Mildred wasn’t on my “parish visitor list” yet. Close to 80, she was still driving. (part of the problem) But a recent car accident had put her there. I stopped to see how she was doing. She promptly lifted her blouse so I could marvel at the perfect outline of the steering-wheel-bruise on her chest. She was a retired teacher, widowed a few years before, no children. Had a cat named Charlie she had adopted from a friend who moved away.
|Mildred, around 2005…|
She was fiesty, stubborn, argumentative. A life long Lutheran who had left her church of 50 years in a huff, (her father had been the pastor there for over 30 years) and joined Central several years before. After 3 or 4 visits, Mildred had healed up and leased a new car. Whew, I breathed a sigh of relief. She was ornery. Joke was on me. God, always able to humble you when He thinks you need it, had other plans for me and Mildred for the next few years. She broke her ankle, back on my list. Then she broke her shoulder, falling down her slippery steps, which required surgery and a rehab stint. Back on my list. A second car accident would keep her home-bound, but she relied (demanded actually) on folks from Central to take her to book club, women’s circle and church services. Now she was on my list for better or worse.
|Mildred joined Central after 50 yrs at Samuel Lutheran…|
It started innocently enough. She had a prescription that needed to be picked up, and would I mind getting a few groceries? Well, it was close by so I took the list. Soon she would have a couple things she “desperately needed” every few days. I wouldn’t and couldn’t count these as parish visitor hours. She’d be the only one I’d see, taking up all my hours for the week. I really didn’t mind helping her. After talking to my PHD psychologist daughter Shannon (meaning she talked, I listened) who said I needed to establish some boundaries. I put on my suit of armor, light-saber-weapon in hand, and marched up her steps. (Costume was very heavy, my legs couldn’t bend, and I was really sweating, bad sign Mildred) 1. I can’t always come when you snap your fingers. 2. I will go to the store for you once a week, exception would be a new prescription. 3. You have to stop calling me all the time. That wasn’t so hard, but kind of scary. She agreed.
We kind of got in a rhythm. She’d have her list ready when I called. I’d pick up her groceries, pills, stamps and greeting cards-birthday-get well-sympathy, by the skid. She truly had an amazing card ministry going on. She sent out 200 Christmas cards each year. I don’t know 200 people. I now picked up cat food by the case and big bags of kitty litter. I took her to the doctor, dentist, and the beauty shop every 4 months for a haircut and perm. What’s with little old ladies and frizzy perms?
|Mildred’s cat, Charlie, 2006…|
She did find ways to keep herself occupied at home. She had written a couple books about Muskegon years before on Lakeside and Pinchtown. Her new mission was her family history. But it would be me finding a publisher, and making boo-koo trips to the post office to mail them.
|I mailed 75 out to 50 different addresses, 2007…|
She often asked for my advice which she RARELY took. Example: she had leased a new car months before, then wrecked it, losing her license. Now GM wanted the money to fulfill her lease obligation. I told her to just pay it. Nope, she had lawyers for that stuff. Months later she told me she had to pay off the lease, plus outrageous legal fees. Oh Mildred. This law firm also had power of attorney for her. I did my best to change her mind. Doris was a friend of hers and a wonderful Christian woman who would do what was best for her, but that was-a-no-go-either. Mildred’s lawyers would take care of everything. I did convince her to get an order from her doctor saying it was dangerous for her to go down the steps, trudge through the snow for the mail. Now the mailman brought it to her door (usually waiting for it with an outstretched arm).
|Mildred’s L O N G history, 401 heavy pages….|
Stopped in wearing my parish visitor hat with communion for her (she wasn’t attending often anymore). Immediately she says, “got a reminder card from the vet. Charlie needs a shot, and he hasn’t been feeling well. I already made an appointment.” Sigh. No, groan. Hauled Charlie to the vet to get his shot, but the vet was too busy for an exam. “Bring him back in 2 days.” (Are you kidding me?) Mildred looked at the vet and asked, “what church do you go to?” (She had that same curious, rude behavior as my dad!) Exasperated, the vet shoots a few daggers her way (I ducked), “Mildred we’ve talked about this many times. I’m here to take care of Charlie. It’s none of your business what I believe, or if and where I attend.” I was shooting a few daggers of my own-at him. Not for his smart-ass answer, but that I had to come back. (You couldn’t just take a few extra minutes to check him out now, while we’re here, cozily discussing religion with our tea and crumpets?)
|Mildred & her brother Eugene, about 1928…|
Mildred was not walking well, and it took her hours to catch and cage Charlie. I didn’t volunteer for that duty. I told her if she caught him, I would bring him back to the vet myself. Even though she did not feel well, she wanted to come. So back to the vet. Charlie had some tests and we were waiting for the results. The Vet, (still of unknown faith, church affiliation, and whereabouts on Sunday’s) walked in with the x-rays. He explained that Charlie didn’t feel well because he had a large tumor blocking his stomach. He couldn’t swallow, and would die soon, painfully if she didn’t do something about it. We talked it over and she decided to have him put to sleep, but she would NOT have him cremated. Vet brought in Charlie, who for the first time ever, lay quietly in his cage with the door open while we petted him and said goodby. I sobbed through it all. Mildred was stoic. She wanted to bring him back home. I argued, “Mildred, it’s 80 degrees. You don’t have air-conditioning. I’m not going to bury Charlie!” She was adamant. We drove around back and the vet brought Charlie wrapped in a towel and laid him in his cage. The Vet put his hand on my shoulder and said, “thanks for doing this with Mildred and being here for her.” Ok, I take back some of the daggers.
Driving back to her house, she mused, “you know Denise, I was worried about this. Wondered what would happen to Charlie if something happened to me first? Now I don’t to worry about that.” I put Charlie in the spare bedroom (still bawling, what’s up with that?) and told Mildred I wouldn’t leave until she had some definite plans. She called Doris and Dick who gladly came over to help with Charlie.
|Mildred and Conrad’s wedding, 1947…|
A couple weeks later, John and I returned from a long weekend away. A funeral, (preacher’s mom) and Shannon’s PHD graduation party. I was leaving for Davenport, Iowa in 2 days to visit some old friends. Time to catch up with them and play some double-deck euchre. I wanted to get Mildred stocked up before I left. I called a couple times but no answer. She didn’t always tell me when she was going somewhere, but I usually knew her whereabouts. I headed to her house. There was a thick stack of mail rubber banded to her screen door handle. That does not bode well. She always got her mail pronto. The big door was open, the screen door locked, and a light was on. I yelled, no answer. Please God, don’t let her be at the bottom of the basement steps with a broken hip. I ran over to the neighbors who had a back door key, (“don’t worry about me Denise, the neighbors have a key and will always watch out for me”). Yeah, right. The key lady was gone. Called John. “What should I do? I think she’s hurt, I’m gonna break in.” Didn’t hear or heed his advice to call 911.
I took my car key, slit the screen, slipped my hand in and unlocked the door. Ran inside, but instead of heading to the basement stairs, stopped dead in my tracks. Turned and walked to her bedroom doorway. She was laying on the bed. Dressed, barefoot, her glasses on the dresser. Looked as though she laid down for a nap and never woke up. Hysterical now, I call the cops. Why hadn’t I waited outside on the steps? The 911 operator questioned if she was dead? What? No please, I can’t check for her pulse. She was not a good color, but I did touch her foot at the 911 operator’s insistence. Which was ice cold. I ended up waiting a couple hours while the county coroner cleared me. Well, I did break into her house. He had to rule out foul play. That was oddly disconcerting. This was a Tuesday morning. I had talked to her Thursday night. I think she died on Friday, though her death certificate would read Tuesday. The Thursday paper was on her Duncan Phyfe table, but Friday through Monday’s mail and papers were untouched stuck in the front and back doors. Guilt ridden that she died alone, gobs more guilt because I cried more over my loss of Mildred (and Charlie) than I did for Dad. Too traumatic I guess.
When I was arguing, to no avail, a couple years before to convince her to spend the winter months in a safer environment, Mildred had walked me through her house. Trying to show me how able-bodied she was. She had some neat stories and pictures of her having dinner with Gerald R. Ford at Western Michigan University. She had been on their Board of Trustees for about 20 years. Told me about the big Swedish dinners she used to have in that small house for 100 people at a time. And the story about Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois where her father taught when she was young. He had been given 2 matching antique oak stacking bookcases. Small world. We had lived in Davenport right across the Mississippi, but John had worked in Rock Island at J.I. Case.
|Mildred removed beds to seat more folks at her Swedish dinners…|
A few weeks after her death, the “law firm” called and asked my opinion on what I thought should be done with all her possessions? I suggested an estate sale and gave her the top 3 dealers in the area. She called back and said they had decided on an auction instead. Huh, they didn’t take my advice any better than Mildred had. What she said next left me speechless. I was in Mildred’s will. Stunned. When could I pick up what she left me? Needed to get it out of the house before the sale. Her will stated it was my choice of the antique oak stacking bookcases. Then it read, “she is not to have any of the contents.” Bookcases were filled with mugs from various places she and her husband, Connie had visited. I thought that was kinda funny.
The auction was a bust. They could have doubled the profits had the lawyers listened to this long-time-antique-nut-who-loves-estate-sales. I had been in her house hundreds of times but was amazed at how much neat stuff she had. Lots of dishes and serving pieces for those big dinner parties. I wanted to buy something, but not spend a lot. I really liked one of her china patterns (felt like a blushing bride) The set was huge with lots of extra platters and bowls. Told John I didn’t want to spend more than a hundred bucks. Dipstick auctioneer from Hicksville couldn’t even get a bid on it. Bought the whole set for $25.00. A shame. When I brought it home, checked what it would cost to buy at Replacements.com. I had over 3 thousand dollars worth of china.
|Haviland Brothers Apple Blossom pattern that I bought at Mildred’s sale…|
Several months later, John was at church on business as a Trustee. They take care of the building, land parsonage, land and endowments. A big shot stopped to tell him about an influx of money in the general fund. Mildred’s money. John disagreed. “I thought the money was supposed to go for the youth?” “No, it’s been put in the general fund,” he countered smugly. When John got home, he asked me about the will, since the not-taking-my-advice-lawyers had sent me a copy. It specifically stated the money be used for the children and youth of the church as an endowment. John brought my copy to boss-preacher-man-#3, who righted that little wrong. But if I’d gotten a copy of her will for a little bookcase (sorry Mildred, it is one of my most treasured pieces) certainly the church had a copy too. Deliberately not following her wishes. Ah, church politics, ruthless business…