Jessie Roberson, my mom….

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This picture is my mom, Jessie Velelia Harmon, in her twenties. The glass “frame” is cracked but I couldn’t give it up, so I had the whole thing matted and framed. The raven black hair and ruby lips remind me of Snow White. But my mother didn’t have it as magically perfect as Snow did, although I hope there has been a happy ending. She was born in 1926, and her early years were years of survival for a poor country family in Cleburne County, Arkansas. She remembers the depression and has described for me “canning kitchens” provided by the government so women could gather together and preserve the produce from their gardens and fruit trees while the children played outside. Her family’s house burned at some point and they lost everything. She told me that lids from cans of lard served as plates until they could gradually accumulate more dishes. Dresses were sewn from flour sacks and glassware was found in oatmeal boxes. The icebox was literally a box with blocks of ice in it and cooking was done on a wood stove. I have seen the remains of the one-room school that she attended and heard stories of her life on “Silver Ridge.”

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This photograph was made in the 1930s by Michael Disfarmer in Heber Springs, Arkansas. In our time he has achieved significant artistic recognition for his depression-era photographs. Negatives were made of glass. A picture cost thirty-five cents. My mom is on the right and stands with her sister Georgia in a classic Disfarmer pose. They walked or rode a wagon to neighborhood events, including the Old Soldiers’ Reunion, an annual event at Spring Park in Heber Springs. Her family attended every year, mostly for the music that could be heard.

In the 1940s things were looking up a bit. First her father, and then shortly thereafter, she, her mother and sister traveled to Kansas to work in an airplane factory. She was literally a “Rosie Riveter” for a short period of time. Georgia was too young to work in the factory, so she waited tables. It was in the late 1940s that Mother met my father, Lee Andrew Roberson, who had served in the Army on Guam as a sharpshooter. He had been married before going to war and had two sons, my half-brothers. However, his wife divorced him in a “dear John” moment and took the boys away from him, living in California and refusing to share his letters with them. It was only late in his life that he was reconciled to one of them after the other died of esophageal cancer.

He met my mom on a blind date. They fell in love. Here I am. But her story had just begun. For life continued to be sometimes easy but sometimes very hard. We were not well-off, probably not even middle class, in my infant years.  But shortly after my birth, my parents moved to Noblesville, Indiana. Mother loved it there. We lived in a neighborhood and they owned a home. Daddy worked for the Firestone tire factory. They had friends. A baby boy joined the family, my brother Alan. However, my dad decided he was ready to come back to Arkansas about 1959. Mother was not happy about showing the house to prospective buyers, but a buyer materialized, and we moved to Judsonia, Arkansas. I was nine years old.

Finances continued to be an issue much of the time. Dad initially worked as custodian for the Searcy Public School but then trained to operate an American gas station. Some of you may remember, back then someone pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield and checked tires and oil, all for twenty-five cents a gallon. My mother had to learn to drive because he was required to go to Memphis for several days for his training. That’s right, she was thirty-four years old and didn’t drive!

We lived in a “rent house” for about four years, and then my dad and my Uncle Truman built us a house, the house my mother lives in now. At one point my parents built another house at Pleasant Plains and lived there for several years so dad could have cattle, but as his health failed, he was wise enough to seek a place closer to family for her. God blessed with an opportunity to once again buy the house he had built. He died about eighteen months after their move to Judsonia, and my mom has lived there alone for twenty-two years now.

She has been a wonderful mother and was a phenomenal caregiver for my dad. She has a love for plants, especially flowering ones, and a true green thumb. She grieves her inability to care for her lawn herself and still is constantly undertaking little tasks of caring for her plants. (You know, I remember when we would visit my grandparents we would always take a tour of the yard to see what was growing well and what was in bloom. Guess the green thumb is an inherited trait that skipped me!)

She finished only the eighth grade but has been a great reader all her life. However, macular degeneration and “dry eyes” have slowed her reading. She loves musical theatre and bluegrass music and her family. Above all, she loves the Lord. Her severe spinal stenosis and chronic pain keep her from church now, but she was working in Bible School into her 80s. She is a faithful Bible reader and prayer warrior.

Her 93rd birthday is approaching. Her mind is beginning to fail, and I am hopeful that at some time she will yield to living with us. But for now she insists on her house, her yard, and her cat. (The psychotic cat cannot come live with us–although we do have a prospective home for “Callie” if Mom comes to be with us. Callie is a calico with the personality disorder to match.)

I feel so blessed to still have my mom with us. She is a hero to me. She has taught me so much about living for the Lord and caring for family and strong southern lady spirit. I love her with all my heart.

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We visited Mountain View a few years ago, when her back was still strong enough for the walk. This is one of my favorite pictures of her, in her element, questioning every plant and drinking in Arkansas history.

Happy Mother’s Day with more love than you know, Jessie Velelia Harmon Roberson, my mom!

What’s in a name-part 2

My sweet mother on her 90th birthday

I didn’t quite finish my musings about names. Because a lot of my thoughts about names and the roles associated with them relate to family. I am blessed to still have my mother with us. She will soon be 93 and, as I observe the decline in her health as she ages, I am reminded that soon I will be the matriarch of this family. But for now my role as¬†daughter is a big part of my life. She is a loving, worrying, steel magnolia of a woman who recognizes that she is failing in both mind and body. And I, as daughter, am there to see her through each minor crisis that arises. My name as daughter is Kathy (when she calls me with the current problem). She speaks it with a tiny upswing in tone at the end of my name, as though it is followed by a tiny question mark. It’s almost as though she wonders if I’m really still here. Perhaps she’s afraid of losing me, losing the anchor that holds her to her role as Mother.

My next name is Nana-girl. That’s what my husband often calls me. Nana because that’s what the grandchildren (3, all grown) call me. I don’t know where the girl comes from. Those days for me are long past. Perhaps in his eyes I am still the younger woman he fell in love with.

Of course, before being Nana I had to be Mommy, Momma, Mom and, sometimes, Mother (with that tone of barely disguised disgust at whatever I was demanding of them.) The choice of motherly name varied with the ages of my children and the situation. I found that during the teenage years the tone of voice often said more than the name I was called. My two living children now treat me with the utmost love and respect. Thank you, Ronnie and Cindy! And I would give anything to hear Daniel once again challenge me not to use my “Nancy-Nurse” voice with him.

,Then came the grandchildren, all grown now, two with children of their own. They made me Nana and I love to hear them call me that, especially when it’s accompanied by a hug and kiss and a murmured “I love you.” They make me proud and make me feel important as a kind of glue holding this family together. That’s where the matriarch concept came to mind.

I, however, created a bit of a conundrum when the first great-grand came along. Multiple generations of grandparents and great-grandparents still living had me convinced that surely there were other Nana’s. So I chose Gigi or G-G (great-grandma). My great-granddaughter and her mom latched on to it, and I feel her little brother will too. But my third great-grand is experiencing name confusion, because his dad calls me Nana while his mom tries to stick with Gigi. And I was ready to go with Nana the day we thought the name was uttered from his 10-month-old lips. I guess they’ll all just have to figure out what to call me as the years progress.

The last name I have is grateful. For all of the above–my mom, my husband, my children, my grands and great-grands. Life would be very empty without them. And this is my message to them–You make me very happy and make my life worth living. Thank you for being the wonderful family you are!

So, what about you, Reader? Have you thought about your names? Professional? Personal? Family? I’d love to know your stories. Because we all have a story, don’t we?

What’s in a name?

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately…..

Especially about how my professional “names” have changed since my “young nurse” days. Of course my original RN license included first, middle, maiden, and last names. That was the law. At first I wore a simple name pin proudly, as depicted in this framed print that my nurse managers gave me when I reached administrative status. I also wore my school pin from Harding University–gold with a map of the world and a “go ye” message.

Print by Billy Kirk, 1984, “Ready to Serve”

Yes, I wore white (oftentimes a dress), a nurse’s cap, white “duty” shoes, carefully polished, and a wristwatch with a second hand! A far cry from today’s colorful scrubs, athletic shoes, and photo IDs required of healthcare professionals. In those days I was simply “KP” to most of the staff and physicians. After all, we charted on paper and simple initials confirmed medications administered, etc. There were a lot of other things different about nursing back then. I was one RN “charge nurse” with a couple of LPNs (if I was lucky) and a team of nurses’ aides and orderlies taking care of 25 to 30 patients on a unit. I knew about all of them because part of my job was rounding three times in an eight-hour shift to check on them. There’s a lot to be said for the advances in healthcare but I sometimes feel that I came up in the last of the “glory days” of nursing when technology was less important. I know that I made a difference on many of those shifts because of the time spent with patients and decisions made. And, just sometimes, I long to be called a simple “KP” again.

But back to the name thing. When I finally completed my Master’s in Nursing I dropped the middle name and added my maiden name in its stead. My father was so proud of me. I wanted the family name to be part of my professional credential. He didn’t get to see me graduate (he died in September before I finished in December). But I hope someday to tell him about it. Or maybe he already knows?

Lastly, the thing that really got me thinking about all this professional name thing is the realization that I’m no longer “KP.” Now old enough to be many attending’s mother and the resident/intern/medical student’s grandmother, I am known almost universally as “Ms. Kathy.” And I guess that’s ok. It just made me think about things. It comes with a bit of responsibility, I guess. I want to exemplify the traits that make nursing strong–intelligence, discernment, compassion, courtesy, professionalism. To be a person who leaves the world a little better because of my presence. I hope I can do that in my remaining years of nursing practice. And I’m not ready to give it up yet! I really like what I do and, yes, I’m good at it! ūüėČ

Hungry for books….

A few days ago the thought came to me that you might be interested in knowing what I’m currently reading. Most writers are readers. My boss shared a quote from somewhere that “the best writers are the best readers” or something to that effect. I don’t know that I’m the best of either category, but I have had a love of reading all my life, and, most recently, the habit of having several books going concurrently. I was going to make a picture of my current reading projects. I wish I had made it that day.Because someone else in this house has an “appetite” for the written word!

My husband Arlin, daughter Cindy (holding Piper), and me, holding Princess.

The black fluff that I am holding is Princess, the less-than-well-behaved miniature Schnauzer member of the family. Although Arlin kind of dropped the ball today, too. You see, Princess has a deep fondness for the paper that the written word is recorded on. Alas, today Arlin forgot to kennel her before leaving the house. And she, left to her own devices, is easily bored. Looking about, she found my current reads.

My current menu of books. . .

Fortunately The Witch Elm had a book jacket. It was easily removed and chewed on sufficiently that it will no longer fit on the book. Oh, well, sometimes those covers get in the way anyway. A somewhat more “literary” read than I’m used to, I find the plot a bit slow-moving but intriguing enough that I can’t quite give up on it.

I highly recommend The¬†Soul¬†of¬†America.¬† The historical detail and insight into the struggles for equality for our African American citizens has reminded me that the roots of racism run deep in this country. Jon Meacham recounts our search for our “better angels” thoughtfully. I pray we find them soon. By the way, Princess ate the lower right-hand corner of the front cover, not visible in the photo.

Unfortunately Stein on Writing lost its cover. Copyright 1995, I ordered a used copy from Amazon. Sol Stein was a master editor of some of the most successful writers of the last century, and his craft techniques and strategies are fascinating.

I included the Kindle directory on my phone, because in spare moments waiting for an appointment or waiting for my husband I read. Thrillers, mysteries, the occasional romance, but my favorite are historical novels set during World War II. My dad fought in it and my mom and grandfather worked in an airplane factory during it. I, like Tom Brokaw, view that generation as perhaps the greatest of our time.

So, are you a writer? A reader? Hungry for books? No appetite for them?Hard cover? Paperback? Digital? Hate reading? Just wondering.

A quilt story . . .

Handstitched quilt with Noah’s Ark theme. . .

I need to give a little back story for this piece. Probably almost 25 years ago I took part in Christian retreats called Emmaus Walks. The Arkansas group that sponsors these retreats is called the Noah’s of Ark (Arkansas) Emmaus group. These three-day, intensive times of study and worship are meant to, and succeed at, introducing the believer to a closer walk with the Lord and opening one’s eyes to His presence, much as the disciples were surprised to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

I became very attached to Ark imagery. Fourteen years ago my husband, Arlin, found this quilt at a craft show and brought it to me. Because of the detail and the hand stitching, I put it away, not wanting to “wear it out” with daily use. It has always been there, waiting for the time God intended to bring it out of its protective case in my closet and into my life.

In December of 2018 I thought of the quilt. And I felt it was time to bring it out and enjoy it. So my husband retrieved it from the closet shelf and I unzipped its protective case and folded it on the end of our bed. Every time I straightened the bed I would admire the hand-cut blocks and the tiny stitches and wonder about its creator.

Then came the moment. As I folded it one day, I noticed a signature on a back corner. It took my breath away.

Just a name and a date. . .

You may think that finding a dated signature is not such a momentous occasion. But it was. Because I knew a Donna Gordon. You see, Donna Sue Gordon of Bald Knob, Arkansas, was a beloved patient in the cardiology practice where I work. She had passed from this life on November 2, 2018, after a long and difficult illness. It was clear that I needed to speak with her daughters about my “find.” Could this quilt be one of hers?

Carolyn and Jennifer assured me that this is, indeed, one of their mother’s quilts. They said hearing from me was as though their mom was saying hello from heaven. They said that she loved me (and Dr. Blue and all of the “Blue Team”). I know that we were blessed to know and serve her during her illness, because she never failed to brighten out days with her sweet smile and gentle voice and patient suffering. Yes, nurses and doctors do grow to love some patients because of the many times we visit and the valleys we travel through with them. And I loved Ms. Donna.

Donna Sue Gordon, 4/23/1943-11/02/2018. . .

All this may not seem very important to many of you. But it’s important to me. It tells me that our lives are woven together in so many invisible ways. It tells me that individual’s spirits can speak to one another in special ways and that special bonds are woven that we may never fully understand. I am blessed to know about this one.

To me, this is like a “God-thing”, that in His wisdom this quilt came into my possession even before I knew Ms. Donna. And she made a Noah’s Ark quilt just for me, yet not knowing that it was for me. And the whole thing just makes me smile and be grateful for special people and special symbols and perfect timing.

I am reminded that God is good, all the time, and, all the time, God is good. May you be blessed by those coincidences that are really God-things. They are all around us.

P.S. I have (of course) received permission from Carolyn and Jennifer to do this piece and to feature their mother’s picture. ūüôā

Hope for 2019. . .

View of “Lake Donnie” here on Persimmon Ridge, our home……

The new year is almost here. It’s really a bit unsettling, you know, to view the series of celebrations from across the globe as midnight 2018 strikes and 2019 is born. Even the time zones here in the U.S. result in a wavelike stream of “newness” as the midnight hour comes and goes in the blink of an eye, the passing of a breath, a flash of awareness. So much emphasis is placed on the strike of a clock, drop of a ball or the click of a digital display. We are schooled to believe that there should be some tangible act to mark the transition from old to new.

We are showered with best and worst lists of pop culture and politics, music and sports. Weather statistics from 2018 are organized and analyzed and presented to us in charts and graphs. We are encouraged to make all kinds of positive life changes, since we must need to take better care of ourselves in some way. And thus are born New Year’s parties and kisses and toasts and resolutions. Yet what really changes? The calendar on the wall, the display on electronic devices, a legal holiday from work and life goes on as it did before.

Please don’t misunderstand. I believe the traditions of reflection on the past and anticipation of a new set of 365 days, unmarred by tragedy or life stress, are valuable. We long to make tangible the intangible. We long for new beginnings. We long for renewed hope. I remember a passage from Isaiah:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?…”

Isaiah 43:18-19b (NIV)

I have sermon notes in the margin of my Bible. The speaker suggested that remembering successes leads to pride and remembering failures leads to guilt, both pride and guilt being bad things. Perhaps that was a good message for Isaiah’s audience. I’m not sure it speaks to me tonight.

I want to remember the good things of this year–new lives added to our family, the times I have caught my breath at the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the satisfaction of teaching children’s Bible classes, the emotion accompanying songs of praise in worship. I want to remember the kind words spoken to me, the unexpected pleasant surprises, the gratification of seeing patients do well after I’ve been involved in their care.

And I want to learn from the year’s failures, from the times a more thoughtful choice might have avoided future distress, from the times I could have expressed my thoughts better in a blog or note or paragraph. I want to be more patient, kind, and, above all, more loving and remembering the times that I failed to show those qualities may help me achieve a needed adjustment of attitude!

I believe both of these exercises can help me hope. I suspect hope is what a lot of the world needs right now. I know I do. I hope for a healthy family and one particular restored relationship. I hope for peace. Many hope for food and clean water and shelter. We all hope for a government that governs for all the people with integrity and in a civil manner. What about hoping for cleaner speech in television and movies because we all really don’t talk like that? We need hope for a world where families don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to escape violence and death and poverty only to be met with a “no admission” sign.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

I guess my faith is not strong enough, because I certainly cannot be sure that some of the things I expressed hope for will come about in this current climate, culture, world. But I do know who true hope and peace and joy reside in–Jesus.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

May your 2019 be filled with peace of mind and heart, the joy of knowing life in Jesus, and the love of family and friends.

Happy Birthday, Dan

My¬†“mail”¬†from¬†Lorelai¬†last¬†week……

Dear Daniel,

You’re always with me, in my memory and my heart, but today I felt you even more keenly. It was 45 years ago that I gave birth to you. It’s been 3 years, 3 months, and 25 days since I lost you. I don’t know if you are able to know what is happening in our lives. There are some things that I really hope you know.

Like what a beautiful, strong, level-headed, wonderful mother your daughter is. She’s going to start her graduate education at Harding University in January. My understanding is that she wants to be a mental health counselor. Maybe that’s because of her personal awareness of how mental illness can change families. You were right, you know, your son-in-law is a gift to this family. He loves and cares for his wife and children as the finest of men.

Yes, you have grandchildren now. Lorelai’s 4th birthday was yesterday. It was just last week that she sent me the colored page pictured above in the mail. Kaci said it was the first “outgoing” mail request she had made. I treasure the envelope with GiGi in her sweet printed hand. She is beautiful and charming and smart, like her mother at that age. Her mother had hoped that she would wear the Alice in Wonderland dress you brought from Disneyland for Halloween but her mind is very changeable and she opted for another costume. Oh, and she loves unicorns and books and puppets.

And now you have a grandson, too, Sully, born May 30th this year. He is an adorable infant, thriving in the love of his mother and father and big sister. Oh, how I wish you could be here to see them all.

I like to remember you when you were your healthy, charming, handsome self, with that engaging smile and sensitive heart and creative gifts. Your way with words and the funny radio ads and love of the outdoors. Kaci has that love, too, more than I expected.

Steffie still struggles with losing you. Her love for you is still strong but she is coping and carries on. She is a great nurse and her home health patients love her. And she has her animals, 3 dogs or is it 4? and a cat at present, I think. But then there were the rabbit and flying squirrel that came and went.

Your brother and sister miss you keenly, as do I. I miss the “old” Daniel before you were sick and tormented and in so much pain that you had to leave us. I’m not angry any more, just sad for the loss of such a beautiful soul. I pray your pain is a thing of the past and that you are at peace.