Sunday, September 29, 2002

Another day at the fair

The kids and I ended up going back to the fair for a second time tonight with Kathy and family.

OK everybody, we did it! Last night at the Fair, Kathy and I along with Kendy and John rode the Pirate Ship!!! I kept on saying to Kathy that we needed to do it in Andy's memory. She kept on saying Noooo WAY! Finally, I had just about run out of money. I had the choice of letting John play another game, or riding the Pirate Ship. Since it was pretty obvious I wasn't going to get Kathy near the ride, I decided to use the money on games.

Out of nowhere, a man came up and gave John some ride tickets. Then a few minutes later, another man handed John some ride tickets. John yelled, "GOOD! now you and me and Aunt Kathy can go on the Pirate Ship!" Kathy knew then that she had to go! And, we lived to see another day. :)

It was really freaky when we got on the ride, though. The safety bar kept moving down by itself! Maybe Andy rode with us!

A memorial photo at the Fair

In 2001 we were disappointed that the Shriners were not at the Fair, so we were not able to get our annual photo button. They returned in 2002, so some of us had a special one made in honor of Andy. The Shriners then gave me the original photo. This is it. From Left to Right: Bear (Clarence Andrew II), Mykayla, Kelly, Lesley, Logan, Chris, Shelby, Terry, Kendy, John Henry, Stephanie, and front and center: Clarence Andrew. (We are all wearing his hats in this photo, except Mykayla does not like hats!)

When I told the Shriners about my disappointment about them not being there last year, and explained about the "memory button" we had made, those wonderful clowns suggested that they make us a special button. We now have a 2001 fair button so our 17 year string is intact. (They just zoomed in on his photo. Isn't it cool?)

Monday, September 23, 2002

It's Oklahoma State Fair Time

As I have mentioned, the State Fair was always a BIG DEAL to us, especially my Andy. The first few years that we went, back when I was young and strong, I would help lift him onto the rides with the assistance of kids and carnies. He got such a charge out of the rides, you would have thought he was a kid himself. His favorite was the Himalayan.

The first year we went, he, Kathy, and I went on the Pirate Ship. That almost turned out to be a fatal mistake. Because of his paralysis, his body weight was distributed differently than other people, making him very "top-heavy." We sat in the very back, and each time the ship swung up, his bottom would come right off the seat, almost throwing him out... and DOWN! It was all we could do to hold him in there! Kathy and I were scared STIFF!

For years that man would tease "Let's go on the Pirate Ship again!!"

I have never ridden the ride again, even without him.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Andy's Headstone...

...was set on September 16. His birthday. Happy birthday Honey... :-(

I was able to order the headstone immediately if I wanted to since he was a military veteran, and all I had to pay for was the granite backing for the brass marker. However, I wanted to think about it at length. Even a military headstone allows you to put a brief statement, and I wanted it to be exactly right. After my work ended for the summer, I was able to think.

I took a couple of weeks to reflect. How could I sum up my feelings in 18 letters or less for somebody as special as Andy? Finally, it came to me what I wanted: "Always my hero." He was so brave in so many situations during his life, ending with the extreme dignity that he dealt with the suffering of his illness.

I ordered the stone on a hot afternoon in June. It had been four months since he left us, but it was almost as hard walking into the cemetery office as it was the day I chose his burial site. A load was lifted off my heart after the order was placed, however. And as I left, I found a brand new shiny penny on the ground next to my car. A 2002 penny. 2222's for me, a shred of comfort as I was leaving.The headstone was perfect. Even the staff at the cemetery said it was the prettiest military stone they had ever seen. It is a fitting tribute to a man of courage.

True, it is pretty. But now there it is, carved in stone. It is final.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

It Always Rains.....

Essay by Jimmy Bentley

A tribute to step-parents

Time rapidly passes by, and they say time heals all ills. From personal experience, I have found this to be true. As a friend of mine once said, “It never gets any easier, but it does get better.” Andy died at the end of the darkest, saddest month of the year in my opinion, February. Susan died at the end of June, one of the brightest, nicest months of the year. Does anyone think about what month they or their loved ones will die in? It never occurred to me until now. A couple of thoughts come to mind in my minimal experience with death.

The first is: It always rains when you bury a loved one.
The second is: You are never prepared, ever, for the death of a parent.

I elucidate as follows.

I’m one of those gifted/cursed children of the 80’s and 90’s that will have more parents than the customary two accepted in society. I have had five now, and, I suspect with time after my mother grieves, that she might re-marry. That will make six. I refer, of course, to the children of divorcees and how they often come to respect, love, and cherish their step-parents as much as their real ones. I have been blessed with three fantastic step-parents, Susan, Andy, and most recently Diane. I couldn’t have asked for three people as caring, thoughtful and just all around accepting as these three. They all welcomed me unconditionally into their lives, their hearts, and their homes. Andy, by the end of his life, was calling me his boy. Susan and Diane called or call me their son. I imagine that’s about the deepest sign of love and respect that a person could get.

In other words, it 'don't get any better than that.'

One of the last conversations Andy and I had when he was well eerily mirrored one of the last ones Susan and I had. They both told me, in so many words, that they reckoned that they had done something right with me and that they were very proud. I’m glad I had the opportunity and the honor to make them proud. I hope that I continue to do so.

Susan died at the end of June 1997, shortly after I graduated from high school. I was lucky. I had braved a pretty violent thunderstorm to get to the hospital she was at, and had thoughts a couple times to turn back home. Being nineteen and stubborn, I pushed on and made it to the hospital that Monday night. I had decided on a whim to go visit her, as she was in for some routine surgery. This was five days before she died. We talked about several things, my upcoming AIT for the Army, my college that started in the fall, my relationship with my girlfriend, and the storm going on outside. Nothing in her mannerism or speech told me she was going to die. I had no idea. She seemed sick, but not that sick. Like I said, I was lucky. I got there in time to talk to her just once more. If I had known it was to be the last time we spoke, I’d of thought of something better to say.

I got a call from my aunt on Friday afternoon saying that Susan was dying. My mom, who worked at the hospital, called me shortly after and confirmed that Susan didn’t have much longer to live. I drove to the hospital and was there eight hours later when she died. She never woke up. They say that comatose patients can hear what is going on around them. I hope this is the case. I said my goodbyes and cried when she died. There was nothing else to do. She was gone and there was nothing to stop it. The lady that made me feel so welcome from the moment I met her, was gone. She knew good music and books, loved animals, and made great birthday cakes. She was a fine lady, one of the best I’ve ever known. I look forward to meeting her again.

We scattered Susan’s ashes on Lake Liberty in Oklahoma. My dad, recently divorced from her, was not invited to do so by my aunts. I had no say one way or the other, being only nineteen at the time and not having the ashes myself. I mourned for my dad, myself, and for Susan that day in July. It was sunny, but there was a nice breeze that kept away the mosquitoes and some of the heat. As my aunt Gerry proceeded to take the vase that held the majority of the ashes, she then dumped it on the shore. We had a good, sad laugh about this and then picked up the ashes in handfuls and scattered them as best we could upon the water. To this day I haven’t forgotten the sound the ash made as the water consumed it. It was a sucking, almost hungry sound. The ash didn’t dissolve, but rather sank towards the bottom where it was dispersed by a current.

We turned around and walked into our vehicles and drove away. I stayed until last, looking back across the lake at the sun that was well on its way toward early evening. It would have been a beautiful scene, but I couldn’t see it because it was raining.

It always rains when you bury a loved one.

I’ve spoken to my aunts a few times since then, but haven’t seen them. I really must make the effort soon, because while at nineteen, I didn’t understand that life is short, I do now. I suppose it took a second death to make me realize it.

Andy died one 'cold-assed' frozen morning at the end of February 2002, at around four AM. Once again, I was lucky. I arrived in Oklahoma the day before Andy came home from the hospital. He wasn’t coming home to recover, however. He was coming home to die. I, at first, had my reservations about my mom’s decision to bring Andy home to die. When he passed, however, I understood why she wanted it that way.

Andy died like a king. In his own bed, with his family lovingly seeing him off, his dog by his side. It was an easy death, his breathing simply slowed and then stopped. No pain, no pressure, no anxiousness. For a man who had suffered as many indignities as Andy had during his long illness, it was fitting that he pass on in such a dignified way, as simply as walking through a door.

I was lucky because I got to Oklahoma in time to talk to Andy while he was still awake and alert. In the two days before his death, I spoke with him as he swam in and out of consciousness. I got the basics of things I needed to get said, said. I, of course, couldn’t say everything I was feeling, as I simply didn’t have the time nor does the verbal communication exist. How many ways can you tell someone that you love them and that you will cherish every moment you’ve ever had with them? How can you tell the man who loved you unconditionally as his own that you’ll miss him and that you’ll look for him when you too pass through the door? How can you stand to say goodbye in such a, well, such a final sort of way? They’re only words, but the feeling behind them, you feel, can never be fully portrayed to that other person. I think, perhaps, that they may understand more than we give them credit for.

Andy’s last words to me were that he wasn’t going anywhere and to not worry. I knew better, but it just showed how incredibly tough the man was. He was dying, he knew he was dying, but he took the time out from the very important business of dying to comfort me. By this time, I knew that it was near the end. Andy was restless with the sort of vague intensity that conscious dying people have. He was anxious to get on with it, I feel. I was anxious for him because I knew he was so terribly sick and in pain. How does one make that call for their parent and friend? The call that says 'Well, you’ve fought the good fight, but perhaps its time to put down your guard and fade?' When Andy died, I felt so torn. I loved him so much, and yet I, in a very rudimentary sense, hoped he would die, and die easily.

At any rate, my prayers were answered, some of them at least. Andy died easily, in his sleep, in the best way it is possible to die. He didn’t die in some unnamed battlefield when he served in Vietnam decades ago. He didn’t die in the dusty wasteland of the junk-yard where he was so grievously injured back in 1980. He didn’t die in the ICU of the hospital where people took it as a fact of life, a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless.

He died at home, with people who loved him by his side.

In other words, it 'don't get any better than that.'

As I said, the morning Andy died was extremely cold, as were the days that followed it. As we made the funeral arrangements, it stayed cold and fairly dark as well because the sky was overcast much of the time. When my various family members and I stepped out for a smoke, we went to the garage as the wind was so biting. On the day of the funeral, something near miraculous happened though. The sun came out and lifted at least some of the dreadful cold, and the wind stopped. The funeral was nice, a great many people came to pay respects to both Andy and to my family. The grave side service was also very good, very elegant, very well done. Two young soldiers came from an artillery unit based out of Fort Sill and paid their respects with a rendition of taps. They carefully folded the flag which had previously been placed upon the coffin, then handed it to my mother. Their salutes were perfect, respectful, those of soldiers seeing off a fallen comrade. Later, I personally thanked them for being there and for their impeccable professionalism. The minister finished the ceremony with a few words and the people filed by to pay respect to my mother and the rest of my family.

I am glad it went as well as it did. It was a service that had enough to class to pay respect to a man that was loved as much as he was. It was also simple enough to appeal to Andy’s taste. He would have liked it.

I would have liked to been the last to leave, as I had been with Susan. I was part of the group that had ridden in the limousines, so I had to leave a little earlier to get one of the cars parked at my mom’s house. I did look back, however. It was a nice day for February, fairly cool, but sunny and windless. The flowers by the grave were beautiful. The flag in my mother’s hands was a fantastic symbol of strength and honor. The soldiers in full dress greens and ribbons made the picture complete. It would have been a beautiful scene, but I couldn’t see it because it was raining.

It always rains when you bury a loved one.


An Open Letter to my Sweetheart on his Birthday

Sweet A.B.,

I just wanted to say hi, and let you know that I am thinking about you on your birthday. I wish you could be here to share it with us.

It doesn't seem the same here this time of year without all of those cards showing up in the mail. It was almost like Christmas! I know all of the big kids sent some, and my Mom, plus it wouldn't have been your birthday without cards from your sisters, reminding you how OLD you were getting to be! You were always quite dignified, saying that you were very proud because you had worked hard to earn all of those wrinkles and grey hairs. You must have worked very, VERY hard......oh...!

I was thinking about all the fun we have had on your birthday in years past. Remember your 40th? Besides the newspaper ad, we had that party at Art's with the black balloons and "over the hill" stuff, where Kathy played all of that morbid music on the keyboard. You thought you were older than dirt THEN!! Then we spent the evening calling each other Ugly. No, I am not uglier than you!!!

Or, how about the year when Lesley was taking Home Ec. She decided to bake you a double chocolate M&M birthday cake, and Jimmy helped. It turned out looking like a pile of dirt. (Tasted good, though!)

Then there was the year that for some unknown reason I bought you the bear that moved it's mouth to any sound. When we put it in front of some country music we all almost died laughing! You never laughed easily, but you were almost crying at that one!

Another memorable birthday was the one in 2000, when you were in the hospital. I will never forget how proud you were of that smoker that we had waiting for you. You showed the photo to everybody that came in your room. We didn't think that you would live to ever see it, let alone use it. But you rallied, and were able to come home, see it, then finally you were strong enough to put it together and smoked 2 hams and a turkey. And they were wonderful, just like the other stuff you used to smoke on the old grill.

I know we used to try to celebrate your birthday every year with Mary Kay and Cactus. Some years we were able to, some not. We had several good restaurant meals with them. But, darn, you would never let us order you any CHICKEN!

Doug and Marilyn were here for your birthday alot.I remember you always liked Marilyn's strawberry cake. I think she made it for your birthday more than once. Of course, I know that you could have lived without Doug's OFF KEY singing! You were a good sport, though, and never even threatened him with bodily harm.

Your last birthday was overshadowed by September 11. I was in such a fog that I can't even remember what we did for your birthday. But I do know that whatever we did was done with love, and I am grateful that I had you here to hold my hand during that time.

So anyway, the kids and I are thinking of you on your day. I love you forever. Even if you are ugly.

Love, B.B.

Monday, September 16, 2002

"Our Song" in honor of his birthday... and another coincidence

We've Got a Good Fire Goin'

There’s a storm rollin’ over the hill
And the willow trees are blowin’
I’m standin’ here starin’ out the window
Safe and warm

I feel her put her arms around me
And its a good feelin’ I’m knowin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

We’ve got a feast on the supper table
Bread for breakin’
A blessing to the Lord for makin’ me
such a fortunate man

The light of my life in the candle
Her face a glowin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

So let it rain
(let the rain fall down)
Let it rain
It won’t do nothin’ but kindle
a never ending flame

Let it rain (let the rain fall down)
Let it rain til mornin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

Now there’s a hard rain fallin’ on the roof
Coffee comin’ from the kitchen
I’m lyin’ here listenin’ to the ceiling
on the living room floor

I feel her lay down beside me
My love is overflowin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

So let it rain
(let the rain fall down)
Let it rain
It won’t do nothin’ but kindle
a never ending flame

Let it rain (let the rain fall down)
Let it rain til mornin’
Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

Oh, I’ve got a good woman and we’ve got a good fire goin’

(By Don Williams,
from the album "New Moves," 1986)

Another coincidence. What are the odds that so many coincidences can happen???

As all of his family probably knows, today would have been Clarence Andrew's 55th birthday. Naturally, this day has special meaning to me. Because of this, I half expected another coincidence. I was hoping for one, as a matter of fact. So, all day I watched and waited. I read every billboard to and from work. I looked for coins on the ground. I watched for special mail or messages. By the end of my work day, I started thinking that the string was over. How many blessings like that can I expect? I did get a bit depressed, and talked to him in my head on my way home. I was wishing that I could be with him, and that I could give him another birthday gift.

I was reading my email at home when the phone rang. I had Shelby get it, because I was tired after work.

She said "Mom, it is the people from the cemetery."

When I took the phone, I was informed that his headstone had just been set, and was ready for us to come see it.

I said "You are KIDDING! Did you do that on purpose?"

The poor woman sounded very puzzled. "You did want it set, didn't you?"

I said, "Yes, of course! But today is his birthday!"

She answered "It is?? I didn't know that!"

They didn't even realize it was when they set it. We both had a good laugh, then the kids and I went to see it. It is a military headstone, so we didn't know if they would add the extra words I requested. They did, and I find it to be exactly what I wanted for him. I had ordered it in June, and they said it would take 6 months to 1 year to come in. I was certainly not expecting it on his birthday! My gift to him, and a blessing back to me.

Saturday, September 7, 2002

More words from Jimmy

As I have used words, photos and images to try to keep my grief at bay, Jimmy has created his essays. Here is another.


Andy's Cleverness

One of the things that I always admired about Andy was his cleverness with his hands, his mind, and with his speech. He was always doing something cunning with his hands, be it building something or fixing something that one of us had broken. He was always thinking of different ways to do things that would make life easier for one of us, or for himself. He was always saying something that had some profound meaning or interest to one of us. My thoughts are these.

One of my earliest memories of Andy and his clever ways was when he had first moved in with us. At the time, my mom and my dad had just split up, and Andy stayed with me at night when my mom worked her shifts at the hospital. My mom did a number of kind things to help me through this troubled time in my life. Often, I would come home to a small gift, sometimes a book, a candy bar, and most memorable of all, several different kites.

The first day I remember getting one, it had been raining all day, the kind of day that leaves you feeling damp even if you hadn’t really gotten wet; the kind of day that makes you feel sort of low in any regard. I got home just as the sun started to come out, and I found a kite, some kite string, a Butter Finger candy bar, and a note. The note was from my mom and she instructed me to have fun and told me that she loved me. I remember she signed it with a little sun, a symbol she has always put on notes or letters to me and, in fact, still signs whenever she writes me. I ate the candy bar hurriedly as I tied the kite to the string and took it outside to try it out. The wind was just right, it was the perfect temperature, and I was fired up from eating the candy. It took me only a few minutes to get the beautiful Snoopy and the Red Baron kite up into the air. Snoopy would get that Red Baron this time, sitting atop his trusty Sopwith Camel. He had nothing to worry about with me as his co-pilot. It was so fun, I nearly cried.

Very soon, however, disaster struck. Whoever designs kite string rolls neglected to add a very important feature to them.

A knot.

Up and up the kite soared and the string was unraveling just as fast as I could let
it. Then, before I could catch it, the string unraveled right off the roll and the kite soared yet even higher, leaving me with a small tube of cardboard which I will tell you is NOT a good substitute for a kite. The kite was VERY high by this time, and I snatched at the end of the string as it hovered just above my hands. I jumped frantically after it.

I missed.

I chased that miserable kite string halfway down the block before it simply got too high and went too far for me to chase it.

I cried as I watched the Snoopy kite soar away, so high that I could barely make out his smiling features. I stood there and sobbed until I couldn't see it any longer. Needless to say, my entire evening was ruined.

Andy heard me crying and saw what had happened. I believe if he could have, Andy would have taken me to the nearest store and we would have gotten another kite. Andy wasn’t driving at the time though, so it wasn’t an option. He must have told my mother about what had happened though, because the very next day, there was a brand new Snoopy and the Red Baron kite and string waiting for me.

Determined not to lose this one, I found a stout piece of metal piping about 12 inches long, unraveled the string off the cheap cardboard roll, and proceeded to try and put it through the metal pipe to tie it and recoil it. For the life of me, I could NOT get that string through that pipe. It kept getting caught on itself before it would get to the other side. Sadly, I took it to Andy to see if he could get it through. He contemplated it a second, and reached into the pouch he had hanging off the back of his wheelchair. From it, he produced a small safety pin, tied the string around it, and dropped it through the pipe just as neat as, well, just as neat as a pin.

How I loved him for that. Not only had he been instrumental in me getting another kite after I had tragically lost my first one, he helped me after I had fought with that lousy kite string for an hour, wasting valuable kite flying time. He solved my problem with a few calculated, deliberate movements. It was as close to genius that I had at that time ever seen.

Although, it may not seem like much, I still don't think I would have thought of such an easy, clever way of getting the string through the pipe. I undoubtedly would try to find something to poke it through (as I had then).

I miss Andy's clever remarks and his clever actions. As Mom told John Henry when Andy died, "God undoubtedly needed some stuff fixed." He called upon the right man for the job. I miss his ability to see to the heart of whatever trouble I was working on, either on a project or in life itself. Andy had a mental clarity that made him deliberate and precise in what he did and I envy him for that. And I miss it.


Monday, September 2, 2002

Pickup Man

We rode a hundred thousand happy miles in this pickup. I think I may have driven 25 of them! He just loved to drive.