Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lucky Me – Stories My Mother Told Me

Mom & Me
My mother, my mother told me stories, sang me songs and read to me every day when I was little.  She told stories about her life, her brothers and sisters, her mother and father.  She read fairy tales and folktales from a set of books we called the Red Books which were part of the deal when she purchased a set of encyclopedias when I was about three or four.  By the time I needed to use an encyclopedia they were pretty much out of date, but I still have the Red Books.

A few times when Mom told us, my sisters and me, folktales and fairy tales she made up little songs to put into the stories.  The one I especially remember is The Three Billy Goats Gruff and I use those little ditties when I tell that story.  I loved listening to Mom tell and read stories.  I wanted to remember the stories she told; so I retold them to my imaginary brother, his name was Bother, when he would come to visit me.
I remember sitting in the rock garden overlooking the valley that was next to our rural Ohio home.  Brother lived in the Valley.  When I called, “Brother, come up!” sometimes he would be there, and I could practice telling Mom’s stories since he never seemed to be around when she told them.  Brother was a good listener.

My grandpa was an engineer for the gas company in Iowa.  The family moved a lot, and Mom told us stories about all the places she lived.  One I particularly remember is about when she and her older brother got in trouble for throwing crab apples at the trolley.  Her older brother taught her how to play basketball.  These were the olden days, remember, and girls played by different rules in basketball than boys did.  They couldn’t cross the line in the middle of the gym.  But Mom learned to play boys’ rules.  Basketball was a big deal in Iowa even back then.  Mom was on the Girls Basketball Team in High School.  The whistle blew a lot when she was on the court – every time she crossed that middle line!

Mom & Daddy
As we got older, Mom’s stories were sometimes about when she met my dad.  It was a blind date, but they weren’t dating each other.  Daddy’s sister went to the same Nursing School my mom did.  She volunteered her brother as a date for a dance.  Mom’s good friend did not have a date; so…  The day after the double date, Daddy stepped way out of his comfort zone and called Mom to see if he could take her out.  She said, “Yes,” and that was it.

Mom is gone from my life now.  It’s been a number of years.  But those stories she told me, read to me, and the songs she sang to me are still part of me.  They always will be! 

Happy Mother’s Day to my very first storytelling mentor – MY MOM!


Friday, April 12, 2013

Fear of the Unknown


Franklin D. Roosevelt
"So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself --  nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed effortsd to convert retreat into advance."  --Franklin D. Roosevelt

          The month of March brought fear back to me in vivid memory as we waited to see what the prognosis would be on my husband’s open heart surgery.

            I’ve had heart problems most of my life, since I was a youngster stricken with rheumatic fever.  Although that was not the diagnosis at the time, the doctor did come every day for ten days with a huge shot of penicillin.  It got so I didn’t want to see him anymore; I still don’t like needles.  I wasn’t really physical as a kid, but back in those days it was okay for girls not to be athletic; so I contented myself with quieter activities like reading.
With permission of
            Age 23, I had my first genuine physical since I was 10.  Diagnosis: Heart murmur in the mitral valve.  Then fluid started collecting in my lungs at night when I was trying to sleep – scary not being able to breath.  The doctor thought it might be asthma.  I bought an over the counter inhaler which didn’t help at all.  There were nights when I slept in the recliner because lying down was impossible.  Finally, with a little detective work, we figured out the trigger was salt.   That led to the diagnosis of Mitral Stenosis.  The mitral valve had been damaged by the rheumatic fever 20 years before and had degenerated more through the ensuing years.

            Over the next four years, my energy waned along with my weight.  I had been slender, but was now downright skinny weighing only 106 pounds.  I was told we had to wait.  It wasn’t “bad enough to operate.”  So how “bad” did it need to be?  I thought I was dying.  At 26, an echo cardiogram (the computer took up most of the room and the monitor was small with only green on black imaging; now the computer and monitor which shows the heart in vivid colors fit on a cart) and a cardiac catheterization showed that my mitral valve was almost completely useless as the opening was the size of a pencil instead of a large sausage.

            Then when I was almost 28, it was time.  I was scared.  What would happen?  Would I be scarred for life?  Would I die?  My wonderful surgeon explained the whole operation to me – a closed heart commissurotomy which is rarely performed anymore.  He would make an incision under my left breast, stretch my ribs apart, and clean the valve with a small scalpel fitted over his finger.  That was still scary.  We toured the hospital.  That was a little bit reassuring.  My pastor visited with me a number of times to help reassure me.  On November 12, 1975, I presented myself at the admissions window of St. Luke’s Rush Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.  I was as ready as I would ever be.
            I woke up with a tube in my throat.  I could not talk.  The nurses in ICU told me to bang on my bed if I needed something.  My ribs ached something fierce!  Pain meds allowed me to doze in that semi-awake state through the weekend.  I have a few vivid memories of isolated incidents during that time.  Mostly it’s a blur.  The next week was better.  Tubes had been removed; I could talk and walk around.  My ribs still hurt, but not as bad unless someone made me laugh.

            As I recovered, I gained strength.  By that summer, I was playing tennis, running around the track at the local high school, and enjoying as sense of freedom.  Carrying the air-conditioner up from the basement was so easy – not the painful trip to carry it down.  I wondered if it would work since someone had obviously taken the heavy motor out of it.
            The operation was said to last five to seven years; I knew I did not want to lose two years of my life again.  But after the seven years was up, I was still going strong and running after two kids!  Luckily my operation lasted 25 years.  In 2000, I had a balloon valvotomy performed.  No long recovery, I only missed a week of work instead of eight weeks.  A medical advancement well worth waiting for.

            But all that worry, anxiety, and fear came flooding back early in March when my husband told me of his fears.  I believe the fear of the unknown is the hardest fear to overcome.  It is not until you are on the other side that it dissipates.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Waiting ...

I’ve spent a great deal of time waiting the last two months.  Waiting can be exhilarating, tedious, a practice in patience, tiring, full of anticipation, frustrating.  It all depends upon the circumstances surrounding the waiting and whether or not the person waiting has any control over why they are waiting or what they are waiting for.

Waiting to recover from an illness is frustrating.  Your mind is ready to go full-tilt, but your body must have time to recover before it can run smoothly again.  Much of my waiting during the winter has been this.  It’s like taking the car in for service to have one thing fixed and being told there are three other repairs that have to be done now.

Waiting for a Gathering or Meeting (as in meeting another person) that is anticipated to bring great joy and delight is a practice in patience.  We can put our time to good use in preparing for the arrival of Joy.  We can be mindful of how we are proceeding with our wait.

Julie and Cathryn
Jessica Baris and me
Daoist Temple in Chinatown
Waiting for an Event that is sure to offer more than advertised is exhilarating.  Everyone loves getting a good deal, don’t they?  I waited all of January and a bit of February for such an Event.  It proved to be well-worth the wait.  Thanks to Storyteller, Cathryn Fairlee, for her invitation to spend Chinese New Year with her and my cousin, Peggy, for a great time in San Francisco!  Also while in San Francisco, I was pleased to meet in person Wakeful Storyteller, Jessica Baris, whom I had just met a few days earlier via Skype thanks to Buck Creacy and his World of Storytelling Radio.

Waiting for a well-deserved Reward that is having difficulties putting in an appearance is frustrating.  Most of us desire our promised rewards on time.  Come on, we deserve it, don’t we?

Waiting for a Gift is full of anticipation.  Anticipation is titillating, exciting and makes the waiting all seem worthwhile.  

Denver International Airport
Waiting in an airport as I was doing when I wrote this because flight connections did not work (the wind gods plotted on high resulting in a five hour wait) is tedious and tiring. But at least I had something to occupy my mind (my book to read was with me instead of in my suitcase and the internet is free!) and could take a walk to exercise my body. I could have been bored or surreptitiously eaves dropped on others' conversations and watched people scurrying about. Which is, of course, way more fun than being bored!  I wish I had known about the quotation from Diane Wolkstein which is on the window in the B Concourse (thanks to Regina Ress for letting us know about this wonderful tribute) because I would have gone to see it.  Now I must wait until I fly again!

So there are all kinds of waiting.  What do you like or dislike waiting for?

© Julie Moss Herrera, 2013

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