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, Loretta Kemsley, Editor. I was on the staff for a number of years.


This evening I have gone through several large cups of cold-brewed Toddy coffee. I’ve switched now to watered cranberry juice. We picked up some stuff at the butcher’s shop, yesterday; I cooked beef arm roast in the Crock Pot with two cans of diced tomatoes and pork tenderloin with olive oil in the oven. Lovely sandwiches! I also have a yellow onion and a couple of pounds of beef liver in the freezer.

Blue Wild Flax Flower
Flax Flower

Al has gotten a permit for his hobby building in the back yard, and so the concrete slab is being installed on Thursday/Friday. Tonight I gathered what seeds were ready to drop from the wild flax plants and stored them in an envelope. The thought is that while I will be losing my garden plot in front of the gazebo, Al will be turning up a 4’x10′ plot of land for me further to the south and west of the back yard, and I can plant the flax seeds for spring. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had more trouble weeding in the square plot of 8’x8′. At 4 feet across, I should be able to reach to the middle of the garden from either side along the length of it.

I do not know if I will have time in the morning to take anymore photographs from the current wildflower garden before the plot is trampled. Al has conduit and a hollow metal post in the middle of my garden (satellite base from when we were loading weather satellite feed to a computer in our living room, many years ago). The folks who are supplying the concrete are also to remove the post for us. I can remember our spray painting the post a bright orange in the hope that I would not, by accident, walk into it.

We had no outside engagements, today, except for banking and bill paying. I was surprised to find that I still had two-thirds off my spending money left over from last month. I stopped at Barnes & Noble to pick up a gift card for ebook purchases through October.

The Scampers posed for pictures, today, and I had lots of opportunities to cuddle and play with them. The next few days, I will have even more, as I will have to keep them inside while the fence is down and the workmen and heavy equipment are going about their tasks. I also will have limited access to my exercise bike until the concrete work is finished.

The Scampers have spotted the resident younger rabbit in the yard numerous times, now. The addition of the extra fence (to keep Scampers out of the construction zone) has cut said rabbit off from the gate under which he usually escapes. Rabbit escapes more often beneath the gazebo, these days, than through the fence into a dog-free yard. Scampers ring the doorbell to get out much more often than need be, between futile rabbit chasing and trapping and eating crickets and grasshoppers. I wonder if we could attach little balloons to their harnesses and train them to catch mosquitoes. Nah! Not!

Resident Rabbit
Resident Rabbit

I am going to bed early, tonight. Best wishes for your night and the return of the sun.


Weekend Coffee Share| 23 April 2016

Remembering one of a group of poems that I wrote to a Poetry 101 Rehab writing prompt: “No Forevers“. It’s on my poetry-writing blog: Quilted Poetry.

If we were having coffee together, this weekend, I would share that I feel haunted, sometimes, by poetry that I’ve read/written throughout my life. More often, now, as my parents are nonagenarians (Father, soon a centenarian, it appears). The burden of life is not the present, which we cope with routinely or not as we’re used to doing, nor is it the future, which weighs lightly on us. The burden of life fast becomes the burden of the past, of life…lived irretrievably.

[I was looking forward from “No Forevers”, but should have looked back to “Ending All“.]

If we were visiting in person, this weekend, I would admit to liking where I am and who I have become, but Good grief! the paths that brought me to this place and time and self. Myself only in my 70th year, I scarcely consider myself to be “old”.  As the shortness of breath and the fatigue slip away, again, as I recover from the latest inflammation of the lungs, (I once gain am not taking the Albuterol, nor any other pills or medications, unless I might get a headache [unlikely] or a muscle cramp from over exercise [soon to be possible].) I forget about limitations.

I bought a new gadget from Microsoft that I am enjoying. I bought a stick computer made by Lenovo with no third-party software added. I may not be able to read Nook books on it until I straighten out where apps are loaded, as opposed to where I want them, but I can avoid storing backup files on Cloud by attaching a 1-T external HD to the powered USB hub. My plan is to use this computer, which uses the TV as a monitor/speaker system, for my personal writing. Which involves figuring adding the same User to all of my blogs, so that I do not have to battle with signing out/signing in.

I have loved computers since college and landed my first job, a position as a computer programmer within a month of graduating with a B.A. (in, oddly, English and philosophy). I shan’t talk about my preschool adventures taking apart my father’s prized console radio or my first career ambition, which was to be a pilot of a fighter plane. My parents did supply me with chemistry set and a real, working microscope while I was in grade school. In middle school I earned/saved enough to buy a reflector telescope. I didn’t abandon my  telescope until marriage (in the 90s), since my husband has a scope with tracking and photo capabilities.

I don’t know if I will come back and complete this or not. The dogs have gone inside, and I assume that Al has returned home from great adventures. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Al's black cocker spaniel, died 31 December 2012

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!


Samantha (black Cocker spaniel) at 80 days old

Weekend Coffee Share | Sunday, 21 February

Thank you for joining me for coffee, this morning. The past few weeks have been disorienting, and many adjustments are being made. I’ve been quite ill, although recovering, now, and a little more than a week ago, my husband also came down with a severe head and chest cold.

In the midst of it all, sometime on Thursday or Friday, our dog Samantha contracted an infection. We took her to the vet, who spoke with us about options and outcomes. We stayed that evening while she was under sedation for her exam, and then the vet administered a shot to end her life.

Samantha (black Cocker spaniel) at 80 days old
The First Week in her new Home

Our previous Cockers had lived to 15 and 14 years. Losing Samantha before her eighth birthday came as a shock to us. When Al and I got married, though, he had a buff Cocker spaniel named Brandy, who died at age eight or nine.

watermelon, hazel nuts, sushi, carrot and celery sticks, yogurt, milk and pulled beef

There has been much grief in our families in recent years due to family illness and death. One of my coping mechanisms in the past was eating. Not to kill the pain, exactly, but to keep busy. Filling the time until the intensity of grief faded. Mindfulness in living has been helpful. Taking deliberate care in selecting groceries and preparing meals helps me to focus on doing, accomplishing what needs to be done and engaging in activities that bring us together. Staying healthy makes life easier. I’m also recovered enough that on Tuesday and Thursday (for the first time since April, I think) I got on the exercise bike and put in three miles each day. I am starting out with three days a week: Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

What I am discovering this time around is that the attention to activities is slowing down my thinking and also bringing mental and emotional processing to the forefront of my mind. Mourning: Al and I had already planned that when Samantha died, we would look for two young dogs to bring home. I remind myself that just as Samantha was not my dog Ladd (1993-2008) or Al’s Rascal, who died at the end of 2012, the new dogs will not be Samantha. They will not be replacements, but new and individual. Just as I and my siblings were/are unique, even though we came out of the same family. There is loss, there’s grief, but there is also an openness and adjustment to the new relationships and bonding.

For the time being, we are leaving the clean, empty wire kennel in the living room, conspicuously empty, so that we will remember that Samantha is not here anymore. In two weeks or so, we will collect the urn containing her ashes and put them with the other urns in memory. And remember her with joy, as we do other family members as the pain fades.

I would tell you, today, that it is good, not going through loss by oneself.

I hope that the coming week will be a joy to you as our lives and yours continue to unfold.


For more Weekend Coffee Share links and posts, visit Diana at Part-Time Monster.