Category Archives: Family

The Christmas Tree

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Christmas has always been a special time of year. Some of my favorite memories are rooted in the Christmas holiday. You can call me a hopeless romantic if you want to but I love that ‘Christmas feeling.’ The sight of holly, snow-laced spruce trees and logs burning in a fireplace stir something deep inside of me. Perhaps it’s growing up in Norman Rockwell’s America that I cherish so much. Yes, I grew up there and was fortunate enough to experience firsthand all the trappings of a New England Christmas—even the roasted chestnuts on an open fire. Christmas always brings a hopeful, optimistic promise of good things. I see the good in people that I often miss during the other parts of the year. That’s my shortcoming, not theirs.

As I grow older, memories flood my mind, particularly during the holidays. Those memories converge around people more than anything else—mostly people who are not with us anymore. As much joy as there is at Christmas, for me, there is always a twinge of sadness. My parents are gone several years now. I miss them more than ever at this time of year. It’s because those lasting memories of Christmases past almost always includes them.
As with much of my writing, something comes from out of the blue and inspires me to start jotting down thoughts. Usually, I have no idea where it will lead. This time the thought of Christmas has moved me to share with you a Christmas story. It’s a simple snapshot in time written for sharing with my children, family, and my cherished friends.

Most families have their own holiday traditions and legends and rightfully so. This is one of ours. I promise every word is true. It’s too ‘out there’ not to be true. It begins on a cold grey Sunday afternoon in November in Sanbornton, NH. My stepdad, Hal, who for some reason I cannot truthfully remember to this day why but I called him, ‘Pop.’ He and I drove up to his parent’s farm in Sanbornton with plans of chopping down our own Christmas tree. The homestead goes all the way back to the days of the French and Indian War. In fact, it was built by one of ‘Roger’s Rangers.’ Kenneth Roberts wrote a book called, Northwest Passage which later became a movie starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Young and Walter Brennan. Apparently the group actually existed or at least, one just like it.
The farmhouse sat on 180 acres on what was the Old Concord Coach Road that traversed the forest between Sanbornton and New Hampton. The Concord Coach House where the coach ride began was situated on the road, now called Plummer Hill Road, at the bottom of the hill about a quarter of a mile below the house. The farmhouse itself was built by a Mr. Plummer who served as a ranger in that militia group. He rests in the family cemetery in the woods about a hundred yards behind the farmhouse. I spent many summer afternoons back in the old family cemetery trying to visualize what his life must have been like—still watching for marauding Indians in the woods.

Pop and I drove up there one cloudy, gnarly, cold Sunday afternoon in 1965. Our mission was to find and cut down a stately, well-proportioned Christmas tree from our own farm. How difficult could that possibly be? He parked the big, maroon, whale-like 1962 Mercury on the side of the seldom traveled road. We began our search on the steep incline in the field below the road.

It takes time to find the perfect Christmas tree. Even though the cold passed through our layered clothing, we pressed on. We would spot a tree standing like a sentry off to one side or the other and approach it with the eager anticipation of a child—only to turn it down because of some perceived flaw. I cannot tell you how many times we put ourselves through this process; easily dozens. It must have been 90 minutes later; when we realized that it was getting late in the afternoon and we were going to lose daylight if we didn’t make our decision soon. You would think standing in the midst of 180 acres of trees finding a ‘perfect’ tree would have been a no brainer. We began to get in touch with reality. This was an exercise in futility…”For God’s sake, pick a tree!” I’ve never been one to feel comfortable in the ‘settle for’ mode but we really did have to make a decision.
Finally, about 50 yards down the side of the hill we found a likely suspect. As I stood slightly behind it on the side of the hill, it was just a tad taller than me. I was 5’9’ with my stocking hat on. I stood there with my arm standing straight out and I was holding the middle of the tree. At this point, I’m considering neither the geometry nor the size of our prize. The tree was pretty. No, it was magnificent. It had a perfect shape. It was what Pop called a ‘Bastard Pine.’ It was a mixture of pine, spruce and some other kind of evergreen. It had long, supple, multi-colored needles. It was a naturally colorful tree. This tree was going to look spectacular in the front window of our living room in the house at 69 Lincoln Street. I just knew Mom was going to be so proud of us for finding such a superb specimen.

We attacked the 10 inch base of the tree with the hacksaw. In a minute or two of furious, sweaty effort, the tree twitched, made a cracking noise and fell to the ground with a loud resounding swoosh! We had our tree. Now only the simple task of hauling it up the hill and placing it on the roof of the old Merc remained. Little did we know at the time, this was only the beginning of a growing list of troubles.

Pop moved to the base on the right side of the trunk; I to the left. We looked at each other and reached down to grab the base. We wrapped our arms around the bottom two branches and lifted the cumbersome trunk. On the count of three we both lunged forward. WE lunged forward…the tree, stayed put. Not believing or accepting the previous outcome, we tried the same ploy again with the exact same results. A third attempt found us no closer to perceptible movement. Yes, this was the definition of insanity personified. You know, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? As the old joke goes when the box fell out of the back of the long car, someone remarked it was time to rehearse this thing. This plan was not working.
Realizing we might have bitten off a bit more than we could chew, we approached our tree with a new determination. This time we placed an extra tight grip on the lower branches and picked the tree up to about shoulder high. This time we actually got it to move–maybe a foot. We must have been a sight. Pop said we looked like a couple of monkeys trying to hump a football. Imagine watching a man and a boy trying to muscle this forest up the side of a steep hill. Words were muttered, energy expended while inching this behemoth up the hill. At one point we realized there was an easier way. That was to lay the tree on its side parallel to the road and roll it up the hill. We would have to adjust the top of the tree after every couple of turns of the tree. Remember, the tree was a lot wider at the bottom than the top. Our method might not have been pretty but at least it worked.
We easily consumed more than 45 minutes to finally get that tree the fifty yards or so up to a stopping point on the side of the road. When we reached the top of the hill, we were both out of breath and hunched over like a couple of arthritic old men. “Thank God that’s over!” Pop said as he lit a cigarette. I was cold but I recall not minding sitting on the cold ground clenching my knees close to my chest just to stay warm. I was plum tuckered out.

Next came the task of loading it onto the roof of the car. Hal and I were gassed from the trek up the hill. Rather than drag the tree to the car, Hal backed the car beside the tree. I think this was the first time we began to get a sense of the actual size of our hard won greenery. The tree was longer than that big ‘ol Mercury. The bottom branches, even in the prone position, were taller than the car itself.

We had worked too hard to turn back now. If we can get this thing to the house, it will make a magnificent tree. If is a little word consisting of two letters that can often take on implications on par with quantum physics. I can prove it. Having the tree beside the car was no guarantee that we would ever get it home. We only had to raise the tree up the four or five feet onto the roof of the car. It might as well been a mile. This would prove to be a challenge greater than finding the tree and far greater than coaxing it up the hill.

Again, we approached the problem in a manly way—brute force! We bent down, grabbed the tree and tried to hoist it upon our shoulders for the final push onto the roof. Did I mentioned before, we were gassed? After a couple of futile attempts, it was obvious; we just didn’t have the strength to pick it up. It was way too heavy for us. There had to be another way, but how?

For several minutes, we stared, perplexed, at the tree and then at the car and back at the tree all the while secretly wishing that somehow magically it would climb up there by itself. Suddenly a light went on in our brains. Granted, it might have only been a 40 watt bulb but a glimmer of an idea flickered to life. We did have in our possession a piece of rope about twenty or twenty-five feet in length. I tied one end around the trunk and the bottom branches of the tree. Meanwhile, Pop tied the other end around a rather stout looking tree beside the road. There was sufficient slack in the rope so that I could lift it over the hood and roof of the car while Hal maneuvered the vehicle between the upright tree and our Christmas tree.

Pop inched the car forward, then backward and forward again until we had the length of rope running over the middle of the hood and roof and down over the trunk to the base of our tree. At this point, Pop and I switched assignments. He stood behind the car as I slowly inched it backward while Pop lifted the tree trunk and lower branches onto the trunk of the Mercury. He was huffin’ & puffin’. As with many great plans, it didn’t work the first time. The tree simply rolled off the other side of the trunk when it reached the rear window taking the radio antenna with it. That’s OK we weren’t listening to the radio anyway. However, the plan did show promise. We went at it again.

I pulled forward and then back again. Pop once again took a mighty breath and hoisted that tree back onto the trunk with every ounce of strength he had left. Eureka! It worked. We were able to get the tree onto the roof, grinding and scratching paint every inch of the way. That big ‘ol Mercury actually groaned as the shock absorbers bottomed out. With the car running, I hung on to the tree while Hal undid the knots at both ends. We quickly tied the tree to the roof by running the rope through all of the open windows of the four door sedan and over the top of the tree in several locations. Although we still had twenty somethin’ miles to get back to Laconia, that puppy wasn’t going anywhere. The Mercury took on the appearance of an old fashion East Texas logging truck. I wish you could have seen it. It was a sight–Just this big green & Maroon massive growth rollin’ down the road.

Because we had to run the rope through the interior of the car, we made the trip back to town with the windows down. It felt like 20 somethin’ degrees. In those days, we didn’t know anything about wind chill. It was just damned cold. I was already at the point of not feeling my fingers. So there we were coming back to town with a monstrosity of a tree dwarfing the car underneath it with the windows down and the heater on full blast laying our hands on the closest dashboard heater vent. On the ride home, I remember looking over at Pop every now and then and sharing that look of intense pride. We smiled like a couple of Cheshire cats. We were pretty proud of ourselves. The feeling would last until we got home.
We pulled into the drive way on Lincoln Street. Our house was a gray two story house with enough room in the attic to have made a nice apartment had it been finished out. I used to practice my trombone up there. The roof of the house, like most houses in that part of the world, had a serious pitch to it so that the snow would fall off and not put so much stress on the roof. The downstairs rooms were fairly large with the living room in the front of the house, the dining room in the middle and the kitchen in the back.

Pop pulled the car to the back door off the kitchen. I ran into the house with excitement and called my Mom to come and look at our Christmas tree. I will never forget her reaction as she walked through the back door onto the porch. “What the hell are you going to do with that thing?” She asked with more than a touch of sarcasm. I was crushed. My expanded chest quickly deflated. Pop looked hurt too.

Mom continued, “How do you expect to get that in the house? Look at that. It won’t fit through the door!” Pop and I looked at each other and in a manly saving face kind of way, we said, “Oh we can get it in—the boughs will bend.” Yeah, right. I untied the rope holding the tree to the roof and Pop pushed the tree toward the porch. Again, with a heavy swoosh, it found the ground. I think I heard the Mercury catch its breath and raise six inches higher. Pop pulled the car away and then we approached the immediate problem at hand–getting it up the back stairs and into the house.
Having already had the experience out in the field of trying to pick up the tree and move it without much success, we were determined to get it through the doorway. We muscled it to the back door. Oh that idea of the boughs bending at the doorway? That wasn’t going to happen. Getting that monstrosity into the house was simply an obese possibility. Obese possibility—FAT CHANCE! As much as I hated the idea, it was the only thing he could do; Pop broke out the hacksaw again. He cut just above the lowest spray of branches. Keep in mind the trunk of this tree was easily 10 inches or more. Still again, the tree would not go through the door. He then moved the hacksaw about two feet further up the trunk and started driving the saw through the soft wood. The next section fell to the ground with a heavy sounding clunk. This time we got it through the door—barely.

Mom had to move the kitchen table and chairs out of the way or we would have surely knocked them all over. Pop and I manhandled the tree through the dining room into the living room. By now the tree was considerably lighter. We laid it down by the front window and both bent over, got a good grip and stood it up. Or should I say, we tried to stand it up? Now the tree was too tall! The tree started to bend about half way up the tree. The top of the tree stretched across the ceiling parallel with the floor. There must have been four feet of tree running along the ceiling. Mom just sat in the corner chair shaking her head reminding us just how stupid we were and how silly we looked. Mom never suffered fools lightly. If you knew her, you know that about her.

It was time again for the hacksaw. A couple of more cuts had indeed cut that tree down to size. Even after cutting easily four or five feet from the top, it went from the floor to the ceiling. Understand, we cut enough off the top of this tree that if we had cut a circular hole in the ceiling instead, Mom & Pop would have had a full size Christmas tree downstairs in the living room and a full size tree upstairs in their bedroom. And it would have been the same tree!

The tree trunk, despite all the cutting, was still too large to fit into the tree stand. We had come this far…this tree was our tree and there was no backing up. Pop went outside to the garage and came back with some wooden slats to nail to the underside of the trunk. Once we stood the tree back up, he then nailed that puppy to the hard wood floor. Mom likely went nuts over that but Pop was NOT going to be denied. This was war. We then took a piece of clothesline, wrapped it around the middle of the tree, and then tied off each end to nails Pop had driven into the window and door frames.
It was time to stand back and admire our handiwork. This gorgeous Christmas tree in the wild now had no shape! It was just one continuous wide piece of green pipe that ran from the floor to the ceiling. I’m not kidding. There was NO Shape. There was just this massive green growth in the corner of the room. You have never seen anything so ugly in your life! Mom claimed she hated it but as the years passed, I always knew that, secretly, it was special to her too. We never had a Christmas together after that when that tree didn’t come up in the conversation. It was my favorite Christmas tree of all time—ugly as it was—no tree ever meant more to me and our family.

Mom passed in 1998, Pop in 2002. Just before he died, we knew it was the end game for him. I drove to New Hampshire and spent 11 days with him while he was in the hospital. We talked about everything and everybody. Finally, on my last day before I left to come back to Texas, we talked again. I knew it would be the last time we would ever see each other. He knew it, I knew it. Tears were easy to find. I couldn’t leave it that way. I was determined to get him to laugh one more time.

The conversation turned to that wretched Christmas tree. It had become a family legend. Pop and I bonded because of that tree. He truly became my dad on that hillside that cold November day. As we reminisced one last time about that pitiable pine, we laughed until we cried. It was the ugliest Christmas tree ever displayed in Laconia, NH—or for that matter, perhaps, anywhere at any time. But in reality, to this very day, for me, it remains the most beautiful Christmas tree I ever saw.

Have a Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year. In the meantime, take care of your precious selves.
© 2007 by Tweed Scott

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Norma and Hal Oldham  July 23 1993

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‘Tis the Season

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It’s December already. Wow, the year sure has shot by. As I settle into my plush easy chair for my afternoon power nap, I close my eyes to see what images show up on my inner eyelids. It has turned chilly outside with a bit more nippiness in the air.
Within a few moments, my mind is a rush of holiday memories. Some are so vivid, I not only see them–I can feel, smell, and even taste them! When I think of Christmas, I instantly think of people of Christmases past, Christmas cards, the aroma of food, wintry scenes, countless Christmassy images, movies, music, decorations of all kinds and especially family.
One of my favorite memories is the one of placing a Baby Jesus figurine with his out stretched arms on the Christmas tree. I always enjoyed nestling him into a welcoming bough. It always seemed like such a fitting place for him to rest. He would stay there until it was time to take the tree down. It was the last ornament we removed every year. I got that childhood keepsake from a Nursery school Nativity scene. Each child got one to take home and it became a treasured Christmas tradition at our house.
One of my fondest memories was walking down a snowy Main St. in Laconia just after twilight enjoying the lights and the decorations on each light pole. I especially loved hearing the snow crunching on the sidewalk as I walked along taking in the festive atmosphere. It was even more special when the snow was falling. There were the foil strands of red & green with a wreath in the middle hung across Main Street and tied off on the pole on the opposite side of the street. There was the smell of fresh popcorn wafting from the old Woolworth’s Five & Dime. Then my mind quickly darts to when some of us in the Laconia High School Band would climb onto a flatbed truck and perform Christmas music in the annual parade escorting Santa Claus into town. It was always fun playing all those familiar Christmas songs. One year it was so cold that the mouthpiece of my trombone stuck to my lips. Yeah, that year was memorable and painful.
One of the other things I thought made our town special was the decorations the individual storekeepers would paint on their store windows. Window shopping was always a great past time at that time of year. This was back in the days before we ever heard of a shopping mall. The stores painted their snowflakes and wintry scenes onto their picture windows adding to the wonder and spirit of the season. There were snowy hills and pine trees, Santa Claus, elves and any variety of holiday scenes.
I would remember too being excited when the mail man would drop off a half dozen cards or more. I got to open up most of them, my mom would open the ones from people I didn’t know. We always got lots of cards from family and friends. We would stand them up in the living room in plain view for all the world to see.—on the TV, book shelves—almost any open space. Remember all those cards that had glitter on them and how the glitter got everywhere? I was always partial to the nature or woodsy themed cards with Cardinals. I think that’s where my love of Cardinals came from. Ironically, years later my college mascot would be the Lamar Cardinals.
We had another tradition each year beginning back before I was even born and that was putting the candle in the windows. That happened every year of my life. It was just part of life. There was always something simple, plain, understated and yet beautiful about that simple decoration.
Of course, there was the Christmas tree. There was nothing to spark that Christmas feeling quite like that first smell of the live cut Christmas tree. I could smell that odor every day of the year even now and never get tired of it. Our tree would often have a theme or a particular color scheme just to change things up from year to year. We always had a “real” tree. My grandparents in RI, I think, were one of the first families to have one of those aluminum trees with the motorized color wheel. It was fascinating for a little kid but maybe not much so for adults but they sure were a novelty in their day.
I also remember, particularly in my early days, listening to the grownups complain about the lights. Remember the strands of lights where if one light went out and they all went out? Someone would have to unscrew each light bulb and try another until you could determine which was the one that had blown out. That process could take 15 minutes or more for each string of lights. That made decorating the tree an adventure before you ever got started. We all had our favorite ornaments to put on the tree each year. Once the ornaments were properly placed with love, it was time to lay on my back with my head next to the water filled tree holder and look up through the tree boughs with its lights, ornaments and garland. Put on the Christmas music and it was simply magical. It was one of the moments I longed for every year.
My mom wasn’t a big baker but she did bake during the holidays. I use to accuse her of being a binge baker. Usually it was cookies both regular flavored cookies and filled cookies. What they might have lacked in style points they more than made up in flavor. Mom was a good cook. You could always count on the house smelling great between Thanksgiving & Christmas. Our holidays weren’t always traditional. Now Thanksgiving was usually some big old Turkey who quickly got cut down to size. I also remember eating every variation of turkey for what seems like for weeks. My recollection may be exaggerating that a bit. I do remember one year for Christmas, she decided to make a New England Yankee pot roast. I remember thinking it was the best pot roast ever. The Christmas meu could be anything from another Turkey to Lasagna or Pork Roast. I think it was whatever sounded good in her head at the time. It never mattered. It was always good—especially the leftovers. Those Christmases we celebrated in Rhode Island at my grandparents’ house—those were feasts! We devoured turkey, ham and several kinds of pastas including Lasagna, antipasto, and decadent Italian pastries. I know us kids were on a sugar high for days afterwards.
How do we talk about Christmas and not think of music? I have always loved the sounds of the seasons. When I was a child I remember several years getting those little blue printed booklets from John Handcock Insurance Company. The booklets were full of Christmas Carols. I remember going out caroling with my mom and some of her friends using those booklets. Caroling amounted to going from house to house and singing a couple of songs before moving on to another friends’ house. I still remember getting cold but having lots of fun. I couldn’t carry a tune with a bucket, then or now, but I did put forth a joyful noise. At the end of the evening, there were no Starbucks and the Dunkin’ Donuts weren’t open that late in those days, so it would be off to home and Hot Chocolate.
I always liked the secular or what we later called “Santa Claus songs” but I always thought the Christmas Carols were sacred and special somehow. There was something majestic about them. There was a bigness about the orchestrations that made them impressive. I remember hearing those songs in church with the choir. It was mesmerizing for a little guy. Later in life, music became an everyday part of my life. I know I played my share of Christmas music during my radio career.
As much as I love the trappings of the holidays, the colors, the decorations and imagery, it is undoubtedly the people that make the holiday for me. I still see the visual images of family and love ones long gone. I still see their unmistakable smiles. I can even hear their laughter; even the loving looks of my long passed uncles, Don & Lou. My aunts Delores, Barbara, Ann & Gladys all shared their laughter and good humor with me. I remember playing with toys with my cousins, Ed, Tony & Steven. We had our own club until the first girl cousin, Terry, was born. I think there were 10 girls in a row after that. I love each and every one of them. I wish I saw them more.
I remember my Grandma Della Porta standing in the kitchen smiling back at me over something stupid this child did. Just an image from decades ago but it remains as real in my memory as it if happened yesterday. I recall the one time my grandfather gave me a hot roasted chestnut. I remember just as vividly spitting it right out. That is one traditional food I still joyfully avoid. Of course there are the countless images of my mom, the one person I knew my whole life. I remember the many years I saw joy on her face as I opened my gifts from under the tree; you know, the ones Santa brought. It would be many years before I had children of my and could truly understand what she felt. There is no doubt in my mind, I know how blessed I am to have her and the hundreds of other people who have passed through my life. Ultimately, I think it is the people in our lives that make all the difference.
In closing, I have always been cognizant of the ‘reason for the season.’ God has been good to me…frankly, I believe more than I could ever deserve. He has played a major role in my life many times. Frankly, I wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t have stepped in a time or two. You may agree or disagree. You are free to believe in whatever you like. That is none of my business.
Personally, I believe in God, Jesus Christ his only son and my personal savior. I love the story of the birth and the nativity. I also believe in Easter and his death and resurrection and the promise of the life in the hereafter. As we get caught up in all the holiday activities, I am always aware of His presence. The holidays bring an unending flood of memories for each of us. Some good and maybe some not so good. As you go about your celebration this year, I pray it will be joyous and memorable for you. This is a great time of year to reflect. What have been your happiest holiday moments? Take a few minutes to think about that and I bet you’ll find a smile on your lips before long. Say hello or smile at a stranger this season. Hug your neighbor or as my former radio colleague said on a song, “Lighten up, It’s Christmas!”
Wait! I hear a noise on the roof! Could it be…? Hmm. I wonder if that fat guy in the red suit has landed on my roof again. Those reindeer—man, they sure can be messy. I think I’ll go get a Blackberry eggnog before I go check. Merry Christmas, Y’all!

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The Candles in Our Window

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One of my earliest memories of Christmas was from the early 50’s. It was the lights. Our little family didn’t have much money. I think we were one of those “beginner families” starting to get a foothold in the years after WW II. We did have a Christmas tree with those strings of lights that would go out if one light burnt out. I learned from personal experience those lights would burn your fingers if you touched them. So I made it a point to leave them alone.

Even with the array of colors on the tree the thing that made the greatest impression on me were the candle lights in the windows of our house. Each window facing the street had a candle with a plastic base that supported three white columns topped with orange colored lights. As a child of about six, I didn’t understand the significance of those candles. I still remember my mother telling me why we put them in the window every year.

First she explained to me how Joseph & Mary had travelled so far but still could not find an inn or a place to spend the night. She told me how they ended up staying in a drafty old stable. Then she told me about how their path was guided by a star and how that star directed the shepherds and Magi to the humble little stable so they could find Jesus, the Christ child. She went on to explain to me that was why we put the candles in the window every year; to let the Christ child know that if he saw our lights that he would be welcome in our home. I remember thinking how cool that would be if he would come and visit our house. I secretly waited to hear a knock at the door.

In those days, it seemed everyone had those kind of candles in their windows too. Then as the years went on, the light displays got bigger, brighter and gaudier, those candles got relegated to the attic or some other unseen place. As I’ve driven around this year I have seen several homes with the candles in the windows again. It pleases me to see them coming back. There is a certain understated elegance in the simplicity of those candles. Just looking at them brings me back to a simpler uncomplicated time. The lighted candles were one of our family’s longest held traditions. I’m still hoping to hear a knock at the door.

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My Heart Pillow

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Going through Open Heart surgery is an interesting journey. Ask anyone who has been through it. Each person has their own experience. Each of us made our way through the healing process. Although each of our cases are unique at the same time it’s all the same, only different. I needed to have an Aortic Valve replacement and Triple Bypass surgery.
Before the surgery, needless to say, I had a lot on my mind. I focused on the surgery itself. I went so far as to go to YouTube to watch how the surgery was done. It was gory but it was very interesting. Yes, I must be honest with you and say the thought did cross my mind that I might not make it out the other side but I didn’t dwell on it. I made the commitment to do this (like I had a choice). It was out of my hands. It was all up to Dr. Dewann and his surgical team. I trusted them to do what they do. I already knew they had a great track record. They had a wonderful reputation. He had previously worked on my 80 somethin’ year old mother-in-law and bought her several more years of life out of an already bad heart. Yeah, I trusted him.
I can tell you lots of stories about those days. There were some good times, some real struggles with some personal triumphs along the way. What I am about to share, really happened. The absurdity of it remains with me to this day.

To put it mildly, open heart surgery is traumatic. It is an assault on your physical being. I remember drifting off to sleep as I was being wheeled into the operating room. I have no real memories until I woke up in the Recovery Room and I really don’t remember much of that. I think the first thing I really remember was being sat up on the hospital bed, being held by a couple of people and being told to walk to the chair beside the bed. I remember rising to the upright position with a fleeting thought that my insides were going to fall out onto the floor. I already knew that wasn’t going to happen but I thought it. Being on those drugs is not conducive to thinking clearly.
Before I got to the chair I was given a red heart shaped pillow. I was given some quick instructions that explained what the pillow was for. The nurse told me that if I felt a cough or sneeze coming on, I was to pull the pillow up to the chest covering the scar and squeeze while I coughed or sneezed. That would relieve some of the pain. It would quickly become a close friend. It went with me everywhere. I would later joke that it was my American Express, I never left home without it.

I suppose my recovery was pretty normal. I never really had any complications to speak of. Recovery is just an arduous process. It can be exasperating. Seems like I was never pleased with my progress. I wanted to to heal faster and do the things I couldn’t. Driving was one of them. I was told I could not drive for 6 to 8 weeks. At first you are sore. You move fairly slowly. You are constantly making mental scans of your body, sensitive to any little twinge or tingle. You listen for your own heartbeat. It is all perfectly natural. As I said, it is a process and it takes time and there is no point trying to rush it. Your body knows what it wants and will tell you what it will and will not tolerate. You get in tune with what your body is telling you.

In time you will feel better and you’ll want to do more. That’s how it was with me. More and more I was willing to go out little at a time into the real world and build some of my stamina. We would do some of the stores and just walk around. I never left the house without my pillow. You never know when you’ll cough, sneeze or even laugh. Squeezing the pillow seemed to alleviate some of the pain and soreness. It was my friend.
About 6 or 7 weeks later, the day I was looking forward to finally arrived. It was the day I could finally drive. My car needed an oil change, so first thing in the morning I drove over to the Wal-Mart in Buda to get the car serviced.It was my first time out of the house alone. It was Tweed’s big adventure.

As I said, it was early in the morning and not very busy. So while they worked on the car I slowly haunted the store and found a few small items to purchase. One of the powers of the pillow was it became a great conversation piece. As I walked around the store total strangers would ask me how long it had been since the heart surgery. They knew. They would tell me they have one of these too at home. I’d learn they had one like mine 5 years ago or more. The pillow was a bonding thing. It’s like a fraternity that not everybody is in. These were open heart surgery survivors. There is a clearly identifiable, automatic bond there. Open heart survivors just know what we have gone through and have empathy for the healing journey. Who knew all that would come from hugging a pillow?

When it came time to pick up the car I took my items to the self-checkout area. I placed my big red heart pillow beside the scanner. I proceeded to scan my 3 or 4 items and bagged them. I picked up my pillow and my items and headed toward the auto service area. Just then the person in charge of the self-checkout area approached me and asked, “Are you going to pay for that pillow?” I quizzically looked down at my pillow and glanced up at her and said, “’Mam, I have already paid for that pillow but you can have one just like it for about $257,000.” She gave me this faraway look as if she was trying to figure out. “On what aisle number do we sell these?” The look on her face was priceless. I couldn’t help but smile as I walked away.

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Filed under attitude, Bypass Surgery, Family

Hal “Pop” Oldham

Sometimes something or somebody just pops into your head and it just takes up residency there until you figure out why the thought came to you at all. This morning as I awoke, my stepfather, Hal “Pop” Oldham was on my mind. He passed away in 2002. I wondered why he was there. Why now? I did the quick math and I realized that today is the 13th anniversary of his passing.
Hal was special to me. I loved that man. I had had a dysfunctional relationship with my own father going back to my earliest days. Fortunately, we had a reconciliation and worked out our issues before his death in 1983. All has been forgiven.
My mom was a single mom for many years and often worked a couple of jobs at a time so I could have a good life. We were poor as church mice but I never really knew that. At some point, when I was 13 or 14, Hal came into my life at a time when a boy needed a strong male role model in his life.
One of his great gifts was that he listened to me. At that age, there are just some things a boy can’t talk to his mother about. Hal was there. I could never repay him for the time, attention and the mentally stimulating conversations we had at the dinner table. At our house on Lincoln St, it was common for us to put on the beautiful music and light a couple of candles at dinner time. It created a soothing atmosphere. After dinner and the dishes were cleared, Hal & I would have long conversations about current and world events, politics, the stock market—pretty much whatever came to mind. I learned a lot from him. He certainly was one of those few people who have had the largest impact on my life.
I had the most precious experience of spending 11 days with him before he died. As I sat by his hospital bed, we had some wonderful and priceless conversations. We laughed. We cried. These were precious, poignant, private moments. We reflected on his life. He opened up to me like he never had before. We talked about what he did during WW II, his early home life, his love of the law (He nearly became a lawyer) and how he became a Chef.
We talked about everything. It was surreal at times. He spent a lot of time apologizing to me for the things he didn’t do for me when I was growing up. He wished he could have done more. I stopped him and told him that he didn’t owe me any apology. If anything, I owe him. I thanked him for everything he ever did for me. He helped to mold me into the person that I am. We talked about my mom and the love we both had for her. He deeply loved my mom. I know that.
I remember sitting in that hospital room and talking about his limited future and what would come next. We planned his memorial service and funeral service much like you discuss this weekend’s pot luck social. He loved the sea and wanted to be cremated and dispersed at sea by the Navy. I arranged for that to happen. I would not trade those 11 days for anything I have experienced in the world.
I received the call from the doctor that he had passed away quietly in his sleep. As much as I felt the loss, I was relieved to know his suffering was over. A memorial service was set up in Laconia at the funeral. What follows is the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service in 2002. I share that with you now.

Norma and Hal Oldham  July 23 1993 My Mom, Norma and Hal “Pop” Oldham

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Filed under Family, motivation, Patriotism