26 November 2014

One Thanksgiving

Here’s a story I think about every Thanksgiving:

I lived in a certain house for the first six years of my life. In the house directly across the street from us lived a man and woman significantly older than my parents. The woman was really nice. She was constantly inviting me into her house to take my pick of candy from a giant bowl she had that was always filled -- almost as if it was forever Halloween.

I remember her very clearly. Here is an image of her (with me and my mother) from a home movie from about 1963.

Many years after we moved from that house, my parents told me about this older couple. They had a child, a boy, who had grown up, gotten married, moved away and had at least one child. One Thanksgiving, the son and his family came to visit. Driving home, the entire family was killed in a horrible car accident. The parents were devastated and apparently never recovered. I guess this is why she was always so super nice to me.

20 November 2014

A Most Important Person

Everyone has someone in their life who was important to them as a child, aside from the obvious of the parents. For me, that person was Gwen Lysek.

She was born in 1928, the youngest of nine kids who moved with their parents from Alabama to Phoenix in 1935. Her father was a farmer.

For the first six years of my life, Gwen took care of me during the day because both my parents worked. She was like my nanny and was always cooking really great southern food including fried chicken, real mashed potatoes, peach pie, vanilla pudding with banana slices and "Nilla" brand wafers around the pie edge, black-eyed beans and real fig jam.

Many years earlier, her older sister Rose was dating Ed Lysek. Ed sent to his brother Joe a picture of Rose’s sister Gwen. Joe was in the military and they began a correspondence. In 1946, Joe moved to Phoenix and in August they were married.

Gwen and Joe moved into a house in 1957, and my parents moved next door a couple years later and a few months before I was born. My mother took a bus to work and was concerned about taking me on a bus. So, she arranged to have Gwen take care of me.

Rose lived with them at some point. She made really neat pleated pillows which I really loved. At some point Joe had to have his feet and then legs amputated because of diabetes. He was in a wheelchair for many years. After he died, Gwen lived alone. I kept in touch with her for years, and then suddenly she never answered the phone again. I went to the house to see if she was there and it was empty. I know she had family who lived near by, and they knew about me. I guess she died and no one thought to call me and let me know. It was very sad to have missed her last days.

Some years before I lost touch with her, I took my spouse, Matt, to meet her. She was very old and frail, but I am glad the two of them met before she died.