Velma’s Century

Velma was born on August 25, 1917 to two poor people. But her mother had not been born poor. Her mom’s family felt that Harriet had married badly so they severed all ties. Hattie saw her sisters once in a great while but they made it clear she was an outcast. Velma’s father was a mason who would not join the Masons, so not many jobs came his way. He must have been a kind man and funny though because Velma would never say a word against him, and her mother, Hattie, stayed with him. 

In 1930 the Great Depression came along. People like Velma’s family who were poor got even poorer. They basically became destitute. Velma was 13. When her father was hired by the Civilian Conservation Corps to build masonry walls lining streams at a local lake park he had to walk to work, probably at least five miles from where the family lived in what was basically a tenement in the central city. Velma sometimes walked with him and spent the entire day at the park while he was building a wall. When that wall was done he would move on to the next location in the park where a wall was planned. Each time he completed a wall and moved on to the next, the walk got longer, the location farther from their home. Velma did not ever complain about these walks. This must have been in the summer when she was on vacation from school. She loved her father.

The lake park was actually a far more interesting place in the 30’s than it was in later years. There were several piers on the lake and there were venues for entertainment on the piers. One pier had a small amusement park, and another had a gazebo that held a band, where dances were held. Although these entertainments were not happening on the weekdays when Velma’s dad was building his walls (which are still there today) the family sometimes went to the park on weekends to wander around and spend a few pennies.

Eventually the CCC no longer hired workers and Velma’s dad, Irving had to pick up odd jobs to support the family. Summers the family rented a very basic cabin, actually more of a shack, on a nearby river. Velma always says that her mom, Harriet was a great cook; that she could turn even the river carp her husband, Velma’s father, caught in the river into something delightful. Yet Velma never liked fish when she was old enough to choose what to eat on her own. Obviously that muddy old river fish her mom cooked was not quite as delicious as Velma always swore it was. Velma was revealing an aspect of her personality, one that made her very pleasant to be around. She liked to put a positive spin on even the times in her life that sounded really rough to anyone listening.

Velma had a sister, Frances, but I never heard her mention her sister in her childhood memories. But Fran was a good sister to mom when they were grown. Fran was funny and vivacious while Velma was a fairly serious girl who seemed content with simple pleasures. Were they the kind of sisters who hung out together and talked about what was going on in their lives. Velma never gave us a clue. There is one picture of the sisters together when they are young women.

By 1935 Velma was 18 and had graduated from high school. There is a picture of Velma in her graduation dress which looks pretty to her offspring but there must have been a story there. Velma hated that dress. And she tells her children that she was terrible to her parents. That’s all she ever tells of the story behind that dress. It sounds like she was a normal girl who felt her dress would bring ridicule and that she begged for a better dress, which the family could not afford. There may have been tears. Velma kept a lot to herself. She was not a spiller. There was no secret diary just waiting to be found.

When Velma graduated from high school she could type and she knew shorthand so she got an office job with Mr. Larkin who admired her for more than her shorthand. He was too old for Velma and a gentleman but it was nice to be admired. She genuinely liked her boss. She also had a group of young friends who had cheap fun together going on outings – one guy had a car. The car was one of those boxy, black cars like a Model T or a Model A. Knowing someone who owned a car opened up a new world for Velma. Her friends were not drinkers or smokers or wild in any way. They were just chums who went to parks and had picnics. Some of her friends had money and they didn’t exclude Velma because of her poverty. She is likeable and she’s pretty. Five foot two, eyes of blue, 92 lbs. of “nice” person; she is exactly like the girl described in a popular song of the era.

Somewhere, somehow during this short period of singleness Velma meets George who is handsome, reliable, silent, and even poorer than Velma. He has to leave school in eighth grade because of the Great Depression, and he supports his parents. Today George would be known as a nerd; his strengths are the strengths of an engineer. He understands machines, he understands electricity; he can take a car apart and rebuild it. Even without school he’s smart. He reads lots of books. Velma wants what she wants. 

George is cautious. His domineering mother, who dotes on him, sees that Velma wants to take her handsome, hard-working son away from her. Perhaps she thinks Velma is not good enough. She is suspicious and she communicates this suspicion to her son. She suggests that he be careful not to put anything in writing, that he not make any promises, that he not give any gifts. He could be sued for ‘breach of contract’. This was a common way girls lured men into marriage. Maybe Winnie just thought that George was so smart that he would be going places. She certainly couldn’t have thought Velma was a gold digger. Neither family had ‘two pennies to rub together’. George writes Velma a note breaking off the budding relationship. And yet somehow they end up married in 1942. George is five years older than Velma. Around this time Velma losses her mom, Hattie.

George has a job at a factory called Easy Washer. They make washing machines. Velma has her secretarial job. They get a nice two bedroom apartment in an immigrant neighborhood with neighbors who are Italian and Polish. Velma gets a wringer washing machine. No car. They ride the bus. Hitler is doing his hate speeches all over Europe and taking over one neighboring country after another. People are nervous. Japan bombs the ships, airplanes and bases in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Great Depression turns into World War II. Boom times. Times full of fear and grief. There is more money around and more jobs. Velma works days, George works nights; they wave to each other as their buses pass in the morning. It is two years before they start a family. George is turned down for military service because he has flat feet and is in an essential war industry. Easy Washer no longer produces washing machines. People look askance at a man who is not fighting in the war. Velma ignores them. 

Velma has a baby girl, a tiny girl born prematurely, only 3 lbs. 10 oz. – it’s 1944, the baby almost dies. A nurse tells Velma as she is leaving the hospital that if she picks Georgia up too often it will kill her. Who says something like this to a first time mother. Velma is 27, a bit old for a first baby in those days. First George had vacillated about getting married at all, then they barely saw each other. After that though it is a baby a year for four years, then a break and another baby. Three girls, two boys. Five babies and one mom, who no longer works, in a two bedroom apartment which she keeps spotless because so many relatives and friends are watching. 

She did not know how to boil water when she got married. Why didn’t her mother, the great cook, teach her daughter to cook? Perhaps Velma was the spoiled brat she claimed to have been. When she uses the pressure cooker it explodes and the potatoes end up on the ceiling. Pretty soon she gets the hang of it and even puts freshly ironed clothing on the children every day. Still, she is getting a bit frazzled. A child falls down the steep front stairs, a neighbor child hits Georgia in the head with a tin can. The children are playing air raid. They have to walk several city blocks and cross a busy street to get to school.

George comes home to the crowded apartment one fine day and announces that he has bought a house, outside the city near the airbase in a small town that still has many vacant lots. Velma is happy to have a house but it is not exactly the Ritz. It has fake brick siding. And it only has two bedrooms that are heated and two that are not. But it has a big front yard and an even bigger back yard. There are plenty of school-aged children on their street and no traffic lights between the house and the school. There are school buses. The house comes with clotheslines over grass instead of in a cinder driveway. It has a basement for the wringer washer and a door that opens onto the back yard. It grows on Velma. It grows on the whole family. Around this time Velma loses her Dad, Irving.

Pretty soon it is the most popular house in the neighborhood. There is always something going on. There is a baseball diamond in the front yard, a basketball court in the backyard, a backyard ice rink in the winter and basically no rules. These are all nice kids and they love that Velma doesn’t yell and insist on perfection. It’s 1952 and George’s job at Easy Washer has turned into a job at General Electric. All the neighbors bring him their TV’s to fix. He buys a camera and takes lots of pictures. He rewires the old house. He takes a calculus course and passes it. George is always trying to bring in extra money. Does he mind that he is not best pals with the other neighborhood fathers who are vets? No one speaks of it and George is after all kind of a loner. Velma and George visit with relatives, who are always nice but sometimes overwhelmed by the chaos.

Science projects abound with kids using George’s tools to open rocks, and focusing the sun through magnifying glasses onto burning ants, the sad victims of scientific investigation and childish cruelty. Tadpoles in muddy water line the back hall. Lightning bugs twinkle in jars. In the basement there is a wall of the newspapers that George collects and there the boys can shoot their BB guns until Sandy gets hit in the leg. First son, Hugh, likes to hunt and fish. There is a day when Velma has to clean fresh tar off five sets of bare feet with Vasoline Petroleum Jelly and harsher things. She does this patiently but forbids them to go back out on the wet tar. They obey. 

Velma wants to go downtown, to the shops she remembers from her single days. She gets everyone dressed up, girls in freshly ironed dresses, Hugh in freshly pressed pants and shirt, Ron in the stroller. They take the bus. Velma has done this a few times. She likes to go to the restaurant in the basement of Dey Brothers. She always orders lemon meringue pie and tea. There was one department store that had a little monorail that ran around the ceiling in the bargain basement so we went for a ride while Velma shopped for bargains. My brother wandered off when we left the ride and for a while it was really scary for all of us until we were reunited. We never went downtown with Velma again. Five young children is a lot to keep track of.

Velma’s sister Aunt Fran is everyone’s favorite aunt. She says unexpectedly funny things and she leaves behind cigarette butts that have red lipstick on them. Very exotic. Uncle Gil, her husband also has a sense of humor. One day we all ride our bikes across town to swim in the city pool near their house. We sit around Aunt Fran’s picnic table and she gives us lemonade. Aunt Fran’s kidneys stop working when she is still quite young and we lose her. She is missed. Velma doesn’t talk about it. She mistrusts hospitals and doctors.

In a year there is a new baby. And then two more. A family of ten, eight healthy children. It’s a miracle and overwhelming. Velma is busy every minute. She lines up the bread on the countertop in the kitchen to make everyone sandwiches to take to school and work. She does this with a baby on her hip and a toddler on the floor holding on to her skirt. She is now a cliché – barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Her hair is in pin curls and hidden by a bandana which she plans to remove when her guy comes home from work. She is still pretty, and she still weighs only 92 lbs. But she has a wicked inferiority complex. She makes it a point to insult herself before anyone else can get around to it. Then we all have to reassure her. It’s a flaw we can accept. We all have flaws.

The house is clean but it is loaded with clothing in baskets and boxes waiting to be ironed. The floors are bare and sweeping up Cheerios is a constant chore. Because George works at GE there is a real washer and dryer now, a dishwasher, a freezer, a TV, a big console record player/radio in front of the dirty radiator which refuses to come clean. The freezer comes preloaded with meat. For a while we dine on roasts and steaks, although even a good sized chuck roast divided by ten offers up fairly small servings. There is plenty of ground beef for sloppy joes, and chili, and spaghetti. When the meat runs out Velma and George buy bushels of corn on the cob and have a corn roast to get all that corn shucked and ready for the freezer. George grows tomatoes and Velma starts doing some canning – spaghetti sauce and chili sauce. She also makes some jellies. George buys day old bread and goes to the dairy to stock up on milk. We always have enough to eat.

There is a long dining table with ten chairs and a “buffet” which is always piled with papers and books. Winters are hard. Just when Velma gets all the snow suits on someone has to use the bathroom. The kitchen floor has to be cleared of mud and slush all day long.  But on summer days everyone goes outside and Velma washes and irons all the curtains and they blow freshly in the breezes from the opened windows. Fortunately there are young teenaged girls now and teenaged girls love new babies. Velma’s daughters learn to cook early. They learn to cook with a baby on one hip.

Velma doesn’t eat dinner with her family. She is out in the kitchen making sure picky eaters get on-demand meals. George doesn’t agree with these permissive parenting habits but he no longer says anything about it. He gives everyone the silent treatment when he is angry. It isn’t pleasant so people try to tempt him out of his mood. Velma eats whatever good food is left on our plates. She likes to eat the fat from our meat, probably a taste leftover from the Depression years. 

We all love being at the dinner table but it is crazy time with everyone talking at once and several small children to help, one at the spoon stage, one gets a bottle and baby food, one just a bottle. George wants it quiet at the dinner table. He wants his children to have manners and speak one at a time. This never happens. Dishes are a point of contention. Who’s turn is it? If you don’t hustle George will go do the dishes, but with attitude. Sometimes George helps with the dishes because he’s in a good mood and then he yodels and the children groan, but it is a happy groan. George does all the grocery shopping.

Teenagers spend a long time in the bathroom when showering. There is only one bathroom for ten people. Velma deals with the small children and the babies after dinner. Everyone who isn’t the winner in the bathroom race  lines up in front of the TV or grabs a seat at the dining table to do homework. There are five school age children. George helps with the math, but Velma knows her words, so she helps with reading and writing, spelling and grammar. There is no bathroom plan. Whoever gets in the shower first has exclusive rights until they are done. Sometimes when George comes home from work he has to take us all down to the end of our road to watch the blue lights that line the runways and to watch the planes take off so Velma can take a breather.

Velma has three girls headed for womanhood. She starts leaving out True Confessionsmagazines to warn her daughters about the dangers that await loose women or girls who go wild. She starts introducing us to the Charles Chips man and the pots-and-pans salesman mentioning that we are single. Of course we’re single, we’re still in high school. Boys are starting to hang out. The girls are collecting records. Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers. We are good girls. Movies are fifty cents. We sing in the church choir. We go to Youth Fellowship meetings. These are coed activities which proves that some of Velma’s children have left childhood behind. There are dances. There are sorority meetings which lead to social activities. George is in his taxi years. Driving children too young to drive here and there, even picking up their friends and also driving them. 

Velma folds basket after basket of clean clothing. She tries to keep up with the ironing and finally pay us a penny a piece to iron things that require pressing, which was everything in the 1950’s. There is a family picture of an exhausted Velma, hair pins covered by that bandana which she no longer manages to get off before George gets home. She is in a chintz covered chair with a baby on her shoulder and they are both fast asleep. Her mouth is ever-so-delicately open. Her children are quiet so she can sleep. One day when all the teens are home taking care of the smaller ones Velma decides to take a walk to the new Kmart across the highway. She sneaks out without telling us where she is going. We all puzzle out where she went and have her paged. She hates being embarrassed so she lets us know she’s unhappy. A rare event.

On nice evenings we all go outside and all the neighborhood teens show up and we play Hide and Seek. The house is always busy inside and out. The only time we see Velma dressed up is for a funeral, a school ceremony or an occasional visit to a relative or old friend. She’s still pretty. Some days all the neighborhood moms come and sit around our dining room table and compare delivery horror stories, but Velma’s babies popped out so fast she almost didn’t make it to the hospital. She was a good listener though. They had a cocktail which they brought with them because Velma did not drink in the daytime, or hardly ever.

It’s the late 50’s, early 60’s. John F. Kennedy and Jackie are in the White House. Velma’s children do well in school. Everyone gets good grades. Everyone graduates. First daughter goes to a two-year college. Second daughter goes to a four-year college, first son goes in the Air Force. Then the weddings start. There are still preschoolers when the weddings start. The family doesn’t get smaller; it gets bigger. Everyone still hangs out with Velma and George. They have Sunday dinners. They put a swimming pool in the backyard – above ground. There are picnics at the family home and at parks. Babies begin to arrive. There are grandchildren, eventually a new set of toddlers. 

The 60’s go by quickly with a few glitches. Velma is in her forties. Velma and George take the three youngest girls on trips to explore natural beauties in the area. The second son has a group of friends who like to smoke and drink, neither of which George approves of. But George has been put on nights at work. So he leaves around 3 pm and doesn’t get back until around 11:30. Velma likes these boys. They like her. But she has no control over them. They’re not bad boys but they dominate the home without George there. 

The first time and last time a police car ever appears in Velma’s driveway is because Ron has given into peer pressure and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is given a warning. Velma develops an allergy to police cars. Ron’s bedroom becomes “the sin den” and loud rock music blares all day in the summers, all evening in winter – it’s the summers of In a-gadda-da-Vida -Iron Butterfly rules. Velma is not a music lover but she learns this song by heart. Does she love it? Is familiarity love? Not always.

Velma is in her 50’s and it is now the 70’s. The three youngest girls are almost finished with high school. Velma will soon have an almost empty nest. She decides that now she can have a job besides babysitting neighborhood children. She decides to sell Tupperware. She takes the training and buys some products and they load up whatever used car George is driving and go host Tupperware parties. Georgia, now married with two toddlers decides to sell Tupperware too. Second daughter Nancy left teaching after her first year and  eventually, several jobs and hippie adventures later gets arrested for possession of a controlled substance (LSD). In fact Nancy has several expensive issues that her poor parents can ill afford. At least she finally has a new teaching job and is beginning to straighten out. Velma fights for all her children like a lioness. She did it when they needed shoes to go to school and she remains supportive and saves her children’s lives more than once.

Now grief comes to Velma and to the entire family. Georgia sets out to drive just a short distance but the snow becomes a blizzard, visibility becomes zero. She has her two toddler daughters in child seats in the back, which was not really even a law yet. She does not see the truck parked by the side of the road at the plant nursery. She has a seat belt, but no shoulder harness, no airbags. They don’t exist yet. Georgia dies, the girls live and Velma deals with a sorrow deeper than any she has ever known. She keeps herself together because the husband and father goes off the rails and she needs to care for the children. 

Eventually the two little bereft girls go to live with Sandy, daughter number three who is married and has two children of her own. Tupperware ends, joy ends, Velma takes to the sofa and doesn’t get up except when someone needs her and on Sundays when everyone still comes by and spends the day. She sometimes doesn’t even get up on Sundays. There is a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis but the doctor is not sure that is what is happening. Menopause is probably also going on with all this other stuff. What keeps Velma on the sofa, what turns her into a person who has lost all her starch and her stamina, is most likely sadness and the loss of a child who made it to twenty-nine years old, who made it through a premature birth, who should still be here to raise her daughters. These things take time and since no one is feeling any better she doesn’t get a lot of cheering up. Hard times the 70’s.

While Velma is on the sofa she begins to sew. She begins to make crafty things. She makes clothespin grandmas with gray hair and little caps. She dresses some up for holidays and others are just left in their mini-print cotton dresses, holding a basket of flowers in their pipe cleaner arms. She makes stuffed rabbits, small and large, whole families of rabbits. She lines baskets with gingham and put doll babies in them. She makes crib sets for doll cribs. She sews everything by hand. Pretty soon she has quite a collection and has spent lots of money on fabric and lace. She begins to feel guilty again about not making any money. Velma and George start hitting the craft show circuit. We all go shopping and we keep our parents company. This takes Velma through her 60’s. It is good for both of them. They travel, they meet people. Velma makes some money and it lifts her spirits.

Velma in her 60’s is not always happy with her appearance. She has added some menopause weight. To her children and to George she is still pretty but she no longer fits in her wedding dress. Georgia’s husband remarries eight years after her loss. His new wife loves Velma and she becomes a member of the clan. She had two handsome sons and he has those two sweet motherless daughters. It works.  By then it’s the 80’s already and everyone has left the nest. But Velma’s children stay close and visit often. 

Velma and George go to Florida. Sandy, third daughter, gets divorced and is in shock because it was unexpected. Several children in transition move into the family home while Velma and George visit child number six, Connie, who is married and living in Fort Lauderdale. Velma and George get a cheap studio apartment for the summer and all the young people who are their neighbors fall in love with them. They can’t have them; they are ours. 

A cranky gall bladder brings Velma and George back to Syracuse where she has a surgery to remove her gall gladder. Everyone finds a new place to live after a while. Sandy’s husband accuses Velma and George of abusing his sons in a custody fight. He was unfaithful; he is unlikely to win and he doesn’t. When Child Services investigates, every single neighbor and friend says “impossible” when asked about the child abuse. The 80’s turn into the 90’s. Velma is 73. George is 78. 

George is having some health problems. He is upset about it. He feels that he lived a healthy life. He never drank. He didn’t smoke. But he has had a lot of pressures to contend with, some self-imposed, some not (people don’t really have eight children totally by accident). Velma loves George and is very worried about him. Turns out that George has geriatric diabetes and a bad doctor. One day when George’s sugar level hits 450 the doctor yells at him for not going to a specialist that he, the doctor, never told him he needed to go to. By then he has neuropathy in his feet. His nerves no longer tell his brain that his feet are touching the ground. Velma learns to give insulin shots. 

George has prostate cancer and has to have a surgery that makes him feel emasculated. Velma can’t seem to find any way to lift his spirits. He has a small fender bender at the grocery store. He stops at a stop sign in his neighborhood and an angry driver knocks on his car window. When he rolls it down the guy punches him in the face. Bad becomes worse. George has to give up his driver’s license. No one knows how to comfort him. Velma doesn’t know how to comfort him. He was the strong one, the one who negotiated the world for Velma. The one she fought with and made love to, the one who, until recently, still looked down her blouse.

George hits bottom when he loses his mobility. He is despondent. He has a wheel chair but he cannot rise under his own power and he has grown heavy. Velma can’t lift him. The family rallies, daughters are caregivers, not usually sons. Life becomes a day-to-day waiting game. There are good days and bad days. No more normal days. George fails slowly. When he is 86 he dies with the help of hospice. The love of Velma’s life is gone and she is no longer young herself. She comes back to her own now single life slowly. But caregiving had taken a toll, although there was a certain relief in having it done and knowing that George is at peace. Those were difficult years, sad years, years spent living with dying.

Velma is in her eighties. Terrorists fly jets into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and for a while the world holds its breath. But, something is always happening in a big family. Velma has thirteen grandchildren now and they have their successes and sorrows. Sandy remarries and is happy in her marriage. Connie, Velma’s sixth child gets divorced, remarries, has two daughters, gets divorced again. The girls have trouble adjusting to life without their larger-than-life pilot father. Velma’s seventh child, Dawn, has colon cancer and she is living alone in North Carolina. When she comes home she gets very sick, her brain is not functioning properly. It turns out she is allergic to one of her chemo meds. Steroids finally mend her brain although she says her recovered self is not the same as her original self. Velma is just happy that Dawn is alive and functioning. We are all happy about Dawn’s recovery. 

Not everyone lives close by now so the weekend family circles are sometimes smaller, although with the grandchildren they are sometimes bigger. Velma continues to have every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinner at her house. Sometimes there are forty people. Even Bonnie, her youngest is married and has two daughters. She is a mail carrier, one of the first female carriers. Mail is heavy, you start out in scary neighborhoods, all that walking takes some getting used to. After some difficulty adjusting Bonnie becomes a very reliable and very short mail carrier. Being short when the snow is deep was a challenge she adapted to.

Velma is driven to doctors by second child Nancy but she keeps wishing she had learned to drive. Depending on anyone but George makes her feel guilty. Apologies and reassurances are common items of conversation. Velma stops wanting food and has some odd growths along her hairline. She, it turns out, has a rather rare geriatric condition called temporal arteritis. You start to manufacture giant red blood cells in the arteries in your brain. It can be fatal, but her doctor was a better diagnostician than the one George and she used to share. The cure, massive does of steroids. Velma gets a moon face for a few years and is not a happy camper. But she’s alive.

When Velma turns 90 in 2007 there is a party. Over 100 people attend. She has lost her moon face. She is a tiny thing again, dressed in her white capris and a black shirt. She is so happy to see everyone. Hugh made her a movie. Someone had buttons made for the guests with nice pictures of Velma on them. It’s a wonderful celebration with everyone there to wish her a happy birthday, even those from out-of-town. 

But Velma is starting to experience more health difficulties in her nineties. One day before Dawn and Nancy meet at mom’s to go for a walk, Velma’s heart rate is at 25. They end their walk very early, consult with Sandy who lives in Florida now and works for a doctor. They call the fire department. Velma is charming. She has fifteen firemen in her living room. Dawn and Nancy are worried. They sit in the emergency room forever. Are they waiting to see if Velma is going to die? Finally she gets a room. She acts like she is at a sorority party. She gets a pace maker.

Velma has a mini stroke, a TIA which weakens her right side but she basically recovers from this. Dawn lives with Velma and she is well looked after but she rarely gets dressed anymore except to go to the doctor. She has lost her hearing and her hearing aids no longer work. Dawn buys an amplifier and a microphone so we can communicate with her. She is having problems with her false teeth and so problems eating. We all tempt her with delicacies. Family members stop by to visit. This lifts Velma’s spirits. She gets dressed and goes out to the back deck to visit. She has a cat, a semi-feral cat that actually was adopted by Dawn. The cat figures hugely in Velma’s day. She has to be able to nurture someone. Velma has another mini stroke. Her mobility suffers. She will not give up. She gets up every day and walks back and forth to the bathroom and the kitchen, but life is becoming something which lacks quality. Everyone is loving and waiting. Daughters take turns getting Velma going in the morning. Although it is a duty, spending time with Velma is still a sweet duty. This is one strong and charismatic lady.

We plan Velma’s one hundredth birthday party but we’re not sure that she will make it. Her pacemaker is failing and the doctor insists that it must get a new battery because Velma cannot miss her 100 th birthday. It will be a backyard party, August 25, 2017, with all Velma’s friends, family and neighbors. There is a canopy and tables with white paper table cloths and vases with hydrangeas. Sandy, Barbara, Dawn and Bonnie have poured their hearts into the planning. Nancy thought of the canopy and the flowers. Dawn figures out the parking. Cakes are ordered. Everyone cooks for the big buffet. It’s a beautiful day, sunny and not too hot. Velma looks good, although she can’t really hear a thing. She has a new pale green blouse with wide sleeves and embroidery. She has on her favorite white capris. The day is a great success.

After her one hundredth birthday Velma begins to fail. She seems to have a series of strokes. She is having hallucinations common in geriatric dementia, although she is still lucid. She is having more difficulty getting out of bed. Her walking gets painful to watch. She doesn’t want us to help. She stops wanting food. Eventually she loses her mobility. The end is near. 

Velma dies on November 26, 2017. She left a legacy of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all affected by her graciousness and her loving support. She may have died regretting that she never drove a car that she never “worked out” like other mothers with big families managed to do. None of us who remain regretted those or any other things about Velma. She was never famous, but she was a great woman.

Velma died with enough money to give herself the funeral she had always wished to have. It was at one of the best funeral parlors and had even more people in attendance than she had for her 100 th birthday party. She was so small and looked as elegant as she always wished she would look with her gray little haircut and her black sweater and dress. The funeral parlor was in the town where Velma lived for sixty-five years. This funeral parlor would form the funeral cortege and then wind the whole sad parade past the home of the deceased which was one reason Velma loved that funeral parlor. Velma was driven one more time past the home where so many family years were passed and it was perfect because home was where Velma’s heart always was. She said that George would not know her now because she was so much older than him, but I bet she got a warm welcome if there is such a place as heaven. We all hope that there is. This is the story of Velma’s Century.

When we decided to sell Velma’s house we had to go through all the things she had saved. We learned a few more things about Velma as we cataloged the things she saved and the things she loved. Velma always hoped to strike it rich so she could give money to all her children, so she used to imagine that something she had collected would turn out to be worth millions. She had plenty of depression glass and tea pots and lots of costume jewelry, but no secret treasures that were worth big money. Children and grandchildren got to claim the family pieces they remembered best.

We also learned that if Velma did not choose parenting she might have been a CEO. She was very organized in her way. She saved every card she ever received. She made a scrapbook for each child. She wrote the gifts she received in each of the cards to herself or George or to both. She made a list of every thoughtful thing done for them, by year and she enclosed the cards within the lists. She held them together with a rubber band. How does someone as busy as Velma accomplish something as efficient and heartwarming as this. We’re lucky she chose parenting as her career, because clearly she could have found success in business but if she did we might never have been born. Velma’s legacy is her family who loved her well. We still do.

 

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