Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Missing Mom, Two Years Later...

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It’s hard to believe, but it’s now been two years since Mom left us.  It’s still so fresh, it honestly feels like only a month.

On December 22, 2004 my mom passed away after a difficult battle with cancer.  In June of 2003, it was discovered that Mom had uterine cancer.  It breaks my heart in uncountable ways; Dad just died in February 2001, after his struggle with cancer for 2 years.  Then his younger brother (my Uncle Shane) succumbed to it as well.  My poor Mom… she had so little time on her own before battling cancer too.

In the summer of 2004, we learned it traveled to her brain and the doctors no longer had any options left.  Mom underwent cranial radiation, which (to me) just made things worse for her.  I feel weird just writing about it here--because it makes my head pound at the unfairness of it all (she was only 64--Dad was 63 when he died) and makes my heart ache after a lifetime of raising so many kids, and dealing with my dad’s sickness for the so long, she just deserved to have some quality time, being independent and not having to take care of anybody besides herself.

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A thank you note from my mom in 2003 (click to enlarge)

I still have a hard time believing she’s really gone; still find it difficult knowing I just can’t pick up the phone to call her and chat.  She always made time to talk to me, no matter what day of the week, night or day.

Thank God I learned to drive when I did, I was able to go home a lot more than ever before.  I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving before she began getting sick; I went home for a 4 day stay, and we used the time to go shopping (at her favorite place, the dollar stores!) and to dinner at our favorite place (Long Johns); one night we were given free tickets for the Opera House, drove up there--it was “Harry Potter”.  After 45 minutes, I turned to her and said “I hate this movie!“  She said “Omigod, me too! Let’s go!“  but the evening was still a lot of fun.

She’s buried now beside Dad in the Morris Cemetery.  Her house was sold, most of her possessions given away; we don’t even have many photos of her, as she was so resistant to getting her picture taken.  Often I’ll call Shawn and say “I miss her so much, the hurt doesn’t go away” and Shawn will begin crying and agree.

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Mom's dad, Arol Belford.  He died when she was just a little girl, yet she talked of him often.  This was the only photo she had of him. 

 

I sure am grateful that Mom got to see Shawn’s little girl, at least.  But I feel sad for Shawn too; when Drew was born, she had both our parents, even Grandma Morris was still alive and well.  Sophia basically has nobody in the traditional respect.  (Though Shawn does have a fairly large network of friends, her church, myself...)   But seeing Sophia (and her other granddaughter Drew, who's becoming quite the young woman) grow up with "Nana" would've been the best.  

 

I miss and love you very much, Mom

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Grandma Morris: she was one in a million


Her name was Dorothy May Morris.

She was born on October 16, 1914. She died in the spring of ‘97, and not a day goes by that I don‘t think of her and miss her very much. After all this time, when I get to thinking about her, my throat still hurts. I‘m sure that there‘s millions of people out there that loved their grandparents just as much, but it doesn’t make mine any less special.

I always felt a bit closer to her than the other kids...I’m not sure why. I know she loved all of us, but she always made me feel like we were special buddies. She had a terrific sense of humor, and was smart as a whip--she loved math and crossword puzzles, gameshows, and travel. She had a gambling streak in her (Las Vegas was her favorite vacation--bingo and the lottery were her hobbies!) but this wasn’t until pretty late in her life, after she was on her own. She was a terrific cook, and her specialties were the things you want your grandma to be good at--she baked her own bread & pies. She picked berries in the woods, made her own jellies, shelled beans and canned all her fruits and vegetables. (Though she had a weakness for snack crackers!)

I never heard her say a single negative word about anyone, and she had the best laugh in the world. When I was a kid, the times I looked forward to most was spending the weekend with her and on Christmas, when she spent the night with us Christmas Eve.

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Dad & Grandma, Christmas 1971

I know I’ve been blessed in life to be loved by family and friends. But it always seemed like she was the one who loved me so unconditionally. Not as a son, or brother, or friend...it was like we were kindred spirits, and understood each other. I felt completely at ease telling her anything, and loved her stories about her life. Her dreams of being a nurse when she was young, the hard times raising 5 kids with no money (yet she must’ve done something right--my dad, uncles and aunts loved her fiercely). Not once did I ever see her raise her voice, or get angry. She diffused everything with love and humor.

I never understood her relationship with Grandpap Morris (though I barely knew Dad’s dad). When I was very little, I remember her living on her own, but talked about “Ace” all the time, as if he were just gone for the weekend. I know it was a big thing when her & Grandpap decided to live together again, and we enjoyed a lot of family get-togethers at their place (before Grandpap died, in 1982).


 
Grandpap & Grandma Morris, Great Uncle Kenneth & Aunt Ruth Morris, a family picnic July 1972

But my fondest memories were of the years she had her own place, like her apartment on Washington St. On Wednesday nights, Mom would drop Duke & I off in town for Boy Scout meetings, and we’d have dinner at Grandma’s, or go to where she worked at the Waynesburg Restaurant and have dinner there, and wait for her shift to end. Eventually Duke quit the scouts, and I did 2 years after...but we still had those Wednesday evenings at Grandma’s place.

One of my funniest memories of her was when I was in college. I was dating Charlotte Conklin at the time, and one night we went to visit Grandma & Grandpap. Grandma asked Charlotte what kind of music she liked, and when Charlotte shrugged her shoulders, Grandma said “I bet you like the Rolling Stones!“ and grabbed the pole lamp by Grandpap’s chair and started pretending she was Mick Jagger with his mike. Grandpap just sat there staring at her and finally said “May, I was using that to read my paper...“ and she yelled “Then stick your finger in your eye and make starlight!“



Dorothy May Morris, 1968


Grandma was also the only one that was always so concerned that I was still single, right up until she died. She always asked me what I was doing about it, and I’d say I wasn’t using the right bait, and she’d say “McDougal, you have the right bait but you’re not going fishing!“ If I ever do meet the right person and get married someday, I’m going to regret them not having the chance to know one another.




Well, I know this sounds corny but...she loved my dad so much, and he worshipped her. I hope that in some way they’re together again...I miss my old buddy Grandma very much.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

If I’m going to start somewhere, let it be here: Life as I knew it in the 1960’s and ‘70s…

Me and Shawn 1967

Hi, and welcome to ApacheDug’s Teepee. I've been wondering how to begin this personal blog of mine, and decided to start at the beginning—well, mine that is! I’ve always been sentimental when it comes to the past, & always had a fondness for dates & events. But the older I get, the hazier my personal recollections become, and the more I feel the need to get things down. So away we go…

Shawn & me on East Franklin Street, 1967

I think one of my clearest memories is March 1966, and seeing my mom come home with a baby (my brother Steve) and wondering how long he’d be staying. I was sitting on my parent’s bed with a Yogi Bear slide projector, showing cartoon slides on the wall and wondering what all the fuss was about. (I was 4 years old--and I can still remember it.)  Six months later when I started kindergarten--my first exposure to other kids my age--I can recall the shock I felt at walking in there, holding my older brother Duke’s hand, and seeing all those other kids. Where did they all come from? Back then, there was no such thing as preschool or daycare. Kindergarten

Kindergarten photo, 1966 – the photographer tried to remove my Bible School pin from my lapel & I had a panic attack

There on Franklin Street, we lived near a family named the Teagardens. They had a daughter my age, Kathy, whom I had a love/hate relationship with. She confided to me that girls used toilet paper even when they peed, but also turned me in to Mrs. Brown (our second grade teacher) the day I found a dollar bill in the street and bought 20 packs of chewing gum at McCracken’s Pharmacy on the way to school.  Like I said....love/hate.

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Shawn, Donda, me, Steve on Cumberland Street, 1970

I also remember in the spring of 1967, Mom had this huge birthday party for Duke and invited his entire class--and back then, they all came dressed up and bearing gifts--nice ones. Shawn & I were to sit on the front porch and collect them as they came in. We sat there, gifts piled from our laps to our chins, both thinking the same thing--”all of these are for Duke??”   Also that summer, Duke had gotten this karate book in the mail, and was “instructing” a couple of his friends in our back yard on the complexity of the judo chop.  He then began demonstrating the correct way to say “Hell” when we heard Mom’s hoarse cry from an upstairs window. The only thing I remember after that was seeing Duke sitting on his bed, his mouth smeared with soap and crying pretty hard.  (Do kids still get punished like that? I hope not.)

In 1968, we moved to 260 Cumberland Street. To this day, this remains my favorite house of our childhood.  I had a new best friend in school named Randy Matheson, and was in love with the girl that lived down the street from us (whom I later learned treated Shawn badly), Heidi Sisler. She always seemed to be wearing a red plaid dress.

We had a neighborhood bully of course, Wayne Eddy. He rode around on a rusty bike and told kids that there was no Santa Claus. Whenever I was sent up the street to Howard’s Market to buy groceries, he’d follow me home and threaten to beat me up if I didn’t hand over the change in my pockets.  (I always put it in the bag, and told him I had none.)  The funny thing was, this punk was only a couple years older than me and walked around with a cigarette dangling from his lips. What 8-9 year old kid smoked!?

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Cumberland Street photos--the first is the Morris kids, with our cousin Mark holding our dog 'Bone'; the second is Shawn, Steve & myself on Halloween. And yep, that's long red underwear I'm wearing; my grandmother had sewn a tail on the rear flap

In 1969, my third grade class at South Ward Elementary (right behind the Waynesburg Post Office) went “mod” and merged with the fourth grade, “Class Green”.  (It was some sort of of 60’s classroom experiment that actually worked pretty well.)  We had this hip new teacher right out of college named Mr. Porter. I just remember him as being very tall and softspoken, with long sideburns and a gentle nature. Sometimes his girlfriend would come to visit him at lunch; she had long black hair, was still in college and wore an Indian-style headband... I thought she was a real Indian.

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"Parents Night"

One day in third grade, Mr. Porter advised us to clean out our desks as that night was 'Parents Night', where our folks would be coming to meet with the teachers & visit our classroom. I remember going home filled with dread, as my desk was a real mess, stuffed with papers & drawings. A hopeless cause.

The next morning, Mr.Porter told us that our parents were asked to leave notes which he taped to the top of our desks, detailing what they thought.  Many kids got angry messages saying things like "Clean your desk, you embarrassed me!"  Nervously I opened mine--it said "You're a beautiful and talented boy and we are proud of you.  Love Mom & Dad." I showed it to everybody, and years later, at my first job as a busboy at the Pancake House, a coworker who I hadn't seen since we went to school together in 1970 remembered me--and my mom’s note.


At home in the late 60‘s, I remember us kids watching (on our first color tv)  “Bewitched” on Thursday nights, and on Monday nights “Laugh-In”.  My favorite show of course, was Batman. We had the coolest babysitter, a teenager named Barbie Konopski, when Dad went out to play music and Mom tagged along. She’d let me stay up longer than the other kids, but only because she found me more entertaining. I remember her telling me she was paid 50 cents an hour (the going rate for babysitters) and I freaked--I thought she was gouging my poor parents.

In January of 69, my sister DondaLin was born. I’m not sure why we were home from school that day, but I do remember Mom & Dad walking in with her, during “The Mike Douglas Show”. (My brother Duke was upstairs in bed, sick with the flu—our mom wasn’t the only one that had a rough night.)  The night before when Dad called home to say Mom had a little girl, we were shocked--we already had a little sister! Don’t question the logic of a 7 and 10 year old.

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Cumberland St, Mom & Donda Lin, 1969

I’ll never forget one night in the summer of ‘69, rushing home from my friend Randy’s house to see the premiere of “The Brady Bunch”.  (It had been advertised all summer.)  Afterwards my mom said “Who do they think is going to watch this crap!” but I was immediately smitten. One year later, in the summer of '70--Mom & Dad announced they had found a bigger house (we needed it, Shawn’s room was too small for 2 girls) and that’s when we moved to “the country”.

My mom was never very happy with the farmhouse. We had to rely on a shallow well for water, and it was ALWAYS in short supply. I enjoyed growing up “out there” though....we knew our parents didn’t have a lot of money, but it never seemed to be a dire problem. Mom always made sure we had great birthdays and wonderful Christmases, and the livingroom would be literally overflowing with gifts.
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At the farmhouse, 1970; Duke, myself, Shawn. A new school & we're about to ride a school bus for the first time...ulp

I think what I remember most about growing up in the 70s was the weekends. Every Saturday morning, Dad would drive Shawn & I into town & drop us off for a couple hours. First we’d hit the “Good News Shop”, a newsstand so I could buy that week’s latest comic books. I was a huge fan of stuff like Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern...and back in the early Seventies, they were between 15-20 cents each. (That’s what makes me feel my age--nowadays they’re an “art-form” and can cost several dollars for a single magazine; how do kids today afford all their favorites?)

Here's some of the comics I was reading (and loving) from that time. My favorite things to do as a kid (when I wasn’t watching too much TV) were reading comics and drawing. I used to sit in my room for hours doing just that. The comic books grew to become quite a collection...I had a couple thousand, always neatly kept and in the right categories--until I sold them all when I was 19. I regret it to this day.

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When we got home from our day in town, we’d take our stuff upstairs, lay out the goods around a couple set-up board games, and play until dinner or until we were tired.  And on Saturday nights, we watched “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (still my favorite), “The Bob Newhart Show” and finally “The Carol Burnett Show” (that was Shawn’s favorite).

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I always told myself that when I grew up and was single, I’d have a cool studio apartment and quirky friends like Mary Tyler Moore. But after I got married, I’d live the life of a sophisticated couple like the Newharts in a luxury high-rise

Even though I was very close to Shawn, my older brother Duke was the one that turned me on to science fiction, particularly Star Trek...which I grew to love (and still do).  He used to sneak me into the movies with him (stuff that Mom didn‘t think I could handle), to see great films like all of the “Planet of the Apes” movies, and those Irwin Allen disaster flicks like “Earthquake”, “The Towering Inferno” & “The Poseidon Adventure“. They’re tame by kids’ standards today, but for a 8-10 year old in the early 70s, it was just the best stuff ever.
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Donda, Steve, Shawn, myself at Ryerson Station Park, 1974. We often had cookouts here every summer

In 1975, our youngest sister Courtney was born & I can still remember the shock I felt when Mom came into the kitchen one Saturday morning & announced she was pregnant. She said “Oh Don, guess where I’ve been?” Dad replied “Did you just get in?”  Mom said “You idiot, I’ve been downstairs throwing up. I’m pregnant!”  But she was a welcome addition to the family, and quickly became the love of everybody’s lives. We literally became a “Brady Bunch”--3 boys, 3 girls. The moment Mom came home with Courtney, Shawn took her right into her arms and became more than just a sister to her in those early years. Sadly, it was also around this time that I began having seizures. I was diagnosed (to my mother’s horror, like her own dad) with epilepsy. It was something I’d have to live with for many years.

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Remember when Mike Brady snuck the kids off for a family portrait for their mother's anniversary? Our dad did the same with us, in the spring of 1978; (that's me, Steve & Duke; Shawn, Courtney & Donda.)

It was also around this time (1976) that I got my first “real” girlfriend, Penny, who lived up the road from us. She was different than other girls our age, and wore miniskirts when everyone else wore “maxis”. She also wore pantyhose and eye makeup and was the first girl I kissed. (The first time we did, I was so embarrassed I pulled away and high-tailed it down the red-dog road from her farmhouse!)
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Penny & me on the red dog road between our two houses, 1976

But after awhile, we got to be "pros" & would take a tape player up into the pasture behind her house and smooch for hours to The Captain and Tennille & Olivia Newton-John.

Contrary to what my mom thought, we never went further then those heavy petting sessions, but we sure did that enough. (I was in 8th grade and it would be 3 more years before I got that serious with a girl again.... my senior girlfriend Sherri.  But there were school dances and crushes in between… girls like Barb Rollison & Isabel Berry.

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My best friend, Dan Roberts & me, 1979--he was in the school band & talked me into joining; after I did, he quit! But I enjoyed it, and learned how to play the trumpet too--my poor family!

I wasn’t a bad kid--I never experimented with drugs, I never 'partied' or drank; but I did rebel a couple times. Once in 11th grade, I ran away to Florida with my best friend, Dan Roberts. I’ll always feel enormous guilt for that. It was something Dan had been planning to do for months (he was fed up with living on a farm and ready for adventure) and would ask me frequently to to go with him. I always said no thanks, and then one evening in April 1978, I xame home from the library and my mom began yelling at me for not being there; I tried explaining I was only at the library, but she was too angry for any excuses.  I called Dan that night and said “Let’s go”.

We took off for Florida the next day (after a quick stop at the drugstore—I had to get my epilepsy medication refilled!)  He was planning to stay down there, find work somewhere. I had no idea what I’d be doing, but knew that first night what an awful mistake I had made. I can still remember us sitting in that hotel room, 'Charlie's Angels' was on & I couldn’t stop staring at the phone.  Anyway, it turns out his mom & dad had driven thru the night and ‘knew’ where we were going.  They brought us home but my parents were too shocked to punish me.  The guilt I felt over that lasted a long time.  It was something my mom liked to remind me of for many years too.
Sherri, Jr-Sr Prom 

Sherri & me, 1979 Junior-Senior Prom; we met & dated during my senior year

Wrapping up the Seventies--when I graduated from high school, I had no idea what lay ahead for me as I hadn’t made any plans.  In fact, I was taken by surprise a couple months before graduating when I was sitting in school one day, listening to the morning’s announcements over the PA system, and they were reading the senior personalities.  When they said “Most likely to succeed--Doug Morris & Karen Huffman” I almost fell off my chair.  (I hadn’t voted myself for any of the categories; I was enormously flattered, but for years I felt guilty for not living up to the title.) Anyway, that summer after graduation I had a falling-out with my parents. They thought that my relationship with Sherri was too serious, and would keep me from going to college.  When my dad told me I had two options--stop seeing her or else, I took the else, and moved out.  I returned months later, still with no plans... only this time I had no job & things with Sherri had cooled considerably.

But I felt like I'd done a lot of growing up in those few months of independence, and while I confess that the years after graduation were far from easy ones, I eventually found my way.

(To be continued in “The Search for Spock: An Eighties Timeline”)

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