Mom’s Final Gift

There’s a man out in the hallway,” said the Charge Nurse, “and he wants to talk with you.”

She turned and slipped quietly out of the room. I was standing by Mom’s bed, where she lay curled on her right side.

Debating with myself as to whether I should leave or not, I leaned down and whispered into Mom’s ear, “I’ll be right back.”

Quickly stepped out of the room and met with the man who was leaning patiently against the ICU nursing station, “You needed to speak to me?” I asked.

“Yes,” answered the man, then he added, “I’m your mother’s attorney and she wanted you to have this.”

He handed me an envelope.

“What is it?” I asked.

The man stepped back and said, “Your mom told me to give it to you when the time was right.  You’re to open it after she’s gone and find out.  Those were my instructions from her.”

With that, he turned and walked down the long, empty corridor towards the parking lot.

Frowning, I didn’t have time for games right now, so tucked the envelope into my back pocket, turned around, and went back inside the room.  It was just before 9 pm and all of the family was there.

For nearly four days Mom’s breathing had remained labored as she laid in a semi fetal position on her right side.  Her doctor stated with a resigned finality that her lungs were filling up with fluid and she was slowly drowning to death.  Her heart raced over one hundred and six beats per minute as she struggled to hold on to her tenuous life.

“We’re all here,” Deirdre gently spoke into her ear.

Then each person in the room called out their name letting her know that they were indeed present.

I suggested, “Let’s reposition her on her back so she can see us.

“Okay,” agreed Deirdre.

We quickly moved to different sides of the bed and tenderly lifted the bedding up and adjusted the tiny figure lying on the mattress from her side to her back.  Then the two of us gently slipped the extra pillows down into the areas between her body and the bed to keep her from rolling one way or the other.  It was the first time I had seen Mom’s face since I had arrived earlier that day

“Now you can look at all of us, Mom,” Marcy said.

There was a minute or two of awkward silence, as no one knew exactly what to say.  The void was broken by a sniffle or a heavy sigh as tears continued to be shed.

Suddenly, I realized the monitor that was attached to Mom, which had shown her heartbeat as racing, was now showing a rapidly dropping heart rate.

I said aloud, “Look at the monitor.”

Adam replied, “She’s crashing.”

Their mother was quickly dying. Before anyone had a chance to react her heart rate was below 65 beats per minute.  Everyone started sobbing wildly.

When it dropped beneath 50, everyone joined hands and started praying through their tears.  Soon there were no more heartbeats on the monitor and her breaths, which had slowed, to nothing more than hiccups became nonexistent.

As the person given the final control over their mother’s medical wishes, I waited one minute, then reached over and switched off the monitor.  The display had gone into silent alarm the moment Mom’s heart stopped beating.

The room seemed almost tranquil, except for the hissing sound of the oxygen escaping from the mask still attached to Mom’s now motionless face. And for the crying of those who felt the loss and had not yet fled the room.

After waiting another minute, in a futile hope that Mom might take a breath, I reached over and turned the oxygen off at the wall.  I gently lifted the mask from his Mom’s face, noting the creases it left in her skin and hung it up on the flow meter.

“Deirdre,” I asked, “Hand me that hair bush and grab a damp wash clothe, please?”

She did both without saying a word.

While I washed Mom’s face and brushed out her hair, Adam lovingly straightened out her legs and arms, which had been bent without moving for days.  It was the least that her two sons could do for their mother,

A few minutes later I wandered out into the hallway.

“Are you okay?” I asked Kyle.

It wasn’t the brightest question to ask but it was the only one I could think of at the time.

“No,” Kyle answered as he sat in the semi-darkened hallway on a couch.

I sat down next to him and put an arm over his shoulders, pulling him closer.

Kyle sighed deeply, “It’s not fair.”

“I know, I know,” I responded.

We sat there quietly for a few minutes, both allowing the other to cry.

After a while, they got up and walked outside to the truck, and headed towards Fortuna and Deirdre’s house.  While southbound on Highway 101, Kyle looked at me and said, “Now that Grandpa and Grandma are gone, that makes you an orphan.”

I thought about it for a few seconds, smiled then chuckled as I answered, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

The drive was quiet the rest of the way we were lost in their own thoughts.  Within minutes though Kyle, tired from emotional exhaustion was asleep and I was left to my memories.

Reflecting back, I recalled how just after Mom had passed away, Deirdre and I were waiting for the doctor to come in and pronounce her dead.  Deirdre was seated in a chair by the bed and I was leaning against the wall by the doorway when I looked down and saw something shiny underneath the open door.

“Hey, look at that,” I said as I bent over to pick it up.

“What is it?” Deirdre asked with excitement.

“It’s a penny,” I answered.

“Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed, then asking “What’s the date on it?”

Quickly I checked. When I told her, she screamed, bringing the Charge Nurse rushing into the room.

“What’s the matter?” she demanded.

“My brother just found a penny from the same year that our step-dad Delmar died.  We think he was here!” Deirdre said with great excitement.

The nurse let out a squeal as she looked at the penny in my hand.

Her body shivered as if she was suddenly cold and she exclaimed, “I have Goosebumps!”

The scene kept playing over and over in my head until I pulled my truck into the driveway of Deirdre’s house.  I had witnessed the goosebumps and before I got out of the truck I felt for the penny in the visor one more time.

It wasn’t until the following evening that I thought about the envelope I had been given.  It wasn’t that it had slipped my mind; it was just that it seemed trivial given all the other things he had yet to accomplish like completing funeral arrangements and signing over my power of attorney.  I figured I’d have enough time to look at whatever was in the envelope later.

Kyle spent the day playing with his cousins while I spent the day with my sisters making arrangements for the care of their mom’s body and its final resting place.  By the time we were finished, it was nightfall and I felt exhausted.

Trudged up the narrow stairway from the backdoor to where Kyle and I were sleeping, I fell across the double bed.  I lay there for a couple of minutes looking at the nightstand where the envelope rested.

I rolled over, picked it up, and opened it as I sat up.

Inside were a couple of legal forms instructing what everyone was expected to do with what and who was in charge of this or that.  I sighed, realizing the scale of those duties and happy that I didn’t have to do any of it.

Beyond that I found two-typed pages and an enormous gift as I began to read:

“This is a history and I leave it to you.  I am writing this to help you fill in some of the gaps in my life and perhaps yours as well.  I know that you have always been interested in our families’ history.  I think that it is a good thing, as you like your brother are gifted with a talent for storytelling and writing.  I will go back as far as I can remember.

Let me start with my grandfather, Jose Luis Olivera.  He was born in Sao Gorge, Portugal, on January 4, 1881.  I believe he was a carpenter by trade.  I am told that he always smelled of sweet cigars and rum aftershave.  Grandpa Jose left the United States and returned to Portugal in 1920, leaving grandma behind as well as all of his children.  No one really knows why.

Grandma Rosa was an Acosta by birth.  She too was born on the island of Sao Gorge.  Her birth date was June 6, 1892.  She ran a boarding house to make ends meet.  She had 4 children, which included Fredrico, Luis, Maria, and Joaquin.

A man named Estrada, who was either her lover or her boarder, shot Grandma Rosa to death in 1921.  No one has ever been certain of the facts and Estrada never made it clear before he went to his death in the electric chair at San Quentin.

She is also rumored to have had a child with him, a girl named Rose.  I don’t know who raised her; however, she grew up and joined the Air Force.  You met her once, when we lived at Mather Air Force Base, in Sacramento.

Your Grandfather Joaquin Luis Olivera was only 10 or 11 years old at that time and was raised by your Great-uncle Fred.  He was born in Arcata, California, on June 28, 1910.  He worked as a bartender for the majority of his life when not pounding nails as a part-time carpenter.

This is also where you get your middle name.  I know that you sometimes joke that your father and I had a sense of humor when we named you, but all kidding aside, your father and my father were the two most important men in my life at that time and this is why you came to have such a lengthy name.

Finally, it is true that you were born as a twin and his name was to be Timothy Edward Junior, after your father and his father.  He was 3 minutes younger than you and his lungs were not fully mature therefore he never took a breath.  Your father and I were heartsick and I cried off and on all night until the first time I got to hold you.

As for my mother, Leola Gertrude, we had an on-again/off-again relationship.  She was born a Hufford, which at the time was still a very well-respected name in Humboldt County.

Her date of birth was August 16, 1913, in Bridgeville, California where your great-granddad owned the Bridgeville Overland Express Company.  She was literally born in a barn, as the house was not yet completed.

She was also a member of the Hupa Indian Tribe.  You still have the 1903 booklet that she hid behind her wall and you discovered when you and Delmar were repairing the dry rot after her death.

The reason she did this, I speculate is that at one time it was illegal for area Indians to own a liquor license.  And I believe your great-grandfather fronted her money to put her and your grandfather into the saloon business.  In fact, as I think of it now, I believe this is about the time your grandfather anglicized his name to ‘Jack.’

That mysterious little booklet leads me to other questions needing research at another time. Did it belong to Jenny May Babcock or Irma Gillespie, as the date is too young to be my Mothers?  And which lady was Grandpa George’s first wife?  I will leave this up to you to seek an answer.

The mystery deepens here as Grandpa George Washington Hufford had 3 children, yet only 2 are really only spoken of in the family histories.  That would be because William H. Hufford at age 11, the eldest child, reportedly crowned his mother Jenny May, on the head with a heavy bedstead, fracturing her skull.

She lingered a few days before passing, with a Dr. Caudill listing the cause of death as a brain tumor.  According to family legend, your great-grandma carried several gold pieces about her neck in a cloth bag and the bag turned up in William’s possession.

I never knew him, though I saw him in a grade school photograph once at the Fortuna museum, we visited.  He reportedly died in prison back east after a life spent in crime.

Both of my grandparents and my mother are buried on the hill in the family plot.  You and I went up there once and placed flowers there.  I have always found it to be a quiet spot, but lonely and drab.  I am happy not to be buried there.

It still leaves me embarrassed to recall your cousins from Washington carving their initials in your grandmother’s fine oak casket prior to the ceremony.  Furthermore, I am still upset that Grandpa Hufford still does not have a marker befitting a man of his stature in Humboldt County.

After all, he was a pioneer in the area, just like Peter Darby, one of the co-founders of Crescent City who has one of the finest headstones erected in the cemetery in Del Norte County.  The money that was supposed to be used for that was drunk away in sorrow by your Grandma and Great-aunt Madge.

Still, I giggle my self silly when I remember you with your ear planted to the ground, thumping the earth in earnest hoping to find a hollow spot and thus locating your Great-grandfather’s resting place.  I imagined him looking down on you with his large mustache, laughing at the grown man, his Great-grandson, with the large mustache, face nearly buried in the dirt, listening.  Such irony an old lady does not get to see every day.

My parents had a total of five children, four girls, and a boy.  The boy, Gary Russell Olivera died, not making it beyond infancy.

Mom and Dad did not speak of it much as I assume it hurt too much.  They also had a set of twins, your Aunts’ Leona and Leora.

The oldest child was your Aunt Barbara and I was the baby of the family.  I was born in Eureka, a little more than a year before World War II.

The house that we used to go to when we visited your grandma was the house that your grandpa built and I grew up in.  If you stood at the side of Rohnerville Road, looking at that house, then to the left of it, that two-story house was the home that my grandfather built when he moved into town.  I used to love to play in that house.

We all attended Rohnerville Elementary.  It is now called Toddy Thomas Elementary.  He was the principal there when I graduated from eighth grade.

This is about the time my parents separated.  They had been having difficulties off and on for a number of years and I was the last child left at home.  I decided to go live with my father in Klamath after graduation.

He was owner and operator of the Three-7’s Bar in Klamath.  He had a small three-bedroom place in the back.  I had a bedroom all to myself and I enjoyed it.

My mother would sometimes come up to stay with us.

At the Three-7’s, I helped behind the bar, bussed the tables, and cooked hamburgers as Father also had a small grill.  I especially enjoyed the music, the dancing, and the attention I would get from the young men.

It’s also where I learned to smoke, drink and cuss.  After all, I was just a teenager, so what did I know.

Three things stand out in my memory when it comes to the Three-7’s.  The first one is Bill Shaw, who became your grandmother’s common-law husband, as they were never legally married.  I held him in contempt for a number of years because he insisted on courting Mom through me.

When my father was not around he would come to the door and give me notes or flowers and such to slip to her.  One time I got so angry with him I pushed him off the back porch of the Three-7’s Club and he landed flat on his back.  I put my hands on my hips and told him that he needed to be a man and go give Mother the note himself and to quit sneaking around the back door like an ally cat.

During one of the many Klamath Floods I survived, your Aunt Leora, her husband Jerry, who was also in the Air Force there, and I had to escape the rising water by climbing on top of your distant cousin Tony Ramos’ market and then hop-scotching back to the Three-7’s Club.  We were finally rescued by boat.  The man who piloted the craft was married to a former Miss USA or Miss California.  His name was Davis or David or something along those lines.

Lastly, the Three-7’s is where I met your Father.  He was handsome and dashing in his Air Force policeman’s uniform as he came through, reminding the other airmen that it was time to head back to the base.  It was a whirlwind romance.  We knew each other for a very short while before he popped the question and I found myself saying ‘yes.’

We were married in Reno, Nevada on September 24, 1956, at the County Courthouse in a legal ceremony.  I was a mere sixteen years old and he was 23.  We had a one-night honeymoon at the Mapes Hotel and then it was back to Klamath.  The drive was pretty much the same then as it is now, long, winding and tedious.

When we got back home he had to leave me at the Three-7’s and go back to the base, as he had not made formal provisions for me yet.  My husband left me with my Father!  I was mad at him and did not speak to him for a week thereafter, but I did do a lot of pouting and crying.

About two years later your Father received orders to report to France.  I would spell the name of the airbase but my memory is not what it used to be.

I remember when I used to be able to speak Portuguese and French with ease.  I would speak in Portuguese with your Grandfather and my Aunt and Uncles, and French with your Father.   Now, I am lucky if I can pronounce the name of the medications I must take from day to day.

At the time that we were leaving for France, I thought I was going on a grand adventure.  I had never been farther than southern Humboldt to Bridgeville or north to Crescent City and high school at Del Norte.

Incidentally, that’s where my education came to an end as a teenager. I dropped out when I was a sophomore.  I did not pick up the mantle of education again until you started high school and proved to be woefully unimpressed with the education system and we ended up taking college night courses together so we would both graduate.

As for my adventure, it was placed on hold in Muskogee, Oklahoma for about ten months.  Your Father left me with his parents and sister and her husband.

I had to threaten him with a divorce to get him to finally ship me overseas.  Once I was over there though, I was surprised to discover that the chateau-villa we were to live in was nothing less than a house of ill repute on a gravel road.

In fact, your very first babysitter was a 21-year old redheaded prostitute named Mimi.  In one of the many boxes of photos you have, there is a picture of her holding you in a standing position against the wall, under that gaudy landscape painting we brought back from France.

It was always damp and cold and your Father always seemed to be away on duty.  I became very good friends with those women and I was not ashamed of their profession at all as they were good to us.

In fact, they kept us from starving a few times.  Your Father did not make very much in pay, seventy dollars, I think, and those women shared their cheese and stale crackers and wine as the local market would gouge me for the price of eggs, butter, and bread in a false belief that all Americans were made of money.

It was also about this time that your Father started talking about getting married in the church.  I think he was concerned that I was talking too much to the other women in our chateau-villa.  They spoke of things and I listened, learned, and used them and they worked, causing the man of the house to worry.

Then again it could be that I had suffered two miscarriages and I was continually sad and he could tell this.  And I must admit I was sad, I came to France expecting to nibble on chocolate bon-bon’s, sip champagne while wearing the latest in fashion and here I was 18 years old, hobnobbing with whores, drinking cheap vino, eating day-old cheese from the market from down the dirt lane and pregnant for the third time.

Yet, the idea of church felt good at the time.  It felt right, like an old pair of slippers set before the fireside waiting for me on a rainy day.  Your Father had been raised Lutheran and I had never really been to church.  We decided on the Catholic faith.

Years later when your Father and I would divorce and I would seek refuge from the church and Father Brady would condemn me and tell me that I was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for wanting a divorce, those slippers would come to feel more like cement shoes.

We studied our catechism lessons under Father Fink.  I remember thinking it was such a funny name for such a funny man.  He was very portly, jolly, and kind. And the good Father was terribly addicted to gambling, so much so, that the church finally resorted to purchasing a one-armed bandit and placing it in his room so that he could get his daily fix without going broke.

We were finally married in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, two months prior to your birth.  Looking back, I must have been a sight to see.

You were born on Wednesday, July 20, at 2:23 in the afternoon.  I often joked with you that you were born in the back seat of a taxi.  This is almost the truth.

Your Father was on duty when my water broke and he sent a car around for me from the base.  I still feel sorry for the poor airman driving because I screamed bloody murder when the top of your head popped out as I lay in the back seat.

Fortunately for you and for your Father, he was there to greet me at the hospital.  As I have already said your twin brother was born about 3 minutes later.  He was stillborn and never had a chance.

I have always thought it was strange how you would sometimes say you felt split in two.

When we shipped out a year a half later, it was because we were now uninvited guests of the French.  They had elected a Socialist President, who wanted nothing to do with America.  To be completely honest with you, I was happy to be going home.

We boarded the ship “S. S. United States” and crossed the Atlantic.  I thrilled at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, realizing that my Grandma Rosa and Grandpa Jose must have had the same feelings about the opportunities and life that lay ahead of them.

Things seemed to happen at an awfully quick pace once we were stateside and settled.  Perhaps it was because we were living on base and I was suddenly part of a social circle, something I had not and would never really be used to.

Perhaps it was having a child and another one on the way.  Perhaps it was the political climate of the time.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that you loved to play with our black lab, Tippy.  One day you came into the house for a drink of water, your face covered in blood and a gash in your forehead.

You said that Tippy had bitten you after you had bit Tippy on the end of his tail.  I wasn’t sure who to be madder at, you or that dog.

Then there was the time we were next door at the Quako’s home.  They were having a small party.

You were supposed to be in bed asleep, suddenly the doorbell rings, and guess who was standing there…you.

You demanded that Mommy and Daddy come home now.  We did.  It is scary to think that parents go to jail for things like that nowadays.

And it has always amazed me how you could recall the assassination of President Kennedy.  You were so young!

You are right, there was a woman in our front room crying and your father did come home and then leave for a long time afterward.  The woman was Kim-Yong Johnson; she was Korean and lived next door to us.

As for your father, he was placed on alert for several days.  He came home long enough to get some equipment, kiss us and go.  I was scared because I didn’t understand what was going on and I was pregnant with your brother.

When your brother arrived on August 4th, 1963, I was so happy.  He was healthy and he had a full head of hair just like his grandfather.  I think your father was jealous of the get-go as he was starting to get thin on top.

We brought him to where you were staying, the Mattel’s, who lived 3 houses up from us.  I laid him in your lap and you were scared to death, frightened of the doll that moved. He had just started to walk when your father got new orders to his old assignment, Klamath Air Force Station.

Then there were the young men, boys really, who would come over for dinner just before they were to ship out for Vietnam.  And those miserable nights that I couldn’t console your father and he could not console me because one or more of them would never return home alive.

And how General Curtis Le May and your Godfather Colonel Bud Laux used to come over and bounce you boys on their knees.  It must have been a wonderful distraction for them for those few minutes, as they had to live through years of sending young men into harm’s way.  God bless them and you two little boys!

Things were changing though.  Suddenly the base commander was putting up chain-link fencing around each home.  This was a field where you and all the other children used to run and play and now it was forbidden.

Of course, it did not prevent you from having one last shot at creating some sort of excitement.  It was dark and you were crossing the field with us when you simply vanished from sight.

It took about ten minutes for your father to get a flashlight and find you.  You had fallen into a posthole that had been dug earlier that day.  What a fright!

And I knew it was time to go the day I found you and your brother sitting out by the fence, crying, watching the billowing black smoke rise skyward as a fully loaded B-52 Bomber burned on the runway.  You both thought your father was never coming back because you knew that he walk around those airplanes all day.

And I cried too because I did not understand enough about the nuclear age we live in.

That covers pretty much what I know about my family plus the first 25 years of my life or so.  Now it’s your turn.

Finally, I encourage you to help your brother and sisters to try to get along.  History is only worth the paper it’s written on, but family is priceless.”

Once I finished what Mom had so kindly left behind for him to read, I sat there, thinking, “Why would she want me to have this?”

I couldn’t come up with a clear answer, so he set it aside and went downstairs for dinner.

Later after Kyle was in bed fast asleep and I was resting, I recalled a conversation Mom and I had a year or so before.  She had said to me, “We all live through history and we all have a story.  So write about what you know.  Write from life.”

I picked up the autobiography Mom had written, re-reading it and I was finished, I laid there with my hands folded beneath my head, knowing that once again Mom was right.

I blinked and a tiny tear trailed its way down the left side of my face, then I said aloud, “Okay, I’ll start writing, but I’m going to start with your obituary, Mom.”

With that, I rolled over, pulled the covers on top of myself, reached over switched off the bedside lamp, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.

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