Monday, August 1, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 43: Tending my little cousin Sue while my Aunt Vesta has a hysterectomy and deciding to live with Aunt Darlene for a year because my Uncle Crae was still missing in action

Just as I was getting ready to go back to Boulder, Mother called and said that my Aunt Vesta needed someone to come to Washington and take care of her baby while she had a hysterectomy which just could not wait.  Margie had gone to high school in Richland a year, but for some reason she could not go or Mother thought I should.  I don't know all the reasons that she decided I needed to go up there immediately.
I was mainly worried that Dean would end his basic training and would come home while I was gone, and I would miss him altogether.  But I knew if Margie couldn't go there was nobody in the family old enough to take that responsibility besides me.

Baby Sue had nearly lost her life when she was very young. When she was born she appeared to be so healthy that the doctors decided she had not been affected by the incompatible blood types of her parents, one positive and the other, my aunt, R-H-negative.  Then suddenly Baby Sue started to fail and had to be hospitalized immediately and her blood transfused.  She had recovered but now, sadly, Aunt Vesta was telling Mother that she was showing some signs of brain damage they thought, which her older brother Jim had escaped when he was transfused.  They had gotten to him in time. 
When I saw Sue after I took a plane to Pasco, I thought she was such a beautiful child I could not believe anything could be wrong with her.  She had black curling hair and the most gorgeous big blue eyes.  But after I took her and started handling her I could see that at nine months old she was slightly stiff.  I did not want to think it, nobody wanted to think it, but she did seem somewhat brain damaged.
I thought the very least I could do is give a month out of my life to her.  What kind of life was she going to have if she was indeed impaired. Nobody really knew then what that damage was going to consist of, but she was a pretty easy baby for me to tend.
She turned out to have quite a severe case of cerebral palsy and was completely deaf, but my Aunt Vesta went to college and learned to teach children who were handicapped as she was. Eventually she learned to read lips so well that her boss was not aware for three years she was deaf.  She continued to work until she was very close to retirement age.  She is one of the biggest success stories I know about of someone conquering such a severe handicap.  How could I possibly complain about my lot in life I always used to think when Sue with cerebral palsy had risen to the challenge of making a life for herself with such perseverance and courage. 

In those days women stayed in the hospital longer after an operation.  Aunt Vesta did not come home for ten days or so, and I stayed a couple of weeks more so that she could have time to recover before she started to lift Sue again.  She needed me there to lift her until she would not risk her stitches tearing loose if she did.

That was a sobering time for me, but I did not regret helping her out, and tending Sue caused me to start thinking about another plan I had to get better acquainted with another little cousin, the daughter of my Uncle Crae, my mother's brother, who was still listed as missing in action in the war with Japan.  His plane had gone down in 1945, and in spite of ground searches, had not been found.  The pilot had radioed they were going down on land.
Crae's wife, Darlene, lived with her daughter Trudy in a house on the east side in Salt Lake owned by her mother.  Her youngest brother was still going to high school.  Her youngest sister had just graduated from high school and was going to BYU. Her mother worked and Darlene took care of the housekeeping and cooking while staying at home with Trudy who was about five years old.  
I was thinking about asking Darlene if she and her mother would rent Margie and me a room.  We could easily take the bus to the University from her house.  It was a very safe neighborhood.  I didn't know if Margie would be willing to share this room with me, as I thought since she was planning to enter the nursing program, she would soon be going to live in the nurse's dorm, after she had completed her first year of requirements.
Margie wasn't too excited about the idea.  She had been thinking she would go to the freshman dorm as I had.  But I tried to convince her this was probably our only chance to interact with this little girl and her mother.  I thought that it was best thing we could ever do for our missing Uncle Crae, as I didn't see how we could even know Aunt Darlene or Trudy just seeing them to an occasional family reunion.  We could talk to Aunt Darlene if we stayed with her, and try to draw her out about her loss.  I knew it was tremendous. I thought we could also catch up on some sister talk we had been missing all the years she and I had been separated.
Well, maybe because Margie had not gone to Washington to take care of Sue and I had, she agreed to go along with my plan even though I knew she doubted she could have as much fun as she could to the freshman dorm.  And our experience staying with Aunt Darlene proved to be even more austere than I feared.  Aunt Darlene was absolutely convinced that Crae had made his way to a Shangri-la from the plane and was still alive and happy and would come home someday.
But I talked to her a lot.  Margie and I had classes at different times.  I don't know what she did, but I found out Darlene had lived a very hard life.  As the oldest of eight children, she had always been the babysitter while her mother worked, as her father had deserted the family.
She said one night she was home and she looked up and saw her father on the back porch.  He looked back at her, and then he just simply walked away again.  I thought that was such a sad story.  Her mother was a more cheerful sort than the melancholy Aunt Darlene who found her comfort in the church.  Her mother, who had a steady boyfriend, was not religious but expressed some pride because the daughter who had just graduated from high school was engaged to one of the Prophet Brigham Young's great grandsons, I have forgotten how many greats.
Darlene was one of the few Mormon girls I knew who had insisted on going on a mission.  That was where she and Crae met.  They married, and Crae had not lived to see Trudy who was born after his plane went down.

But Crae was a good guy.  I always felt his spirit was close.  He was happy that Margie and I were trying to do something to help Darlene get over her grief.  Darlene had a hauntingly beautiful face, but I thought she had been damaged by the restricted life she had been forced to lead after her father abandoned his family.
One time I was talking to Darlene in the kitchen, and suddenly there was an exchange between us that I can only describe as a contact of our spirits.  That is the only time I have ever experienced such a thing.  I thought this woman had one of the purest spirits I have ever known even though her opportunities had been so limited.
Not long after we left, Darlene's mother had to have a knee operation if she was to keep on working and supporting her son, and she suffered a fatal heart attack after surgery.  Darlene really was the head of her family now but fortunately her brothers and sisters were independent.  She just had Trudy to worry about, but she never married again. The church was always her comfort. 
Trudy, her daughter, grew up to be a very beautiful young woman who proceeded to have a large family.  She made sure she would never be lonely, but her husband stuck around to help her raise hers.  She had all but forgotten us from the year we spent living in their home.  But I know it made a difference to Crae who I thought looked down from heaven and smiled at us.

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