1 Shot Wednesday, 2010s, family, Illinois, inspiration, love, photography

1 Shot Wednesday: March Street

My stepfather died three years ago. 

Photos trigger memories and transport one to the past. That is the purpose of the Wednesday 1 Shot series.

This photo is from my hometown in Illinois. Just a typical street on the blue-collar side of town. The sky lacks definition. A misty rain coats the trees making them look gangly and tragic. Cracked streets and decaying homes suggest depression in our town.

The setting echoed how our family felt about the passing of a steadfast man who devoted decades to my mother–mind, body, and soul. Maintaining his corner of the world with dedication, he ignored the drama of humans surrounding him and expressed love with pride in his home and garden. He was a man who showed love not with words or touch but by action.

At this point, he would wave me off and tell me not to be so melodramatic. So I will try to obey. I raise my beer can and salute. “Thanks for taking care of Mom.”

March. Sadness & Hope

The wind blows. Soon, the leaves will fill the branches. The sun will return. Soon, a walk down this simple street in the heart of my town will elicit the nostalgic scenes from my youth and replace the chill. But not today.

 

family, In My Opinion, inspiration

IMO: Turning 100

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Today was the annual visit for students of mine who are members of Interact Club (Rotary International) to head over to our local nursing home and deliver presents to residents who would otherwise have no family members visiting or likely receive gifts on Christmas.

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We receive the wishlist for fifteen patients, take an afternoon to buy them sweatpants, blankets, books, chocolates, art supplies and wrap them on the last day of school before winter break. Our club members respond warmly to the vis-à-vis exchange. Every year, for me, there is a resident who stands out and makes me think about life and the secret behind having a good one. I know it will happen; it’s divine intervention. The revelation has me thinking of George Bailey from the iconic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the life imitating art moment affects me.    

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Mr. Bouffard recently turned 100. He is well liked by the nurses and staff because he is a cheery man.

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Over the summer, he was honored by the mayor and honor guard for serving in WWII. A book was written chronicling his time, and what his band of brothers did. It sits along with his dog tags in a cupboard. All will be donated to the local historical society when he passes.

Armand had me imagining him at age twenty-five. His life was ahead of him; each decade brought challenges, joys, and tragedy. Think of the experiences one gathers up over a lifetime. Here was a man with wisdom. What could he share? This man with ancient skin, a crinkled face, and watery eyes? He, a fragile shell who was once a soldier, a son, a husband, and a father? Now at age 100, he is alone, yet he still smiles. Days go by slowly, but the weeks fly by, and the years even faster. Such is life.

I have a cynical attitude about reaching 100. I look at Armand and wonder how he still smiles? After all, he is alone and not in his home. Who is left to share his life? Not his spouse. No children. No friends. How could anyone want to live to be 100?

What you have is yourself.

Armand gave himself for 100 years. He took chances and loved. He took chances and failed. He did what he was supposed to and a little of what he shouldn’t. At 100, he crossed the line, broke the ribbon, and won the game of life. I would like to believe for what mistakes he made he owned and apologized. If he didn’t, I hope he forgave himself for being human.

Armand Bouffard’s secret? He is proud of himself. He is attended to by compassionate caregivers who do their best to make sure he is comfortable in his final days. He sucks on candy, scoots around in his wheelchair, and says hello to everyone who passes by. He owns nothing but his smile, and it gives me courage. If I make it to 100, I want to feel proud that I caused more joy than pain. I want to wear Armand’s smile like a medal on my chest.

Happy Holidays!

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culture, In My Opinion, inspiration, love, movies, philosophy

Martha’s Gift

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Last year, Martha was giddy to see us. We stopped in her room and gave her a present, a fuzzy cardigan, size small. Kathy, the activities director at the Haven Nursing Home, had organized the resident wish list, and my high school students who are club members of Interact Club (an affiliate of the Rotary) each year buys gifts for the long-term residents, and we delivered them today. Armand the 99 year-old French American wanted to kiss everyone. Fred ate his chocolate bar and clutched his new collared shirt. Joe thanked us for his ball cap and started crying. Mae the nun and former school teacher clapped and said, “I’m so surprised. None of my students ever went this far to give me a present!”  Vindication! As a teacher, I frequently hear how today’s youth are self-absorbed and passive. It’s not what I see.

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The first year I visited Martha in her room, Kathy warned me that Martha was a chatterbox. She was sharp and expressive. When I asked her what was her favorite experience, she confided that at fourteen, she was waiting tables at a diner out at the end of the valley close to where they were filming a John Wayne picture. Mr. Wayne sauntered in and filled up the place with his stature and reputation. Martha was his waitress. Young and pretty, he asked if she wanted to be an extra on the set. “Of course I said yes. Who would refuse?” Her eyes moistened at the memory and her smile was delicate. What fun she had had in the dust and sunshine as one of the townsfolk on the set. She couldn’t remember the name of the film, but that was irrelevant. She made certain I knew that Mr. Wayne was a gentleman and that day’s adventure was a highlight of her life.

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The second year I visited Martha, she was at her walker, her eyes bright with anticipation of bending my ear. She had never married or had children. I asked her what she had done to earn a living, and she told me she spent her career as a WAVE.  I’m a Navy Veteran, so we hugged each other as if we had been stationed together.

Today I visited Martha. She was lying in bed gazing at the walls of her room. Kathy leaned down to her ear and asked her if she was feeling okay. She murmured she was fine, but her sadness was palpable, and I had a hard time keeping a smile on my face. Our group gave her the fuzzy cardigan and she thanked us, hoarse.

I know next year when we visit her room, it will be empty. Of course this makes me sad, but I can’t help but feel I had been given a gift — she was the fuzzy cardigan. She had inspired me. Martha’s younger self is in my current novel about a girl who gets to play an extra on the set of a movie picture. She will become a WWII heroine in the third manuscript, if I get the chance to write it.  I can’t wait to research the WACs and WAVES.

Who’d of thought this little old lady had such adventures. She didn’t tell me how trying her life had been or expounded upon her pain or failures. She remembered John Wayne and her atypical career which gave her joy and satisfaction. I willed myself to stop crying, for it hurt to see her physical and mental decay. She learned to live life without her fears stopping her. How cool is that?