In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
Plop! Pride and Prejudice slowly twists and turns in the air before hitting the oak floor of the living room. Thud! Pamela collapses like a deflated balloon. Shaking and quivering, she lies on the floor near the book that she had been reading.
“Mark Edward, get the stick,” Mom yells, as she goes to Pamela’s side. Dropping my glove and ball, the world slows down as I head to the kitchen. There, in the corner of the countertop, under the cabinet, in a coffee mug rests the stick. Two tongue depressors, wrapped in cotton, swathed with gauze, and covered with surgical tape.
Stick in hand, I enter the living room. Pamela is on the floor. A soft beam of light streaming through the window caresses her convulsing body. A hymn we sang at church last Sunday comes to mind—Amazing Grace.Mom, kneeling by Pamela’s side, wedges the stick between Pamela’s clinched teeth. Then places a small pillow under Pamela’s head and wipes the perspiration from her colorless face. “Pamela, you’ll be okay,” Mom says. “God’s grace surrounds you.”
On the side opposite Mom, I kneel next to Pamela. Sluggish tears roll down my face. I place Pamela’s jerking left hand between my hands. Every ounce of healing energy that I can muster I send through my hands to my big sister. Taking a long slow look at Mom’s face and then at my shaking and quivering sister, I know that, “Things are not all right.”
Dad is on his way here from the church. Doctor Smith just left the hospital and should soon be here. In the meantime, Pamela’s precious life rests in our hands. Pamela—unconscious, her eyes rolled up in their sockets, teeth clinching the stick, and pink blouse wet with sweat—is in her private hell. Mom is in the hell that mothers dread—a beloved child in peril. God, please grant them your Mercy.
“Stay strong for Pamela,” I say to myself. “No hell for me, remain positive for Mom.” Pulling myself together, I think about last night, Pamela and I sitting on the front step, in the moonlight, listening to the Twins—Red Sox game. Pamela was full of life as her Twins beat my Sox 5-3. In the moonlight she talks smack to me. I draw strength from that memory and my faith.With renewed strength, I thank God for the ladies of the United Methodist Church of Corydon Iowa. Undoubtedly, they are busily responding to our situation—prayer chain active, meal service ready, and blue-hair Bertha eager to care for me.
Remaining strong, I think about the many seizures that Pamela has previously survived. The stick with its special place in the kitchen, Mom and I with our rapid response routine, and the church ladies on perpetual high alert are evidence of this fact. Born with a brain defect, pressure builds and seizures happen, as Pamela grows older. Their frequency and severity are increasing. The seizure today is the worst yet.
Mom, Dad, and I do what we can to help prevent Pamela from having more seizures. We see that she gets the rest and quiet she needs, and help her live the “normal” life that she deserves. In this effort, Mom carries the largest load. She manages the house, prepares meals, coordinates doctor visits, organizes medicines, and handles all sorts of mother-daughter stuff. Dad cares for his flock, of which we are part, and does it well. I do my part by being quiet within our home and active outside it. Some days I play with neighborhood kids. Other days, I visit church members such as Bertha, Bennie, and his brother Fred. Every weekday, I deliver newspapers to the townsfolk. Whatever time I have left scouts, art lessons, choir, and little league consume. At home, Pamela and I talk, tease each other, read, play cards and board games, and practise the piano.
At this moment, kneeling by Pamela who is convulsing on the floor, waiting for Dad and Doctor Smith to arrive, I would give my life to have her made whole, and joyful as she was last night on the porch. At that instant, a faint whisper from within says that the carefree times are on the wane for Pamela and I. I should take advantage of the time we have, and keep the stick nearby.
On this trip to Heartland the vivid memory that greets me is a reminder of a tragic moment when loving hands fight to keep a precious daughter and sister alive. A poignant remembrance of how life and death coexist while Pamela clinches the too-often used stick between her teeth. A time when love of a mother, father, brother, and the ladies of the United Methodist Church pulls Pamela through, one more time.
Here in Heartland, the deeper nature of my existence is visible. I see each event of the day, from book plop to seizure and stick, in slow motion. Every role—daughter, sister, brother, mother, and father—reflects a deep connectedness to the others. Life and death are there too. In God’s grace, we save Pamela’s life while Death organizes our lives.
Note: This is the 13th post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.