zinnias.

Dad told me, with tears in his eyes, that he planted that flower garden just for the children. We could pick them anytime, as many as we wished. All because you had the guts to ask the most important question of all. “Where are the flowers for the children?”

Today I wonder the same thing. Sadly, we’ve gone downhill when it comes to things for the children. Flowers for the children tend to show up after children or teenagers are killed with guns. Survivors are asking all of us so-called grownups, “Where are the safe places for the children?”

That’s another subject, except for this: It takes guts to stand up and fight for the rights of children and young people. I’m rooting for the children and young people.

Love and hugs, plus Happy Easter and Happy April Birthday—not that you’re counting anymore!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2018, adapted from an earlier post, reposted 2 April 2021
Photo credit: wallpapersup.net (Easter Lilies); robsplants.com (Dianthus)

Eulogy for Sister #3 – revisited

Diane, Sister #3, is on my mind today. Diane died from ALS in February 2006. Her death was a mixed blessing. A release from imprisonment in her physical body, and a reminder that the ‘good’ life is about more than being free of catastrophic illness. Including Covid-19.

Houston, Texas – 17 February  2006

Diane directed that my remarks today be “personal, with no preachy tones.”  As I thought about what to say, I came up with only one topic that guarantees I’m being personal—that I’m not avoiding the subject Diane knows none of us can avoid when we talk about her.

Remembering Diane’s Body

Diane had a human body—loved by God
A female body:
—The body of God’s beloved daughter child
—Known to Jesus Christ as a sister for whom he died
—A female temple of God’s Holy Spirit on this earth

A one-of-a-kind body:
—Created and sustained by God
—Loved and nurtured by God’s ministering servants here on earth:
——Her husband, two sons and one daughter
——Her large, extended biological family
——Her church family
——Her nursing family
——Even the family collection of dogs

Diane’s life was shaped by bodily infirmity.
—She would hate that I just used that word!

Diane refused to think, act or behave as a person identified by an “infirmity.”
Yet the truth is simple:
—Diane’s life was shaped by loss in her left arm due to polio.

From a parental point of view, Diane’s weak arm was cause for protective measures.

From Diane’s point if view it was cause for excelling in whatever she supposedly couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

Not only would she do all these things,
She would do most of them better than any of us, things like
—Riding a bike, swimming and playing basketball
—Sewing dresses and suits
——not hankies and curtains, but fancy dresses, and suits with tailored blazers
—Then there was photography, not with small, lightweight equipment,
——b
ut with the best possible equipment and attachments she could afford and lug around!

Diane developed an uncanny knack for figuring out how to carry out activities like these without compromising quality or expertise in the slightest.

She also developed an uncanny knack for taking advantage of our parents’ desire to protect her.

Only as an adult did she confess that her habit of disappearing from the house to do yard work (and not housework) was not motivated chiefly by her pure desire to help Daddy.  Rather, she knew neither Daddy nor Mother would send or call her back inside the house for the latest instruction or practice in vacuuming, dishwashing, dish-drying, table setting, ironing or putting clothes away.

To us, Diane’s body was both normal and different—though it all felt pretty normal most of the time.  Certainly not life-threatening.

Then each of us, her three sisters, got a telephone call from Diane in January 1996.
Diane had ALS.  She was direct and clear:
—There is no cure.
—The disease is terminal.
—I’m going to need help.  Lots of help.

Diane’s left arm shaped her as a child, as a young person and as an adult.
Now Diane’s entire body began shaping her and her family,
beginning most painfully with her husband, two sons and daughter,
and reaching out to all of us gathered here today.

For the last 10 years I’ve flown down to Houston about 4 times a year to visit Diane.  But not just to visit her.  I’ve come to witness a journey—Diane’s very personal journey with ALS.  A journey that relentlessly put Diane’s physical body at the center of attention.

As young girls we weren’t encouraged to pay much attention to our bodies. 
Bodies were a necessary but usually uncomfortable necessity—especially female bodies.  Now, with ALS, Diane was consumed by what was and was not happening in her body.

She suffered losses beyond comprehension—most in fairly rapid succession over a period of years, starting with physical losses such as mobility, ability to care for her own personal needs, eating and swallowing, ability to speak on her own, and breathing. 

She also suffered loss of her position here at the church:
—Loss of her dream of being ordained
—Loss of work and personal relationships as her body more and more seemed to intrude as a difficulty or a problem to be solved
—Loss of time for herself or her family and friends, as personal care began gobbling up hours out of each day
—Loss of privacy:  total and absolute, with only one exception—the thoughts in her mind, which included her life with God
—Loss of little things such as swatting at a mosquito feasting on her neck (as she put it); scratching where it itches; singing in church; being in the middle of the action and making wisecracks

More painfully, she suffered loss of other things such as giving her children a hug, or embracing her husband face to face.  As a female she suffered what most women dread—loss of control over personal presentation of herself:  hairstyle, makeup, body language.  She became the subject of stares and quickly averted eyes.

Diane’s body seemed to be calling the shots.

True to who she already was, however, Diane kept showing up—fully with and in her body marked more and more by ALS.  It was as though she were saying

  • I’m still here—in my body
  • I’m still Diane—in this body
  • I am not whatever you think a terminally ill person should be
  • I am not predictable
  • I am not a saint
  • I’m still Diane!
  • I’m still here and I’m still fully engaged in living–living with ALS
  • I will be who I am—angry, frustrated, filled with anxiety, filled with human longings and everyday needs; direct and clear without being mean
  • I’m dying
  • We need to talk
  • Now

As always, nothing was too sacred for a good healthy laugh.  Especially about her body with its unpredictable body parts, behaviors and small crises:  facial movements, biting her own lip, laughing uncontrollably, head falling over from time to time, drooling from time to time.

Diane continued to be who she already was:
—Determined to speak for herself in her own words, not yours or mine
—Determined to be heard and heeded

She was still directive—now in ways that boggled the mind:
—To-do and Do-not-do lists for family, nurses, friends and strangers
—Rules for how Mom is to be driven in her new van and who gets to say when the rules are being broken (Mom, of course).
—She was still a masterful strategic planner—only now she had to figure out how to get you to do what she could no longer do, but somehow knew must be done.

As always, Diane wasn’t about to fade into the woodwork.  She kept showing up in the flesh—in her ALS-shaped flesh:  at church, in shopping malls, at weddings for her daughter and one of her sons, and even—one month ago, believe it or not, to inspect her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter’s new home.

Diane remained insistent that she be given choices, and that her choice was the final choice:
—Clothes and accessories for church
—Medical options
—What to keep and what to discard from the kitchen cupboards
—Which movie to watch
—And how this service today would be shaped,
——including the names of all active male pallbearers
——and the names of all 25 honorary female pallbearers!

Diane made her concrete mark in, with and through her concrete, ALS-shaped body.
To deny she was among us in the flesh would be to deny her existence.

To some extent, each of us gathered here to honor and grieve her passing has been a witness.  So many of you are so full of memories.  I can’t speak for you and I won’t get preachy, but I will be confessional:

  • I’m listening, God, for what my relationship to Diane means for the rest of my life in this world you love so much.  Amen.

Eulogy delivered 17 February 2006, © Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2006
Blog post © Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 April 2014

Memories and Old Photos Revisited

1974 May Sherry's 4th Birthday in Altadena

before my eyes
they swim
in salt water

old photos
fresh with memories

I blink
reluctant to move
my eyes

tears water
my face

 ***

Christmas stockings in Altadena

1974 Christmas Altadena Stocking stuffers Sherry and Scott
Peanut butter sandwiches and milk on the lawn

1974 Feb Scott and Sherry eating on the front lawn Altadena house

Picking cherries in California

 1974 Aug Sherry Cherry picking in California

 Thinking deep thoughts with Rosey Grier

FRASER_S_0099

Not sure what to do with all this snow above Altadena!

1975 Jan Sherry and Scott in the snow San Gabriel Mountains

Shopping with Mom – Note boa (?) on daughter’s arm

1975 Elouise with Sherry and Scott shopping ND
Posing with Mom and Dad on a hot day in Arizona

1975 Sep Family portrait in Arizona

Those were the days!
Beauty and memories captured on camera
Reminders of what endures from generation to generation

Have a happy weekend!
And don’t forget to take a few photos.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 March 2016, reposted 23 August 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, except last photo — taken by D’s mother

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