Category: Writings

I have written all of my life and this collection will be diverse in content and genre.

Saying Goodbye to Jimmy: Jim Burnett, Sr. (1937-2018)

By Pat Edwards

By the time I was born, Jimmy was 5 years old; in fact, the three of us siblings were each separated by 5 years. I was 5 years old when our sister, Barbara Jean, was born. (I call her B.J.) By the age of 5 years, Jimmy was busy playing with his cousin, Bob, and his other friends, so we were never close as kids. It seems that the older he got, the less we had in common with each other. So, my childhood memories of him are pretty minimal, sparse and scattered.

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Stairsteps: Jimmy, Patty and Barbara Jean

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Jimmy and Patty

I do know, though, that his childhood was difficult. B.J.’s and my father—Jimmy’s stepfather—doted on us girls, but he never fully accepted Jimmy as his son. My mother tried to bridge the gap, and Jimmy was always included in all of the family activities—sledding in the snow, fishing and camping at Clear Lake, going to the car races in Salem, vacations to see family in Los Angeles—but when home with family, he became more and more of a loner, the older he got. By the time we moved to Airport Road in Lebanon, he was a teenager and when he was not in school, he spent hours during the summer months up in his favorite apple tree in the backyard where he had built a fort in its branches, sitting, reading, and eating Gravenstein apples. When B.J. or I wanted an apple, we asked him and he lowered a couple down by the bucket on a rope that he used as a dumbwaiter. During the rest of the year, he spent his time in his bedroom above the garage, away from the rest of the family, lying across his bed, reading, and instead of apples, he ate oranges. He loved fruit! Mama found the evidence—orange peelings—under the bed when she went to clean his room. For the most part, my memories of those times picture him as serious and sometimes angry.

I can remember that during his senior year, he was on the football team at Lebanon Union High School. During one game, he was tackled and hit his head, resulting in a concussion. That ended his football “career.”

It was that same fall that Daddy sold his International Harvester dealership in Lebanon, and we put our house on the market. I was halfway through my 6th grade year of school and Jimmy was in his senior year. Because my mother didn’t want to take him out of school for his last year, she arranged for him to live with friends until he graduated. The rest of us—our parents, B.J. and I—then moved to Phoenix, Arizona for the next 6 months where we finished our schooling for the year. When school was out, we then moved to Eureka, California where Jimmy stayed with us for a short while before he joined the U.S. Marines.

 

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I didn’t know how traumatized Jimmy was by our move to Phoenix until visiting with him the week before he died. He revealed to us for the first time that he felt abandoned and very much unloved when we left Lebanon without him. The disclosure about broke my heart because when he told B.J. and me, the pain was evident in his eyes and his tears flowed.

Joining the Marines was not a good fit for our brother. It was too structured and too demanding for the free spirit he was becoming. When he and his good friend, Curt, visited us on “leave” for several days while we were still in Eureka, the little teeny-bopper that was me developed a big crush on Curt who, I am sure, must have squirmed every time I gave him a flirty smile. I remember the visit well. They arrived a day or two after the neighboring town of Fortuna and Humboldt County suffered a major flood in December 1955. We have photographs of us exploring the damage—washed out bridges and buildings.

California flood Jim Patty Curt

We learned later that when he and Curt returned from their visit, they faced AWOL charges and disciplinary measures. (I’m not telling tales out of school. Jimmy never kept it a secret—in fact, I listened as he told the whole story to one of his friends who visited him that last week before his passing.)

After he left the Marines, I only remember occasional visits from him. The one notable one was after Mama, Daddy, B.J. and I moved back to Lebanon. We bought a strawberry and bean farm on Brewster Road. One day, Jimmy arrived, accompanied by a pretty young lady named Betty Lou Branchflower. He was living in Portland at the time, and so was she. They had just gotten engaged and he wanted to introduce her to the family. She was a city girl and wasn’t sure about the farm life we led, but B.J. and I got out our horses, Rocket and Rocky, and gave them rides around the farm.

During the next several years, they got a good start on their family—first J.R., who was born the day before my birthday; then Curt and Greg. Betty Lou would send us some of her favorite recipes in their Christmas cards. I still have several of those handwritten recipes that Mama always kept in her metal recipe box.

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Curt, Paul, Greg, Jimmy with Joseph in front, J.R., John, Ginger, Betty Lou with Erin

They would bring the boys to see us about once or twice a year. The visits became less and less frequent as time went on, though, and we all but lost track of them. We pretty-much missed out on most of Joseph’s, Ginger’s, John’s and Erin’s childhoods, I’m afraid.
Sometime, during those years, Betty Lou asked us to begin calling her Heather. She decided to change her name and I respected her wish as I could, but she has always been “Betty Lou” in my heart to this day.

Later on, after Jim and I were married and living on our farm near Lorane, Curt and Greg came to stay with us. Curt was with us through some of his freshman year of high school and the following summer. During that time, he joined our kids’ 4-H group, raised a hog and showed it in the Lane County 4-H Fair. Greg joined him that summer and they both worked through haying season on our family’s hay crew—bucking hay, building muscles as well as character. I feel so blessed to have been able to spend that time with them.

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Curt showing his hog at the Lane County 4-H Fair

After that, we only got together sporadically. They would frequently come down to attend our major family celebrations. I remember one get-together at our place when Joseph put on a skateboard demonstration for us out in the middle of Lorane Highway while some of us spotted the traffic for him.

It was several years later when email opened up new worlds to all of us. Much later, it became the means where Jimmy and I reconnected on a very meaningful period of our lives. By that time, Paul had come into our lives; Jimmy and Heather had divorced, and I lost track of him for several years. I found out later that he had traveled some pretty rocky roads during that time, but eventually he met Jonni and she became his ballast… his salvation.

We began chatting back and forth on email and reconnected. I was working at the University of Oregon at the time and he became interested in the work I was doing there with a group of neuroscientists. It was obvious how well-read he was… all of that reading he had done in that apple tree had borne fruit. His love of books led to a love of learning, of broadening his intellect and writing it down on paper and through emails. I knew that he had become interested in our Grandma “Zander” (Alexander)’s Unity faith and in learning more about it, he began forming his own faith and philosophy of life.

It’s my belief that he turned in this direction because he realized that he still retained a lot of anger from his childhood. I never knew that anger to ever come out physically. He bore most of it inside, known only to him. He turned to books and learning instead, I believe, to understand how to deal with it.

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I didn’t understand a lot of what he wrote to me in those days. He was intellectually on a much higher plane than me as far as critical thinking was concerned. But, although we didn’t connect in that way, I did begin to feel I was finally getting to know my big brother on a personal level. There was a kindness that had always been there in adulthood, but it had blossomed into a gentleness and deep compassion for mankind. I admired and respected the work he did for his church and his faith.

When I became involved with the publishing of Groundwaters, a quarterly literary journal, after my retirement in 2004, I sent Jimmy some copies and he became excited about the possibilities it presented to local writers and poets. When the owner of Groundwaters decided to shut it down because of health issues, I mentioned to Jimmy that I and two others were wanting to take it over and keep it going. He immediately asked if he could be a part of it, as well. We welcomed his expertise in guiding us through the process of setting up a business model and later, the steps we needed to operate as a non-profit under the 501(c)3 umbrella that we were offered. He became our business manager. Later, he began submitting his own stories and essays for publication and soon proposed to write a column for each issue called the “Philosopher’s Corner” under the pen name of “Jimminy Cricket.” Our readers loved it. It was simple and non-judgmental. It offered a view of life as he saw it in a gentle, sweet way.

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We and our two partners worked closely together on producing each issue—editing, critiquing and proofing them—until he developed the brain tumor that required surgery. After that, while it was healing, he was not able to formulate his thoughts well enough to put them on paper, but, he never lost his interest in the magazine. It had brought us close together and we cherished the chance we had been afforded to spend those precious years in getting to know each other.

I miss my brother and always will. Our last two visits before he passed were special to me. It was a time when we were able to really open up to each other and express the love we had. I wished him Godspeed then and I know that he is now in a place where he can bask in all of the love that he truly deserves.

Published in the 2019 Groundwaters Anthology

 

A Tribute to Thelma Foster (1915-2009) and the Foster Family of Lorane

by Pat Edwards

Thelma FosterI never knew Thelma Foster well, but I’ve always had a deep respect for her work ethic and her love of family. I first met Thelma when she was the postmistress of the Lorane Post Office. She had taken over the position after her husband Harold passed away in 1968. The Lorane Post Office had been run by the Foster family since Harold’s uncle, Roy Foster, became postmaster in 1912. Harold took over in 1940 and ran it until his death. When Thelma sold the Foster Store – which housed the post office – to Joseph and Summer Allman in 1975, she built the small “A-frame” building that has served as the Lorane Post Office since. Thelma distributed mail and continued as a fixture in the daily lives of the Lorane residents who made a daily trek to pick up their mail. She was a well-respected member of her community and an obviously astute businesswoman.

Eventually, when Thelma decided it was time for her to retire, her daughter, Kathy Ledgerwood, carried on the postal duties that had become the family tradition – she, too, ran the post office for several years.

Thelma played another small part in Lorane’s history, too. When the Lorane High School was closed in 1958 following the consolidation of the Lorane School District with the Crow-Applegate School District, it was Thelma who offered the winning bid for the school property. Her bid of $2,010.53 bought the land with the provision that she have the school building demolished within one year’s time. Once the land was cleared, Thelma moved her home onto the site from where it sat on Territorial Road.

After Thelma retired, I saw little of her, but had the pleasure of watching her granddaughters, Jamie and Jenny, grow from toddlers, to the wonderful young women that they have become. I am especially close to Jamie, who came to work for me at the University of Oregon while she studied for her bachelor’s degree and, eventually, her teaching degree. I don’t know what I ever would have done without Jamie’s help and it is obvious that she inherited her grandmother’s work ethic. I was always able to count on Jamie to do whatever needed to be done and she worked independently, without supervision, allowing me to do my own work without worrying about hers. I have always considered Jamie as one of my own very special people.

As Thelma entered her later years, Jamie and Jenny helped their mother and their Uncle Brian look after Thelma. They checked in on her regularly, staying with her some nights if needed, cooking meals and providing her with the love and attention that she adored. Thelma was always independent and enjoyed living in her snug home on the hill overlooking the former Foster Store and stayed there until her health would no longer allow her to live on her own.

Thelma obviously was very close to her family. I remember watching another of her granddaughters, Kristen, playing basketball for Crow Middle School. Her Aunt Jenny was the coach for the team. Thelma loved coming to the games to watch Kristen play and Jenny coach. Her bent and frail body was supported by either a daughter or granddaughter at her side, as she slowly entered the gymnasium. Thelma sat on those hard wooden bleachers throughout each of those games and cheered with the best of us. Whenever I stopped by to say “hello,” she always had a big grin on her face and her expression registered recognition.

Thelma was a part of Lorane’s history since her marriage to Harold on November 3, 1951. There are few of her generation left. She was one of the last. Those special days of slower-paced living and a close-knit community are gone. The fast-pace of today’s world has left those days behind, but our memories of those who came before us will never die as long as we are willing to cherish their memories and their accomplishments, knowing that our lives are so much better for them.

May you rest in peace, Thelma!

Squeaky

By Pat Edwards

(Written on March 2000)

I lost a very special friend last spring. My cat, Squeaky, died in my arms. I say “my cat” when I mention Squeaky, not because I wouldn’t share him with the rest of my family, but because that’s the way Squeaky deemed it.

squeaky

About 14 years ago, our (then) teenaged daughter brought home a starved stray cat that had been living behind a business in downtown Eugene where a friend worked. We began feeding her and soon it was evident that she was going to have kittens. Squeaky and a brother were born on our farm, but about two weeks before the kittens should have been weaned, their mother was killed by a car. I brought them into the house and was able to help them survive.

Squeaky was always the “special” one, though. He had that certain mystique about him that some cats have. He sensed my moods and when he looked at me, he looked straight into my eyes and into my soul. He was never a well cat. He had a hernia and problems with digestion throughout his life, and he was not a hunter or fighter. His mother never got around to teaching him to clean himself, so he frequently had dusty feet or an occasional burr in his dark grey and white fur. But, he adored me and he made that obvious to anyone who was around him for any length of time. I was chosen to be “his” person.

Pile up Squeak

I’d take him into the veterinary office to have his rabies shots, to have a leukemia test, and to get a refill on his steroid prescription to treat his flea allergies. Towards the end of his life, they warned me that his kidneys were beginning to shut down and he needed to eat the special low-ash canned foods available. I tried. He hated them! He refused to eat and I have learned the hard way over the years that this was his way of dealing with stress or adversity… he would just give up.

I came close to losing Squeaky several times over the years when he would wander too far from home and get lost in one of our pastures. After fruitless daily searching, we’d find him a couple of weeks later, lying on the branch of one of our huge oak trees or in a ditch somewhere, completely emaciated because he would not hunt. On those occasions, I’d carry him up to the house because he was too weak to walk and nurse him back to health as I had once done when he was a tiny kitten.

So, after a sincere effort to follow “doctor’s orders,” I went back to giving him his half can of Friskies (his favorite was the turkey and giblets) and all of the Purina Cat Chow he wanted. I knew that I would not have him much longer, but those were his terms.

One day last fall, it was obvious that he needed to be put back on his steroids. When he needed them he became neurotic and began vomiting frequently. My husband ran him to the vets’ office for his required exam before they would issue a refill and they told him that Squeaky was running a fever and that they wanted to put him on an IV for that afternoon. Jim left him there and called me at work where I was in a deadline rush to get a grant submitted (I work for the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.) When he called again that afternoon and they told him that they wanted to keep him overnight, I was so unable to deal with it that I told him to let them go ahead. But, when they called me at work the next day and said that Squeaky was not eating at all and that he needed to be on the IV for over the weekend, I argued that he was eating fine when I brought him in… that he was just stressed by the dogs barking and being away from home. The vet insisted, however, and still rushing to get the grant out that afternoon, I agreed.

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Our granddaughter, Stephanie, loved  holding Squeaky, too… this time while her mom was holding themboth

My granddaughter and I went to visit Squeaky in the animal hospital that Saturday morning. He was lying flat on his side in this big cage with an IV tube taped to his leg. When he heard my voice, he raised his head and let out his trademark squeak of recognition and hobbled over to the door of the cage. I opened the door and picked him up, being careful not to tangle or pull out the tube. He grabbed me around the neck in the special way he’s always had of giving me hugs and held on for dear life. He “talked” to me and was obviously pleading with me to take him home. I wanted to, but no one was there on the weekend with the authority to release him. But, I determined that on Monday, he would be coming home regardless of what his condition was and that I would never put him through that stress again. Putting him back in that cage was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. As weak as he was, he clung to me.

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If a human wasn’t available for snuggles, Squeaky settled for our granddaughters’ dolls

When I got him home, he immediately began eating and regained his strength. He once again took his place in my lap in the mornings while I drank my coffee and read the Register-Guard… something that had been our routine for years. He was obviously active and happy. A total housecat for several years, he was once again venturing out on our deck to bask in the occasional early spring sunshine and even romp with one of our other cats. But, by mid-March, I could tell that his health was deteriorating. He stopped eating for a day or two at a time. He wouldn’t clean up his half can of Friskies and drank water constantly. I knew that he had probably developed a tooth or kidney infection. I took him into the vet to get him a shot of antibiotics under the condition I be able to bring him right back home. They said that he had an abscessed tooth and that, indeed, his kidneys were failing.. They sent home some pills to give him, too. That seemed to help for awhile although I knew that I was losing him. After a week or so of good health, he once again began skipping or not finishing meals. He didn’t seem to be in pain. I bought him specially formulated “kitty milk” and under the advice of the vet, some Beech Nut chicken baby food. He loved the milk and rallied. But then one evening when I got home from work, I knew that he was not going to make it. He had grown weak and had become incontinent.

I knew it was time to let him go. I held him in my lap all evening and when we went to bed, covered him carefully. I got up during the night to hold him and talk to on him. By morning, we were still cuddled together in my lounge chair. His head was limp, but he would occasionally open his somewhat glazed eyes and stare full into mine with that same unconditional love and mystique that he’s always displayed.

I wrote an email message to my supervisor at work that I would not be going to work that day, and I went back to holding my little buddy. I talked and did a lot of crying, telling him as he slipped into unconsciousness that I was there and what a good kitty he had always been. No one else was around. My husband had left at 4 a.m. to run errands for our store in Lorane. It was just Squeaky and me.

The letter that I wrote to my supervisor in an email message describes our final hours on that morning of March 28, 2000:

I wanted to let you know… I may not be coming in today. My Squeaky is dying. My very special 14-year old cat has been at the brink of death many times during his life… in fact he must be into his 10th or 11th life right now. I know he’s surpassed his standard 9 lives. But, last night… this morning… it’s for real. I won’t be able to bring him back this time. He’s been ill with an abscessed tooth for the past couple of weeks and I was sure he’d be gone before we got back from our trip last week, but he held on and even rallied when I got home. He was on medication and was eating the little dabs of Beech Nut chicken & broth baby food and the special, formulated “kitty milk” that I dribbled into his dish several times each day. But, I knew that his kidneys were beginning to fail him and I knew that he didn’t have a lot of time left… even though I had convinced myself that once again, he and I had come out on top… had beaten the odds. He was once again “talking to me” and insisting on sitting on my lap each morning as I drank my morning coffee and read the R-G. He actually tottered out onto our deck yesterday morning to check out the dog dish, to let our dog know that he was still “in charge” even though he had no desire to eat anything. As he sat on my lap yesterday morning, he gave me his usual nudges against my chin with his nose while he purred and scraped the side of his canine tooth gently across my skin. But, when I got home last night, he was so weak that he could barely stand on his own. He wouldn’t eat and only drank a little water while I steadied him at his dish. I held him all during the evening… the dishes are still in the sink… and I took him to bed with me last night to keep his “oh-so-frail” body warm. About 1 a.m. I decided that he would be better off lying in his round, fleece-lined kitty bed, swaddled in a warm towel so that I wouldn’t smother him. I got up every hour during the night to stroke and talk to him and slept lightly in between visits. This morning, miraculously, he is still holding on. He can’t lift his head and he no longer wants to be picked up, but when I reach down and stroke the soft fur behind his ears and between his eyes, he opens them and listens to me talk to him in the “kitty talk” that we’ve always shared. I can’t leave him now, and I won’t take him to the vet’s office for an injection that will end his long struggle. He’s not in pain and he’s much more comfortable at home knowing that I am here with him.

When I got up at 5:30 this morning, I put on my boots and selected the site where I will bury him. I dug his grave on a gently sloping hill under two beautiful fir trees that stand century in the pasture beside our driveway. The soil isn’t muddy. It’s crumbly and rich from years of shed fir needles. It’s ready, and I think he’s ready, and… I guess, I’ll have to be. So, would you please forgive me for putting a cat before my job? I will monitor my messages from home and will be in tomorrow for sure. Thanks for your understanding.

Squeaky died in my arms around noon that day. It was peaceful. He drifted into a coma and slowly stopped breathing.

I buried Squeaky in the little grave that I dug for him that morning. Shortly afterwards, I planted a bed of pansies and day lilies on top and my granddaughters and I have tended “Squeaky’s Flower Bed” since. The area deer have enjoyed the pansies, but the day lilies still stand sentry.

I miss him still and will always weep whenever I relive his life and death through these words. In my opinion, it was the best way to say goodbye to a special friend.