Mom and Dad’s Love Story

Years ago, my mother told me she wanted me to have her wedding set and that when the time came, I should have it reset and wear it.

When her wedding and engagement rings were passed to me, I tucked them away for awhile. It didn’t seem right to tear them apart and make something new from the rings Daddy had given Mama as a symbol of their love. So, I considered leaving them as they were, tucked in a dark corner of my dresser drawer. I could take them out now and then, remember how they hung loose on her aged fingers… or try to remember how they looked on younger hands with beautifully self-manicured nails and wrinkle-free skin.

But, that wasn’t what she told me to do. And so, I found a jewelry designer to make something new out of those old and special rings. I thought the symbol of thier love would be lost. But, that’s not so.

I’m looking at a beautiful new ring on my finger. It sparkles in the sun like it did when the old rings were new… and I remember what Mama and Daddy told me over the years — their love story:

Mama was a banker’s daughter. Her name was June. Daddy was a farmer’s son. His name was David.

You could say that farmers and bankers are partners of sorts. When times are good, the farmers feed the bank. When times are bad, the banker feeds the farmer’s family and finances the next year’s crop.

I don’t know if it was a bad year, or a good year, when the farmer brought his young son with him to see the banker. The boy kept peeking around his dad to see the banker’s daughter. The banker’s daughter kept peeking around the corner to see the farmer’s son. And that’s how my mom and dad met.

Years later, they began dating in high school. By the time June was sixteen and David was seventeen, they’d had a long romance, and they ran away to get married. I asked Mama why they decided to do that. She said they thought it would be fun.

By this time, Lillian (June’s mother) was widowed and carried the burden of a runaway daughter alone. I’m not sure how she found them. But, she did, and the underage marriage was annulled. I’m sure she thought the kids were too young to be in love and the romance would end.

I’m not sure about the details of the punishment. At the least, David was on Lillian’s persons-for-June-to-avoid list and June was grounded. Their dating privileges were cancelled but I think they found a way to  meet in secret.

When June graduated from high school, Lillian sent her to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, a long train ride away from Mt. Park, Oklahoma. June had a round-trip train ticket home for Christmas and a one way ticked back when she finished her freshman year.

Lillian thought time and distance would put an end to that juvenile romance.

However, David was not a man to give up easily. Soon after June returned to Mt. Park for the summer. He called her and asked her to meet him in Oklahoma City. I don’t know if she took the train or the bus to their second wedding. As far as I know, none of June’s family attended. David had aunts and cousins living in the city. They might have witnessed the ceremony.

June and David were on their own, and some years were hard but they made  a good life together. They’d been married 56 years when the angels came for Daddy. Although they were parted by death, Mama considered herself Daddy’s wife until she breathed her last breath. She wore her wedding set until her fingers became so thin and knarled they no longer fit, but their love lived on.

I’m glad Mama instructed me to wear this new ring. It reminds me that love never dies, and the old can become new again without losing its meaning.

 

Remembering My Mother

Today, June 20th would have been my mother’s 93rd birthday. I’m going to forget the date she died and remember the day she was born.

Her mother told her about that day, and Mama told me. I wish I had written it down so I could remember all the details. It was 1919 and my grandmother had serious complications with her pregnancy. I don’t know what her trouble was, and back then, Doc Preston probably didn’t either. My grandfather arranged for my grandmother, Lillian to be taken from our small town to an Oklahoma City hospital where she could receive better medical care. She traveled by train and I believe my grandfather rented a private car for her comfort.

After her baby arrived, the nurse asked Lillian how she wanted to dress the baby. “Just put a gown on her,” she answered. Sometime later, Lillian realized that Baby June wasn’t expected to live. The nurse was asking about burial clothes!

I don’t know if my grandfather knew the baby was in critical condition. If he did, the silver dollar he found on the street in Oklahoma City that day must have been a symbol of hope. He wrote his tiny daughter a note, folded it with the coin inside, and tucked the keepsake away.

However, Baby June thrived, grew to a healthy little girl and a beautiful young woman who treasured the keepsake from her father long after his death.

My mother (a banker’s daughter) married a farmer’s son and took on the challenge of farm life. I know she hated dressing chicken for the flying pan, and I don’t think she ever learned to like living in the country. Over a period of twenty years, she gave birth to three children, two girls and a boy. My sister was born after I married and I always thought my parents got a replacement when I moved out. Much to Mama’s delight, they moved to town soon after Little Sister was born.

Although Baby June wasn’t expected to live through the night on the day she was born, Mama enjoyed a long life. She was a woman of strong faith who often said, “God has taken care of me up to now and He’ll continue to take care of me the rest of the way.”

And, He did.

Am I a Writer?

I wanted to be a writer so I joined a creative writing class and learned that I would have to write a million words before I could expect to be published. So, I started writing and counting words, but one question haunted me.

When could I call myself a writer?

One answer I heard has stayed with me all these years: If you write, you’re a writer.

Okay. I’m a writer. But…

Did I become a writer when I learned to print the alphabet? Or was it when I learned cursive writing? Printer vs. writer?  And, I don’t just write, I rewrite and rewrite. Revise and revise.

Is writer the right term?

Maybe not.

Once I learned my craft well enough to begin submitting work, most of my manuscripts were returned with polite letters. I browsed my files this morning and found rejects addressed to Dear Writer and Dear Author along with a large number of form letters with no greeting, just straight to the point… sorry to inform you– dot ta da ta da.  But the more encouraging ones began with Dear Deanne Durrett followed by a personal, encouraging note signed by an editor. Best of all, a few of the editors who wrote the Deanne Durrett letters liked my story and wanted to publish it.

None of my published works have Writer on the byline or spine. They all have Deanne Durrett in that special spot and my signature is required on all the contracts.

Writer is ordinary. One among millions who write, that’s what we do. But who has a name. Deanne Durrett is special, uniquely me.

I’m Deanne Durrett, the author of 200+ newspaper and magazine articles, one novel, and twenty-three nonfiction books. I’m a person who writes.

 

Bringing Little Sister Home, 1964

Little Sister, aka Joy Lynn, arrived three weeks early, weighing-in at four pounds, twelve ounces. I didn’t even get a glimpse before they whisked her away to the nursery.  Although I labored long giving her birth, I could sit comfortably and walk down the hall as soon as they pulled the drapes on the nursery the next morning. And, I was strong enough to walk to there often and gaze through the glass window, admiring our beautiful daughter. I couldn’t see much of her, or touch her. Tiny as she was, she had eyebrows. Days passed before she could come out of the issolet long enough to nestle in my arms.

The hospital days merged together, and I don’t remember how old Joy Lynn was when I could finally hold her in my arms. My breast were engorged by the time she had an opportunity to nurse.

Teaching a preemie to nurse is an event. Preemies don’t wake up to eat. So, the nurse would put Joy Lynn in my arms, unwrap her feet and thump her soles. My mother-hen feathers ruffled long before my baby cried. Once the baby woke, the nurse left, and it was my job to keep her awake until her tummy was full. We repeated this routine every three hours.

It didn’t take much to fill her tiny tummy and a nursing session didn’t offer me much relief. My breast were blowing up like balloons and I felt like I was carrying two footballs every where I went. (People would stop me in the hall say, “You’re breast-feeding, aren’t you?”) Breast feeding wasn’t in back then. Most new mothers opted for an injection to dry up their milk. However, it soon became clear that we had made a good decision. There were six other preemies in the nursery and Joy Lynn thrived better than most. One little one wasn’t gaining and he stayed and stayed in the issolet. I watched his slow progress and wished they could bring him to me… don’t know how we would have managed that three-hour thing but I had enough milk to share.

Meanwhile, back at home, our neighbor Julia O’Haver, a true blessing, helped out with Timmy. It worked really good because he loved to go to Ju-u’s house. I called him when I could between the baby visits, an hour in the room at twelve, three, six, and nine, round the clock. Timmy was two and a half and I’d say, “Hello, Timmy. This is mommy. He’d say, “No. Mommy go get da baby.”  This was our daily conversation. I missed him so much, just hearing his voice was good.

After a week in the hospital, when she tipped the scale at five pounds, we brought the fourth member of our family home. My mom and my four-year-old sister were there to help out.

It was January in Oklahoma and we had the baby bundled. Timmy greeted us with his arms lifted when we stepped through the door. “Let me carry dat baby!” He was so excited. And, suddenly he was soooo big! He’d been the baby when we left him with Julia on the way to the hospital, but now he was the big brother. Our family had changed but I later realized that his world had turned up-side-down.

After all the time spent waiting for HIS baby brother or sister. The day came, and he didn’t get her when she came home. And, remember that three-hour schedule, an hour to wake the preemie, time for a diaper change, and feeding. There wasn’t much time between feedings. Remember those footballs? They were inflated tight, and very sore. Big Brother couldn’t snuggle and rock a little bit when he needed to, as he had before she arrived. So, he spent his time fighting with his four-year-old aunt.

Our dear neighbor Julia, took Timmy to her house a little while each day to ease the chaos at ours.

And, then everyone wanted to see the tiny baby. Neighbors dropped in. My grandmother and aunt came. One couple arrived at two am, thinking they’d be there for the two o’clock feeding… but our early am feedings were twelve and three. When Dan’s parents arrived for their visit, I was in the bedroom with Joy Lynn in one arm, latched on; and the telephone in the other, calling Julia to bring Timmy home. When the in-laws burst into the bedroom, there I was… modest me, who didn’t even nurse my baby in front of my dad… exposed and unable to take cover. I turned my back but they couldn’t wait. They leaned around, and over my shoulder, to see the tiny baby. Not sure they saw much other than my bare football-sized breast.

The pace slowed eventually, and we lived through six weeks of the three-hour schedule. By then, Joy Lynn was chubby and the doctor approved feeding on demand.

The events of those ordinary days made them special and years later would provide ideas for the writer I would become. Who knew?

Bringing Baby Home, 1961

During the hospital stay after Tim was born, he stayed in the nursery except for his scheduled feeding visits. I learned to feed and burp, but the nurses did all the rest… and I think they finished the burping job on the way back to the nursery.

After five days, I was pushed to the car in a wheelchair. The nurse laid Timmy in my arms and told me to take good care of him. “He might be president of the country someday,” she said. She gave us a few pages of instructions which included  feeding every four hours, bath at nine A.M., and sterilizing everything that touched baby including ME before each feeding. Although he was on a liquid diet, the instructions included offering water several times a day, sterilized water and bottles, of course.

I definitely needed help considering my inability to move all that well… and inexperience. I hadn’t so much as changed a diaper and the burping wasn’t going all that well. If Timmy eat too much, he threw up in his bed.

The responsibility that went along with this newborn was a little scary.

Dan acted confident but he had NO experience. He hadn’t been allowed in the room with the baby, hadn’t even touched our son, yet.

It wasn’t as scary as it might have been. We planned to stay with my parents for a few days so Mama could help me with the new baby.

I was already a little annoyed, though. Mama hadn’t told me some things about childbirth. Hadn’t told me how sore I’d be. Five days after delivering, I couldn’t sit very well, or get up and down very easy,

Mama didn’t know as much about recovering from childbirth as I thought… although she had an eighteen-month-old herself. She decided we should put a non-stinging antiseptic on my stitches. Like alcohol, this product (new on the market) was very good for preventing infection in scrapes and cuts. But, it was very drying and not intended for use in certain private areas. After the first application, I still couldn’t sit very well, or get up and down very easy, or WALK too good.

And, my dad worried about the newborn’s breathing. I would ease myself into a comfortable position in a chair, and from his recliner, he would say, “That baby’s just not breathing right. You better go check on him.”

I’d struggle to get up (very painful), and walk down to hall (very painful), to check on the sleeping baby. Two minutes after I eased into a chair again, Daddy got worried about the baby’s breathing and I’d go check on him while Daddy remained in his recliner.

Then, there was Little sister. She demanded most of Mama’s attention. And she also wanted mine. She came into the family late, and I played the role of doting relative. Like everyone else, I spoiled her. And, fascinating as Timmy was, Debbie wasn’t prepared to share her Mommy or her sister with a newcomer.

A little stressful.

You think?

After one afternoon and night of this, Dan loaded me and Timmy in the car, along with the instructions, dirty cloth diapers in the pail, and the sterilized water bottles. He took us home where there would be no further applications of the new antiseptic and less worry about the newborn breathing. (I’ll love him forever for this courageous act.)

Just recently I realized that my parents really didn’t know how much pain I experienced. Mama delivered two girls, five pounds and under. And, one six pound boy. Timmy was almost nine pounds and came into the world with the help of forceps. Mama really thought you could sit comfortable the next day. What was my problem? I’d had five days to recover.

Eventually, when I was able to laugh about it, I let her know what I thought about the antiseptic and her nursing skills. Some twenty years later, when my sister delivered her first child, I gave her fair warning. “Don’t let Mama near you with the antiseptic.”

Happy Birthday, Son

This is our son’s birthday. I’d like to say that I held him the first time 51 years ago today. But it didn’t work that way back then. I didn’t see him until I was out of recovery and back in my room. Then, I saw little feet poking out of a blue blanket. That was it. He was in the arms of a business-oriented, white uniformed, starched-hated nurse. I had orders to lay flat for twenty-four hours without lifting my head. Exhausted and threatened with a severe headache, I followed the doctor’s orders.

I did have a good view of Dan’s face when he was allowed to see me. I think the glow might compare with the way Moses looked when he came down from the mountain. Everyone who saw Dan recognized the proud new dad. I wish we had a picture of him that morning. A photo probably couldn’t do it justice, though.

They put Tim in my arms the next day. The joy was worth the wait but I shouldn’t have had to wait twenty-four hours after delivery!  I was allowed to give him a bottle of water and instructed to put him on my shoulder to burp. They brought him to me every four hours, round the clock. During our five-day hospital stay, my milk came in and my baby learned to nurse and burp.

Tim spent most of his time in a plastic bed in the nursery. Every thing was done on schedule and I think they let him cry if it wasn’t his turn for attention. Didn’t want to spoil him, you know.

Dan wasn’t allowed in the room with the baby. So. father and son didn’t meet until we were released from the hospital.

The childbirth is handled so much better now. Mom, dad, and baby meet, face to face right away… and grandparents are on the scene. It’s better.

But today, I held my son in my arms and patted his back for a moment after breakfast… A happy birthday hug. He didn’t burp on my shoulder but his beard scratched my neck. It was good.