Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: We'll Miss You, Bob, Until We Meet Again


To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.  Clara Ortega


  ROBERT ROY CRUM  1947-2019 

With a heavy heart, I report the death of my oldest brother Bob, Robert Roy Crum. He died on April 2 at the age of 71 in Farmington, New Mexico, following a long illness.

Bob and I were part of a family of 13 children who grew up on a small dairy farm in Fruitland, New Mexico. Ours was a "yours, mine, and ours" family. However, we never thought of one another or referred to each other as "step-brothers or -sisters" or "half-siblings." That language never crept into the family lexicon or mind-set, and thus I do NOT refer to Bob as my step-brother.

The 13 of us shared four parents. Roy and Elaine Crum were the parents of Bob, Gaylee, Linda, Richard, and Jay, and they lived in southwest New Mexico in a little place called Cotton City. Marion and Gracie Mae Farnsworth were the parents of Alan, Scott, Lane, Steve, Lamar, Jeanette, and Jeanenne, and we lived in the northwest New Mexico town of Fruitland.

My older brother Alan died in a hit-and-run accident at age 8. (See my recent Wednesday Wisdom article from February 12.) Then Roy died of leukemia and Gracie Mae died of throat cancer. Elaine was left a widowed single mother with five children and Marion found himself alone with six children.

Sometime later, Elaine and Marion were introduced by a mutual friend. They fell in love, got married, and combined their two families. Some folks said they must have been crazy to take on that task, and perhaps they were. Crazy in love.

The "merge" was not easy with 11 children between the ages of 14 and 2, half of whom had been uprooted from their home in Cotton City and moved 450 miles north to Fruitland, and all of whom had recently lost a parent and needed nurturing and reassurance. As one might expect, we experienced many difficult adjustments as we all struggled to find our places in this newly-forged family.

Marion and Elaine later brought a new baby boy into the family circle, completing the "yours, mine, and ours" pattern. Our little brother Brent was the catalyst who melded the family and brought all of us closer together. Here's a family photo taken when Brent was a few months old.


For a couple of years, until we could build on an additional wing, all of us lived in our small farmhouse with three bedrooms and a single bathroom. It was a bit like the Brady Bunch on steroids, except we had no "Alice" to feed us and clean up after us. It took all of us and a strong set of resolute parents to handle the heavy chores and relentless farm work.

Bob bore much of the load of that hard labor. After his father's death in Cotton City, Bob became the man of the family at a young age, helping his mother run their cotton farm. With his move to Fruitland at the age of 14, Bob took on many grown-up tasks there, such as milking our herd of dairy cows each night after school, plowing fields, and overseeing his six younger brothers on our assigned farm duties. Bob certainly knew how to work.

Bob was a strong but gentle man who had a knack for cars and trucks, and a penchant for all things mechanical. You could count on him to fix just about anything, and to stick to an assigned job until it was done. His obituary read in part: "Bob was a very humble, quiet man and never wanted to be the center of attention. He loved his son, Michael who was the light of his life. He will be sorely missed by his son and his siblings, and his nieces and nephews whom he adored."

* * * * *

From the experience of Bob's demise, I found the death of an adult brother or sister to be unsettling. Unlike the passing of a parent or grandparent, which we always fear but realize will happen sooner or later, the death of a sibling awoke me to the reality that our generation is getting older and now it is our turn to face our own mortality. It's a sobering thought to recognize that we are the old guys now.

Bob, the oldest brother, broke the ice and led the way. Now we, his 11 remaining siblings, must come to terms with the truth that in the not-too-distant future, we will follow him through the veil.

However, this is a time of sadness and contemplation but not despair. We have an unshakable conviction that death is not the end of us, nor is it the end of our family ties. We believe that families can be together forever and we will see Bob, Alan, Roy, Gracie Mae, Elaine, and Marion again when we arrive in heaven. While his absence - and their absence - is indeed painful, our separation is only temporary.

We'll miss you, Bob, until we meet again.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: Grandma's Wing


I thank God for little children and Grandmas, for they need each other, and we need them both.  Russell Hoy


One of my clients was fascinated to learn that I grew up on a small family dairy farm in Fruitland, New Mexico. It turns out that he grew up on dairy farms in England and Canada, so he felt a certain kinship with me.

One day he dropped by my office and gave me some copies of Farm Journal magazine from 1950 - two years before I was born. He said he thought I would appreciate them. He was right, for I remember that same magazine in our home when I was a boy.

Reading them brought back tons of memories. The well-yellowed pages feature ads for the same types of tractors, farm machinery, and pickup trucks I grew up with on our farm. There were lots of timely (for back then) articles, such as "Bug Outbreak is Near" and "How to Keep the Hay Coming" and "You Can Tell by the HEAD if Plants are Well-fed."

But one article in particular caught my eye. "Grandma's Wing" addresses a topic that's still relevant to all families (not just farm families) even today: How do we best care for elderly parents?

It's a challenge for all of us, whether for our aging family members, or - hard to think about this sometimes - for ourselves. What will we do when that time arrives? Here's one farm family's sweet 70-year-old answer to that vexing question:

We were just home from church this morning and I was putting the car away. Mary ran on ahead. "Hurry, Daddy," she called from the doorway. "We're invited out for dinner today!"

It was Grandma's we were going to - and Grandma (Mrs. Mary Turner [the author's mother-in-law]) lives just back of our hallway door.

We washed up and went over to Grandma's side of the house. My wife was helping dish up the dinner. We seated ourselves, sang grace (a custom of our family) and started in.

It's good to eat Sunday dinner with Grandma. Through the week she generally prefers to eat by herself. But on special occasions she comes over and eats with us, or we with her.

Our home wouldn't again seem right without a Grandma. We believe that it somehow takes three generations to make a family really complete.

The children love having Grandma near. Grandma seems to enjoy it just as much. She was left alone three years ago when her husband died. And after 55 years as a farmer's wife, she didn't want to move to town. Or to live alone, either. So we built a wing onto the back of our five-room farmhouse, and Grandma came to live beside us.

She has her own bedroom, with bath, and her own kitchen and living room-a 20- by 12-foot room with electric stove and refrigerator; at the opposite end her davenport, chair, and all her other favorite things. Our same furnace heats her rooms.

Grandma need only open the hall door, and she's with us. Yet she has the privacy and quiet of a place of her own.

Mornings, Grandma will come over for a pitcher of cream or a cup of butter-and a pat for each of the children.

On Mondays, she and my wife do their washing together, each at her own machine in the basement. Or mother and daughter spend a day sewing, and their two machines fill both sides of the house with a happy humming.

Last Christmas, Grandma made 30 aprons, outfitting even her great-granddaughters. She loves to work in her own little garden. One day I found her in the barn with the wheelbarrow, "swiping" manure for her flower-beds.

Grandma is 79, but insists on days full of canning, butchering, and daily chores like dish-washing (which the girls appreciate). Often she takes a train or bus to visit her other children, but it's only for a few days. Then Grandma wants to be home again.

We're sitting here tonight, Mrs. Hoy and I, trying to think of words to tell you how happy we are at having Grandma beside us.

Happy for her that she has a home of her own, plus the wonderful comfort of knowing her family is close by.

Happy for the children, who have even more - the certain, unhurried, understanding love of a grand-parent - someone to fix that special little snack-to tell them stories of what it was like when Grandma was a girl.

The little wing of the house is Grandma's as long as she wants it. Someday, maybe, it will be home for a couple of newlyweds. Or for either Mrs. Hoy or me, when left companionless.

As we sat around Grandma's table at noon today, laughing and talking, I silently thanked God for little children and Grandmas, for they both need each other, and we need them both.

* * * * *

At the end of the article I found the following Editor's note:

The author (Grandma's son-in-law) is a preacher who farms a small place a mile from his Ohio church. We know that not every grand-parent who lives with her children would fit into a family the way this grandma does. But few get the chance - to come and go, eat and sleep as they like, in a place of their own - a reward that's probably due any of us after a lifetime of hard work.

* * * * *

I was touched by this simple and sweet solution to the age-old problem of how to care for aging family members without taking away their independence. His description sounds like a gentle version of the Granny Pod, an early rural take on "aging in place" - to borrow the current vernacular.

I especially appreciate the author's recognition of the benefits of keeping multiple generations of family close together. He's right: grandchildren need grandmas and grandpas, and seniors need children around as much as possible. That's not easy in today's world.

These issues are a few years away for some us, and right on the doorstep for others. Whether sooner or later, I'm hoping that when that time comes for Marcie and me, we can find some way to live like that farm family from 70 years ago: close to those we love most. 

Is that too much to wish for?