91 Years of Creating Memories

Lydia_posed_3 sized  IMG_0616  IMG_1026

Good early morning,

It is about 2:30 a.m. and I’m awake. I had hoped to get this written and posted yesterday on Lydia’s birthday but it did not happen. Technically, the night before last I woke up at 11:58, two minutes before her birthday. The last few days I’ve been fighting an infection and I think I have managed to get bronchitis once again, so I had gone to bed early in the evening. Carissa, the former administrator at Lydia’s COH residence, had texted me with picture of her with Lydia on Lydia’s last two birthdays shortly before hand. There Lydia was scowling as almost always, sitting by her cake. The only time I ever saw Lydia smile for her birthday was when I surprised her on her 85th with the party, inviting over a few of the longest tenured friends of her life. If she had known I had set up this party, she would have refused to attend, but she was shocked and even enjoyed herself. I posted the picture of her on Facebook yesterday and commented that the picture and post was in memory of the most amazing lady I’ve ever known. Some of the COH staff posted, but over 70 people liked it. Lydia would be shocked. She would let me know in her Austrian accent rather emphatically that she thought such recognition was stupid.  She did not like a fuss on her behalf. Well, perhaps that is not entirely accurate. I think she liked that people cared, but she did not know how to respond, so it made her uncomfortable.  It would then overwhelm her and therefore it was easier for her to just ignore and be reclusive.

It seems rather ironic to be reclusive and yet have such a big heart and care so much at the same time, an oxymoronic behavior of sorts. But that was not her only oxymoronic behavior, Lydia was quite the expert in caring about others and seeming aloof within the same moment. She would send out hundreds of dollars in donations to people and animals, while simultaneously lamenting the stupidity of the great majority of the world around her. I found out in around 2007 she had bought enough toilet paper because of her fear of Y2K to last her for seven years, but once when she took food to the local pantry with Kevin, her painter,  he told me she literally cried as she witnessed the poverty of those in her own town. She owned no pets, but in the time that I knew her she bought thousands of pounds of dog food to feed the neighbor’s dog, the squirrels, and every other living creature or crritter within a two square mile radius.  She can make me laugh with both her actions and her comments and she could exasperate me like no other. The love she exhibited for and gave to me made her the most wonderful mother I could have ever hoped to have, and I was almost 50 before I met her. That barely 90 pounds of boundless energy was a force to be reckoned with. With a penchant for omelettes and the ability to eat more bananas than anyone I’ve ever met, she managed her mansion of a house and the amazing property one water can, one broom, and one dustpan at a time. Well technically I might be lying about the broom. She usually had about five of them. I remember her neighbor once asking me how she was, and I answered she was doing just fine. The neighbor’s somewhat curt response was, “yes, one leaf at a time.” She would be out in her yard, more committed than the post-office slogan, sweeping 365 days a year. What Lydia accomplished in the 19 years she exceeded George in life was quite astounding. She understood hard work and perseverance.

While many found her prickly, and perhaps, distant or aloof, her reason for this affect was really about her stature and her accent. She once told me that she tried to get rid of that accent when she was first a student at Northwestern University, but it never happened. In addition, her two-digit-midget status often caused people to under-estimate her determination, her intelligence, and certainly her vigor. I think much like Dennis, who lived there for such a long time before me and watched out for her, I did also. I think the fact that she had been alone and older made her more accommodating to the person in the little house and I think the fact that I worked at the university as she had, also created a bond. I had no inkling that I would be adopted by this reclusive and amazingly insightful woman. I had no idea that driving Miss Lydia would turn into cooking for Miss Lydia, or mowing for Miss Lydia, or snow blowing and shoveling for Miss Lydia. I became her son and she became my mother. I have noted this before, but I am still realizing the truth of that existence. I remember once being told I should merely pull away, or I would need to, but I could not do so. I realized that the real purpose for me in Menomonie was to be a caregiver, a surrogate son, a cook, a yard tender, and eventually the caretaker of this wonderfully vibrant woman.

Between Kevin, Tony, Jack, and others who did work for her, I became the person to organize and make sure that she somehow did not make their jobs more difficult. As it became apparent that Lydia had dementia, there would be new concerns. I learned from her doctor, an amazing man and brilliant human and physician, that was to come would not be easy. It was at that point, the reality of my place in Menomonie really hit me. It would be my task to keep her safe. That was both heartwarming and frightening. She was not an easy person to convince about most anything. It was more than once she emphatically told me, “You don’t know a damn thing!” Even when I had researched, spoken with her doctor or others. I was petrified the day Nathan and I moved her to Comforts of Home. That day was probably more traumatic to me than the first day of Marine Corps boot camp. I can see it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I could write pages about Lydia, and, in fact, hope someday to write a book about her, but suffice it to say that as what would be her 91st birthday is here, I miss her daily, I love her more deeply and I respect her even more profoundly.

Lydia, you will always be a mother to me. I am blessed by what you shared with me in life and what you taught me. I am blessed by the beauty of your memory and the way you cared for those you loved. I am blessed that you made my time in Menomonie a place of joy and serenity when my professional life there was something a bit less. I miss you every day. I am still working on all the things you asked me to do, but I will complete it as I promised. I am so grateful for the memories of your smile, your radiance and your beauty. I am blessed that because of you I can help others. I love you with all my heart. I will write your book and I hope you know how much I miss those brilliant eyes that sharp wit and your beautiful smile and that voice that sounded like no other. Happy Birthday, dear Lydia! Ich liebe dich auf immer und ewig.

Thanks to everyone who greeted her for her birthday and thank you for reading.


Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

2 thoughts on “91 Years of Creating Memories

  1. Michael I met you at COH, Carissa my daughter thought you were a wonderful dedicated person to care so passionately for Lydia. Carissa loved all the residents and treated them with respect but most of all she loved Lydias and her feisty moments. When i heard the story of her childhood I could not believe the hardships she overcame she is an inspiration for all. I can’t wait to read her story when you finish the book. Thank you for your love and care of a remarkable woman!

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