Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Have a Story to Tell You

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Once upon a time there was a little girl named Doris.  Doris was born on a farm in Kansas where she lived with her mother, her father, her brother and her sister.  It was a happy time for her.  All that she ever wanted or needed was right there on that farm.  When she was old enough, she started school with her siblings.  They walked to and from the school every day, except when they were needed to help with chores on the farm. 

Doris loved school.  She loved the books, she loved to learn, she loved the other children, she loved the blackboard and the chalk, but mostly she loved the teacher.  She looked forward each day to learning the lessons the teacher presented to the class.  She loved to watch as the teacher related to each and every student in her own, unique way. She decided early in her life that she wanted to be like that teacher.  She wanted to teach others, just like that teacher did.

One day, Doris fell in love and when they both had completed their schooling, they got married.  Doris didn't move far from her childhood home.  Actually, she and her husband bought a farm a mile down the road from her parent's.  While her husband farmed, Doris became a teacher.  At the age of 26, the Great Depression hit.  It was very hard for Doris to watch her family suffer greatly during this time.  Many, many years later she still talked about the agony of their struggle to just survive and not to lose everything they had worked their entire lives for.  She learned many important lessons during this time.

Doris loved the farm.  She loved the cattle, she loved the baby calves, and she loved the cats.  She always had a LOT of cats and she fed them all.  She knew each one so she recognized a new one immediately and made sure it was cared for and tended to.

They all survived the depression and life went on.  Then one day when Doris was in her middle forties, she received devastating news.  Her husband, whom she loved more than her own life, had terminal cancer.  Doris took care of him, out there on her farm, until his last day on this earth. 

Doris never remarried.  She had married this man for ever and ever and she remained true to him for the rest of her life.  She continued to teach until she retired and settled in on her beloved farm with her animals, her family (brother, sister, and their families), and her friends.  Doris never had children of her own, but she had hundreds and hundreds of children who never forgot her.

I met Doris when she was eighty two years old.  I married her niece's son.  We hit it off immediately, both of us being teachers and loving children.  We shared a love of learning and books.  I was amazed at the array of reading literature that was always stacked beside her chair in the living room.  Smithsonian Magazine, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, National Geographic to name a few.  She didn't just read through them.  She studied them.  She would point out articles and she would envelope you in an in-depth conversation about what she'd read.  She loved to debate the latest topic and 'pick your brain.'

During those first years of our friendship, Doris was convinced she would die shortly.  After all, her parents had died at the age of 83.  Her brother and sister also died at 83.  She then, of course, would die at 83.  I was so pleased when we finally celebrated that 83rd birthday and then the 84th.  We could finally quit talking about her last days.  Not that she was fearful of it.  She was absolutely OK with the idea of following the same timeline as her family members.  It was the rest of us who weren't prepared for it.

Doris' nephew and I divorced after fifteen years of marriage.  Even then, she made it very clear to me that she was still my aunt too.  We talked frequently and when I was in the area, I always stopped at the farm for a visit.  I loved sleeping out there where it was so quiet.  In the summertime, we'd sleep with the doors all open and you could hear the sounds of the farm at night.  You could smell the flowers that were always planted along the front of her house and sat on her porch. 

When she was 98 years old, she still had her cattle and about forty cats.  She was still on her farm.  She still got up in the night to check on the baby calves and make sure the mamas were all right.  Neighbors and friends would come to help her and check on her.  The mailman brought her mail to the house so she didn't have to walk down the lane to get it in the bad weather.  ("He didn't need to do that.  I can still walk!").  And then one morning she couldn't get out of bed.  She'd had a stroke that affected her left side and her ability to speak clearly.  She moved from her farm to the nursing home.  For the first time in her entire life, she lived away from the farm.

Doris lived in a nursing home where she had lots of friends from over the years of her life.  Former students, friends and family visited her regularly and she would always convince them to play a few games of Uno.  Let me tell you, she was vicious with her Uno games.  There was no playing nice with Doris in the game!  Everyone understood, it was every man (or woman) for themselves!

My son likes to tell me that I'm more than half way through my life.  (Nineteen year olds love to point these things out).  I remind him that I've had a great example and I plan on being like Doris with lots and lots more years ahead to love, to live, and to appreciate this good life!

Thanks so much, Aunt Midge!  I'm going to miss you, but I know you're home now!  I love you!

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