Saturday, March 26, 2011
Melancholy Wild Rice; Another Goodbye
One of Jackie's Hummels that she gave me. So appropriate for me...a boy, a book, a dog!
Again, I have to say goodbye to someone in my life.
Russ and Jackie moved across the street when our boys were about eight and twelve. The first thing Russ did was to advise them how to ride their bikes more carefully on our busy street and to put on a show with his bull whip. The boys were impressed with the loud snap like a pistol that came from the popping whip on the driveway. It wasn’t too long before Russ “hired” first one son and then the other for mowing, weed eating, leaf raking, fence painting and snow shoveling. He could have hired cheaper or faster, but he became their first boss and brought to mind that “it takes a village” as he helped form our kids character and appreciation for hard work, for a job well done. For nearly a quarter of a century, they were our neighbors and friends.
When Russ began to fail, Jackie took over more and more trying to keep things going. She only stood 4’11” or so, but she became driver as well as navigator of their huge motor home. She would head them out towards Arizona every March with only a top knot of gray curls showing over the steering wheel. As Russ began to have frequent falls here at home, my guys would go over and help right him like a toy soldier that had fallen in a sandbox. He was a large man so it wasn’t always easy.
That last Christmas was warm and all their kids and grandkids were home. Everyone dressed in red warm-up suits and took pictures near the river birch on the front lawn. I watched out our picture window, waved, and shed silent tears because in my heart I knew it would be their last gathering. I was aware of his increasing weakness, the passing that was beginning to occur. He was gone by spring.
Jackie was strong and independent, but losing Russ took a toll. She forged ahead, doing the best she could dealing with her own health issues, a rugged economy on a fixed income, and loneliness. Eventually, she found a companion in an elderly friend who had lost his wife too. They began to spend time together, neither hearing well and age slowing them down only a bit. However, they never stopped. At 90 Ray drove them to Florida, Alabama, and Texas. She showed him the favorite fishing spots in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada that she had Russ had found. She always brought home wild rice from the North and shared it with me. Ray’s Escalade loaded up and headed out regularly for their adventures. In between their trips, she camped all over the country with her New York sister; both women were in their 80’s.
But a few months ago, Ray died and Jackie lost some of her heart. Her health deteriorated and she decided to sell the house and go into assisted living in Wichita near some of her kids. She put the house up for sale and arranged for an auction. The market forced her to continually re-price the house, trying to get it to move. The auction was sad as we stayed all day watching her things of many years being pawed over, sold for a song.
She called one day this week and told me the house had sold, that she should have a check the next day. Then in a couple of days her daughter called and said her mother had died.Jackie had struggled through selling that house to get things settled for her daughters. Then she went to the hospital with issues, asked for her pacemaker to be turned off, her medicines to be stopped, and called her daughters to gather around where she died with them near her bed. Jackie died the way she lived, with fierce determination and a thought out plan. Like Frank Sinatra’s song, she did it her way.
The girls found a sealed envelope their mother left for them with some last details and instructions. One of those instructions was to make sure I got any wild rice left in her apartment. I can’t believe that in those last few hours, Jackie thought of me and wild rice. As she died, the new family was moving into her house across the street. Whatever will be will be now, but I will miss her Christmas poinsettia that she always toted across the street for me during the holidays, the salmon she shared after fishing, even the calls for help, and I will never see wild rice quite the same again.