Tag Archives: Cancer

Old gifts, Good Memories

It was spring of 1973.  I pulled my Volkswagen Beetle into the driveway of Dr. and Mrs. Crabb where I worked as a mother’s helper and was surprised to see that Dr. Crabb was still home.

“H-m-m-m-m,” I thought.  “I’m later than usual. He should already be at the office.”

He was leaving though, and as he backed his sports car out of the garage, he stopped long enough to roll down his window.  He was grinning, his eyes alive with mischief.

“The cat–” he said.  “That cat made a terrible mess in the dining room on the oriental rug.  Could you please clean it up first thing?”

Oh, no!  Not again.  That stupid Siamese cat.  One of a small herd of cats in the Crabb home, but the ruler of them all, and probably the one that was always peeing in the bean bag chair.  The oldest Crabb son would go flying into the bean bag chair on his way to watch a favorite TV show and come up sputtering.  And wet.  And often disgruntled.  Mrs. Crabb was so sick, fighting her last brave battle against the breast cancer that would take her life in another few months.  She loved kids and animals and could never bear to turn anything away that was lonely or hurting or in need of care.  The Siamese was the exception of the motley crew when it came to beauty and lineage.  The rest were pretty much nondescript mixes of mongrel and feral that showed up at the door and were taken in and loved and given pretty much free reign in the stately house that was home to this family of six.

And now, another mess on the beautiful oriental rug in the formal dining room.  And why was Dr. Crabb so happy about it???  Oh, well.  I loved this family.  I loved working for them.  This animal business was the one draw back.  I got myself together and entered the house.  Mrs. Crabb was sitting at the table in the breakfast nook.

She looked up and said, “Oh, Mary Ann!  There’s a mess –”

“I know.  Dr. Crabb told me.”

She followed me with her disease impacted gait as I went through the little hallway to the formal dining room and there was no mess!  Instead, the table was set like it was ready for a formal dinner for eight.  The delighted eyes of Mrs. Crabb were beyond mischief.  Pure unadulterated joy shown there.

“It’s your wedding present,” she breathed.  “The silverware is your wedding gift.  Dr. Crabb drove to Philly last night to pick it up so we could set the table for you to show it off.  He wanted to see you when you saw it, that’s why he is late, but he couldn’t wait any longer.”

It was beautiful silverware.  American Colonial, an expensive, heavy, beautiful stainless steel set that shown with a soft luster in the morning light.  I was ecstatic. It was beyond my wildest dreams.  Then Mrs. Crabb’s father, Mr. Martin, gave me a serving set for a wedding gift and the perfect set of silverware was mine.

Ten days before Daniel and I were married, Mrs. Crabb died.  36 years old, mother of four children, Jennifer, Colin, Jim and Mary.  I mourned deeply, but I was getting married and moving to Ohio and life made such a drastic change for me.  A good friend, Faith Cox (now Zencak) had taken over my spot as mother’s helper a few weeks before Fran’s  death, and I left them in capable hands.  My memories were so warm and good and even helpful as I remembered the things that Mrs. Crabb had taught me in her better times.  And every time I set a “company table” with that gorgeous tableware, I would think of her and the wonderful gift that she gave me.

As time went on, I found that eight place settings just weren’t enough for a company table and I found a fairly nice set for sixteen at JCPenney’s one year on clearance and purchased it to use for guests.  I loved the American Colonial, but when I priced it out, the cost was prohibitive, rising at one point to $100.00 a place setting.  I never, ever thought of selling my set, but I knew that I couldn’t afford to add to it.  Especially when the JCPenney one was doing just fine.

Then came the time a few years ago, when Middle Daughter began to peruse the internet in search of the replacements for some the pieces of my wedding china that have gotten broken.  I wasn’t interested.  I have been using plain white Corelleware, open stock, for quite some time.  (Might even sell that china, to be honest.)  Unknown to me, she was also looking for American Colonial silverware. When she came up with a service for twelve, reasonably priced with an offer to pay for some of it for a birthday gift, I was ecstatic.   We were able to get it and with the eight I already had, I had service for 20 — the same number of Corelleware that I have in my china cupboard.  This was one happy gal.

Last night we had company for an early Thanksgiving Dinner.  Youngest Son and his Girl with a Beautiful Heart brought friends from Washington D.C. and Alexandria, VA to Delaware for some country time and for some home cooking.  The day went well, and in late afternoon, Certain Man set the table for me while I finished up some food in the kitchen.

He spread out the long white tablecloth.  It is literally over twenty-five years old.  Years ago, Sister in Law, Ruby Yoder, gave me a long, long piece of lace and said it was for a tablecloth.  Sister Sarah Slaubaugh bought me five yards of 60 inch wide, white, bottom-weight material and I sewed a tablecloth that was long enough to cover and hang down on all sides of the 13 foot family table that Certain Man’s father, Ralph Yutzy made almost 50 years ago for his family.  This tablecloth has seen a LOT of living, but it is still beautiful.  I wash it in hot water, bleach it when it seems necessary, and it just keeps on holding up.  I don’t think I ever say, “Use the long white cloth” without thinking of my brave sister in law and her gift to me so many years ago.

And then he spread out the plates and tumblers and salad bowls.  I looked down the long table and it was so full of happy memories.  The tumblers were made possible through a beloved niece, Joni Geissinger, and her Pampered Chef business.  Always looking out for me in sales and discounts, she helped me until I got 20 of these beautiful glasses.  Actually there are 40, because they are mine in two sizes, both juice and large drinking size.  They bring sparkle and light to a table, and I think of her and am so grateful.  They are sturdy enough for a dishwasher, coming out crystal clear each time.  The crystal salad bowls were gifts from another sister in law, Polly Heatwole Yoder, and I use them and use them and use them.  Also, I am so grateful that there are 20 of them, as well.  They come in so handy when there is a LOT of food and more than one salad, or the famous Delaware limas with lots of juice that demand a bowl of their own.

Then, looking down over the expanse of table, I mention that since there is an overwhelming amount of white, we will use Thanksgiving napkins.  So Certain Man puts down colorful (flamboyant!) Thanksgiving napkins and carefully places the silverware at each setting.  Fork on the left, knife and spoon lined up on the right.

And I think again, of Frances Crabb.  She loved to cook.  She liked having people over to her house when she was well enough to set a pretty table and make a great meal.  She missed out on so much because of her illness and so did her family.  But I like to think that there is a way where some of it gets passed on when there is a pretty table set at Shady Acres, when family and new friends and old friends gather round and enjoy time together, and eat off of a set of silverware that was given to a 19 year old bride who had no idea of its value.  Nor did I know the value of the life lessons I learned as I watched Fran Crabb live the last two years of her life.

She’s been gone for over 41 years now.  I still see Dr. Crabb on occasion, but I’ve lost track of the children.  Jennifer, the oldest, passed away a year or two ago.  I think that Frieda’s passing with the same insidious disease that took Mrs. Crabb has brought back memories from those two years that I haven’t thought about in a long time.  And some of the memories make me – oh!  So sad!

That is when it is time to bring out a long white tablecloth, set the table with memories, make some good food, invite some people over, and thank God for reminders of the happy times and the rich legacy I’ve been given.

My heart gives grateful praise.

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Hearing Frieda’s Hope

The phone is ringing in my Sweet Mama’s sunny kitchen. She is in her chair, and I am sitting at her table, working on her weekly med planner. It is an ordinary Tuesday and the day is sweet with quiet conversation and peaceful camaraderie. I pick up the call for Mama.

“Hello, Yutzys – I mean, Yoders.”

“Oh, Mary Ann!  You’re there at Mom’s?”

The voice at the other end is lilting and familiar.

“Yep, it’s Tuesday, and I’m here!” I puzzle a bit over the voice, but suddenly realize that it belongs to my sister in law, Frieda. She was hospitalized over the weekend with symptoms that were troubling. She has been fighting an increasingly challenging battle with an especially insidious form of breast cancer that has metastasized.

“Is Mom there?” The voice is joyous, strong. Maybe there is good news here.

I hand the receiver over to Mama, and note with satisfaction that it is on speaker phone. I watch as she cradles the phone to her ear, her face a glad light, and she greets her daughter in law with a note of anticipation in her voice. And then.

“Mom,” says this voice, carrying across the kitchen, every word hanging in the air, held by an incredible thread of joy, “I’m calling to tell you that the tests are all back and I’m going to get to go to Heaven and it looks like it’s going to be really soon.”

My Sweet Mama’s face crumbles into a mask of sorrow. Across the room, I sit frozen as the import of the words settle into my soul with a bleak sorrow that begs to be repudiated. How can this be? My sister in law, part of our family’s fabric for almost fifty years, a beloved wife, dedicated mother and wonderful Mimi to her grandchildren, cannot be leaving us. What will they do? What will we do? The tears begin to slide down my face.

But Frieda isn’t about to let the news lie with one or two sentences. She speaks comfort and peace and hope and joy into the room while Mama and I weep. “Just think of it,” she carols. “I’m going to be in HEAVEN. With Jesus! I’ve lived my life for this! I’m going to this beautiful place and it’s going to be so good! And think of all the people I will get to see! I will meet a grandmother that I never knew here. I’ll see my grandmother that was one of the Godliest, most wonderful woman that I have ever known. I loved her so much! I’ll see Dad and all those Yoder boys that have gone on before! It’s going to be wonderful! And Janice Root! She’s going to be there!”

That gave me pause to consider a bit as I thought of Frieda walking into Heaven. I thought about Janice, there in the presence of the Lord for these long years (for us earth people) and I thought about her great laugh, ringing down the corridors of Heaven and could almost hear her saying, “Frieda! You here already??? Well, welcome home!!!” There could be some joy in that thought . . .

The conversation took many turns, but there was never anything but eager anticipation on Frieda’s part. She discussed the medical issues with the same detachment she might have used for book review. “They found cancer cells in my spinal fluid,” she said nonchalantly. “The cancer has spread to the lining between my brain and my skull. The doctor says that there is nothing more they can do. They say that I will just sleep more and more (and I’m already just sleeping and sleeping) and that I will slip into a coma and then I will go to Heaven! She says that I don’t have months, just weeks. Isn’t it so exciting?” I try to catch her enthusiasm but it just. Isn’t. there.

Oh, Frieda! Wake me up and tell me this is all a bad dream. Tell me that you beat the terrible odds and are going to get better. Tell me that Daniel and I will have a chance to bring Mama to South Carolina and visit you and Clint in your lovely home beside the lake, that we will pick up pecans and watch the season play its changing tunes in the woods and fields. Tell me that you will be back to caring for your patients in your home health care job and that you will rake the leaves and pull the weeds and run off frequently to see those grandbabies of yours. Tell me that you will keep on loving Clint and praying for your children and their spouses and grandkids. Tell me that your inimitable honesty in counsel to them and to us all will go on for years until you are old and gray and you do it from an old hickory rocking chair. Tell me that this is all a big mistake and we really do have another twenty or thirty years. Tell me!!! I beg of you. Tell me!!!

But these are not the words that she has for us. She knows whom she has believed. She knows where she is going. She doesn’t want to prolong it or inconvenience her family. The plans are in place. She is unafraid. She is at peace. She is unfaltering.

Oh, Lord Jesus! How very much we need you now. Shine your Glory into our hearts though her example. We are so sad.

Frieda says to Mama, “Is there anything you want me to tell anyone up there? I can take messages to Heaven for you.” Oh, my! What a precious thought!

Mama is startled, then a torrent of words for the love of her life that she misses every single day. “Tell Daddy that I love him, that we miss him. Tell him I’ll see him soon!”

“I’ll do that,” says this brave lady. “And I know that you would have preferred to hear this from Clint, but he just felt like he couldn’t talk. Maybe he could talk now.” Mama is crying so hard she can barely talk and when Clint comes on the line, his voice chokes and there are no words. It is so hard to talk to a loving parent when our worlds are upside down and bleeding out. I take the phone from Mama and speak what seems to me to be some babbling nonsense to my oldest brother. He regains his composure and is able to talk, and there is much there that is rich and comforting.

“I feel like the Lord has impressed several things on my heart,” he says quietly. “One is, ‘what kind of husband is the best kind of husband for Frieda right now?’ And I intend to be that kind of husband. This is going to be hard. And I’m going to have some really hard times. I’ve already had some really bad times. But, you know, there were times when we lived in Delaware and Frieda would go off alone to visit Shana or Chip and she’d be gone for quite a long time, but I was okay. She would always come back eventually and we’d go back to our usual routines. And now Frieda is going on another journey alone. And she won’t be coming back, but I’ll be going to her. I really don’t know how soon I will see her again, but it may not be all that long. It’s going to be hard. But I know that God will be with me and I know it’s not forever.” His voice is calm, trusting. My tears won’t stop.

“God has been so good to us,” he says. “We’ve enjoyed a tranquil life. Even with Dad going, and that was hard, but even with that, we’ve been so blessed and the lines have fallen to us in such pleasant places. We’ve not seen a lot of tragedy and hard times.”

There was so much more said – and so much left unsaid because there are no words for much of this. The conversations ended with promises to pray, affirmations of love and missions to accomplish.

How can we begin to go back to ordinary after such a brush with the eternal? I couldn’t think, could scarcely remember what the usual tasks were. But I kept thinking about the things that Frieda had said, and how important it was to get on with the living and believing and even being glad for her as she looks forward to Heaven without a flinch, without fear, without regret. She wants us to rejoice. She does not want anything to distract from The Glory of her Homegoing.

I am in awe of her, in awe of my brother, whose responses are nothing but illustrations of God’s incredible Grace. In an almost unbelievable demonstration of God’s intentional love for us individually, something happened several days before this diagnosis was given that reminded me of how up close and personal our God is. A song was requested at our annual church retreat on Sunday morning. Aunt Dottie had asked Dave and Ilva to sing, “Day by day, and with each passing moment . . .” as their special music. Dave had prefaced their singing by dedicating the song to Clint and Frieda, requesting prayer and testifying to the grace that they have found. The words of the song floated through the Crowder Center at the old Denton Wesleyan Camp moving many of us to tears. At about the very same time that Dave and Ilva were singing that song, Clint was leaving church after having taught Sunday School. He was weighed down by the sadness and he turned on the Back to the Bible broadcast on the radio. Immediately across the airwaves, came the very same song.

“That song is for me! It’s right where I am right now,” he thought and went home, looked it up and got a link ready to send to our family google group – not knowing what had happened in the gathering at Denton, MD, that morning.

(Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNVCcph6cnI&list=RDlNVCcph6cnI)

I listen to the words of this old hymn and am comforted and encouraged and even hopeful. We wish that she wouldn’t need to go. Wish for more time, wish for opportunities to say “I surely do love you!” a whole lot more than we’ve said it in the past. But it isn’t a time for wishing. She doesn’t want us to wallow. She wants us to think about going to Heaven as the wonderful adventure we all have before us, looking to Jesus as the Author and Finisher! of our faith.

I pray that we can follow this shining example. There is so much to look forward to. There is JOY set before us.  We will remember.

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