Coffee Break · family · Good Morning · Nattering · Personal · Writing

Memories of Mother | In the Company of Women

My mother, Rhoda Elleen Berry Wicker, died in the early evening, two days ago. It was two months after she went from home to emergency department by ambulance, after a fall, and then from hospital to nursing home, under the care of Hospice. I had the medical power of attorney, and Mother was not happy when my sister-in-law called me for the EMTs, to give them permission to transport her 25 miles to the nearest ER/hospital here in Fargo, where Al and I live. Not too much later, she no longer recognized me, but thought that I was her sister Alberta.

When she died, it had been some time since I had visited her room and found her awake, although I know she had interacted with staff throughout the past week. There was no marked decline noted by staff; she slipped away, just quit breathing. And nobody would have noticed right away, had there not been staff caring for the other resident of that room.

I have written poems about and inspired by both of my parents, over the years, and may blog them and thoughts that emerge as I do so, as I remember. In the meanwhile, I have included below an article, “In the Company of Women”. The publication history is at the bottom of this blog entry.

Rhoda Elleen Berry, holding her 2005 Christmas present from me and Al
Fantastical Nightbird by Liz Danforth – Gift to Mother
“In the Company of Women”
by Elizabeth Wicker Bennefeld

Published in 1999, and previously*

I was not often in the company of women during my early years. Growing up in a small town, I found only a few who shared my passion for war novels, the inner workings of prop jets, archaeological expeditions at the farthest corners of the world, and books of all sorts. It never occurred to me to fit the narrow mold my home community had laid out for women of that era. I had no interest in bearing and raising children, teaching home economics, or becoming a secretary or a nurse–the acceptable options.

While at college, I plunged into one subject after another—chemistry and math, psychology, German, economics and computer programming—finally ending up with a degree in English and Philosophy. Then, determined to spend my life learning everything there was to know about everything, I secured a position in computer operations and settled down to read whatever I wanted, and to write my poems and short stories to please myself. I had not realized how much the women of my day were oppressed by boundaries and barriers. I was absorbed in my own thoughts, with goals that made such things irrelevant. The few friends I had were men. For the most part, I was an outsider and content to be so.

In my later years, as the pace of life slows, I find myself more in the company of women—women who are no longer confined by earlier expectations or demands that life begin and end with parenthood and family. Women are making up for lost time with a vengeance. In their fifties and sixties, they are finishing master’s and doctoral programs and setting out on new careers. These are women who are taking control of their lives in ways that were unthinkable forty years ago. It is now the women in my life who are breaking new ground, trying new things, pursuing a lifetime of interests with no thoughts of barriers or limits.

In 1996, my mother, who had a degree in business administration, then abandoned a career, following discharge from the Navy, to bear nine children and raise the seven who lived, inquired about computers. Rhoda Elleen had never run one, and had only looked at mine from a distance. So, my husband and I built a computer for my 77-year-old mother out of pieces and spare parts gathered from various family members. In the meantime, Rhoda had decided to call the telephone company to have a dedicated computer line installed.

After a couple one-hour training sessions and a few frantic phone calls, Rhoda was out surfing the web and corresponding with people from all over the world, particularly about quilting, which is her passion. She paid her America Online subscription two years in advance.

She encouraged her children to get their own computers and helped them learn more about how to use them. During the next three years, my mother added a fancy color printer, a scanner, and a sound card to her computer, as well as doubling the disk space and memory.  She got out into the usenet  and was a regular participant in the newsgroup rec.crafts.textiles.quilting. When I signed up to be a beta tester for WorldNet’s web pages feature, Rhoda announced, “I need something new to learn. Is HTML something I could learn to do?” I do believe she actually bought an HTML how-to book!

It seems that this woman whose company I enjoy with increasing frequency wants to spend some of her time, now that she is older, putting together a web site on quilting and teaching the younger people how to quilt, because, while she still loves quilting, learning HTML programming and putting up a web site on the same would be less strenuous. She is also transferring the old family photos to digital format, while one of my sisters edits the book that Rhoda wrote about our ancestors from their arrival in America to 1900.

I am reminded that my mother’s mother, Florence Elizabeth, died at age 84, still employed as an undercover store detective at Younkers Department Store in Des Moines, Iowa, and really enjoying it. On one of my web pages, I have a photo of Florence taking part in a ballroom dancing competition, an activity she picked up in later life.

These women represent my heritage. I’m in very good company.

* * *

In 2000 Mother received a Worldnet Recognition Award, and in 2010, when Worldnet discontinued its webhosting service, Mother asked me to move her site to WordPress: Rhoda’s Web Site

*This piece was originally written for and published as part of a WOW (Women of Worldnet) project; it was republished in 1999 in the Inspirations section of the ezine Moondance.org, Loretta Kemsley, Editor. I was on the staff for a number of years.

Coffee Break · family · Personal

Coffee Break | Sunday, 28 February

The photo is of Al’s dog Rascal, who died on 31 December 2012, one week before his fourteenth birthday.

The past week, since Samantha’s death, has been terribly disorienting. We took the car in for an estimate on fixing an oil leak, and thanks to a thorough review by the technicians, we learned that other crucial repairs were needed. Middle of the week, there was a brief indication that there might also be a problem with the electrical system (or moisture where it shouldn’t have been). Which, with our having bought the car in early fall 2004 and driven it into the ground, was not unreasonable. Still…no trip to the parents’ place, this weekend.

We do have a family gathering (Al’s siblings) for a meal scheduled for later this week, because Al mentioned to one of his sisters, who’d called with condolences on the death of our dog, last week, that we do not get together often enough, anymore. Even though it’s the birthday of one of his sisters, it is not to be considered a “birthday” celebration, because they do not want to fall into the pattern again of gathering for everyone’s birthdays. Which leaves us with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter gatherings.

We also found out that one of the nephews, having finally set the date, is getting married in October. Al had planned to have a new car by fall and drive to the West Coast for the wedding. It turns out that we are not invited; it is to be a small event limited to immediate family and, I imagine, to friends local to them. That’s a disappointment, since Al was stationed there while he was in the Air Force and was looking forward to the trip.

We’ve started looking into locating breeders with long-haired Cocker Spaniels, and the prospects are not good. In North Dakota, it’s field cockers for hunters, to which I’m deathly allergic. Spaniels, dogs of all sorts with short hair, including Brittany and Springer spaniels. It is most expedient for us to visit the breeder’s home to meet the adult dogs and determine whether I am allergic to those before buying puppies. And also to get a better idea of the temperaments, especially since we are looking for “his and hers” puppies.

With the growing trend toward producing and selling mutts, except for professionals who are breeding show-quality dogs—which is what the online advertisements look like—the odds of our finding dogs that I am not allergic to seem dismal. None of the breeders from whom we obtained previous puppies are raising Cockers, anymore. One, at least, is no longer breeding dogs at all, and the rest are advertising only mixed-breed dogs for sale.

I think the re-puppying process is going to take a while. Which will give me time to readjust.

Also, I need to complete the process of discarding eighty percent (my goal) of my clothes, papers and books. There is no room in here, since we moved the basement stuff upstairs during now long-ago spring seepage. I have already tossed out all of the old blank papers and envelopes, freeing up one shelf in one desk cabinet. I could barely lift the bag into the garbage bin to be rolled out to the boulevard.

I would like to get rid of the upright piano, since I do not play it anymore. I would like to replace it with an electronic keyboard with headphone output, so that I can play late at night without disturbing Al or the neighbors.

Seeing what my parents are going through with downsizing in their nineties lends urgency to the process here at home. And I cannot make things easier on my mother by accepting anymore items from their home. No place to put!

I have, this week, enjoyed rereading more of the Valdemar novels by Mercedes Lackey. This week, it’s the “Wind” and “Storm” trilogies: echoes off the Mage War destruction and the re-encounter with the Empire.

I feel like I should feel guilty, but I am not rehoming clothing or books, but calling the city to arrange for them to haul the boxes out to the dump for us. If I am faced with anything more active, the tossing part of tossing and cleaning will never get done, which will make the cleaning impossible.

I’m continuing to meet my exercise plan and have now increased the three-times-a-week distance from 3.0 to 3.5 miles a day. Happiness!