My First Broken Bone

As I wrote last week, my husband and I are dealing with his broken kneecap. He had surgery, which successfully wired the bone pieces back together, and he is moving pretty well a week later, but he will be in the knee immobilizer for several weeks longer.

His broken patella brings to mind my first experience with a broken bone. It was my collarbone. I was three years old . . . I think . . . making it about 1959. Some moments of that episode in my life are etched in concrete on my brain, but the specifics of time and season are not. I know it was a time of year that was cold enough to wear footie pajamas because those play into my memory. But it could have been anywhere from fall 1959 to spring 1960, though I don’t remember Christmas being spoiled by a broken bone, so probably in the fall or spring.

There are no pictures of me with my broken collarbone. Here’s a picture of my brother and me in December 1959.

My family lived in Corvallis, Oregon, at the time. My younger brother and I shared a bedroom. He slept in a crib, and I slept in a big-girl twin bed my father had built. That bed served all four of us children over the next twenty years, but at the time the bed was new, and it was mine. Our family then consisted only of my parents, my brother, and me.

My brother, who was about two years old, could climb out of his crib. And he did almost every morning. He would toddle over to my bed, and we played there. We weren’t supposed to jump on the bed, but we often did. Particularly on weekend mornings, when our parents tried to sleep in, as much as any parents of two pre-schoolers can sleep in.

One Saturday morning we were jumping on our mattress trampoline. I jumped off the foot of the bed (an accident, I assure you) and landed on the rocking horse stabled beside the bed.

Pain! I started crying.

Our parents woke up and called us into their room to chastise us. “My arm hurts,” I wept. Mommy told me that’s what I deserved for jumping on the bed when I wasn’t supposed to.

Over the next few days, I continued to complain about my arm hurting, particularly when Mommy dressed me. Finally, on Tuesday, she took me to the doctor, who ordered X-rays.

I remember the X-rays. I had to lie on a huge table, with a sandbag on my aching arm to hold it in place. It hurt as much as when I fell. I cried and pulled the heavy sandbag off. The nurse held me down and put the bag back in place. She told me I was going to have to stay there until the picture got taken. So I did, but it hurt the whole time, and I cried.

“Her collarbone is broken,” the doctor said. And he fitted me with an instrument of torture to hold the shoulder in place for the next few weeks. It was some type of brace that involved a lot of straps and D-rings to tighten the straps (remember, this was pre-Velcro days). It hurt to put the brace on, and I had to wear it all the time except for when I was taking a bath.

Another picture from December 1959.

Over the next few weeks, I threw many tantrums over having to wear the brace. Meanwhile, Mommy told all her friends what a horrible mother she was for not taking her child to the doctor sooner.

Finally, it was time to go back to the doctor. More X-rays. More sandbags. It didn’t hurt as much this time, but I still raised a fuss.

A few days after the X-rays were taken (remember, this was pre-digital photography), the doctor’s office called right as Mommy was getting us ready for our naps. I was already in my footie pajamas and brace. The doctor’s office told Mommy I was healed enough that I didn’t have to wear the brace.

“We’ll take it off after your nap,” she promised.

“No—now!” I insisted, and I whined enough that Mommy took off the footie pajamas and the brace, and I took my nap a much happier girl than I had anticipated. Freedom never felt so good.

What do you remember about early injuries?

In an Instant, My Valentine’s Life Changed . . . and So Did Mine

We have all had times when life changed in an instant—an accident, illness, natural disaster, or other event strikes, and there is “before” and “after.” My husband and I had one of those times last week.

On February 5, I got a surprise call from my husband in the middle of the day. “Can you come get me?” he said. “I think I broke my kneecap.”

Of course, I said I could. Five minutes later, after gathering a few essentials (such as his crutches from an earlier injury), I set out. With the help of a security guard and a couple of my husband’s co-workers, we got him into my car, and he and I headed for the hospital.

The St. Luke’s Emergency Room personnel took him right to an exam room, where we waited for an initial evaluation, then X-rays and a physician to check him out. Yes, the kneecap was broken. The ER personnel fit him for a knee immobilizer to keep the leg from bending.

His knee immobilizer looks something like this.

We were instructed to contact an orthopedic surgeon. Hubby pushed back a bit, wondering if there was an alternative to surgery. “Ninety-nine percent of these injuries require surgery,” the ER doc told us.

Later in the week, the orthopedic doctor confirmed surgery would be necessary, and the surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, February 13. Yesterday.

The surgeon was able to repair the kneecap. All the pieces wired back in place. But our patient, who had been getting around better and better each day since the 5th, is now back to Square One in terms of pain and immobility. Still, we are hopeful for a speedy recovery. 

The good news is that he can put weight on the leg throughout his recuperation; the bad news is that he still cannot bend the knee for at least four more weeks—he remains in the knee immobilizer.

Since the accident, I have been doing a lot of toting and fetching for my husband. Been there, done that—in the summer of 2011, he broke his ankle (which I wrote about here).

This knee injury is much more disabling than the ankle because he cannot bend his leg. Which means he cannot reach his feet to dress or put on shoes. And he has had difficulty even lifting the leg by himself, so he needs help getting in and out of bed.

For the next several weeks, my primary function will be that of caregiver. It’s not something I enjoy, but I’ve done it before, and will likely do it again as we age.

As he will likely do for me at times.

Because that’s what Valentines do for each other. “I care” isn’t just a slogan on a candy heart.

For better or for worse, in sickness or in health—these vows mean something. They aren’t convenient. They aren’t fun. But they are what real love is all about.

I hope you and your Valentine have a less stressful celebration this year than we will.

A Pox on Chickenpox (Part 2)

Daughter’s forceful personality

I wrote recently about my son’s bout with chickenpox in January 1986. Well, as I feared, a couple of weeks after he recovered, his little sister broke out in spots. She was not quite nine months old at the time—just a baby. But a baby with a forceful personality.

As the second child in the family to succumb to the disease, she had it much worse than her older brother. She had pox everywhere—many on her face, all over her limbs and torso, and, what was most distressing to her (and therefore to me) was that she had them through her diaper area. The last spots were constantly irritated and had little opportunity to heal.

So I sent her to my mother-in-law. When my son had the chickenpox, my in-laws had been traveling, but they were home by the time my daughter became ill. I packed up the baby’s suitcase and met my mother-in-law halfway between our homes, then turned around and went to work, where life was much more peaceful than minding a sick infant.

Grandma took the chickenpox and angry baby in stride. She washed my daughter in baking soda baths, slathered her in chamomile lotion, and let her lie naked on a blanket to help the sores dry. I still think my mother-in-law merits sainthood for what she did that week. Managing the chickenpox in such a young child would have strained my patience.

But there was a deadline to the pampering my daughter could receive. Before she sickened, we had made reservations to travel to Seattle to visit my parents for my son’s fourth birthday in mid-February. I was bound and determined to go. And to take both children. Son was recovered, so there was no problem with him. But would daughter be done with her spots in time?

I called for daily updates on my daughter’s condition. By the end of the week, she was mostly recovered, though a few pox were not yet scabbed over. My in-laws urged me to leave her with them. I didn’t want to be away from her for another week while we were gone, and I also wanted my parents to see her again—they didn’t have many opportunities to see my children, and it had been months since they’d last seen them.

Getting off the airplane after avoiding quarantine

So the day before our flight, I retrieved my daughter. I repacked her suitcase, and off we went—husband, two children, and me. As we boarded the plane, I hid the baby behind her coat hood, to minimize the risk of anyone asking about her scabs. Off we went.

Grandpa after deciding the grandchildren were over the pestilence

When we arrived in Seattle, my father was a little leery of my pestilent offspring, but he soon loosened up. My children had another grandmother to pamper them. And my son had a wonderful fourth birthday, surrounded by my relatives up through his great-grandmothers.

If you look, you can still see the spots, but all scarred over now

Little sister well enough to help with opening the birthday boy’s gifts

All the women in the family — daughter, me, my mother, and both my grandmothers








The birthday boy is ready to blow

Everyone was happy to see her, despite the pox. Except my parents’ schnauzer, who didn’t quite know what to think.

When have you traveled when maybe you shouldn’t have?

Happy 90th Birthday To My Mother-in-Law

Even before I met my mother-in-law-to-be, I wrote her. It was shortly before Mother’s Day in 1977. I’d been dating her son for a couple of months. When I bought the Mother’s Day cards for my mother and grandmothers in early May, I picked up a “To Someone Special” Mother’s Day card, wrote her a note, and mailed it. I wanted to thank her for raising such a nice son.

I told my soon-to-be-fiance what I’d done. I told him after the fact, so he couldn’t stop me. But I told him before the card would arrive, so he wouldn’t be surprised if his mother said something when they talked.

“I can’t believe it!” he said. “You wrote my mother!” He repeated this several times, clearly in shock. I guess no prior girlfriends had written his mother.

I didn’t think it was that unusual a thing to do. Mothers are an important factor in how their children turn out, and he had turned out well. She deserved to know she’d raised him right.

Regular readers of this blog know that nice son of hers and I have now been married over forty years. Throughout those four decades, his mother has been a big help to us. (His father was as well, but this post is about my mother-in-law.)

Grandma gave good hugs

My in-laws lived ninety miles from us in Marshall, Missouri, and the trip between our houses was an easy drive. Due to proximity, my husband’s parents often took our children to visit for a week or so, particularly in summers, when the kids could enjoy the swimming pool or the lake house my in-laws owned. Holidays in Marshall were festive and joyous occasions. Even sick times were made better with Grandma’s care.

Grandma fed snacks whenever

My children—and the cousins with whom they shared these grandparents—have fond memories of these visits. All it took was saying “Marshall” from the time the kids were toddlers to get them beaming and excited.

Grandma had goofy dress-up clothes

Even our dog learned the meaning of the word “Marshall” in his later years and wagged his tail at the prospect of a trip there. (He was banned from Marshall in his early years, but that’s another post.)

Grandma helped put together toys

Today my mother-in-law turns ninety. We celebrated her birthday last weekend at a party with 150 or so of her friends. Her grandchildren recounted their childhood memories. Her great-grandchildren led us in singing “Happy Birthday.” Her friends celebrated the role she has played in the community, but the family celebrated three generations being raised right, in large part because of her.

Happy Birthday to my mother-in-law—who has been a blessing to me for forty years!

Six Years of Blogging: A Measure of Time and an Assessment of Life

I launched my blog “Story & History: One writer’s journey through life and time” in January 2012, publishing only three short posts that month. It took awhile to find my rhythm (stepped up to publishing twice a week) and my voice. For five years, I published on, and last year I moved here to my own website.

I find it hard to believe that it was six years ago now. Sometimes six years seems like nothing, and sometimes it seems like forever—a lot has happened in those six years (and I’ve only written about some of it).

My husband was working full-time in January 2012. Since then, he’s retired, then been called back for two stints at his law firm to fill in for another attorney on maternity leave. He bought a boat and has become comfortable with it, using it primarily to patrol with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Our son had not yet met his girlfriend (I don’t think) six years ago, and in this time period, he’s had at least one move from city to city. Our daughter had begun work as an associate for her law firm a few months before January 2012, and now she’s been promoted to the firm’s next level up. Both kids have acquired dogs, and our daughter has also bought a house. They’ve matured considerably in the last six years.

Six years ago, my mother still lived at home with my father. She didn’t move into assisted living until a year later in January 2013, and died eighteen months after that. Six years ago, my father was still alive and active. He was on a homeowner’s association committee, he did a lot of volunteer work with his church and with a small college in Washington State, and he cared for my mother. He died suddenly three years ago in January 2015, so I can think of my six years of blogging as being bifurcated by his death. For a year after his death, much of my time was consumed by dealing with my parents’ estates.

My working (proof) copies of my three historical novels

I launched my blog about the time I published a short anthology as a test foray into self-publishing. Since then, I have published four novels—one under a pseudonym and three historical works under my own name. While I’d already drafted the first three novels by January 2012, they were not nearly in final form yet, and I didn’t publish them until 2013, 2015, 2016.

By contrast, I didn’t even start the newest book until October 2016, and it was ready to publish this month. Am I getting faster or better or was this book just easier? Probably all of the above. Maybe the next six years will answer the question.

This six-year period is a little less than ten percent of my life. Do I feel good about this ten percent? Yes. I’ve begun to see the fruition of my decision eleven years ago (18% of my life) to retire from the corporate world and to start my life as a writer. Although one can always wish that success came sooner, I can see the progress I am making as a writer and feel good about it. Although I would have liked for my parents to have seen me publish my Oregon Trail historical fiction, both of them were able to read the first book in the series, and my dad read a very early draft of the second.

And although I might want a better integration between my writing life and other aspects of my world (meaning, I want more time to write), I have managed to carve out an existence that I enjoy and that holds me accountable primarily to myself and to my family. I have a good life.

My father said many times to me in the last few years of his life, “We [my mother and he] had a good life.” He said it after she’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, after she’d moved into assisted living, and even after she died.

I sometimes have to remind myself that I and my family also have a good life. We have been blessed in many ways. Blogging allows me frequent opportunities to reflect on life, my accomplishments, and the passage of time. I do so today with gratitude.

What milestones and measures do you use to assess your life?

A Pox on Chickenpox (Part 1)

My kids were born several years before the chickenpox vaccine was available. The measles/mumps/rubella vaccine existed, and I dutifully had them inoculated with the MMR shot at the appropriate age. But all we could do was wait to see if they got exposed to the chickenpox.

I remembered the chickenpox from my own childhood. When I was in the first grade, I came home with it. I had a very light case—about 12 pox or so—but they itched fiercely, and I still have a couple of scars from where I scratched when I wasn’t supposed to. My younger brother caught the illness from me, and he had a much worse case—that seems to be the pattern when there are multiple kids in one household.

My father stayed far away from my brother and me when we were ill—he said he’d never had the chickenpox, and he had no desire to get the disease as an adult. Of course, he stayed pretty far away from his kids whenever we had any illness—“pestilence,” he called everything from the stomach flu to the croup to bronchitis to the mumps, and he wanted no part of any of it. But especially not of the chickenpox.

Son a few weeks after the chickenpox. These were the pajamas he wore during his illness. Do you think playing Superman helped his recovery?

Flash forward about a quarter century. In January 1986, my about-to-turn-four-year-old son came home from daycare with spots. Chickenpox had been going through his school, and on a Friday afternoon in January it was clear he had succumbed. He wasn’t very sick, but he could not return to daycare until the spots had scabbed over.

This caused a maternal meltdown. My in-laws were our backup daycare, but they were out of town—out of the country, as I recall. Both my husband and I had commitments the following week. We couldn’t do our usual “split the day” approach to childcare emergencies.

So I called a backup childcare service that contracted with Hallmark to help employees in these situations. I arranged for someone to be at our house on Monday morning.

When the caregiver arrived on Monday, my poor spotted boy looked at me reproachfully. He still wasn’t that sick, but he was uncomfortable and he didn’t want to be left with a stranger. Even the promise of a day at home in his Superman pajamas wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that Mommy was deserting him. (Daddy was deserting him, too, but he didn’t look as reproachfully at Daddy, or maybe that’s just my interpretation.)

This went on for three days. Little boy tears and maternal guilt each morning.

Another post-chickenpox pic. Do you see a superhero theme here?

By Thursday, his spots were scabbing, and he didn’t have any new ones. So I sent him back to daycare. Not quite the quickest case of chicken pox on record, but close. We were fortunate that he wasn’t sicker.

Then a couple of weeks later, his baby sister came down with the chickenpox, and that’s Part 2 of the story.

What caused you parental guilt when your kids were young? Or—a more universal feeling—when did you feel reproachful over how your parents treated you?

Why I Don’t Wish Friends Happy Birthday on Facebook

Another year has begun, and with it another round of birthdays. And another round of deciding which birthdays will I acknowledge, and which will I ignore.

Kids get recognized—that’s a given. (Or it should be.) My younger nieces and nephews will get a card and a gift. The recognition may come late, but until they’re in their teens somewhere, they’ll receive some form of acknowledgment from me that they are growing up. One group of youngsters has a cluster of birthdays—they’ll all get their presents in the same mailing. Another niece has a birthday right after Christmas. She’s the only one guaranteed to get an early gift—I put in it the Christmas box. But they all get something.

And until they’re of the age of reason, they’ll probably get a token gift when their siblings have birthdays also. If only to minimize the squabbles their parents have to deal with.

Adults are another matter. I have a list of family birthdays, and my siblings and their spouses get cards. Ditto on my husband’s side of the family. Grown-up nieces and nephews probably get cards. Most years. When I remember. I do get laxer as people age and family ties weaken.

But what do I do about friends?

My mother was very good about sending all her friends birthday cards. She was a more regular customer of Hallmark than I was—and I worked for the greeting card company and got my cards at a discount. She shopped at least once a month for cards for the next few weeks, wrote a long newsy letter to each person, and got the cards to her friends and relations on time.

One of the worst symptoms of her Alzheimer’s for me was when she started forgetting to send cards. My father tried to take over for family birthdays, but among my saddest birthdays was the year neither of them remembered the occasion.

Weeks later, my father said to me, “I forgot your birthday, didn’t I?”

Yes, he had.

And then a year or two later, he wasn’t there to remember it at all. A sadder birthday yet.

When I worked in Human Resources at Hallmark, I sent many, many birthday cards. And company anniversary cards.

I hadn’t realized that recognizing such occasions was one of the obligations of Human Resources managers, but I quickly embraced the habit. My administrative assistants kept lists of employees with upcoming celebrations, and I sent cards to the people I knew. They deserved that recognition—an opportunity to say congratulations and to thank them for the work they did. I enjoyed writing those cards.

Now I am retired. No more lists of colleagues’ birthdays and anniversaries. No more stock of note cards in the supply cabinet.

But there is Facebook. Facebook tells me when many of my friends have birthdays.

What should I do?

Somehow, it feels disloyal to Hallmark to simply type “Happy Birthday” on someone’s social media wall. If I don’t go to the effort of finding an appropriate card, writing a personal message, addressing the card and mailing it, does it really count?

So I usually choose to ignore the reminder from Facebook. And to ignore all the other birthday wishes my friends are receiving. I don’t post my own birthday, so my friends won’t be placed in a similar quandary.

If Facebook is the only way I have of contacting someone, then I might chime in. I rationalize that if that is the only method I have of recognizing the occasion, the convenience and minimal thought it takes is acceptable. But otherwise, it feels too trite.

So don’t take it personally if I ignore you. In my own way, I am preserving tradition.

Yet many of my Hallmark friends appear to disagree with me. I see them commenting on birthdays left and right, regardless of the impact to Hallmark’s bottom line when they do not send cards. Or maybe they’re sending cards also.

Of course, my position is somewhat silly. I’m not sending cards or writing on Facebook walls—I’m ignoring the occasion altogether. Right or wrong, that’s the position I’ve taken. At least I recognize my hypocrisy.

What do you think? Would you rather have me type Happy Birthday so you know I’m thinking of you? Or shall I continue to ignore Facebook and preserve a tradition I generally do not follow?