By June Hogue
Blessed in Aging
Blessed are they who understand
My faltering step and shaking hand
Blessed, who know my ears today
Must strain to hear the things they say.
Blessed are those who seem to know
My eyes are dim and my mind is slow
Blessed are those who look away
When I spilled tea that weary day.
Blessed are they who, with cheery smile
Stopped to chat for a little while
Blessed are they who know the way
To bring back memories of yesterday.
Blessed are those who never say
“You’ve told that story twice today”
Blessed are they who make it known
That I am loved, respected and not alone.
As I read this precious poem by Esther Mary Walker, I remembered my wonderful grandparents who made an indelible impression on me from my earliest memories as a child. The country was in the middle of a Great Depression and the Dust Bowl was a fact of life. I was too little to understand what was going on…I only knew that the most wonderful place in the world was my grandparents’ home in Haskell. We lived on a farm outside Knox City, about 40 miles away from my grandparents. My mother was often very sick so I got to stay with my grandparents a lot and they always made me feel so special. I felt blessed because I was the one who got to stay with Grandmother and Papa---my three brothers had to stay at the farm with Mother and Daddy as Daddy could watch the boys while Mother was recuperating—but, simultaneously taking care of a little girl was more than he could manage along with his farm work.
Papa was a quiet man who was blind from birth in one eye and though not very active any more he still occasionally played his fiddle...and oh! how I loved to hear him play…especially “The Devil’s Dream”! It conjured up thoughts of the Devil as I imagined him to be and stirred my young imagination in strange ways. I remember Papa taking me with him to the Blacksmith Shop and to the Post Office in downtown Haskell…we walked as they had no car. And Grandmother took me everywhere with her from long walks to look at the wild flowers and naming them to visiting sick neighbors. To cheer them up she would always take bunches of cut flowers from her garden or a specially prepared meal for them. Each day we picked fresh vegetables from Grandmother’s large and carefully tended garden, fed the chickens and watched Papa milk the cows and feed the horses. He took me through the barn and explained each room to me from his small blacksmithing shop with a large anvil to stalls where he used to keep horses and cows. I truly loved that old barn but never ventured there by myself. I remember Grandmother putting something blue in the chickens’ water to “keep the hawks from getting them”.
Grandmother was my first Bible teacher when I was hardly more than a toddler---she taught me to pray and to love the Lord with all my heart. Staying with Grandmother and Papa meant learning Bible stories, going to Sunday School and church, learning to sing hymns and favorite children’s songs like Jesus Loves Me. What a wonderful world it was!
When I was about 4 years old and the Dust Bowl had just about wiped out our farm, Daddy decided to move us to far West Texas in search of work in the oilfields….much further away….and I was a lonely little girl who missed her grandparents. Trips to Grandmother and Papa’s house were now limited to 2 or 3 times a year at the most and were anticipated with great joy. My younger brother and I played “going to Grandmother’s house” by the hour. Christmas at Grandmother and Papa’s was the highlight of our year! Grandmother always decorated the ceilings with red and green rope with a big fold out red bell in the center. She had a Christmas Tree all decorated with tinsel and ornaments and there were presents underneath the tree. We were poor and at that time we had no Christmas Tree at our house. But come Christmas morning the joy of opening the few but simple gifts from under the tree was an indescribable pleasure for we four children. And Grandmother had baked wonderful things and prepared a delicious special dinner for us. Old friends dropped by to see everyone and one by one I learned who they were. I always dreaded having to leave for Grandmother’s House was my comfort zone.
World War II began and travel was very limited…our trips to Haskell were few and far between. With the passing years, Papa slowly became totally blind and usually sat quietly in his “big old wicker rocking chair” all day, letting Grandmother take the reins. They had long since had to get rid of the livestock as Papa could no long take care of them and Grandmother hovered over Papa taking care of his every need. She read the Bible to him and prayed with him…and I loved her that much more for taking care of my Papa. In time, Papa deteriorated and was plagued with bouts of pneumonia. There were rough times when Mother had to go and help take care of Papa and leave me in charge of the house, getting meals, packing Daddy’s lunch and seeing to it that all four of us kids got off to school each day. In a few months Papa passed away and I saw the bravery with which my Grandmother faced the challenges that lay before her. I remember standing at Papa’s open casket with my grandmother and watching her gently pat his face as she said “Don’t worry Papa, I’ll be there soon…”. What did she mean? Surely my grandmother would be with us a long, long time! I just knew it in my spirit! But she must now face life alone in an old 2-story Victorian house with a huge yard…and she refused the idea of moving in with one of her children. She and Papa had lived there for more than a half century and she would go on living there until the Lord called her home! In so many ways, Grandmother had always been a role model for me and I just could not imagine her ever being any different than the strong and wonderful woman I had always known---but that was not to be. Grandmother’s words to Papa were soon to be fulfilled in a strange and different way. It seemed to happen rather quickly after the passing of my grandfather in March.
I was the first to notice it when I visited her that summer at the age of 14. I was there because I had the opportunity to make the trip with a relative from the other side of my family who knew my grandmother lived close to their destination so they took me with them and delivered me to my Grandmother’s house…I surprised her late one evening by arriving unexpectedly! She was overjoyed by my surprise visit! But I was soon to be dismayed by what I observed. After spending two weeks with her I was simply overwhelmed by the undeniable fact that my grandmother was more like a child than the mature woman I had always known. It became clearer and clearer that my wonderful grandmother had changed….suddenly she was dependent on me rather than me being dependent on her. My precious grandmother could not remember things---her sharp mind suddenly seemed to be leaving her…and her words to Papa rang over and over in my mind…”Don’t worry Papa…I’ll be there soon.” I noted that food sat in her refrigerator molding yet she insisted that she cooked it only yesterday…I was terrified that she would get food poisoning! She could not tell that her clothes were soiled and needed washing or that she herself needed a bath and shampoo. Her sharp sense of smell was gone---she who had always loved the pungent fragrance of her beautiful flowers, the refreshing smell in the air after a rain, the wonderful scent of cookies baking in the oven---she who had always worn lilac perfume but declared that it had gone bad and no longer had any fragrance! It was clear to me that Grandmother had lost her sense of smell---how long ago? No one knew, for she lived alone and in those days, right after World War II when things were still rationed, people did not travel often, especially if they lived a good distance away---and all of her five children lived afar. I did a lot of growing up in those two weeks.
June Hogue and brother Charles
Meanwhile, my brother and almost inseparable companion, Charles, arrived unexpectedly. I was overjoyed….I felt like the marines had landed! He had missed his sister and wanted to see her so after an argument with his older brother he decided to run away from home and go to Grandmother’s where June was and stay till she came home! He hitchhiked to Haskell! Of course, we had to call our very worried Mother and Daddy at once and let them know where he was. I told them all about Grandmother and what I was observing and voiced my concerns. They promised to come and get me and Charles in about a week. Meanwhile, they wanted me to write down everything I noticed. For the first time in my young life I saw firsthand the effects of aging on the mind. Physically, Grandmother could still get around and at first you did not notice the change. She still cooked food gathered from her garden….she still ate on schedule….she still faithfully read her Bible and prayed….she still attended church when members came by to pick her up---she did not forget her Lord and she prayed and talked to Him almost constantly. In reality, I was seeing my grandmother gradually drift toward that world of the numbed mind. . . . the slow journey into a world where mindless infinity begins. She had been a devout Christian since childhood and the most important thing in her life was Jesus, her Bible and her prayer time. These were the things that remained with her to the very end almost twenty years later!
When Mother and Daddy arrived I simply collapsed emotionally. I was so glad to see them and to have someone to take my burden away. Mother and Daddy called her four brothers and explained the situation. We stayed a few extra days until one of her brothers could make arrangements to come and stay as long as needed. They would pack up Grandmother’s things and he would take her to “visit” them for a few days. Actually, it was clear that Grandmother would never return to her home in Haskell for she was unable to take care of herself and the ever present danger of her falling and hurting herself weighed heavily on everyone’s mind. There was much work and planning to be done and scheduling for the five families who must take care of her. I knew only that thoughts of Grandmother’s safety and well-being dominated the calendar for everyone for the next few years.
School had started again so I was somewhat unaware of all that was going on…the four brothers had gotten together and made arrangements to sell Grandmother’s house, distribute her personal things among the relatives and in general, decimate the wonderful world of my childhood. The old house was torn down and the property cleared for the new owner. I will never forget the first time I returned to Haskell a couple of years later and we drove by the place where Grandmother’s house had stood. I just fell apart emotionally…the vacancy in my heart was bigger than the vacancy of that land! A million memories assaulted my senses…the railroad track was only a block down the street and as children we would arise shortly after 7 a.m., dress quickly and run down to the railroad track to watch the “Doodlebug” (a small train that made a run there twice daily) and wave to the engineer who always watched for the children and waved back to them. It was a ritual that we had practiced as far back as I could remember. The grove of Paradise trees on the corner of the lot where we played as children was no longer there…it was as though everything had evaporated and along with it…my childhood.
Because Grandmother’s slow descend into the world of lost memories was difficult for any one member of the family to deal with for an extended period of time, Grandmother was rotated between the five members of the family for the next several years. Time passed, and I graduated from high school and then on to college. I married at the end of my Jr. year and Mother and Daddy moved to Portales, N.M. It was there that Grandmother fell and broke her hip. Mother took on the full care of my now bedfast and mindless Grandmother. The next year and a half were simply grueling for my mother. She had severe rheumatoid arthritis but insisted on taking care of her mother. Meanwhile, Royce and I both graduated from college and moved to Dallas. We begged Mother to allow us to place Grandmother in a nursing home but she would not hear of it. She felt that it was her responsibility to take care of her mother, but eventually, when her physical condition deteriorated and she nearly died with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, she condescended to allowing them to place Grandmother in a nursing home. Grandmother, in her mindless state, lived in a nursing home with excellent care for the next 9 years! But in many ways we felt that her words to Papa “Don’t worry, Papa, I’ll be there soon…” had been fulfilled….for she really was not “here” with us and was in mental limbo. She did not know where Papa was but that “he will be here soon”. She sang hymns and read her ever present BIBLE, murmured prayers continually and said “Thank you” to everyone who so much as gave her a drink of water. The nursing staff loved her dearly in the three different nursing homes she was in before she died. There will never be a Grandmother more dearly loved than my Grandmother….and my empathy for the elderly makes me understand this poem for I, too, am headed down that very path!
And blessed are they who will ease the days Of my journey home, in loving ways.
©September 2010 June Hogue
Her reflections on the poem
Blessed In Aging as it relates to her own life.