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On November 3, 2012 I came to see Everet whom had just turned one year old.  I traveled from Knoxville, Tennessee to San Francisco, California to witness this awesome event…and delighted to see that Everet had just learned how to walk!  I flew into Everet’s home town by jet…the sun followed me there.  The weather that weekend was a remarkable 70 to 80 degrees.  Everywhere that we walked we  had a view of the ocean or the downtown area.  Remarkable.  (to be continued)

I do remember how wonderful my time with Everet was on his first birthday. My Sister, Janie accompanied me to celebrate.  I was so amazed to see the friends of Jaime and Mike arrive for this fun evening.  They brought the “little people”, their children to the delight of all.  Presents were everywhere, and Everet opened each one by tearing off the paper and going in for the next one.  We were treated to a chocolate cake baked by Jaime and Everet dove right into it.

Everet and I sat on the floor each day after that day and played with his toys and read books together.  We ate lunch at the table and enjoyed the tasty chili made by his Mom.  I was able to watch him practice getting the spoonfuls from bowl to mouth; quite an achievement for a one-year-old.  We had homemade cornbread that was oh so good!

Each afternoon we took a long stroller push by me, ride by Everet.  Up the hills, down the hills, fitness to the max! Oh the healthy San Francisco!  I do remember the day of my leaving that beautiful city and the precious grandson, Everet.  As the plane lifted above the bay, I looked down at the landscape and realized quite quickly, how fast the time goes by and how dear the inhabitants of that abundantly gorgeous corner of our country are to many, many families all over the land.  Lucky, are the few who can walk the hilly land of SF and feel the warm breeze upon their faces, looking at the art and speak with friendly folks who know the value of natural resources.  I know this is a huge assumption on my part, but I did witness neatly stacked clothing and usable items on several street corners, available to those who needed a little help or whom realized abundance is frugality in tow.

I began this story on that November day in 2012…and now two years later I am able to complete this piece.  Thoughts of loving hearts know no time.  I shall return.

It’s the right time to share the story that changed the life of a lady in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The lady is my Mother, Mary Pfau.  I have waited many years to write this story.  I will begin by saying that on one afternoon Mrs. Hillary Clinton  held a fuscia envelope in her hand. She was seated on a plane when she read the contents of the letter.  I had asked her if there was a way that she could help my Mom to stay in her own home instead of going to a nursing home for care.  My Dad had just been diagnosed with lung cancer, and my Mom was diagnosed with a spinal tumor at the same time. Her physician told her that if she wanted to continue caring for my Dad, she must have this tumor removed.  She complied. She had surgery. She never walked unassisted again.

The situation  became serious and my Dad unfortunately passed after 18 months.  Our family arranged to have a caregiver there every day to assist our mother.  Finances were exhausted.  At this time, I heard of a program in Ohio called Passport; this was an avenue of hope for the elderly to remain in their homes instead of the option of nursing home care.  I wrote the letter to Mrs. Clinton. Her secretary had a box of letters that she was reviewing while on the flight with Mrs. Clinton. I had typed my request on hot pink stationary, folded and placed it in a fuchsia colored envelope.  As an aside to this, I remembered that my English teacher in high school told me that if one wanted the prose to be noticed, write it on strikingly brightly colored paper.  He was correct.  The lady that told me of this scenario, told me that my letter stood out among the other hundreds of letters. Mrs. Clinton read about our Mother’s situation, had someone call the Counsel on Aging in Cincinnati, where our Mom lived, and expedited the process of Home Health aides coming each day to provide care for our Mom. This continued for 14 years at no cost to our Mom.  How unbelievable is that?  Mrs. Clinton never asked for notoriety for this act of superlative kindness.  There was a distinct message of just doing the right thing for someone who needed her help.  I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee at this time and the local newspaper, the News Sentinel published a story about Hillary Clinton’s gesture of kindness and precise problem solving.  Thank you, Hillary Clinton.  It’s your turn for superlatives.

I know I have told this story countless times…perhaps you didn’t get the chance to hear it though.  Your birth was such an exciting event in our family.  Your Dad was at work at the Palm Beach Company when I called him to tell him, “I think it is time to go.”  That is the sentence that some expectant Moms use when they have had all they can handle with the timing of contractions and the worry and the overall not knowing feature of labor.  I’m convinced that is why it is called “labor”. The actual work that took place was negligible as when your Dad arrived by bus, I might add (in those days young families had but one car. )How novel!  Anyway, he walked from the bus stop to our apartment which was called Anderson Square Apartments, if you ever wanted to go to your first home, it is located on Beechmont Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He came inside and started whistling and walking ever so slowly.  Later on I figured out that was his way of coping.  Anyway, we loaded up the car and took off for the hospital, which was called Bethesda Hospital, just a few miles from downtown Cincinnati where your Dad had just come from. When we arrived at the hospital, I tried to tell the admitting person that I thought you were about to be born very soon. She smiled and said okay, now fill out these papers and we will get the wheelchair and ride upstairs to labor and delivery.  I got into the chair and into the elevator.  When the door opened I was very anxious to get to the delivery room. That didn’t happen. They took me to the labor room, hooked me up to some type of monitor and when the nurse left the room, you entered the world.  That is called precipitous birth.  Quite remarkable of you!  So you can see you were very happy to greet the world with enthusiasm.  Now this news traveled very quickly.  Your Grandparents Erich and Erika came to see you in the nursery. They stayed but a few moments and proceeded to call long distance to several relatives in Germany, as you were the first male child born in the Maelzer family. Your Grandmother, Mary, Mamma as you called her later, was there with us for your birth. She stayed in the family waiting area.  All in all the day was a momentous event.  We named you Erich Charles, the names of your Grandfathers.  I felt so very proud to have accomplished this birth of such a beautiful little boy.  By the time we took you home, you were becoming quite accustomed to girls watching every move you made as your two older sisters, Jackie and Susan took upon themselves the role of “little moms”.  From then on, I think it was your goal to outsmart them and keep them hopping around looking for you. What fun we all had. Your Dad and I bought our first house on Autumn Leaf Lane to accommodate a large family.  We had maple trees out front and you spent time with me collecting colorful leaves and putting them in buckets.  I rode you around in a child seat on the back of my touring bike.  We went everywhere together.  We had some adventures in that house.  One day you ate the potting soil in a plant in the living room.  I knew you ate some of it because you had dirt on your little lips.  The dirt ingestion would have been okay to do, as your great grandmother always said “a child must eat a peck of dirt before his life is over.”  Well this dirt that you ate had beads of plant food in it.  You probably guess what happened next.  Call the doctor, take the syrup of Ipicac, vomit, go the the emergency room etc. etc.  Nothing adverse happened. After a few hours we came back home. All in a normal day’s activities.  Now we knew what it meant to have a boy in the house!

When you were four years old we moved to Baltimore, Maryland. You found a good friend named Josh who lived across the street.  We lived on Jacinth Way. It was a street that was the home of several different nationalities.  Josh was Polish American.  He loved to include you in his outback adventures.  You two would go into the woods, (you were around four years old then) and build camps and try to start fires.  We only found this out much later.  You rode your Big Wheel up and down the sidewalks and raced with anyone that would compete.  I’m pretty sure you were always the fastest one! Your Grandparents, Mamma and Pappa would drive up to see you each month.  Then we would go on sight seeing trips to see the Chesapeake Bay, Fort McHenry, the museums in Washington, D.C. and sometimes even travel to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to visit historical places.  You spent a lot of time on your Pappa’s lap listening to stories and your Mamma thought you hung the moon, so to speak.  You began Kindergarten there a little earlier than most boys.  You went to a Catholic School called St. Joseph School in Bellaire.  Sister Georgeanne told me to bring you in and she would place you in kindergarten when you were still four years old. Your birthday was soon to arrive in two months. Back then it seemed a reasonable thing to do.  (The truth is, I was worn out!) So your education began at a very early age.  You did very well there. Your second grade teacher’s name was Mrs.Cup.  Your were her star pupil.  You were given the prestigious award of “Super Kid”, envied by all and wore the T-shirt with that name on it whenever your sisters aggravated you.

While we lived in Baltimore, a great snow storm came.  We had 24 inches of snow packed tightly on the roads and roof tops.  We were grateful that your grandparents were with us at the time as we had to walk everywhere to get supplies and they helped us to get around.  The snow was deeper than your height, so you were carried very often through it.  We had such fun digging out the cars and watching a lot of television.  I noticed then that you were very interested in watching storms come and go.  That particular snow storm that I mentioned had lightening and thunder occurring at the same time as the snow was falling at an inch an hour.  You seemed particularly interested in  that.  I also remember in the spring months, you played baseball on the team of St. Joseph’s.  Your Dad coached. You were quite the hitter.  We had to move away when you were at your peak performance at the age of nine years of age. I think that was your last baseball game.  What a shame.  I began to notice you were becoming very athletic.  Little did I know that golf would be your strongest game.

Timeline couldn’t be complete without mention of your detour to Bowdon, Georgia.  I recall that when we were traveling to that destination, you said to your Mamma, “looks like a tornado hit this place!” Everyone in the car laughed so hard.  We were traveling through Rome, Georgia at that time.  It could have been culture shock as they call it.  Thinking back upon our arrival in that small town, I remember how often you frequented the Super-D “department store.”  It was the only store in the small town, other than the Hardie’s and the corner barber shop.  Now there was a Pigly Wiggly also.  The most notable thing about our new address was that we could walk everywhere and just about  be everywhere all at the same time.  You were on foot for the greatest part of our 17 month stay there.  Whenever I couldn’t find you, I would get my bike out and ride down to the grave yard at the end of the street and there you were, tearing through the sidewalks on your 5-speed bike, in and out of the winding ways.  It never occurred to me that this might be just a little disrespectful. It was so fun to do!  We also watched the sky turn green and yes, a tornado did blow through there. You wanted to watch the whole event.  Thus proving my earlier statement that you were so enchanted by the weather.  And what other house did we ever live in that had a snack shop right next door (for the employees of Bowdon Clothing Co. ?)  And what other residence had ghosts in the basement with the dirt floor and spider webs hanging all over just smacking you in the face whenever you had the courage to unlock the door and bump down the wooden staircase to that dark place?  A very remarkable thing took place there.  Cats multiplied and meowed whenever it was midnight.  Was I dreaming?  Your Dad and you and Mike built a gigantic, yes I said gigantic tree house in the small backyard.  It was fully equipped for sleeping and snacking and hiding the kittens.  Your Dad asked for the help of the son of the owner of the Clothing Company. His name was Tom Plunkett.  Tom helped your Dad with the construction of that tree house, you and Michael added finishing touches.  I wrote a story about that construction job, as Tom passed away shortly after its completion.  No, the effort was not that overpowering.  But the fact that an executive from a prominent company (they owned the town in a manner of speaking), felt that the children from that “family from Baltimore…with 5 kids….deserved a cool place to play. Pretty remarkable.  I know I use that word a lot. But this time it really fits perfectly.

The schools there were oh so wonderful. Everyone in our family got straight A’s.  Go figure.  As the Mother of the household, I requested a transfer to Tennessee.  With some maneuvering and begging, we did finally move to Tennessee.  But not before I was able to enjoy a lunch with you in your middle school in Bowdon.  I arrived there and took my seat next to you. I am sure it was most embarrassing.  I wanted to meet your friends.  To my  surprise, you began speaking their “language”. I heard a voice with a dialect that surely must have originated in the deep south.  I listened in amusement at the tales the person was telling.  I looked from boy to boy and realized it was Erich speaking.  He always tried to fit in.  And he indeed had fit in for many months.

This brings me to another cherished story of your first acquisition of golf clubs.  You learned to play golf at the Par 3 on Northshore Road in Knoxville.  Almost immediately, the pros that came and gave lessons there, noticed your strength and agility.  Your form was naturally good.  You hadn’t learned the “wrong way to hold a club”, is what they said about you.  As you became older, you tried out for the Farragut High School golf team and made it.  As I recall, you needed a new set of clubs to compete. You were looking at Pings. I cannot recall the entire scenario of how you started out with a set of Pings, but if memory serves me well, I believe there were some bent shafts on your clubs. Now this may have happened when they flew up in the air at times. ..if you get my drift of young golfer, frustrated golfer, perfectionist etc. etc.  I know that golf is a mental game and such.  At any rate, I wrote a letter to the company that manufactured said clubs and presented our need.  They sent an entire set of new clubs at no charge to us.  Now that was a miracle for sure!

How can I omit the memory of your graduation night from high school?  I was so proud of you as you walked to the podium to accept your diploma!  I captured that moment on film, and this actual photo resides in my holy Bible for eternity I’m sure.  You were the only guy at that ceremony that wore khaki slacks!  There you were with your cap and gown with beige slacks peaking out underneath that ensemble.  Awesome and way ahead of your time, with regard to fashion!

And then there was that year when we had realtors looking at our house which was for sale.  I just couldn’t figure out why no one ever wanted to purchase such a beautiful home, until the realty agent said, “you might want to remove the Boa Constrictor from Erich’s room. It’s really freaking people out.”  You really liked that big old snake that lived in the glass cage.  Mystery solved!

Well, Son, there are many more adventures that I shall share with you at another time.  Although one of my most cherished memories is when you stood next to me when my Mom was put to rest at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery.  You stood so tall there beside me, and you put your arm around me and said not a word.  Your eyes spoke to me.  It was a peaceful day on August 14, 2004.  I know you remember what your Mamma always said to you… “Erich, remember who you are and where you came from.” I want to thank you for keeping your grandparents belongings in your own wonderful home for all these years.  Silence is louder than the spoken word.  I am so blessed to have you by my side.  Happy Birthday, Erich!  And I will always remember what you told me, “Mom, it’s all good!”  Thanks, Son.

It’s been a while since I have written to you, grandchildren of ours.  I have decided to talk a little bit about each one of you because each and every one of you are so important to me.  Let me begin with the first grandchild, Nicholas Lee.  Nick arrived into this world on December 7, 1996.  I saved the newspaper that day as it was an important day in the history books…it was “Pearl Harbor Day.” Now I am aware that the kids will need to Google this one day.  I was actually present with Nick’s Mom to behold this amazing event; Nick’s Opa was also present.  Jackie delivered this baby herself and we all gazed in amazement.  Nick lived with his grandparents, myself and Opa for a couple of months. It was so interesting to watch him grow rapidly, play with toys and watch his mom teach him the basics.  It was difficult for me to allow my own daughter to take charge. I wanted to do it; but I knew I needed to step aside.  This fine young man is now 17 1/2 years old and an athlete extraordinaire.  He is kind and strong and has learned through his years to watch over his mom and take charge of some things by himself.  I am so grateful to have been around to watch the “little child” develop into this awesome man.

Now I have decided to finish my story about Nick.  He just celebrated his 18th birthday.  I am here with him in Emeigh, Pennsylvania.  He is now making plans to enter college…he is still the athlete that has come so far. It will be very interesting to see where his career takes him.  This year also happened to be the year that Nick joined the Pennsylvania National Guard.  How awesome is that?  He is quite tall now. .. 5’10” to be exact.  Quite a growth spurt since we first held him 18 years ago.  His hobbies include hunting and more hunting.   (to be continued)

I can add something of great significance now.  Nick was deployed to Afganistan this year…he left his homeland in April of this year. (to be continued)

The following are included in a list of things that people do “before the Cleaning Lady arrives” : Sweeping the kitchen floor, emptying the dishwasher, clearing off the counter tops, wiping the stove, folding the towels, putting away the snacks, wiping the table, putting fresh flowers in a vase on the table, throwing out newspapers and magazines, emptying trash, folding the laundry left in the dryer, shutting the closet doors, clearing off the bathroom shelves, emptying the vacuum cleaner, putting fresh trash bags in containers and straightening the quilts on the beds, not to mention removing all treasures hidden under the beds.  The occupants of said household, now can leave for work, gleefully thinking about the hired person coming in and “cleaning” the entire house.  It makes their day! No work to do at  home.  The cash is left on the table, and the person is paid well upon completion of said tasks.  Did I mention the tasks?  Dusting, scrubbing, sanitizing, polishing and many more things I am sure.  Upon arriving home the occupants of the sparkling home remark of the clean fragrance, uncluttered appearance and polished look of the entire domain.   The lady of the house hears such raves as “Wow look at my bathroom!”  She says to the man of the house, “why didn’t you ever say that when I cleaned your bathroom?”  He answers, “It better well ____be clean, I just paid her $60 for this.  And the beat goes on…did I forget to mention that before the cleaning person arrives, it is useful to pull the stove away from the kitchen wall and vacuum, scrub and sanitize behind there also?  Did I mention that it is also very wise to take an extra few minutes before one leaves for work to select diamonds and gold and cherished jewelry and stash it in one’s handbag to tote along to work just for safe keeping?  Did I mention that it is also inspiring to see the shoes all lined up in the bathroom closet, color coded and brushed off?  Did I also mention the refrigerator has never looked so organized and tidy before the cleaning person arrived?  All of these happenings are signs of achievement.  I am simply wondering….why are we so tired?  For $60 we should be “tired”! P.S…..cleaning lady rocks!

OK it was just a mere 42 years ago and yes I can remember it as if it was just yesterday.  That means an old person is telling this story.  Humor can slide along with me on this one.  August the 8th is the anniversary of Grandparents, Katie and John Murphy, and Parents, Mary and Charlie Pfau…and yes, it is the long lost anniversary of Jill and Udo.  That 42 year anniversary belongs to the latter couple. Yes it did rain on the wedding day…supposed to be bad luck.  The groom did forget the ring and the best man had to go fetch it.  The bride showed up early as usual.  The groom was late. Now you know I am talking about the latter couple.  Of course.  When it was time to profess the vows, the bride cried and could not speak. Therefore the clergy man recited the vows for her.  Oh my.  Is that binding?  After it was all over, the newly weds walked down the aisle of the small country church, reached the doorway and the bride had to step on her tiptoes to kiss the groom.  Now, what is that matter with that picture! Speaking of which, the photos were taken outdoors (in the drizzling rain).  Looking back upon those photos, I can only comment that I have never seen such a somber gentleman.  The next episode came at the reception, where the bride threw her bouquet to all of the single girls, and it landed in the chandelier.  No one was going to get married from that group of hopefuls.  When the dinner and dancing subsided, the bride and groom walked upstairs in the hotel that was supposed to be the evening to top all evenings, and when they tried to open the door of their honeymoon suite, someone was standing on the other side of the door.  Another couple was residing in “our” room and were very upset that we had tried to barge in on them.  We reported this to the management, whom only offered regrets that they had rented the honeymoon suite out to two couples at the same time.  What that meant to us was “first come first serve”.  Off to the car we went, back to our apartment. And yes, the bride was carried over the threshold. For those of you who are reading this and who are from the current generation, that was the custom in the day.  Now if you were indeed listening to the saga with focus, you may be able to select the only thing that turned out correctly. Traditionally, the ceremony, the gifts, the vows are everlasting.  In the real world, all that really matters is that a new beginning happened, love was shared, precious children arrived, all in spite of “tradition.”  The day doesn’t matter…the tears are long spent, the immortality of the promise means everything.  I always believed that God has a sense of humor.  After all these years, I can finally chuckle and look back with a smile.  The end.

I remember when Michael was still riding around in the “umbrella stroller” as we called it then; I cannot assign an accurate age to Michael, but I believe it was in the range of 18 months old. On one special day, Michael took a trip with me, his mom to Washington, D.C. to meet a man who had traveled from his country of Germany to visit Michael’s Dad. I was asked to meet this gentleman and show him around Washington. This was on a week day, so the other children were in school and Mike’s Dad was at work in Baltimore. The most interesting thing about this was that the man, whose name I cannot recall, didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t speak the German language. Somehow we were able to communicate and take several tours of the Capitol and surrounding museums. Michael was so easy going, that he just rode around and took in all of the sights, stopping with us only to eat some snacks and fruits. Looking back at all of this, I am indeed amazed that I drove to Washington, D.C. by myself, accompanied only by a toddler and arrived safely and not lost. Amazing! The gentleman’s only conversation with me happened at the end of our visit, when I shook his hand and he patted Michael on the head and said, “He looks just like you!” Now, did he speak English and hide that fact from us, or did he practice a few idioms and rehearsed a phrase or two? I will never know the answer, but I will always remember that compliment as this small toddler was a beautiful child.

 

While I am revisiting the Baltimore experience, I must include the neighbors, Jackie and Tom. They lived two houses down the street on Jacinth Way. Tom owned a company that provided backhoes and “dirt diggers”to customers. He had the charming habit of driving these huge trucks home and parking one or two of them in the cult-e-sac on the street where we lived. Very often in the early evenings, Tom would knock at our door and ask if Michael would like to drive the “dirt digger” as he called them. That was Michael’s name for the backhoe. Much to Tom’s delight, we always said “yes” and the fun began. At this time, Michael was about four years old. He would run down the sidewalk, and with Tom’s help, he would climb up upon that big yellow piece of equipment and get ready to drive. This was not a pretend ride, Tom always started up the engine with Michael on his lap. They never rode anywhere, but the loud noise was worth everything it took to imagine what it would really be like to drive one of those trucks! (and thinking back on this, I recall that Mike was the only child in the family who wasn’t the least bit interested in driving when he turned 16 years old!) I can still see the grin on Michael’s face as he slid his hands around on the steering wheel of the equipment. What was the bigger object, the ton of yellow equipment or the contained prize of borrowing a son, as Tom and Jackie could never conceive a child of their own? I believe the four-year-old boy was indeed the prize!!

 

Now memory takes me to Bowden, Georgia, where Michael’s Dad took us for endless adventures and colossal memory making. Every morning I would walk the boys over to the corner barber shop to wait for the school bus. We only lived ¼ mile away from the primary school, which was Michael’s second attempt at Kindergarten. He began his first stint at the Kindergarten scene in Baltimore, Maryland, and that was interrupted by our move to Georgia. One afternoon I walked over to the school to meet with Michael’s Kindergarten teacher for the first conference. Everyone did this, I was nervous as I was new in town. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but I do remember her pretty face and dark hair. I will always remember what she said to me when she reviewed Michael’s achievements early on in his academic career (that would be six months worth of kindergarten, once removed). She said that when she greeted Michael for the first time (he began school there later as our move happened in in September after classes began for the other students), she held him on her lap, and talked with him. She said to me, “Michael is so well-adjusted, I know that all of his needs were met as he was growing up.” Some things drift in and out of a mother’s heart, but to be told that the parenting is coming along successfully means so much and embeds itself in the heart forever. In 17 long months, we moved again and arrived in Knoxville, Tennessee, where Michael began his third attempt at Kindergarten. Once again, his teacher shared her amazement at his composure and warmth expressed to others. He was fortunate to have a teacher from New York and she saw in Michael something of great treasure. She at once put him to the task of becoming the artist that he is today. If only I could remember her name. I bet Michael can. Art supplies began appearing everywhere, so much a part of our home life with markers and desks and tables with chalk and paints and pencils and scissors and construction paper. Thank you, teacher with forgotten name. Isn’t that always the way!

 

And then there is the story from St. John Neumann Church. During every month of May, a child is selected to place the crown of flowers on the head of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was fortunate to teach Michael’s CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes for Grades 1-8. This made perfect sense to me as I could follow Michael’s progress along and keep in touch with all of his friends’ parents for ongoing years. In the year of 1991, when Michael was 10 years old, he was selected for this honor. The criteria were kindness to others, good study habits, prayerfulness and probably popularity. (just kidding). I’m pretty sure Michael was not interested in popularity. At any rate the reason I am mentioning this little tidbit of history, is that Michael did make history on that day. He was the only male child ever selected to perform this honorable act of devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary. He was too short to reach the top of the statue’s head, so the Director of Religious Education, brought in a ladder and Michael climbed upon it and placed the beautiful wreath of flowers upon the statue of Blessed Mother. Enough said about that!

 

In an effort to complete my rendition of stories of Michael, I will share one more memory. I think that for every birthday that Michael celebrated until he was old enough to drive, he always received a gift of transportation. Michael’s grandparents, Mamma and Pappa always bought things with wheels for Michael. Tricycles, Big Wheels (you will remember those plastic riding machines with “big wheels” that were larger than the actual riding apparatus), five-speed bicycles, scooters, skateboards. Always on the go, Michael seemed to enjoy the motorized cars and tractors the most. A boy in motion, that was Michael. Now that really fits his profile as he has traveled the world in his grown up years, and navigates daily by means of his own powerful muscles driving a bike for the ride of his life. His grandparents knew something I didn’t know yet. Michael is a Trailblazer. Happy Birthday, Mike!

 

Love, Mom

 

You knew this was coming…more stories.  Well I just couldn’t resist telling the story of how Michael managed to avoid cutting grass as such a task would invariably end in sneezing episodes as Michael was extremely allergic to pollen, grass,mold and seemingly the entire universe!  When Michael was in his pre-teen years, when not much was happening around the neighborhood, there loomed the weekly chore of grass cutting.  Now, we all took a turn at it, and when the the task rolled around to Michael’s turn, he could be found luxuriously lounging in the bonus room playing video games and such, where he also devised a way to cut the grass while lounging.  I would usually announce the order to begin mowing, and then leave for grocery shopping.  I just knew that the job would be completed when I returned home. And it always was.  I was so smart not to endure the complaints and witness the sneezing fits and all, I was convinced that by passively leaving the home front, Michael would acquiesce.  The yard was manicured to perfection, when I returned home each and every time.  Little did I know (but everyone else did) that Michael hired our neighbor and his friend, Jason to do the mowing for him.  What a deal….$20 dollars and a grin and all was well! Are we surprised?!

I will surely leave you with one more memory.  What would a booklet of stories be without the entry of a tall young man standing at the Magee Tyson airport in Knoxville, Tennessee with a back pack that was as tall as he was, strapped to his back filled with everything a human could need for two years?  I will forever remember the smile on his face when he turned to look around at his family who bid him farewell as he left for the continent of Africa to “give back to the world”  for the many gifts he had received from it. Hello Peace Corps.  He announced this mission to me one sunny afternoon at a local restaurant when he asked me out to lunch on his 22nd birthday.  Now there’s a gift!  He left his mark on that continent in the form of art work, technology and language arts.  It was there that he met his soul mate soon to become his wife and mother of his child.  His bravery and determination remind me that it was indeed a remarkable day on August 3, 1981 at 11:00 a.m. in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, when an 8 lb. 3 oz boy arrived to shake things up a little…and he surely did!

Until later….

Happy Birthday, Mike!

Once upon a time there was a gentle soul that drifted along helping another soul with big and little things…things like helping the other soul to live a healthy life and survive some really hefty hurdles. The gentle soul never asked for a return of the favors…just wondered if the soul ever needed a hand with a hefty hurdle herself, would the other soul carry her. No need to wonder. The hurdle came. She is alone. She is strong. She can fly.

Nine a.m. one warm June morning a little person entered this great big world.  Back in those days….25 years ago, it was a rarity to know ahead of time if the baby on the way was a girl or a boy.  In this particular case, because I was a “high risk” Gravida V Para VI…I had the notorious amniocentesis test run by by the obstetrician for the knowledge of whether the baby was healthy or not.  So unnecessary as all babies deserve to be born whether or not.  And she indeed arrived on that morning in perfect condition in the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, better known as its acronym of GBMC.  We did learn per the aforementioned test that the baby was a little girl. I learned the news on Valentine’s Day in 1986 when the baby’s Dad was on a business trip in Paris.  The news flew across the ocean. Oh we were so excited.  Now, the most unusual thing about this birth in my recollection, is that she being the fifth baby in our “little family”, that she was the only child that her dad was able to witness coming into the world.This too was a new oddity as in 1986 this was the upcoming new idea in child birthing.  The little one came and the doctor handed her directly to her Father. He was the first to hold her in his strong hands…I could see his face just amazed at the event that he beheld.  I was the weary one, and so it was indeed a comfort for me to watch her Dad perform that honor.  First one to hold.

Now, 25 years later on this very day, a warm day in June, the little girl, now a grown woman traveled to Pittsburg to hold her Father’s hand as he lay quietly in a hospital bed in the ICU trying to recover from a massive stroke that came the night before.  How was she to know that 25 years after her entrance into the world, she would return to the same setting that ushered her in and help her Dad through the ordeal of fighting for his life? Her birthday gift today is the gift of  a little more time to spend with her Dad and to wish him a happy Father’s Day in person.  First one to hold.  Hold on tight! There is so much more to come.

PROLOGUE

“The way I look at it, I saw young, talented men on my ship who were buried at sea.  I was given 40 more years. That is really something to be grateful for.” These are words spoken to me by my father, Charles Pfau who chose life when given the diagnosis of lung cancer.  Throughout the 15 months of his courageous struggle, he consistently chose full living and maximum effort at self-sufficiency, metaphorically spitting at despair.  As the months unfolded, his true character emerged not hidden by triviality and masks so often worn by long lifers.  This treasured pearl is one father’s gift to his offspring.

 

IN THE HARBOR OF EACH OTHERS ARMS

Every once in a while families unite for a reasonable time to refresh memories.  In this particular springtime, our family regrouped to find strength in the collective reserves of each other.

Family members nervously gathered in the waiting area of the surgical wing.  This hospital was to be the recipient of my  Father’s consistent efforts t overcome the cancer that usurped his lungs.  We were left alone in that mauve and gray appointed room; you know the kind,  a room delicately dashed with soft draperies and stuffed sofas, one table and a lamp, floral paintings and no magazines.  We were left to our own resources to accommodate fear and anxiety or light humor and insignificant chatter.  Neither display seemed appropriate.  The silence was even more unwelcome.  We were uncomfortable  at the prospect of hearing the results of my father’s biopsy.

Just glancing at the surgeon’s face answered the first question. He found cancer, small cell, oat cell cancer in the bronchial area. My Father did not tolerate the invasive procedure well, and the searching ceased.  The assumption included malignancy of the the tumor found in the lung.  The second question was answered unasked….”three months at best. No chance for surgery.  If it was me,  would not choose chemotherapy.” I learned early on that surgeons have a matter of fact demeanor.  There was a stiffening silence. I felt an overwhelming need to say something, anything meaningful.  My communication to my Mother, two brothers, one brother-in-law, my sister and a friend was in the form of a small , timidly spoken and verbal gesture of grateful acceptance that flatly asserted that as bad as the news sounded, at least he was not taken from us abruptly, coldly stolen away.  Little did I realize that statement would be a mental argument to deal with countless times over.  There was no response to the statement, as if silence was the loudest of speech. Stunned, confused, desperate, we boldly inquired about chemotherapy and radiation options.  Hope propelled us forward, and so began the journey.

As I visited my Dad in the hospital room where it all was to begin, I remember one comment so clearly stated by him, ” didn’t know how much everyone cared about me. “  Such an obvious notion..the caring.  Even though I felt it, so often it must have been hidden from him.  During the ensuing months,  I did everything that I could to reinforce the concept of caring.  It became an obsession that would perhaps save him and make all the difference regarding his recovery and triumph over this monster.

Diagnostic testing and evaluations began abruptly.  The luxury of time to spare was surely absent.  Questions darted all over the place.  “How invasive was the cancer? Did it appear in the bones, the liver, the brain?” The answer was the embodiment of hope. The disease was localized in the bronchi and lungs. The oncologist emphasized that my Dad’s body was strong and his heart was in extremely good condition.  He was indeed a candidate for chemotherapy.

The initial prognosis faded away so quickly buried, so feverishly released as if flying away inside of a balloon.  Readiness for healing was the only prognosis I would accept.

Administered on an outpatient basis, the radiation treatments were done twice a day for 20 long, consecutive days. That was no small accomplishment considering the fact that my parents lived 20 miles away from the hospital that provided the treatments.  The radiation sessions were draining his strength but not his determination.  They trekked to and from the hospital, lunching between treatment times, holding up so well.  The closeness began to draw them toward each other in a way that, I having been their daughter for many years, had not truly witnessed.  What I was witnessing was a definite second chance at romance, a commitment so unspoken bonding tightly a married couple of 49 years.  One of my Mother’s first jarring comments upon sorting out the news of the cancer was, “Oh we’ll never celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. ” The sadness of that reality slipped in and out at moments told and untold.  But for the most most part, my parents’ acceptance of the situation pervaded and thus inspired the entire family.  I particularly recall watching the two of them sitting closely opposite each other while playing card games and grinning at who was winning at what.  Real love is so ordinary.  Ordinary is so precious when tragedy spurts at you.

Once the radiation treatments concluded, a cycle of intensely strong chemotherapy sessions routinely began at three-week intervals.  The first plan was to give my Dad a combination of chemotherapy drugs every three weeks intravenously.  Admission to the hospital occurred.  The seventh floor assumed an entirely new image in my mind as I glanced around at the intravenous drip equipment endlessly clicking as the toxic liquid trickled from tube to arm to course its route to the cells of each patient, Dad being one of the many. The annoying, shrill beeps that alerted the staff that the infusion was complete, bounced from doorway to hall, sometimes quieted by a passing nurse, always interrupting any attempt to pretend that all was well.  There we were, my Dad, my Mom and myself camped out, so to speak, in room 7003.  We were ready to fight for all it was worth.  We requested a cot for sleeping.  We didn’t do much of that.  I thought we were supporting my Dad with even an awkward presence there, only discovering after the third month of this, he probably would have preferred to go it alone.  The sheltering from worry began just about then.  We didn’t want him to know how ominous things seemed, he didn’t want us to know that he already knew that.  After the fourth set of chemotherapy, the oncologist told us that the cancer was still present.  The radiation treatment shrunk the tumor and 60% of it was gone.  We were elated. The cancer was almost gone!The plan was that the chemotherapy would continue to shrink the tumor and stop the spreading of cells.  Half of the plan worked.

As for the side effects of all of this toxicity,  can only relate that my Dad said he had just a little bit of nausea.  His hair did fall out.  This was an unfortunate occurrence as my Dad had beautiful, thick hair.  One day an old friend of his greeted him in the hardware store with the comment “Well, Charlie,  haven’t seen you for a while, is everything all right?” My Dad just grinned and tipped his golf hat revealing his baldness and said, “What do you think of my new look?” He covered the subject with light humor helping to make everyone else comfortable.

One of the troubling and almost haunting thoughts that surfaced at the treatment phase was the drifting question of whether or not he would survive….and if not, what would the final days be like?  Only hind sight gives that delicate answer.  The sharing of the phase somehow builds tolerance for the recollection of the events that unfolded.

In the midst of the sickening reality of my Dad’s disease, my Mother related to us that she was having difficulty walking with stability.  She began losing balance and experienced unusual weakness.  Surely, the shock and stress of the last three months were the obvious reasons, or so we thought.

Fresh anxiety and unidentified  fear once again surfaced to be dealt with.  The diagnostic testing was completed.  She learned that there was a tumor on her spinal cord causing early symptoms of paralysis.  This development initiated a role reversal of such proportion that jolted the entire family who witnessed the care giving relinquished by one spouse, embraced by another seriously ill partner.  In essence, my Mother faced helplessness and shock bordering on despair, while my Father gathered strength and purpose living life to take care of his dependent wife.  After two spinal surgeries, my Mother was left hemiplegic and in pain.

Struggling for breath and napping for strength, my Father carried on.  The sparkling romance resurfaced in the late evenings in the form of gentle hand holding and compassionate glances and brushed away tear drops.  The struggling with the unfolding events doubled, sometimes tripled.  He greeted every morning with a sunrise smile…she barely had the will to face another day of pain and dependency.

Ten, eleven, twelve months had bolted and slithered by, all in the same unfold of events.  Questions of what was really happening  with regard to my Dad’s health began to arise daily.  Sometimes I found the courage to ask, at other times I quietly looked away, blocking the questions, refusing to entertain the obvious answers.

I noticed unusual lengthy naps and the tiredness that could be mistaken for a side effect of chemotherapy.  My own confusion and uncertainty as to what was really happening sometimes numbed me for what was about to happen.

The effort for my Dad to breathe was becoming so noticeable. The walk from the family room to the kitchen was becoming slower and more difficult.  Those rooms were adjacent, but the intrinsic length seemed yards apart to his mobile capacity.  Dressing meant short intervals of resting between layers of clothing and a nice hot shower became a frightening endeavor, so much so as to warrant someone remaining right outside the door just in case he was unable to breathe sufficiently. These episodes of shortness of breath as the doctors called it, happened every day, causing my Dad to panic and gasp for oxygen that simply did not fill his lungs as they were so diseased.  The end result was a call for help.  I gave help in the form of reassurance and breathing technique exercises that almost always normalized his breath pattern.  A co-dependency evolved.  I was his breath.  He was mine.

Difficulty eating was an indication to me that something very grave was beginning to happen to my Dad.  Small portions made him feel full.  Even drinking water satiated his stomach.  Just about this time, pains began appearing, the unexplainable kind that we tried to blame on muscle strain or eating the wrong things.  The uncertainty, the confusion, the wondering all matched the highest of hopes that these obstacles could be overcome along with the disease.

The time frame for these symptoms was in the vicinity of one month before the final time.  Wishing for the knowledge of the plan,for the glimpse of just one answer at a time was never satisfied.  I relied on faith, the strength to know blindly that whatever happened would happen inevitably at the appointed time.

Then there were those endless nights of sitting in the dark in the family room, the ocean of emotion rolling over me.  I was listening to his breathing and to too lengthy pauses between the breaths.  There were the times that only by careful observation, could I realize the intensity of the pain that he endured, catching a glimpse of it only by seeing his hand touch the area of his abdomen or shoulder…never a grimace, never a moan, always a concerned concentration of focus on the reality of this new sensation, uncomfortable as it must have been.  I recall my Dad telling a friend some time ago, that he never experienced “pain” so this was all new to him.  This statement came from a man who endured chronic back pain for much of his life.  He never allowed pain to interfere.  This time the intensity of the pain could not be overlooked.  So began the administering of Morphine.  At first, I was alarmed to see the drug was chosen so early on or so I perceived it to be early on.  The absence of hurting reassured us.  Only when we realized more and more of the drug was needed, did we begin the fearful journey.

In the final week the Morphine was not dulling the pain, so the last visit to the hospital was met with little resistance.  We made arrangements for a pain control session to begin.  There in the hallway leading from his bedroom, dressed in his blue pajamas, my Dad hugged me goodbye and I sensed his relief that someone was going to help him deal with this.  I remember how warm his cheek brushing against mine felt.  His gentle pat that everything would be all right, his request that I take good care of my Mother.  “Good bye, Honey.” The familiar farewell whispered and said thousands of times over the years from husband to wife, parent to child, meant so much more this time.  He walked outside, his oxygen tank trailing behind him jostling and clicking.  He was whistling, gingerly stepping, if Dads can do that, into the car that would provide the last ride he would take down the street that led him away.

Once inside the hospital, he rode effortlessly to the seventh floor and he settled into a peaceful and comforting awareness that the pain would go away.  The increased dosage of Morphine sedated my Father in a manner that was frightening yet safely tolerated.  He slipped in and out of coherence but he was still able to recognize and talk.  Eating became optional.  Selective communication nourished his spirit and became a substitute for our own meals.

After an afternoon of bone scans and chest films, he awoke to relate something of an urgent nature to me.  “Please don’t let them give me any more Morphine, something is very wrong. Go ask the doctor to explain what is happening to me.”  I told him that I would ask, and I left the room.  I approached his doctor, who just happened to be on call that evening.  I asked him how my Dad was doing.  The doctor looked directly at me and said, “I don’t know for sure, but tonight might be the night that he…….” and he stopped talking.  I was puzzled by his response and hoped that he did not mean what I thought he meant.  Subtly, clumsily he was confirming my Father’s suspicion, “what if?” He told me just that afternoon my Dad’s condition had worsened to such an extent that he was dying.

Alone, I realized what he had said. I tried to think of what to tell my Dad to answer his plea for an explanation.  The doctor warned me not to frighten him with the news that his lungs were failing.  He instructed me to call the family members in.  I called my husband, my brothers, my sister, trying desperately to explain and insisting that the doctor was somehow mistaken.  Denial meant that I could cope for a few more minutes.  So I denied what was happening as an exaggeration of a critical state.  Darting back to the truth, I told my brother to bring our Mother to the hospital.  I asked him not to alarm her.  At this point she was bed ridden and the call to bring her in to be with our Dad was self-explanatory.

Once again all of us gathered.  He breathed slower, shallow wisps of air passed through his still lips.  We talked him through one breathing pattern after another, desperately trying to lengthen his being ours.  Four days and four nights elapsed.  He struggled to remain. He whispered in his sleep.  He told each one of us that he loved us.  He received the sacrament of Baptism. He told my brothers that he made a good choice by doing that.  His lingering looks into our Mother’s eyes said the goodbye that was secretly felt. At the final moment my eyes caressed his face, he opened his azure eyes moistened with emotion and returned the kiss.

I cling to the memory of the tight grip that he held onto any one of his children’s hands for four days and four nights while we waited and watched our strong Father bravely go where we had never gone.  I told him softly that it was a Dad’s job to show his children the way through the tunnel and chart the journey with his bravery, known to all of us.  He held strongly.  He entered boldly.  I look forward to holding that tight grip of his hand when it is my turn to arrive.  Until then, we will rest in the harbor of each others’ arms.

(This story was written one week after my Father’s passing…The narrative account has a copyright obtained in the year 1991). Seems like yesterday.

 

 

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