Saturday, September 15, 2018

BARBARA ANN CLARK - PART ONE

I honestly do not know how to do this.  I think what you are going to get will be just random thoughts as they enter my head thinking about the last forty five years of knowing and sharing life with Barb.

All I know about Barb's childhood is what she told me which was not a lot.  What I did gather from her is that it was not an ideal childhood which is probably why she kept it mostly inside of her.  Barb's mother developed schizophrenia when Barb was young.  Because of this, her mother had several inpatient stays at mental facilities while Barb was growing up.  Her father, Harry, doing the best he could for his youngest daughter often had her stay at friends or relatives houses so he could work and Barb would be taken care of.  You are probably thinking, as I did, that this does not make for a stable childhood.  Apparently she was very good at making adjustments as needed and she turned out to be a pretty good woman.  I am not sure how old she was when the following event happened, I don't think she ever told me.  She did recall to me that one time she had come home from school to find her mother attempting suicide.  She immediately ran down the street to her Godmother's house and with her help, Barb was able to save her mother's life that day.  Many years later, after Barb and I had been married close to three years, her father came home from work to find his wife overdosed on pills and deceased.  Barb handled her mother's death as well as could be expected I suppose.  What the death of her mother did do was to bring her and her father closer together.  Harry and Barb were very close anyway, but this event solidified that bond and made it even stronger.  She adored her father and with good reason.  To me when I think of Harry Kissinger I think of a very strong and very caring man.  A great man that did the best he could for his girls.  When her father died, it was truly the first time I saw Barbara really crushed emotionally.  I did my best to support her during the time she was working through it but I am afraid I fell far short of what she needed.  She kept her dad alive in our house by framing his military patches and pictures in frames that were hung down the hallway between the living room and the bedrooms.  She came out of her childhood pretty good for the most part considering all she went through.  She came into adulthood a little cynical, very determined and very caring for those around her that needed help.  She fell in love with kids and that love grew more as she grew older.  I don't think I ever saw anyone just flat out love kids the way that Barbara did.

The ironic thing about Barb and her love for kids is that the two of us were not able to become pregnant and have a child.  After a few years of marriage, we agreed that we would try to have a child.  After a year or so, we started seeing fertility specialists.  We went through test after test, we tried this and that and eventually the experts told us that we could not bear children.  Once again I saw Barb just devastated.  She would see and hear young mothers complain about their children and think "why not me?"  She would hear pregnant women complain about the horrors and the pain it was to be pregnant and she would think "I will gladly trade places with you."  The biggest effect the situation had on her though was strengthening her opposition to abortion.  She was always against it, but this made her more vocal about it and resolved her opposition to it.  Her belief, and mine, was that there was no such thing as an unwanted child.  People were on waiting lists to have a chance to have a child.  However, she quickly pick herself up, dusted herself off and began to work with the Missouri Baptist Children's Home to see if we would be eligible to adopt a child.  Oh the paperwork that she went through during this quest.  It was all her.  I was okay at the time with adopting a child but I thought it would take forever to do so.  Barb was determined though.  She faithfully filled out the papers.  We went to parenting classes and to couples therapy to be sure we would be good parents.  Our finances were looked at.  Our neighbors were interviewed about us.  We had visits to look through our house to see how we lived.  Virtually every part of our life together was put under a microscope for two years.  We had to prove that we were capable of being good parents, which by the way brought out Barb's ire at girls having babies that could not care for them or even want them.  But we, we had to prove we were good enough to have a child.  Finally, one day we got a call from the Children's Home.  With the help of an inside source, they had decided that they had a little boy that was ready to be adopted and they had decided that we were the couple that should raise him as our own.  On December 22, 1982 Derrick Brett Clark came to live with us and became our son.  Barb's dogged determination had paid off.  It was the happiest I had ever seen her.  She loved Brett so very much and we raised him as our own and he was our own.  Job well done Barbara and thank you, thank my Uncle Melvin and mostly thank God for the gift of Brett.

The mention of Brett brings up another topic concerning Barbara.  Something that flooded the DNA of my family and was not even a blip in her DNA.  It was something called baseball. Barb was a football person.  Well, she was a Kansas City Chiefs person.  She didn't know about college football or college anything nor did she care.  It was Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, Johnny Robinson, Otis Taylor, Fred Arbanas .... you know, the Chiefs.  As far as sports were concerned to Barbara, nothing mattered but the Chiefs.  She was aware of baseball and basketball and a few other sports, but that was about as far as her knowledge went.  Chiefs or nothing.  When we first started dating, she had never attended a baseball game.  She had never even seen one on television.  She did not have a clue as to what baseball was about.  Before we got Brett, I had taken her to more than a few Royal's games and she suffered through it.  One of the things my dad had us do every time we went to a ballgame was to buy a score card and keep score.  He figured it made us really pay attention to the game and to understand it better.  Barb would look at me in wonder as we entered the stadium and the first thing I would do would be to buy a scorecard.  She would just shake her head during the game as I kept score while she was trying to talk to me about something.  She did not have a clue as to what was going on in the field, what the rules were, or why I got excited during a game where the pitching dominated both teams and the bats were almost silent.  Then we got Brett and the day arrived early one spring when Brett was a little over two years old that I cam home with a Wiffle Ball set.  Now this wasn't the set with the big fat red bat and the softball size wiffle ball.  No, this was the skinny yellow bat and the baseball size wiffle.  I walked in and announced that I had made a purchase that I thought would carry us through many years (which it did).  She expressed her doubts about Brett being old enough for this silly game but I assured her he was just at the right age.  Over the next two summers and falls.... and let's face it spring and winters as well, I would take Brett out in the back yard and we would learn to hit.  Every once in a while I would look up at the kitchen window and see Barb staring outside watching, but as soon as I looked at her, she disappeared to continue fixing dinner.

Cable arrived in our house about the same time Brett did and I discovered the magic of Harry Carey.  He was the play by play for the Chicago Cubs and soon Barb was put through a summer of Royals games and Cubs games both.  Summers back then were very long for her I think.  But she knew that the teams were not going to leave our house and so Brett's wardrobe started to change little by little.  George Brett jerseys began to show up during the summer.  Little shirts that said "Cubbies" appeared and then a Cubs jersey.  Finally one Christmas she went all out and got Brett a Cubs batting helmet, Cubs bat and a Cubs baseball.  Then the ultimate test arrived for her as far as baseball was concerned.

I took Brett up to the local YMCA and signed him up for T-ball.  From that day forward, for the next fifteen years or so, baseball would become an integral part of Barb's life.  She enjoyed the T-ball years because after all it was just kids running around in circles.  As Brett grew older and he established himself as a very good second baseman who could hit, she began to take notice of what was happening on the field.  She began to learn the basics of baseball.  When Brett got into high school he played baseball for Bishop Hogan.  The fall out from playing for Bishop Hogan was that to keep the boys sharp and in playing condition, they would play in a second league along with the metro league.  Soon Barb was watching baseball four or five times a week.  Then came the two years when the boys played in a spring league, two summer leagues and a fall league.  In those last two years of Brett playing ball, Barb became hard core baseball.  She was washing uniforms every night of the week. (No son of HERS was going to show up in a dirty uniform).  She would be watching baseball in hundred degree heat, watching baseball until eleven at night sometimes, and during the fall be wrapped up in a coat, blankets and stocking cap to watch ball games.  She had become a baseball fanatic.  Her appreciation (love is too strong a word for baseball as far as she was concerned) for baseball grew and after Brett's playing days were over, she would watch the Royals and the Cubs with me and later watch Mizzou play baseball and softball when they arrived on cable.  Through all those years, she never ever missed a single game of Brett's.  She missed very few World Series games no matter who was playing in it, although she got extremely happy in 2015 and 2016 when the Royals won the Series and then the Cubs took it.  When the Royals had their big celebration at Union Station in the late winter, early spring of 2016 she was in the hospital preparing for her third heart surgery.  Her room looked out over the street where hundreds of Royals fans were making their way to the Station.  She was not able to get up and go to the window so I describe the parade of fans to her.  Then she watched the celebration on her television, then I had to go back to the window to describe the parade of fans returning to their cars.  Baseball had worked its way into her DNA.  It had take over thirty years, but she had found what baseball was about.  However, through all those years, football still stayed number one in her sports heart.  It had expanded from just the Chiefs though to the Chiefs and Mizzou.  That would never change.

Somewhere along the line Barbara developed a fascination for sign language.  I honestly do not know where it came from but she must have had an experience or something with either a signer or a deaf person.  She took several classes at the community college, at Rockhurst and I think she even took one at the Kansas School for the Deaf.  At one time during this process she shared with me that one thing she would really like to do would be to work at the school for the deaf.  That never came to fruition but she did learn to sign very well.  She would watch television shows that had a signer in a little circle of the screen and watch, sign along with, and under her breath say the words she was signing.  Every time we went to the Kansas City Men's Chorus Christmas show her eyes would never leave the signer for the entire time.  One night, after the show, we were standing out in the middle of 14th Street with all of the other attendees and she saw the man with the long blonde hair who did the signing for the chorus.  He was about six foot three or so and Barb, of course, was four foot ten.  She walked up to him and looked up in the sky and started talking to him about signing, about her love for it and how she appreciated his ability to be so fluent and smooth in his signing.  They ended up talking for about fifteen minutes as he shared some of his experiences and she shared hers.  I got the feeling that this man really appreciated her coming up and engaging him about his craft.  Barb had that ability though.  Her smile broke through all barriers.  Her voice was soft and smooth and she was always capable of expressing her sincerity in what she was saying.  On the way back to my Uncle's house, she told Dan all about her talk with the gentleman.  Dan was fascinated with her talk about her talk with the signer.

Okay, let's go back to her love for kids for a second.   When Barb and I started dating, someone at the church brought up the possibility of a children's choir for the church.  Barb thought about it and decided that she would really enjoy that.  Since I played the piano, she talked to me about it.  Why don't the two of us start a children's choir in the church?  Well, if you know me at all, you know I don't like to play piano in front of people.  Never have.  But Barb was pretty convincing as she always was and so one summer Wednesday night we held our first choir practice.  There were about four or five kids but for Barb, that was plenty.  She found some old books the the youth choir use to use and we picked songs out to teach the kids.  After about a month, Barb asked if the kids could sing one Sunday night for the church.  They agreed and so on that night I sat at the piano in the sanctuary and five kids stood before the church and sang.  Barb was so very proud of the kids.  She immediately began thinking ahead towards the Christmas season when the kids would perform again.  By the time Christmas rolled around, Barb had a choir of almost fifteen kids and she taught them well.  She had them express themselves in song.  For example if a song had the word "shout" as part of the lyrics, Barb would have the kids actually shout the word "shout".  I was so proud of her and what she had accomplished.  She carried on the children's choir until we got married and joined a different church.

In the new church, it was the same situation.  No children's choir.  It didn't take Barb long to get the ball rolling to create one.  She again worked her magic with the kids and soon had a fairly large choir.  It was during this time at the new church that Barb began one of her personal traditions.  She would teach the kids to sign a song as they sang.  Most of the time she did this during the Christmas season.  I have seen her teach kids to sign "Away in a Manger"  "Silent Night"  "Jesus Loves Me" among many others.  The parents loved it that their kids were learning something like sign language and the choir continued to grow.

When we started attending another church, we discovered that the pastor at the church was a member of her original children's choir so many years before.  He still remembered some the songs she had taught those kids and asked her to start a choir at his church.  Barbara jumped at the chance and so once again she started from scratch and built a choir that would sign at least one song a year.  Eventually she bought a set of kids hand bells and taught the kids to do songs with them.  When it came to kids, Barb was always looking for something to enhance their experience in her choir.  I do believe it was one of the biggest joys she had in her life.  Eventually her health deteriorated to the point where she was not up to the task and she reluctantly retired from the children's choir job.  She did love it though.  When she was directing those kids in front of the church, she would have a smile on and her eyes would twinkle and she would sing along with them.

Family.  Barbara always considered the family to be very important.  I don't just mean Brett and myself but the FAMILY.  The uncles, the aunts, the cousins, sisters and brothers and nephews and nieces.. People who weren't technically a part of the family were considered family to Barb.  A good example of this is my eldest sister's best friend since childhood.  Barb always saw Karen as another sister and her daughter, Ginny, as one of her nieces.  She would spend literally hours talking to my aunts and uncles as well as hers.  Her cousins on both her side and my side were more like brothers and sisters than cousins.  She would be so proud of her nephews and nieces and make sure they knew that she was.  And when those nephews and nieces had kids of their own, she loved them as much as she had their parents and were proud of them as well.  Probably the most important link between Barb and my family though were my grandparents.  She loved them so very much and always was concerned with how they were doing.  She held back tears when each of them passed.

As time went by, members of the family began to age and pass away.  It was during this time that Barb  showed how she felt about her Clark and Hill families.  My uncle Dan had been surviving with AIDS for decades but one day we got news that brought everyone together tightly.  Uncle Dan had been diagnosed with lung cancer and it did not look good.

Through the years Barb and Dan had grown to be very close.  When Dan was diagnosed,  Barb and myself ran point to organize the care of Dan as members of the family came into town to help, friends from Seattle came into town to help take care of Dan but Barb was always on watch with me to look over Dan.  Dan fought for a while very hard and Barb was there to encourage him on.  Barb gave me tremendous support during this time.  Many times my uncle and I would be up late into the night, early morning talking about things and Barb was there most of the time.  She was asleep, but she was there.  She always fell asleep in what became one of her favorite chairs and we would chuckle when we found her asleep so many times.  When we put Dan in hospice, I was there 24/7 as I promised my uncle i would be.  Barb spent almost that much time there to help however she could.  The night that Dan passed, i had fallen asleep on the couch in Dan's room.  Barb came over and shook me awake and told me it was time.  I looked at her confused and she repeated that it was time and shortly thereafter, my uncle passed away.  A few weeks before he passed, Dan had told Barb that she could have her chair that she spent so many hours sleeping in.  That chair became Barb's chair in our house and the place where she spent most of her time as her health got worse.

When my sister Carol came up one summer to help me take care of mom and dad, Barb was herself  well on the way toward poor health.  Carol was diagnosed with cancer that summer and along with Karen, we got her well enough to get back to Georgia.  Barb wanted to help out so much but just wasn't able to.

Before I wrap up this part of writing about Barb, I have thought of a couple of events that made her laugh and brought smiles to both of us.

She was taking a deposit to the bank for her office one day and found herself in line behind one of her heroes, a man named Len Dawson.  Dawson finished his transaction and watched him walk away.  When she got to the counter, she asked the young teller if that was Len Dawson.  The young man looked at Dawson's receipt and said "Yes it was.  Do you know Mr. Dawson?"  Barb was floored.  LEN DAWSON.  This kid did not have a clue.  When she got home that night she told me the story with a lot of emotion and voice inflections and wonderment.  The in describing the young teller she did what she did so often in describing young adults... "B-A-B-Y" ... and she would smile.

We had spent over a year with nightmarish neighbors on our south side.  It is too much to go into detail here, but it was horrible.  It was so bad the whole neighborhood were hassling the landlord on a daily basis to get them evicted.  When those people finally moved out and a new for rent sign was put up in the yard, Jim from across the street marched over, picked up the sign and threw it into the back yard.  After a few weeks a couple came over to look at that house.  When Charlene and Robeert moved in, both Barb and myself would greet them every time we saw them.  We were both OVER nice to them.  Barb would go over and talk to Charlene constantly.  Then one Saturday when Barb got home from one of her talks with the new neighbors, she st down and smiled as she said "you know, those people probably think were are totally NUTS!"  and she laughed thinking out loud that they would probably move out to get away from US.

I could write forever about life with Barb.  I have forty-five years to look back upon.  That is a lot of memories.  The purpose of part one was to try my best to let you know who Barb was.  How she was.  What was important to her and how she handled things.  We had rough times during our time together for sure.  We went through some rough times.  But when you take the over all story of Barb and her life, she was a very good person, certainly too good for me.

The next part will deal with her health issues and how they effected her both physically and emotionally.  I will try to get that written soon.

Thank you for reading this and allowing me to show how I saw Barb over the course of our time together.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

VERNA P. HILL - GRANDMA

Today is my Grandma Hill's birthday.  For the occasion I was going to re-post the blog entry I wrote about her.  I did a quick search on the blog to find the entry and to my total surprize it did not show up.  I scrolled through the blog entries to find it and did not find a blog entry for her.  I felt bad.  I have written numerous stories about my Grandma Clark, my Grandpa Hill, all my Uncles and Aunts that have passed away but not one entry about my Grandma Hill.  I have 472 entries in the blog yet she is missing.

Then I noticed something.  When I did my search on the blog for her, I came up with around 20 results.  The results were entries about my Grandpa, my aunts and uncles and stories of growing up and visiting the Frisco yard.

Here is the thing.  I had written all these different stories about life in the Hill family and grandma was always there.  Her life was involved in everything.  She was the rock in the family.  She was the one that people came to.  She was the one that led us all in the right direction, even her husband.

Here is my Grandma Hill in a nutshell.

She was wise but meek.  She was strict but gentle.  She held everyone to the rules but had forgiveness.  She welcomed strangers into her house and cared for them even though she could see they brought their problems on themselves.  She lived a clean life but nursed the sick in her home.  She would give hobos who were hungry and penniless food if they stopped by.  She kept my grandfather in line while being a dutiful wife and talking problems over with him before he made a decision.  She never hated, but loved and people loved her in return.

Here is one story that pretty much defines Grandma.  I was sitting with her at Grandpa's funeral visitation.  She looked over her shoulder and saw a broken old man making his way up the aisle.

"Good gracious" she said with a slight sigh.  "That is so and so (I don't remember the name of the man)"

"Who is he?" I asked with a very curious tone in my voice.

Here was her answer.  "He worked at the Frisco with your grandpa.  He was a drunk.  He use to get drunk all the time and your grandpa would bring him home at times.  We fed him and gave him coffee to sober him up.  Sometimes he would sleep on the couch.  Your grandpa didn't think a man should go home to his wife in that shape so he took the chore on to sober him up and then take him home."  She was watching him the whole time as he went and paid his respects to my grandfather lying in the casket.  He then turned and came over to Grandma.  She was so nice and sincere as she talked to him and thanked him for coming that night.  The man relayed his thoughts on what a great man he thought my grandpa was and then thanked grandma for all of her help.  He held both of them in very high esteem.  After he left, grandma had a smile on her face.  All those years ago she had helped grandpa keep this man's life in line as much as they could, and she knew it was the right thing to do.

I know this is short and there is so much to write about her.  But then I think, I have written SO much about her in this blog.   Her life is here in so many examples of what a wonderful beautiful caring and loving person she was.

This is for her.  This is for her children and grandchildren and all of those people she showed Christian love to.

She was a great woman who had a huge influence on not only me, but so very many people.

I love you Grandma and I miss you terribly.  Thank you for all the life lessons you taught me.