Sweetest Present Ever

Over the years, my husband has given me firs, diamonds, and gold; new coats, rings, and computer stuff. All desires of my heart and wonderful gifts. But this year, he gave me the sweetest gift ever.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you know this is my first Christmas without my mom. I’ve been very sad. Missed the shopping I did for her and preparing her bag of presents. Most of all, I missed the excitement on her face as she dug through the bag to find what might be hidden in the folds of tissue paper.

This year, a butcher-block work island for the kitchen was at the top of my list. Although Dan hates getting me appliances or kitchen stuff for Christmas, it’s on order and should arrive tomorrow. But Christmas morning, he had a complete surprise for me. I’d noticed the large Christmas gift bag beside the tree, and wondered what might be in it. My guess didn’t even come close. But when he handed it to me, I saw the twinkle in his eye and I knew right away what he had done… He had prepared a bag for me… Tears filled my eyes as I dug through the tissue paper to see what I could find — a video game, red and white stripped sox, and an assortment of treats and office supplies, each wrapped in tissue paper.  The presents were ordinary but the thought was more than special He did this sweet, sweet thing for me… in memory of my mom…

My heart is full of love and my eyes are … well, my vision is blurry as I write this… I didn’t know I was getting the sweetest present ever, so I didn’t take a photo of it. But it was in a bag like the one above and stuffed to the brim.

Mrs. S C

It’s December 2, and there are no elves in the workshop around here. The man of the house… uh… abdicated Christmas responsibilities when he married me. For him, fifty-three Christmas with only one gift to buy. (He gets big, clear hints to help him with this one gift.) For me, a long gift list and a search for sales, a room-full of presents to wrap, a tree to decorate and halls to deck with holly, and a Christmas dinner menu and grocery list, plus, most years, a deadline.

Three more Sundays and one day until Christmas Eve. And, I don’t even have the shopping list compiled. The Mrs. S C in me wants to get the perfect gift for everyone on her list. She asks, “What do you want for Christmas?” And hopes her energy will last long enough to find each item at a price within her budget so no one will be disappointed.

Years ago, a friend handed me a small gift and said, “Here, I want you to have this.” I was delighted to receive something she wanted me to have. Maybe that’s how Christmas should be. In celebration of His birth, we share His love. Giving something we want each person on our gift list to have.

Maybe I’ll drop the Mrs. S C title, abandon the what do you want query, and give gifts from my heart. I’ll shop for the perfect gifts I want to give instead of the impossible searches for a perfect gift someone wants.

Maybe I’ll rise out of the chaos with an attitude of worship. A true celebration of Christmas.

The Nose Thing

I noticed a little white spot on my nose, it didn’t look like it should be there. But, it was small, about the size of a pin head, and not noticeable at all. I’ll mention this next time I see the doctor, I thought.

And, I did. It might not have been the next visit, but one day I was in for something else. I remembered the little spot as I was going out the door. “Oh, I said, what’s this?” and I pointed to my nose.

He looked and frowned. Ran his finger across it. “That’s a Basal Cell Carcinoma.”

And I frowned!

“I’ll make you an appointment with a dermatologist for a biopsy.”

Thank goodness, we were living in Arizona, probably the skin cancer capitol of the world. If we’d been here in Oklahoma, my doctor might have been the one who carried a bottle of freezing-stuff from room to room. He might have made one of his on-the-spot diagnosis and froze that little  spot until it sizzled.

Fortunately, I was in Arizona and when the biopsy came back in agreement with my family doctor’s diagnosis. He gave me a choice. “You can go to a plastic surgeon. Or, you can have radiation, Or you can have Mohs surgery.”

I frowned. “But this is such a little spot… plastic surgery, radiation! What’s Mohs surgery?”

And then he told me that Mohs surgery takes the least amount of tissue with the most certainty of “getting it all.” The surgeon marks the suspicions spot, dividing it in sections, before removing the afflicted tissue. The segments are examined under under the microscope. If any cancer is left, the surgeon knows the exact location and removes another small amount of tissue. This is repeated until the microscopic examination shows that the edges and bottom of the removed tissue are clear of cancer. Sometimes only one slice is necessary. “This is what we recommend and we have an excellent surgeon in mind.”

This all seemed so unreal! And way too much excitement for such a tiny spot. Did I mention that it was about the size of a pin head? I mentioned that to the Mohs surgeon when I asked her how much of my nose she expected to remove.

“This may only be the tip of the ice berg,” she said. I don’t know what I’ll find until we have a look under the microscope.” And then she started talking about the repair and a plan to remove tissue in front of my ear for a skin graft on my nose.”

I blinked and shook my head. “A skin graft for this tiny spot? Let’s wait and see if I really need a skin graft.”

She nodded and patted my arm. I felt I still had a little control over the situation.

“After the skin graft, we’ll stitch a yellow pressure bandage to you’re nose.”

I laughed and rolled my eyes. This had to be a joke. Who ever heard of stitching a bandage anywhere. Weird! I shook my head.

She humored me. “We’ll schedule the surgery and you can decide about the repair after we’ve removed your cancer.”

And, I left the office wanting to believe little spot would not require a skin graft… And a yellow bandage sewed to my nose! Well, she did make me laugh when I was feeling pretty glum. Although basal cell is not a life threatening cancer, the thought of removing part of my nose was very disturbing. How much were they going to remove? There was no answer and my imagination took flight. Our granddaughter had a jewel in her nose (I hated it) but, maybe that’s what I would do if I needed to hide the scar/hole. Maybe I would need a jewel encrusted gold nose…

A couple of weeks later, I sat in the waiting room of the mohs surgeon’s office with a large white bandage taped to my nose waiting for the results of the microscopic exam. I prayed they wouldn’t have to take more tissue… no more cutting. Although I had experienced no pain, cutting on the nose makes a lot of unpleasant noise.

Good news. They got it all. No more cutting. Now, “Did I want a skin graft to repair the wound?” She handed me a mirror.

After a quick glance I knew the answer. “Yes. I believe I do want a skin graft.” And an hour or so later I left with a yellow bandage sewed on my nose. Medical professionals don’t do much joking about serious matters.

It took about a year for the skin graft to become almost unnoticable and during that time, I did some fretting that wasn’t warrented considering that I had cancer; it was a nonthreatening cancer and it was gone.

That was eight years ago and this is how my nose looks today, much closer than most people see it.


Photo Shoot

I decided to have a new Facebook profile photo. I notice that people seem to be especially fond of animals and a shot of a man with his big dog sleeping on his lap drew a lot of comments.  So… Mandy is a big dog. And she likes to sneak into my lap … Where she has never been still long enough to sleep. Don’t know why I thought this would work.

I ask Dan to man the camera, and then I flat ironed my hair and did my makeup. After an hour’s prep, I called  Mandy. She couldn’t believe she was actually welcome on my lap, and as soon as she got there, I assure you, she wasn’t.

Dan shot about six photos before the session ended at my request. By this time, my hair was askew. My makeup was licked and smeared. And, my breathing was labored under the weight of the 55 pound animal’s butt crushing my chest. If her feet are on my knees, that’s where she sits.

After coaxing Mandy out of my lap, with non-genteel terms, Dan handed me the camera and left the room. I scrolled through the shots of big dog in vairous strange positions. The best one was unacceptable. The camera has a red-eye delay so the photo you get is not the one expected when the button is pressed. Otherwise Dan would have had a hard time explaining six shots with Mandy’s backend in my face.

Uupdate – one week later:

Determined to have a shot of Mandy on my lap, we tackled the job again. This time I gave Mandy a whiff of lavender (actually, more than that!) And, here’s the result:

A few drops of Lavender oil on the blue tie is a wonderful thing!

Creature Comforts

I love peace, quiet, and comfort. I do my best writing under those circumstances. And, it’s my favorite reading environment.

Since I love to read and I love to write, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of creature comforts. Unfortunately, my browsing and buying moods don’t happen at the same time. So, when the browsing mood strikes I visit my favorite online mall. I add the comforts I might like to my wishlist and return when I’m ready to buy.

Shopping takes time and I don’t always know where to look. Sometimes the best comforts are found in the least suspected places. This two step process works great for me and I think it might be a good thing to share.

I’m often asked about my favorite reading device. We’re a Kindle family so within our circle, we’ve tried most of the Kindles. I still have the second generation but Dan updated to the Fire.

Amazon offers a number of Kindles within an affordable price range and Kindle is at the top of my Creature Comforts list. The screen is easy on my eyes and I like choosing the font size that’s best for me. Same for my mom. She loved to read although macular degeneration took most of her vision in her later years. Still, she was able to read the large print on her Kindle DX until the last few months of her life. By that time, reading was one of her few joys. The largest font on the Kindle DX was a blessing, but Mama’s ability to read with very limited vision was a miracle.

If you’d like to browse the list I’ve developed so far, take a look on my Webpage: http://www.deannedurrett.com/creaturecomforts.html/  Check out my Coffee and Tea favorites and Relaxing in the Tub. Maybe you’ll find the creature comfort you need to make an ordinary day special in a good way.

The Bridge

In the spring of 2005, I was finishing RIGHT TO VOTE for Facts On File and recovering from surgery. One ordinary day, I answered the phone and recognized the distinctive voice that greeted me. It was Dr. George Blue Spruce, the first American Indian dentist. I had written about him in HEALERS, another Facts On File book and interviewed him by phone several times. That day became special when Dr. Blue Spruce asked me to write his life-story.

A few weeks later, he brought me his scrapbooks and began telling me his story. I was spellbound by the accomplishments of this man. A full-blood Pueblo, he grew up in Santa Fe, living on the Santa Fe Indian School campus where his father taught woodworking and his mother worked in the cafeteria. His mother was from the San Juan pueblo and his father from the Laguna pueblo. They were taken from their families and forced to attend boarding school. When they met at the Albuquerque Indian School they did not share the same native language but learned English together. I felt privileged as Dr. Blue Spruce told me his story and trusted me to write the chapters of his life — from the pueblos to the halls of Washington, and then donning the uniform of a Rear Admiral in Public Health Service, he became an Assistant Surgeon General and head of the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service. What a treat to listen to this man and write his story.

About mid-way through the first draft of SEARCHING FOR MY DESTINY, I answered the phone and recognized another voice of a person I’d written about in the past. Helen Blanchard, DTM, the first woman president of Toastmasters International, wanted me to write her story.

A few months later, I had Ms. Blanchard’s scrapbooks and began listening to her life story and writing the chapters of her life. We named her book BREAKING THE ICE since the Ice Breaker is part of every Toastmaster meeting and Helen Blanchard broke the ice as one of the first women in Toastmasters and the first woman president. Her life journey took her from a farm in Nebraska, to the Navy Research Lab in San Diego, and to the leadership of the international organization… originally for men only.

Walking in the shadow of these two distinguished, accomplished people  as I wrote their memoirs offered a challenge and a delightful experience for me as a writer and a person. These books were nonfiction, but different from the twenty-some others I’d written before… This time, the material for the book came from a person reliving their past. I was privy to the passions of  their youth, their dreams, follies, heartaches, goals, and disappointments… and sworn to keep secret those things not intended for print. As each life-story unfolded before me, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. It was an extraordinary experience.

When the manuscripts were finished, I stood at the threshold of a bridge over the wide chasm between nonfiction and fiction. Characters that had been pushed to the back-burner while I wrote nonfiction shouted from the shadows of my mind. “I have a story.” “Listen to me!” “I’ve been waiting too long.” These characters had been in my mind so long, they were old friends. I had to listen to them… so I crossed the bridge to the fiction world. I’m listening to Becca McGee’s story. Joe Chandler is next. Someday soon, I hope you’ll let me share them with you in a novel.

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.

Angel Unaware

When our kids were eight and ten, and I was much younger and thinner,

I developed a back problem and my doctor ordered a month of bed-rest in an attempt to avoid surgery. It didn’t work and I was incapacitated several months.

We needed help!

So, I looked in the classifieds to find a housekeeper. A few days later, a Cadillac stopped at the curb, and then our doorbell rang.

After asking if she had the right place, the black lady in the white uniform waved and her transportation drove away.

What kind of housekeeper was this? The uniform didn’t surprise me as much as her… uh… chauffeur.

She said he was her boyfriend, and my imagination went wild.

But, her smile lit her eyes. She had a cocoa and peaches complexion, and her joyful spirit gave evidence to a good heart. And we needed her desperately.

I went back to bed and she went to work. Tim (ten) and Joy (eight)followed her from room to room. They were fascinated. She had them spellbound is a better description.

Clementine Banks won our hearts that day as she cleaned our house from top to bottom, did the laundry, and lifted our spirits although the road ahead looked dreary.

During the next eight months, Clemmy came once a week, always with a smile that put a twinkle in her eyes. She told me about the hardships she had faced in Mississippi. She’d been a hairdresser. But California didn’t recognize her Mississippi cosmetology license so, she was cleaning houses. And doing a great job for us at a time when we needed her.

The kids loved her. I loved her. And Dan was glad to have her help. We paid her for her work and she did a good job, but more than that she became a friend and opened our eyes to a world we didn’t know much about.

Then, one day I realized I had recovered from my surgery and could begin doing the housework again. And, we never heard from Clemmy again. I tried to call her but the phone was disconnected. She left our lives as suddenly as she had appeared.

I’ve often thought that we may have entertained an angel unaware although she looked like an ordinary person. A little more beautiful than most. A little more joyful than most. And willing to do her job better than most.

I’ll never know if she came from the Heavenly Realm appearing as a mortal, or if she was just an ordinary person willing to serve, and God blessed us with her during our time of need.