I would imagine that some of you who haven’t experienced what its like to live with a disabled person might find my blog uninteresting. After a year’s hiatus from writing this blog, I decided to write about the day-to-day struggles of a care taking. Not to make you all feel sorry for me. That is not my intent at all. I just want to provide a relief value for all the other men and women who are in a similar boat. I want them to know they are not alone. Some people find help in support groups, but I don’t. I’m not comfortable with them. I do find some comfort in knowing if I tell my story, maybe some of you will share yours. At the very least, maybe I’ll help someone else.
I think of all the soldiers returning home from the Middle Eastern war with missing legs and arms and traumatic brain injuries. All of them will need help from their wives and parents who overnight got thrown into the role of caregiver. When you love someone more than yourself, caregiving isn’t a duty, it’s a choice.
I find myself walking a fine line. Sometimes I do too much. Sometimes I feel I don’t do enough. The last thing I want to do is take away Ken’s power. We talk about this and came to the decision I must stand back and allow Ken to try to take care of himself as much as he can. This is tough because I’m a fixer. I’m also impatient. What takes him an hour I can do in a few minutes.
This morning Ken struggled to get out of bed and crashed on the floor. I was jolted from a sound asleep until I heard his 170 pounds hit the hardwood floor. I asked if he was hurt; he replied “no” but he wanted to rest on the floor before trying to get up. Watching him lie there was hell.
I let the dog out, made coffee, and fed the cat his morning treat of wet food. Then I went back into the bedroom to aid Ken. I witnessed him trying to get back on his feet. He turned and twisted without much progress. I asked him if I should call for help, and he said no; he wanted to keep trying.
During the next ten minutes I watched him eventually get into his wheelchair. Now all we had to do was change his disposable underwear. Yeah. That’s part of his care too — to change him when he has accidents. Most people cringe when I talk about such things, but cleaning up messes of all kinds fall into my job description.
The good news is Ken didn’t hurt himself. He may have a bruised butt, but his acceptance of such indignities with bravery is heroism in my book.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3
Berlin, German-October, 1940—Leisel told herself she loved Franz, but for some odd reason accepting the fact they shared a baby scared her. Well into her second trimester, she still suffered extreme morning sickness, depression, and lack of energy.
Her mother grew concerned as she witnessed Leisel’s steady decline. She thought by now her daughter’s body would be adjusted to its pregnant state, but in Leisel’s case it seemed that as the baby grew stronger Leisel grew weaker. Mrs. Fuchs wanted Leisel to write to Franz and ask him to request a leave of absence, but Leisel resisted. She told her mother she didn’t want to be a burden to him because he needed to be on duty in order to build a successful military career. After all, she anticipated Franz would be away from home a great deal when she married him. All military wives suffer the same way.
As the weeks went by, Leisel’s weariness became fatigue, and she often experienced pain she kept to herself. She admitted she didn’t miss Franz because of his behavior the last time she saw him at Christmas. When she told him about the baby, he glared at her and said, “Well, isn’t that just dandy. I hope you’re happy. I certainly am not!”
He dismissed this change in their married lives and went on for hours about the beautiful sights in Paris. He even mentioned an encounter with Marta, and boldly announced Paris seemed to make her more beautiful than before she left Germany.
He ignored Leisel’s health, even though her appearance clearly revealed her sickness. Her hair thinned. She lost weight. Dark circles stayed beneath her eyes. Even her skin got dry and flaky. Instead Franz announced she looked fat and ugly before he went to carouse with his crass comrades. When he returned home drunk from his night out with the boys, he slept all day and woke yelling orders for his breakfast. He found fault with everything Leisel did and screamed he wished he never married her. Life with Franz Reinhart did not turn out to be the fairytale Leisel dreamed about.
When Franz returned to Paris, Leisel relaxed. She spent most of her time alone now because the other Nazi officer’s wives left her behind. Patience and empathy for Leisel proved to be two qualities the other women did not possess. They believed a good SS wife should take pregnancy in stride. Even her new friend Gretchen stopped coming around everyday. The women in this group centered their interests on attending parties and social functions to advance their husbands’ reputations. A few months ago Leisel enjoyed such frivolity too, but now parties didn’t seem important and there was no way she wanted help Franz with his career. She thought herself to be a failure as an SS officer’s wife. She wanted to tell her father the husband he picked out for her turned out to be an abusive bully but of course, he was off fighting the war too.
Leisel accepted her lonesomeness and centered on preparing for the baby’s arrival. She and her mother knit baby sweaters and booties. They sewed buntings and quilts. Leisel even painted a mural on the nursery wall of puppies and kittens romping happily in a meadow. As she painted, the life inside of her moved.
Time grew short before the baby would be with her, and Leisel looked forward to having someone love her. When the baby moved, she cooed to her child and professed her love. She prayed the baby would be a girl so she would never see the face of Franz in her child.
On a warm, beautiful September morning, Leisel woke feeling better than she had in months. She stretched and glanced out the window to a cloud-free blue sky and bright sunshine. The pain which plagued her for months was gone! She jumped out of bed and happily faced the new day until she saw the blood-stained sheets and a bloody mass. She checked her nightgown to find the same dark red stains. Terror flashed through her as she realized what happened. “Oh my God!” she screamed. “No! Please God! Not the baby!” She wailed. “I can’t lose the baby! This must be a bad dream! I can’t even carry a baby!” A mournful moan rose from deep inside of her. Her dreams of a happy home with a little cherub disappeared in one night of fitful sleep.
Leisel stripped off her nightgown and dragged herself into the bathroom. Sobs shook her body as she filled the tub with hot water. She moved her hand over her now barren abdomen. Even her baby left her. Her husband didn’t love her, and her friends left to live far away. Her abandonment overwhelmed her as she slipped into the warm water. She sank into the deep tub and let the hot water take her away.
Later that afternoon, her mother found her dead body floating in a bloody tub. She screamed like a mad woman, but no neighbor came to her rescue. Her only child lay dead in a tub full of crimson water. Worst of all, she would never be a Groutter.
Lacrosse, Wisconsin – November 1940—Josie and Anna took their midterms three weeks before the Thanksgiving break. Mrs. Schneider invited Anna to join the Schneider clan for the traditional holiday. Donna Jean would also share the family dinner. During the time she lived on the farm, Donna carved out a special place for herself in the Schneider family,
Peter picked up Anna and Josie at the train station. The girls threw their bags in the bed of the old Schneider truck, while he waited behind the steering wheel in the warm cab. Josie thought if Johnny picked them up, he would get out of the car, hug and kiss her, before he hoisted the heavy bags. At that moment Josie missed Johnny so much.
The ride home through the snow-covered landscape brought Josie back to her roots. Since she went away to school, this ride home never got dull. The girls settled back into the worn upholstered seat and enjoyed a sense of freedom. No more tests, classes or papers for the next week.
Josie turned to Anna. “I can’t wait for you to meet my friends Rosalie and Donna Jean. I think Mary, Johnny’s girlfriend, is joining us for dinner, too. We’ll all have a blast together.”
Anna smiled. “If your friends are like you, Josie, I’m in for a grand time.”
After Peter pulled into the Schneider backyard, the two girls lugged their suitcases filled with dirty laundry into the back hall. A warm, savory aroma of pot roast with potatoes and carrots wafted from the kitchen. Josie dropped her suitcase and rushed to hug her mother. “I am so happy to be home, Mom. Dinner smells wonderful!”
Mrs. Schneider returned Josie’s hug and welcomed Anna with the same welcoming gesture.
Josie asked, “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s out in the barn milking.”
“I’m going to tell him we’re home.” Josie ran out of the house and down to the barn. Anna followed in her wake.
On the way down the hill Josie yelled, “Dad! I’m home!”
She entered the barn, and her father glanced away from the cow he milked to give his daughter a wide smile. “Josie! So good to have you home again, pumpkin. Pardon me if I don’t get up.” He laughed. “Jenny here needs to be wooed before I milk her. I just got her into a cooperative mood.”
Mr. Schneider spied Anna peeking into the barn. “Don’t be shy, Anna. Come in.”
Anna covered her nose with her mitten. “Thanks Mr. Schneider, but I think I’ll save our reunion for in the house.”
Josie said, “Oh my God, Anna. I’m so sorry. I’m so used to barn aroma, I forgot you aren’t.”
“I’m fine, Josie but I’ll say hello to your Dad at the house.”
Josie and her father laughed. “City slickers!”
Josie searched the barn for Betsy but didn’t find her. “Dad, where’s Betsy?”
Her father hesitated. “We needed to put her down a couple of days ago, Josie.”
Josie leaned up against the stall like someone punched her in the stomach. Her throat tightened. “What happened?”
“Josie, Betsy finally celebrated too many birthdays.”
Tears rose up in Josie’s eyes. “No.”
He stopped milking Jenny and faced Josie. “She got cancer, Josie. We needed to put her down. We tried to wait, but her pain got intense.”
Mr. Schneider wrapped Josie in a tight embrace and held her while Josie let her emotions spill out on his chest. “I raised her from the time she was a baby, Dad. I showed her at the fair, and she took the blue ribbon. Remember? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We tried to wait until you came home, Josie, but Betsy got too sick. You didn’t want us to make her suffer, did you?” Her father said softly. “I thought you would want the best for her.”
Josie looked up at her father with tear-stained cheeks. “Where is she?”
“We buried her at her favorite place-out by the big oak.”
Josie ran through ankle-deep snow to the old oak tree behind the barn. Under the tree a simple wooden cross read, “Betsy.”
Josie got down on her knees and traced the letters of her old friend. “Farmers should never get attached to their animals, but Betsy you were so different from the rest. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be here when you needed me. Please forgive me, girl. I will miss you so much.” Josie let her tears fall on the grave. She sniffled. “Maybe we’ll meet in heaven someday.” Josie stood, stared at the marker for one last time, and then shuffled back to the house with her head down.
Josie’s parents made up a roll-a-way bed in Josie’s room with cotton sheets, a boiled wool blanket, and one of Mrs. Schneider’s handmade patchwork quilts for Anna. The girls giggled when Josie’s folks commented the room looked as though they moved their dorm room to the farm.
On Thanksgiving Day, everyone pitched in to prepare for the annual feast. Anna peeled potatoes and carrots, Josie peeled the apples for the pies, and her mother stuffed and basted a twenty-five pound turkey. Mary, her father, and two brothers would bring the pumpkin pies.
In between the stages of preparing the food, the girls set the large oak table with a special family tablecloth which her great-grandmother had embroidered as a young girl. The family saved it for this one special day each year.
Anna set the table with the “Sunday dishes” and silver-plated silverware Josie’s mother inherited from her mother. Anna added her special touch by folding the napkins into swans and placing them on the white china dishes trimmed in gold.
Donna Jean arrived about three o’clock in afternoon looking like a model straight from the pages of Modern Woman magazine. She wore a skullcap hat with colorful pheasant tail feathers falling from the left side of the hat. Her simple black wool coat complimented such a wild headdress. When she removed her coat, she wore a form-fitting red wool dress that accentuated her curves. Her perfect oval-shaped face lit up with a shade of lipstick which matched her dress, while her long blond hair fell down to her shoulders in a soft pageboy.
Josie opened the front door. “Donna! Happy Thanksgiving! Come in!”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.” She stamped the snow off of her boots before coming through the door.
“Come on in! Wow, look at you Miss Debutante! How did you grow up so much since September?”
“Oh, this old thing?” Donna playfully brushed off the comment. “Come here, you!” She hugged Josie. “Oh I missed you so much!”
Donna kicked off her boots and slipped her feet into tall three inch heels she carried in a brown paper bag. The shoes gave her already shapely legs a slim silhouette.
At that moment, Peter entered the room. “Well, looked what the cat drug in! Did you shoot the peasant yourself?” He laughed and gave Donna a big hug. “We sure miss you around here, Donna. How’s that new apartment?”
“The place is working out well, Peter.” Donna smiled. “Thanks again for all your help. I couldn’t endure moving without you and your folks.”
“Right.” Donna blushed. “And Danny.”
“Say, what’s he got to say these days now that he’s a drafted veteran?”
“He’s still really peeved he didn’t score a higher lottery number. He whined about the drill sergeant getting on his case and the horrible slop they serve for food. He says the good news is he doesn’t need to leave the lower forty-eight states, plus he only needs to serve twelve months. So, I guess things are as good as they can be.”
“I sure miss having him around. Danny’s a great guy.” Peter shook his head.
“Yeah.” Donna Jean didn’t say anything more about Danny.