Sunday, June 20, 2010

#193: The Girl from Limestone, Part Three

This is the story the way I tell it. Much of it is factual. All of it is true. The parts that didn't happen that way, should have...pennsy

Part One
Part Two

At first, her mother-in-law's illness seemed like just more of the kind of grumpiness that they had come to recognize as Julie's personality. She was still a doting mother and spoiled her grandkids with five dollar bills and Three Musketeers bars whenever no one was looking. But she started having strange delusions. One day she told Bev that it was a shame the way the young preacher came to visit with her right out in the open when he had a wife and kids at home. The poor guy was thunderstruck. He thought he was visiting a little old lady. She thought he had come courting. She became convinced that the apartment building across the street was a "sporting house." She would watch folks coming in and out and shake her head at where the neighborhood was headed. Worst of all, she became convinced that Bev was hurting her.

She would tell the kids stories of how their mother was stealing from her. When Bob came home from college, she showed him invisible bruises and described how Bev would beat her with brooms in the middle of the day. It was torture for Bev. She could not have given better care to her own mother. She would clean for Julie, and help her to the bathroom. She took her to the store and to doctor's appointments. Bev was her primary caregiver and as is so tragically often the case, she bore the brunt of all of the dying woman's frustration and anger. The last few years, Bev felt all alone. No one outside of the house really knew what was going on with Julie. Bill and the kids tried to reason with their grandma, tell her that Bev loved her, would never hurt her, but she was intractable. When Julie died, it was like a terrible weight had been lifted, but the shame of that relief stayed with both Bev and Bill for many years.

Back home in Limestone, George had passed after a difficult battle with lung cancer. Margaret struggled on for many years, doing her best to hold the family together. In 1989, all three kids got married within a few months of one another. Grandchildren came. Margaret passed away in the Cleveland Clinic not long after that. She had had heart trouble for many years, and finally the old engine that had brought her young family back home during the war just couldn't run any longer. She passed on the shores of Lake Erie, still safe from the Germans, just the way George and the US Navy had left them.

Bev and Bill were in their fifties now. Bill still worked hard, putting money away for retirement. He had worked two jobs for so long that he wouldn't have known what to do with himself otherwise. Bev was the secretary at church, finally putting all that business training to work. She kept records, filed reports, answered the phone calls, both urgent and routine that come into a church every day. She blossomed into one of the respected members of their community. Then one day, in the upstairs hall, Bill fell to his knees. He felt the pain in the arm and the crush in the chest that his Boy Scout training had taught him meant heart attack. He was in trouble.

She sat in the hospital room while he tried to sleep, keeping all the kids updated by phone. So much had happened to them. So many changes. They had been through a lot and they had stayed together. Fewer and fewer did, these days. She cursed the cigarettes and ice cream sundaes. She watched the numbers on his monitors go up and down. So much had always gone unspoken between them. Now, there was nothing left to say. This attack did not kill him. But they both knew that the next one would. The next year was filled with waiting for that deadly other shoe to drop. He quit smoking, though he used to sneak them in the basement where his woodshop stood filled with unfinished projects. She went to work while he did his best to keep busy in spite of the depression that gripped him. Sitting still made him crazy. He used to work the night shift at the paper, drive school bus in the morning, sleep a few hours, then get up and go work at church or with the scouts. Now the politics and pettiness of church made him sick. He resigned as an elder after a long battle on behalf of the church custodian who deserved a raise but couldn't get one because of one stubborn old man on the board who would not budge. In 1996, the Steelers lost the Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys, and the next day, Bill died on the floor of a hospital room. He was 58 years old.
Bev had gone from her mother's house to a boarding house to her mother-in-law's house. Now, she was alone in her own house. Once all the mourners had left and the kids had gone home, she looked around and wondered just what she was supposed to do now.

Part One   Part Two   Part Three   Part Four

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