Because of her - a tribute to Gertie
Why I am so very proud to be my Mom's daughter
Those of you who follow my writing know that I was my Mom's caregiver for the last 5 years of her life - but, there was so much more to my Mom than just being my patient. I don't believe I've shared enough stories about who exactly Gertrude Burdoo was.
Because of her - a tribute to Gertie has been a long time coming. On this article, I hope to give you a glimpse into who my parents were and why I couldn't be more thrilled to be their baby. Forever.
Photo credit: All pictures on this Squidoo article are mine. You can't have 'em. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah....
Early history of my Mom
Mom was born in St. Joseph, Mo on October 28, 1916. She was one of five children, 4 of whom lived into their 80s. Mom would often say that she got old in spite of herself. Mom was the 4th of the children and referred to her 'baby brother' (Uncle Al) until his death at 91 just 2 years before she died. Those two were very close and often got into trouble together.
Mom used to joke that she remembered the Pony Express (1860-1861), ah, but she wasn't that old! She did share memories of the depression though and, as was her wont, she put a positive spin on those lean times. She would recall nights when the family would sit around and make their own entertainment or just talk. Those were simpler times and, in a lot of ways, easier yet harsher times. Mom said that she was never hungry like a lot of their neighbors, and her family often shared food.
One of my favorite internet writers Joan Haines came to visit us in Maryland, specifically to meet my Mom whom she had read so much about. Gertie sat at the kitchen table that night and regaled us with stories of her early life. She talked of the early lean times, and how many of the folks around her were poor and starving. She spoke of how Hobos would mark the walk in front of her house with a symbol meaning 'Good people. Will give food.'
The Great Depression
Before Mom sat Joan and I down at the kitchen table that night, I'd never heard of Hobo signs. But, once she told us about them, I became interested in the Great Depression and took to the bookshelf to find out more. So, here's a few decent books on Amazon about those tough times.
Some fun photos of mom and friends
Gertie meets Joe - the story
My parents had a 65 year love affair - actually, it was 70 years if you counted the 5 years that they dated before they married. Mom was 26 when they married and considered 'an old maid' back then. Eager to get married and get on with it, Mom gave my Dad an ultimatum back in 1940. She was going to move to Seattle where her sister lived to take a job. She told my Dad this on a phone as she lived, at the time, in St. Joe and he lived in Kansas City. Dad borrowed a car and showed up on her doorstep that very night and asked her to marry him. He was one smart man and she was one smart woman when she said 'I do' to this incredible man who would stand beside her until his death in 2007.
Ah, but I've digressed. Here's the story of how Mom met Dad:
Dad and my Mom's brother, Uncle Al, were in the same fraternity in High School. Now, back in the day, a 'fraternity' wasn't what it is now - it was just a group of guys getting together, ostensibly for male bonding but even moreso to meet chicks! Some things never change. The Fraternity was having a dance on a Saturday night; Dad was very shy back then and didn't have a date. Here's the conversation I heard many many times between Dad and Uncle Al:
Uncle Al: Joe, you don't have a date for the dance, right?
Joe: No, why?
Uncle Al: Well, my sister will be in town and she'd probably go with you.
Joe: Is she cute?
Uncle Al: Hell no! But, you'll have a good time with her.
And, that was the start. The party involved a hay ride during which Mom said Dad barely talked to her. For some reason, Mom saw through his shyness and her outgoing nature more than made up for his quietness. And that, my dear readers, is the beginning of the story.
You can click to see memory books on my website.
That link above goes to my own website, where I have well over 200 items that are helpful for the elderly or their caregivers. One of my favorite gifts is a memory book - these are blank books with questions on top of each page to prompt memories which are then written in the book. Such questions might be something like:
- Who was your favorite friend in elementary school? What did you do together?
- Who was your first girlfriend/boyfriend?
- What did you most like about your childhood?
These books end up not only being a great present to give an elderly loved one, but they're also a great present for future generations who get to have a sense of who their elderly relatives were.
The whole picture
I could get my folks to do about anything I asked so, when I walked in with a few red hats, the game was on! We laughed and laughed as we dressed them up for their photo shoot. A few more pictures are sprinkled throughout this article below.
And, because of him, I could take care of my Mom
I was remiss in not giving enough credit to my fabulous boyfriend, John, when I first published this article. If it hadn't been for his support and love, both for me and Gertie, I would not have become the caregiver I did. John was there every step of the way - he saw the frustrations, dried some tears, and shared in the joy too. I can't thank him enough for loving my Mom almost as much as I did and for loving me more than I even realized I could be loved.
Because of her... - I am who I am
As I was sitting and writing this article, I started to really reflect back on how my personality was formed (and why!). Here's a few things that I believe link my darling parents to myself today.
- Because of her, I now consider myself a writer.
During the years that I cared for my Mom, I spent a lot of the down time writing. I started first with my blog Gertie's Galavants - Travels with a 95 year old to keep family and friends up to date on what was happening in our lives. That blog became a 400 page book that my fantastic boyfriend had published for me after Mom's death.
- Because of her, I became a caregiver.
In looking back, my whole life prepared me for becoming Mom's caregiver. I was always the child who fed the family pets - the one the dogs and cats gravitated to. I was always the one who was there to help friends in need.
But, because of Mom, I now am a skilled elder caregiver who frequently can give advice or step in to help care for an elderly loved one.
- Because of them, I have had a charmed life.
It hasn't escaped me that I have had one of the easier times in life. I've never wanted for anything but, then again, I was raised to not ask nor expect. But, my parents always wanted their children to have more than they did and boy did we!
I like to say that I was spoiled but grateful. To this day, I never take anything for granted and I am eternally grateful for the sacrifices my parent's made in their own lives so that I could live the life I have today.
- Because of them, I give back.
My parents raised their children to be grateful for the things we had and, by their example, to give back. I'm a big proponent of sharing the wealth when I can. I remember sitting in the living room when Hurricane Katrina hit - the first thing Mom said was 'find out where we can donate.' My parents taught their children to give back. And, to this day, that's what I try to do.
- Because of them, I have the best friends in the world.
My parents had few friends when I was being brought up - they were simply too busy working at Town Hall, the bar and restaurant here in College Park, Maryland that they still own. But, my parents instilled in me the thought that surrounding oneself with true friends (the kind who will come to your aid when you're down) is one of the most important things in life. And, I've done just that.
My parents particularly showed me that, in order to have true friends, you must be a true friend. This sometimes means putting the wants and needs of others ahead of your own. Anything less is just being selfish. So what if a weekend party is missed if a friend needs you? So what if a dinner reservation has to be moved? These things are what my parents taught me and, for that, I'll be eternally grateful.
When my Mom was on her deathbed, the parade of friends surrounding us was amazing. Sharyn, Bobbi, John, brother Mike and I were here every day, rubbing her hands, telling her how much we loved her, how much of an inspiration she was. And, the moment that she died, my friends were right here too. And, they've been here every single day afterward.
The day my Mom died (at 7:11 am), John and I went upstairs to go to bed. I had been up, pretty much straight for 72 hours, so I was exhausted, mentally and physically. When we awoke and came downstairs at 6 pm, I was in awe to see my very best friends sitting in my now rearranged living room. They had taken care of getting the hospital bed removed as we slept, had the oxygen cannisters removed, and totally revamped my living room into a beautiful space instead of a hospital room. As John and I entered the candle lit room, my friends held their breaths, hoping the they hadn't overstepped their boundaries. Ah, but they knew me so well - John and I stood and looked in amazement at the beauty and love surrounding us. I will never forget the kindness of this act as long as I live. To this day, it's one of my favorite memories.
- Because of them, I am a lifelong lover of all creatures, great and small.
Neither of my parents were particularly known as dog-people or cat-people, yet they both recognized my love of animals early on and allowed me to nurtured that love. I always had at least one dog and, as I aged and my folks came to live with me in the summers, they sometimes would be surrounded by as many as a dozen dogs playing in my backyard.
I'll never forget the grin on my Dad's face as he wiped off a string of slobber left on his clean tan pants by Weize, Bobbi's dog.
And, I'll never forget the comfort my Mom found when holding Rita, one of my rescued dogs after Rita had a very painful eye surgery. Rita was in 'the cone of shame' (and e-collar designed to keep dogs from worrying head injuries). Rita and Mom would fall asleep every day, Rita safely ensconced in Mom's arms. Mom was needed and she knew it.
- Because of them, I have wonderful childhood memories.
I sort of feel sorry for the kids of today who are plugged into electronics and are missing the goings on in the world around them. We had no such things - I was born in an era when children still played outside, only coming in to eat dinner and to return when it became too dark to see. We caught fireflies in the backyard, we found salamanders in the creek, we laid on our backs and watched the shapes in the clouds.
And, when the adults got together, we listened to the best stories! You know the ones - where your parents siblings tell of who your parent was as a younger child. How they got in trouble for using their father's wallpaper board (a tool for his livelihood) as a sliding board, lathering it with lard and leaning it against a wall. Or how my Mom was a tomboy and would climb to the top of the garage's roof while her own mother watched her and was worried sick. Ah, the memories...
Another of my favorite articles - about life with mom
Pictures of Gertie - life with my 95 year old Mom
No, I didn't actually let my 95 year old Mom get on a motorcycle but we sure had some fun taking pictures of her in the motorcycle helmet. For those of you u...
Another red hat fun picture - it might be fuzzy but it still makes me laugh.
Some of my Mom's favorite things.
Mom loved hummingbirds, butterflies, flowers, and birds. We'd sit and watch the birds feed for hours; in fact, it was one of our favorite past times.
Mom also was a huge fan of coffee in a pretty cup. I bought her many bone china coffee cups, like those shown below. So what that they broke easily, they could be replaced and the joy she got from a pretty cup full of piping hot coffee still warms my heart. And, she loved her melamine trays upon which I served her her coffee. It made her feel like a queen!
Mom also loved pretty quilts for her bed. I'd buy her a new one every season and frequently swap them out. She imparted this love to me - I must have 7 or 8 quilts for my own bed.
And, rain. Mom and I share a love of weather, particularly rainy days. The day of her funeral dawned cloudy and breezy. As the service ended and we followed the casket to her resting place, a light drizzle coated my face. I knew she was thinking of me on that very minute.
My adorable Momma tells a fishy story
We used make Mom tell this story, much to my Dad's dismay. He sure was a good sport though as we laughed and laughed at her and him.
Some of my favorite things about Gertie
There were many, many wonderful things about my Mom. Things that I still look back on lovingly as I go forward in my life. The below are only a few of these things.
- My Mom had an incredibly quick wit. There were times when Mom would get on a 'roll' and the witty comments would come out of her so fast that her audience just couldn't keep up. We would be holding our sides and begging her to stop so we could catch our breath.
- Gertie was wise. My Mom imparted a lot of wisdom to me, well, she tried. When my Dad died, her very first words to me on the phone were 'these things happen.' She didn't pity herself for standing alone the rest of her days without the man she'd loved for 65 years. She just kept going.
- My Mom always waited up for me. Pretty much to her dying day, my Mom would not rest easy until she heard me come into the house. Even at 95 years of age, she wanted to make sure her 'baby' was home, safe and sound.
- My parents let me live my own life and make my own choices, good and bad. After Dad died and Mom came to live with me full time, I quickly realized that the failing marriage I had tried to exist in for 17 years was no more. I knew that my priority was my Mom and, when I told her I was getting a divorce, she looked at me and said 'Dad and I knew you were unhappy.' In a way, I wish I had known this as I would have divorced earlier - I had remained in the doomed marriage because I didn't want to disappoint my parents. When I asked her why they hadn't told me this earlier, she said 'we knew you'd figure it out.' And, for this I'm also grateful because, you see, if I had divorced earlier, I probably would never have met the man who stands beside me today, John, the true love of my life.
- My parents always thanked me for their day. When Mom and Dad were here with me during the summers, they were mobile and mostly on their own during the day. They'd go shopping or to the park or just sit and chat. I would always tuck them into bed at night and they would always thank me for their day.
My parents thanked me for every meal I prepared, they thanked me for their coffee in the morning, they were just thankful people, and, for this, I'm thankful.
- My Mom was gorgeous!. My Mom considered herself an ugly duckling when she was growing up. She was very think and had a beautiful older sister who took the spotlight. Ah, but Mom's true beauty was to come. As she aged, she became one of the prettiest older women I've ever seen. I think her internal beauty came through. I remember when I finally talked her into stop dying her hair - she was about 83 I think. People used to stop us on the street to comment on her gorgeous white hair.
- My Mom was always approachable. Mom's open nature must have been transparent as we were frequently stopped by strangers on our outings.
One time, we were in Costco and a woman about my age approached me from behind as I was pushing Mom's wheelchair. The woman had tears in her eyes as she told me how beautiful my Mom was. She hesitated and asked me if I thought she could hug my Mom - this woman's Mom had died just 2 weeks prior. I walked to the front of the wheelchair with the woman behind me, stooped down and said, 'Mom, this woman would like to get a hug. Would that be ok?' Without a word, my Mom put her arms up in the air and welcomed this woman with a warm embrace. What a touching moment that was.
Do you have a loved one who shaped you in ways that you recognize? Please leave me comments to let me know you stopped by my article