Saturday, January 31, 2009

A birthday

Eighty-nine years ago today, in a small but growing town in Central Florida, the first child of Willie and John Peck was born. They lived with Willie's parents, youngest sister, and brother, the only ones still at home of a family of eleven children.

Her father, John, was a seaman and had already seen much of the world, although he would see even more in the years to come. Her mother, Willie, was a seamstress and had owned a store when she was a very young woman. She loved them both, but had a special devotion and affection for her father, remembering him always as so much better than he really was, and cherishing throughout her life the times she spent with him.

She would have a hard life - raped at 14 and forced to marry a much older man; then falling in love with and marrying a good-looking, sweet-talking man who never grew up; years during WWII working on airplanes and traveling between Florida and Maryland, leaving her baby son in her mother's care; contracting polio as a young mom, pregnant with her third child; and raising three children as a divorced woman in the 50s, selling door-to-door cosmetics, encyclopedias, automobiles - whatever it took to keep her family together and provide for children all but abandoned by their father.

Through it all, she kept faith - in herself and in her God. Surely she must have shed many tears and wondered many times how she would ever manage; but her children never saw those tears or heard the fears of her heart. She could make hot dogs for dinner seem like a feast ("We're having meat tonight, kids! Don't eat too much or you'll get protein poisoning!"), and somehow she could always scrape up the cost of a ticket to the high school football game to see her son play.

She was mistress of a home filled with love and laughter. Her daughters' dates often ended up sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, talking until it was too late to go anywhere. Their friends nearly always preferred visiting her to spending time at their own homes. Even after her kids were all married and moved away, old boyfriends would stop by to see her, bringing their wives and kids to show off.

She grew old quickly. Polio had taken its toll, and osteoporosis was the final insult. At age 72, the doctors said she had the body of a 90-year-old. Still with that irrepressible humor - and with a breathing tube down her throat - the intensive care nurses told her and her children that they needed to keep the laughter down: "There are sick people in here!" and, "We'll just close this door so you don't disturb them."

In 1992, just 13 days after her 72nd birthday, she died. I miss her every day.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Growing old in the age of modern medicine

My mom (as well a lot of other people) used to say, "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself!) That has become my new refrain as I move toward 62.

I don't feel old, and I certainly don't think of myself as old (I do refrain from mini-skirts, however; I'm not blind yet!), and I know that my 61 is not my grandmother's 61. However...

Years of falling off my bike, jumping from moderately high places, working long hours on my feet, and a lifetime of weight gains and losses have taken a toll on my poor knees. Especially my left knee. The dreaded arthritis. It hurts my viscera just to see it in print.

The pain was awful, waking me up at night and then keeping me awake. Bringing tears to my eyes at times. Keeping me from running and jumping at the playground with Addison ("You knee hurt again, Gran?") In other words, knee pain was dramatically affecting my quality of life.

So, off I went to The Bone Doc, a nice young man, only a year older than my oldest son, which is another thing about getting older, but that's for another day! He took x-rays and then took the time to x-plain them. Both knees are arthritic, and there's really no difference in the degree. So why does my left knee hurt and my right knee feels fine? He doesn't know and neither do I.

As I sat there, expecting him to start discussing surgical options, he surprised me by saying, "There are several methods of treatment, and I want you to be comfortable with what we do. It's really your decision." Since I had really thought my only option would be knee replacement, this was nice to hear. As he began to discuss the options, I was intrigued by the idea of injections - not cortisone, not steroids, but of a medication derived from roosters' combs! Hyalgan, it's called, and I had heard about it from a family member just a few weeks before. It requires three injections, one week apart, into the joint. The results can be dramatic and can last for up to a year.

Sign me up!

To make a long story short, I actually had four injections, because of our December snow "event." It caused me to miss a week and I didn't want to take any chances, since the injections weren't the most pleasant medical care I've ever had! More uncomfortable than painful, but still.

The last injection was two weeks ago, and the results have bordered on miraculous! I no longer wake up with knee pain during the night. I can crawl around on the floor with Addison, run and jump, get up and down stairs easily. Oh, I'm still a bit stiff sometimes, but that's to be expected, given my age and level of activity. BUT I DON'T HURT!

And that, Dear Reader, is cause for celebration.

Monday, January 19, 2009


President George W. Bush is leaving office. I have no desire to beat up on him; I'm certain that he is, at heart, a nice person. I felt the same way about Jimmy Carter. In fact I am somewhat famously known (among my children, at least) for stating that President Carter was sincere in his belief that what he did was right for the nation. I believe that George W. Bush was also sincere in his belief that he was following the leading of his conscience.

The important difference is that Carter was congruent in his philosophy and behavior. Bush seems truly unable to see the contradictions in his actions and statements. For example, Bush described the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iran as a "huge disappointment." I'm sorry. This doesn't qualify as a "huge disappointment" in my view. I consider it a "huge disappointment" when one of my sons doesn't get a job/raise/etc. Going to war under the pretense of WMD is more along the order of tragedy. When a President chooses to engage in a war that costs the lives of nearly 5,000 men and woman, I think this is much more than a "disappointment" to the wives, husband, children, parents, siblings, and friends of those who died. When young people die before they have a chance to live, it is at least as tragic as abortion. At least. For the Commander in Chief to call it a "disappointment" diminishes the value of those lives.

Let us leave the war for a moment and visit President Bush's most "anxious moment" during his 8-year Presidency. According to him, it was when he threw the opening pitch for the 2001 World Series. Now none of us can deny that there was unprecedented pressure upon the President following the tragedy of 9/11. It was a time when all of us were hyper-aware of the eyes of the world and we were keeping our own eyes open. But after 7-1/2 years of war, strife, abuses of prisoners, economic collapse - and still, the World Series opening ball was the President's most anxious moment? I just don't get it.

So, Mr. President, we bid you farewell. I voted for you once and I have to say that I regret that vote. For I was as frivolous as you. I voted for you because Al Gore bored me. I didn't want to listen to four - or eight - years of his monotony. And so I cast my vote with as little care as you have shown for the men and women who have paid the ultimate price of freedom - even as you have expressed your angst over throwing out a ball at the World Series. I wish I could take that vote back, because I will live with the shame of it for the rest of my days.

I'd like to say that you seem like the kind of guy I'd enjoy having a beer with - and maybe I would. But that will never happen. I am left to judge you as each of us is judged by others: by the congruency of our actions and our words. You are not an introspective man; we have learned that over the years. So history will be your judge - though you dismiss even that judgment. I am glad we have survived you, even though we have only barely done so. I am glad you are going home to Texas. They will welcome you and give you a place.

But I am sorry for the damage you have done to our nation. I am sorry - grievously sorry - for the lives lost in your made-up war. I am sorry for the loss of respect that this nation has felt around the world. I am sorry for the people who have lost the respect of the American people because of you. But most of all, I am sorry for that vote I cast in November, 2000. I wish I could take it back.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


This year I was able to extend Christmas all the way to New Year's Day! My family and friends know how much I love Christmas and my birthday, and I will always find ways to extend the celebrations if possible. (For example a few years ago, Jim gave me a weekend for two at a hotel on the Coast for my June birthday. My sister and I finally used that gift that November, so I just considered that it was still my birthday! Clever, huh?)

This year, my youngest son, his wife, and their son (Addison) spent the actual Christmas holiday with her family about an hour's drive out of town. They came home on Sunday, had to work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, so it was Thursday - New Year's Day - before we could get together with them to exchange gifts.

I love giving and I love receiving, so the whole Christmas thing is wonderful for me. Jim & I had been looking forward to the kids' reactions to our presents for them, and hoped for some wonderful home-made goodies in return. (Briana is a great cook, and both Ben and Briana are extraordinarily creative people, so our gifts are usually unique and thoughful.) I truly don't think anyone was disappointed - we had one item that had to be returned, but it brought something we truly needed in its place, so all was well.

Then came MY last gift. The tag said: "To Cheryle Ann From Santa." And the box was - well, not huge, but large. And I couldn't imagine what it held, or why my whole name was on the tag. Briana said, "We think this must have been hanging around in Santa's bag since you were a little girl, and he finally found it to give to you!" I was even more perplexed.

When I opened the box, there inside was a beautiful new doll for my collection - but she is dressed up in Western costume. "It's Annie Oakley!" I cried out. And then I just cried. My loved ones know how much I love Annie Oakley. How, when I was a little girl, my mom made an Annie Oakley outfit for me to wear while I sang all the songs from "Annie Get Your Gun." They know that one of the highlights of my 60th birthday two summers ago was going to Cody, WY and seeing the museum where artifacts of her life and career are on display. And they know that my doll collection has been languishing in the guest room, destined for perhaps a great-granddaughter, since my kids seem to only produce boys!**
Strictly speaking, and according to the tag on her arm, her name is Jan Jesse. But it's just not MY fault if the manufacturer didn't recognize her true identity, or if Annie chooses not to be harrassed by the paparazzi! She and I both know she's Annie Oakley, so don't let me hear from any naysayers out there in blogdom!

Briana found her at an estate sale last year, and thought of ME! Now, how cool is that? (Briana finds the most and the best bargains at estate sales - and she obviously also has an eye toward things that will be loved by others.)

Annie has not yet joined her sisters (and brother) in the guest room. As I told Jim last night, I'm not through looking at her yet. Besides, she is the impetus for me to finally do what I've wanted to do for several years: build a proper display case for my lovelies. Annie will be right there next to Katie, the last doll my mom ever gave me.

** We have a little postscript due regarding my grandchildren. The postscript is due around the 4th of July, and we do not yet know if we are expecting a boy or a girl. I've waited to make the announcement until Briana told the world on her blog, but gosh it's been hard not to share!