RAMBLINGS • Family Caring For Family

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As a young person (under or about 21), I thought I knew all there was to know about myself; motives, inspirations, hopes–I had it figured out, at least on a personal level. 

Admittedly, my world view was rather narrow. Even with little living experience, I knew I didn’t have a clue as to the enormity of the world’s problems. That was a good thing. Had I known then what I know now, I would have been overwhelmed.

By the summer of 1964, Judy had become the anchor of my world. She had begun to realize–and perhaps fear–that. I wanted my world, whatever it would become, to be our world. A quote I found on the back of the Feb. 14, 2021, page from the Pearls Before Swine calendar that I keep on my sun porch desk summed it up nicely; Ralph Connor once wrote, “Love, you know, seeks to make happy rather than to be happy.”

In my youthful arrogance, I assumed I could make her happier than she would be if she chose one of her other suitors, all of whom I would disparage in my mind. She and I had been good (I would have written best in my perspective) friends for three or four years; I suspect she reserved best as an adjective for two close friends she had in high school, then a roommate in junior college and then another from her first semester at Blackburn. I wasn’t worried about them (any female friend of hers was a friend of mine); as a smart-aleck English major, I’d remind her one could have only one best friend, and she was mine, no matter what she thought of me.

At least on my part, and I believe wholeheartedly on Judy’s part too, physical lust was rather low on the list of attractions. I know this is hard to believe in the sexual world that developed in the free-love era of the late ‘60s, but we didn’t sleep with each other until we were married. We didn’t sleep with anyone else either, before or after marriage. We were proud of our faithfulness when she passed, and I still am.

We grew up in a different world than I live in now; I won’t say I haven’t been tempted to taste modern ways, but I’ve been faithful since her death, and I’m still proud of that. Life is complicated enough without lustful dalliances. 

Daughter Dawn said I needed to find someone after my wife/her mom passed because, “You’re too young to be alone.” I was 48. She also said, “You’re going to have to lower your standards a lot,” probably in reaction to my reaction to her and her sister’s suitors. Not because of her urging but because society then seemed to push the unmarried into relationships, I actually tried to find someone.

I felt less than inspired as I searched, though. Anyone ten years younger was from a different mind set; even musical tastes weren’t the same. Thirty-somethings liked groups I hadn’t even heard of, and none liked Johnny Cash. Those ten years older? No go–too much like dating someone my mom’s age; to me that was a disgusting thought.

I didn’t trust the motive of anyone seeking love on the internet, nor did I know how to access those or any other sites. I wasn’t going to ask a daughter to help me either. I did find a lady, or perhaps was found by a lady, who met what Dawn called my high standards –no booze, no drugs, no smoking, no bar-hopping, but for me there wasn’t enough spark to keep the relationship alive when her career called her to make a geographic move. I was still teaching and coaching; I was more fond of my grandchildren than I was of her, and she sensed that. She had a strong work ethic, too, so she wasn’t about to give up her job, and I knew that, so we became what she termed pen pals. That was good enough for me; sadly, she has since passed, and I lost another friend to cancer.

At least Judy and I had 25 years together. When she passed, Dawn was newly married as a 21-year-old (Judy was alive to witness her marriage) and Jenni was 19 and a freshman at Illinois College. I was an empty-nester, but I still felt responsible for the girls. I knew they could need me–not my guidance, which they were too Deabenderfer to heed, but my support in other ways. They and the need I had to teach were enough to motivate me to keep going despite the fearful loneliness.

Three years later Kaylyn was born, in ‘97 Kyle appeared, and in 2004 Kamryn made her appearance. I didn’t know how much I liked small children till they came along. I rocked and sang Dawn and Jenni to sleep when they were small, but Judy was their primary caregiver; that was the way of the world (at least my world) in the early 1970s. With my grandkids I wanted to be hands-on–in a way taking, Judy’s place. Their paternal grandmother lived in Bloomington and seldom saw them, so I was it as a grandparent figure when their father left the family circle. I felt the need for my presence was even more apparent. Only time will tell if I did a good job with them.

Now I have a great-granddaughter, Kaylyn and Chuck’s baby girl, Emma. I don’t see her often, and for a while that really bothered me. I have yet to rock her to sleep, and I’ve seen her so seldom, she runs from me rather than to me. That’s not a reaction to which I’m accustomed. However, a string of events have changed my perspective about it from sadness to acceptance.

Kaylyn and Chuck both work, as current culture driven by economic conditions demand. I remember the sadness I felt and the guilt Judy expressed when she rejoined the work force while our girls were in pre-school; her mother had stayed home with her children until they were at least in high school, and my mom held an outside-the-home job only once, when she needed money for dentures, so we had assumed I’d be the bread winner until it became obvious there wouldn’t be much bread if she didn’t work too. That was in the early ‘70s, but we were lucky–more about that later.

Dawn had been working from home even before the pandemic began, thanks to the capabilities CTI provided. So, after Emma was born, when Kaylyn returned to work, Grandma Dawn watched her during the day, working at night and whenever Kaylyn and/or Chuck had Emma. When I’d visit, it was so obvious that a bond had developed between the two that even I couldn’t be envious. The world was as it should be; family was caring for family.

That realization was enforced when Dawn and I attended Luretta Satterlee’s funeral in early April of this year. As I mentioned when I wrote about friend Houston in a past column, Luretta had become the baby-sitter for Dawn and Jenni when Judy returned to work. Both Judy’s mom and mine were back in PA, so Luretta became as close to a grandmother figure as they would know on a day-to-day basis. We paid her, of course, but I’m sure it wasn’t much. She knew we couldn’t afford much. Hugh, her youngest, was in grade school, so the girls kept her busy, and she did it from love of children as much as for the money. The state doesn’t allow that to happen these days.

Emma now spends her days making friends at the day care center on the hospital campus; grandma goes over early to retrieve her some days. When she’s old enough to go for walks and eat macaroni and cheese, great-grandad might do the same.

Until then, I’m at peace with the status quo.

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