Saturday, August 29, 2015

Two Weeks Ago Today

August 27, 2015
Two weeks ago tonight Marv and I sat on the couch together.  We had gone to dinner at The Pizza Factory earlier in the evening and taken Anna and a friend.  Anna was so set on pasta but uncharacteristically relented and let her dad get pizza: half pepperoni, sausage and peppers for me and half Hawaiian (Marv’s favorite).  Lane was working at CafĂ© Rio, so we were waiting up for him, watching Jimmy Fallon Live and winding down for the night. Sometime between 11:30 and midnight we heard a quiet knock on our door.  It was a young man from our ward who had recently returned from his mission. He hadn’t heard from his mother—a woman who was normally in bed by 8:30. She wasn’t home when he returned to the house that night, and she wasn’t answering either of her phones.  Her car was in the church parking lot, but there was no sign of her or her whereabouts, leaving her son visibly worried and confused.  As the Relief Society President of our ward, she had met with Marv sometime between 7:00 and 8:00, so her son was simply trying to retrace her steps which led him to the bishop’s house. We speculated about where she might be and sent a few text messages in an effort to locate her or her close friends. Marv was just getting up to put on his shoes so he could help the young man in his search when the call came on Marv's phone. Apparently, the mother had gone with a friend for a much-needed single mom reprieve (a.k.a. a Diet Coke run), and the car in the church parking lot was not hers but one identical to it.

Eventually, mother and grown son were reunited in our front yard, Lane came home from work, the kids went to bed, and the TV went off.  While turning down our bed in preparation to say our nightly prayers together, I mentioned to Marv how tender I thought it was that our young friend was so worried about his mom.  I even went so far as to say that he “...was just so sweet! I hope our boys would show that much love and concern and take care of me like that if I were ever alone.”  Little did I know that the next 12 hours would afford my boys the opportunity to become their mother’s watchmen--her guardians, her tender caretakers--my rocks.

August 28, 2015
Two weeks ago today I woke my husband with a goodbye kiss.  “Bye, baby.”  It was only my second day back in the classroom, but we fell back into our morning ritual with ease.

"Mmmm. Bye-bye, cutie pie. Have a good day…"

"I will. Love you…"

Standing at the threshold of our bedroom door, I waited for his muffled reply before leaving. “Love you too.” They would be our last words to each other.

It was going to be a productive day. I got more done in the first three hours than I had accomplished all summer.  My website was updated, my room organized, my English 8 disclosure revised and printed, the first day’s lesson was outlined, and the posters needed for our day one activity were laminated.  I had even taken time to visit with friends and catch up on weddings, babies, missionaries and the like. Plus, I had two prep days in the upcoming week to prepare for students.  At one point, I remember looking around my classroom thinking that my mother was there watching me, proud of my productivity and happy to see me working hard.

Feeling on top of things, I created an email group for the new student council members and began composing their first email of the year.  That’s when the call came from my mother-in-law.  Eleven twenty-two to be exact.   


“Where are you?”

“Just sitting in my classroom getting things…”

“Well, leave your classroom right now." Her uncharacteristic interruption garnered my full attention. "We have bad news for you..." Filling in the pauses of her deliberate diction, I assumed she was calling about my 81-year-old father-in-law who had recently survived a post-operational bout of sepsis, but somehow, I knew that wasn't the case. "Marv was out at the barn by the four-wheelers…” At the sound of his name I was on my feet, grabbing my purse and pressing the phone to my ear for details. “…and looks like he fell 'cause he only got the machines half uncovered." Her voice, a mix of calculated calm and undeniable lament, made it obvious she was telling me only what she needed to.  "We’d only been gone about an hour, so we’re not sure how long he’d been there, but when Lolly got to him and ask him what he could do for him, he just said, ‘Call an ambulance.’”

“Is the ambulance still there?!”

“No. The police came right away and started working on him…”  Working on him? By then I was out of my room and running for the office. “…and since then, the ambulance has been here and they’ve taken him,” she said.

“Oh, Ruth!  But he was conscious, right? You said he was talking…?”

“No. By the time I called 9-1-1 and got out there, he wasn’t. But he did take two deep breaths before they put him in the ambulance. I saw that much.”

“Mountainview, right?”


“Mountainview Hospital…in Payson?!”


“I’m on my way.” I hung up and immediately began my worried moan-cry.

I cut through the office but didn’t see anyone until I got up front. “My-husband-is-in-the-hospital-and-I-don’t-know-why! I’m leaving.”  Remembering that Kaye and I were going to lunch in a few minutes, I ran to her room and repeated the same robotic blurb.  By then Susan had come out of the office looking for me, and seeing the panic on my face, suggested that I let someone drive me. She and Kaye both offered, and while Kaye went to grab her keys, Susan consoled me.

“I can’t do this.  I can’t lose him,” I cried in her ear, not believing that I'd even considered this, let alone allowed its utterance. 

Pulling away from me, she said, “It’s going to be okay. He’s going to be alright.”

I nodded, gave her one last hug, asked her to say a prayer, and followed Kaye to her car.

During the drive I called my kids. Their grandmother had called the house looking for me, so they knew and were on their way. Lane and I began talking over one another with the same panicked questions, but my “Where are you?” trumped his.

“We are just passing your school,” he said.

“Good. You are right behind me. Drive carefully…And say a prayer!”

“Mom, is Dad going to be okay?”

“I don’t know, honey, but I hope so. He’s probably having a heart attack like Brother Muhlestein, so yes, he’s going to be fine.  All we can do now is pray. You hear me? Pray! And drive safe.”

“Okay, Mom. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

Somehow, while talking to my kids I convinced myself that all would be well.  He was going to be okay. Even though I told Kaye I’d had a nightmare just nine days prior that he’d died of a heart attack. Even though I had hurried home from my overnight writing retreat because I had felt the time to show him how much I loved him was urgent. Even though I recognized how unusual it was that we'd gone everywhere together the previous week—check-cashing, lazer-bowling, bill-paying, drink-running, friend-seeing, star-gazing, grocery-getting, even shoe-shopping everywhere! Even though I had felt my mother’s presence in my home all summer trying to tell me something. Even though I felt Marv himself comforting me… In that moment, I convinced myself that if I had enough faith, he would pull through.  He would be okay.

After a slow, agonizing thirteen-minute drive, Kaye pulled in behind the empty ambulance, its doors still flung wide.  I got out of the car only to find the sliding glass emergency doors to the hospital were locked and not opening, so I ran (the wrong way) checking doors and yelling at nurses when I finally made it inside. “Emergency Room! Where is it?”  Kaye met me at the proper entrance after parking the car and walked me in.  Before they could ask me anything, I barked at the people sitting behind the trauma desk, leaving Kaye to run interference with my kids. “Marvin Thompson?”

“He’s in Trauma 1, right there” A nurse pointed straight ahead. 

“Can I go in?”

I don’t know if she said yes, but I began running toward the closed curtain, fully expecting to see my husband all prepped for surgery and teasing me that I wasn’t getting rid of him yet—a joke I hated but one he insisted on repeating in emergency situations.  They would put in a few stents, maybe do open-heart surgery, but he was going to be okay. Damn it!  He was going to be okay I repeatedly told myself.

Instead, I pulled back the curtain to the trauma room and was met by a sight that will haunt me the rest of my life: my husband’s lifeless, half-naked body experiencing the violence of CPR at the hands of a frantic team of doctors and nurses. “Marv!  Oh, Marv!” I cried out, hoping he would attempt to answer me in spite of being intubated.

“Is this the wife?” a team member asked, and all I could think was the wife? Don't you mean, his wife?  

At some point, my mother-in-law had joined me, and we were ushered to a nearby room where a nurse calmly explained what they knew so far.  They hadn’t had a heartbeat, but they were going to keep trying.

I immediately fell to my knees, said a quick, sobbing prayer then turned to the nurse and asked if I could be with him.  “Of course,” she said. At that point my mother-in-law stayed in the side room while Kaye tended to my children down the hall.

Trying to be rational and calm, I stepped behind the curtain again, watching in a daze as the team switched positions every three minutes and took turns pushing into my husband’s chest with no regard for his sore back or the broken ribs that had turned his chest to a mass of fleshy Jell-o. Looking up at the monitor, I allowed my hope to return as I noticed activity bleeping on the vitals screen but soon realized that it was only a result of the compressions. False hope.

I repeatedly gave Marv our three I-Love-You squeezes to the hand and waited for the four-squeeze reply. But it never came.  

The nurse continued to explain the medical procedures to me and asked questions about my family while she rubbed her open hand between my shoulder blades in an attempt to calm me. Though soothing and somewhat distracting, it didn’t keep me from noticing the doctor’s pained expressions when I told the nurse that I had just lost my mother in March, that Marv wasn't only my husband but also my bishop (hoping he'd remember that bishops don't die), that we had three children: two in the waiting room and one on a mission in Mexico. I also saw the doc wince when I begged Marv to come back to me from beyond the veil if he was given a choice on the other side--a pleading prompted by the life-after-death-books we'd both read in conjunction with my mom's passing.  As my worst fears slowly crept into my reality, I couldn't mistake the look in Dr. Eggbert's eyes when I asked how long their team had "been at it," when they had last "shocked" him, and if they had seen any sign of a heartbeat as I pointed to the unhooked leads covering Marv's chest.  With each negative, pursed-lip response I knew that everything they were doing at that point was simply an effort placate me—to show they had tried.

Glancing from me to the clock, the doctor finally spoke. “We need to talk,” he said, locking eyes with mine in a moment of unavoidable solemnity.  I followed his nod to the clock and was shocked to see that ten more minutes had lapsed.  Time was standing still in my mind.

Reluctant and hollow, I let him lead me back to the side room with Ruth, hoping I wouldn't be asked to make the decision I dreaded, but still praying he had better news than I expected. 

Taking a deep breath, he began, “We are now getting to the point where we are worried about brain function and the condition of other organs. It has been almost an hour since the call came in."  Ruth and I both nodded dumbly as he continued.  "Even if we were able to start his heart at this point, there would be significant damage. We will give it a few more minutes but…”

“So… this is it?” I interrupted. This is all we get?

“I’m afraid so.” He put his hand on my shoulder, my knowing glance making it obvious that I understood the words he had just said. I nodded again. Then he turned and left the room--his only job now… to call the time of death--12:02.

In spite of my faith, Marv was gone and probably had been for awhile. Life as we knew it was over.

Before I could accept what was happening, the nurse began explaining the process they were going through behind the curtain. They would take the tube from his throat, clean up his bloodied face, and cover him appropriately so my children and I could see him.

My children...

As difficult as the last few minutes had been, I knew that the next few would be even harder.  I had to tell my kids. How could I tell my children? How could I watch them receive such a devastating blow? 

Flanked by a nurse and my mother-in-law, we somehow managed to navigate my empty legs down the curved hallway of the E.R. I still didn’t know how I was going to tell them that Dad was gone. The word “died” was too harsh at that point, but “passed away” felt like a lie--too delicate for what I had just witnessed. The word choice battle in my head didn’t last long and was completely unnecessary.

They didn’t need words.

My haunted face and slight head shaking told them everything.  When our eyes met, both Anna and Lane came running toward me screaming.  “No! No! Nooooooooo!”  I wanted to fall to the floor in a huddled mass, but my kids held me upright as we sobbed and shook together.  We exchanged I love yous, Whys?, I’m so sorrys, and more Noooooos with our tears and were eventually led into what is called the Quiet Room. "Quiet" being a euphemism for “We’re sorry your life just fell apart, but please shut up and don’t get too dramatic 'cause we have a hospital to run...”

The kids were met with hugs from their grandparents and Kaye was the first to offer her sympathies to me. I was so grateful for her. She had been there with my kids when I couldn’t, she had watched in agony as my body language told my children they no longer had a dad, and now she was faced with the task of driving back to the school to deliver the worst news of all: “He didn’t make it.”

Before she could leave, however, my logistical need for propriety kicked in. I knew Ruth and Lolly were making phone calls to Marv’s side of the family, and I needed to do the same for mine.  Someone offered to get a hold of Kyle’s mission president, and I asked everyone else to stop calling until I let my sister know. I didn’t want anyone finding out about Marv on Facebook—especially my siblings who were still grieving the loss of our mother.  Fortunately, Janice answered right away and she was able to understand my sobb-laced explanation and accept my request to let our family know. I called Angela next and then I was done. With a wave of my hand, the calling could commence.

And commence it did. Within minutes, more close friends were coming to the Quiet Room to console us. By that time, Marv’s body had been cleaned up and I was given the okay to see him again. Anna refused, but Lane reluctantly agreed to walk with me.

All was calm when I was allowed back behind the curtain. The team had dispersed, leaving only the doctor and two nurses.  The nurse who had talked me through the ordeal hugged me and told me she was so, so sorry.  In return I thanked her and let her know that I had nurses in my family and knew that these situations were hard on the staff too.  The doctor then expressed his condolences and let me know that he knew Marv.  They had just golfed together weeks prior.  Seeing this human side of the man who had just called my husband’s time of death brought a small measure of comfort as I realized they had done all they could do.

The rest was up to me. 

It was time to face my new reality: I had been orphaned and widowed in a matter of months.


I hated the word already.  It was only 12:20 and I hated the word already.

August 29, 20015

Two weeks ago today I wrote this.

August 15, 2015

I woke up this morning without you—
A shell of the woman I was just hours ago.
Your keys and wallet on the table
Tell my mind you are still here,
But my heavy heart and hollow limbs
Say otherwise.

I want to call out to you with hope--
Hope you will answer--
But I fear the blaring silence and
Steady ticking of the clock that
Replace your anticipated reply.
And yet…
I feel your tender touch when my
Hungry arms reach for yours,
Craving the comfort of a full embrace.

I woke up this morning without you.
And though I’m not ready,
I sense your “This-is-The-Plan” whisper in my heart,
Bringing with it an unwelcomed peace--
A peace that’s forcing me to accept that
While my first day without you
Was filled with emptiness
And fraught with tears,
It may not compare to the pain that lies ahead.

So forgive me in the upcoming days
When I pretend you are still here
By opening drawers, caressing pillows, or
Immersing myself in your shirts
Still hanging in the closet.

It will be my way of reminding myself
That though our dance was interrupted too soon,
The music still plays;
Though you have been called to watch from afar,
I have been asked to dance alone.

Christine C. Thompson

August 30, 2015
Two weeks ago today my children and I went to church knowing full well that is where Marv would want to be. The messages were tender and dealt mostly with the family. Fathers were mentioned several times as were references to fathers in scriptures.  At the close of the meeting, President Hiskey offered a heartfelt message about our ward family’s loss.  The love and respect he has for Marv was evident, and it made my heart sing to hear him refer to my husband as one of the greatest men who ever sat in the bishops’ chair. I couldn’t have agreed more.  My sister and niece sitting behind us were a representation of the support and rallying that had begun just hours before.

At 2:00 we met with Matt, the best funeral director known to man.  In addition to showing concern for me and my children, he didn’t bat an eye when I presented him with a stack of 100-plus photos to scan for the DVD presentation. But before that, he tenderly shared the death certificate information which included the cause of Marv’s sudden death: a bilateral pulmonary embolism resulting from a DVT in his left leg. It wasn’t a heart attack. There was nothing anyone could have done for him had they been standing right there when it hit. Anna could stop beating herself up for not going with her dad that day, and my in-laws could stop lamenting the fact that they weren’t home when Marv pulled into their drive and began hooking up the four-wheeler trailer only to collapse, unseen by anyone.  There was nothing we could have done.  At that point, I was just grateful it didn’t strike while he was driving and that Anna wasn’t with him. . . None of us even knew he had a clot, and looking back now seemed pointless.  Besides, we had a funeral to plan.

Matt and I briefly reflected on the funerals Marv had conducted this past year and made note of all the things I loved about the care shown in each case. In total, Marv and I had been part of six funerals in the months leading up to his passing, and this had allowed us the opportunity to discuss the logistics of such an event—an event I never guessed I’d be planning so soon.  If I do say so myself, I was probably the easiest client who ever walked through Matt’s door (100-plus photos aside). In the hour we were there I had chosen a day and time for the services, edited the obituary, outlined the program, presented all the photos necessary, chosen a casket, picked floral arrangements, and asked specific questions regarding the services themselves and the logistics behind them—all with the help of my children, of course.  In the midst of planning, I looked over at Kyle who had returned from his mission the previous evening and asked, “Is that the only suit you brought home?”  Seeing the concern in my eyes, Matt offered a discount at a local tailor and told Kyle that if he went tomorrow first thing, they could have a new black suit funeral ready the following day. All I needed to do was pick out a plot and pay for the opening and closing of the gravesite the following morning. Boom.  Funeral planned.  Two texts, a few emails, a free suit (compliments of Matt’s “discount”), and one follow up trip later, we were in business.

We then went home where we were surrounded by family who had converged from all over the country in a show of love and support.

September 2, 2015

Two weeks ago today, I buried my husband…

Saturday, July 25, 2015

To Spank or Not to Spank? There Was No Question

In an essay entitled “Babysitting” written her freshman year of high school, Mom outlines some of her early philosophies on child care.  After explaining the ins and outs of babysitting know-how, she shares this little gem of wisdom:

“The other night I don’t spank the ones who can talk.”

Apparently, Mom’s  parenting paradigm was in place by the time she was fifteen, laying the foundation for her future mothering practices. And, even though the degree and severity of her discipline methods were a source of regret and some embarrassment in her later years, Mom made no apologies about the fact that she spanked.  In her mind, children needed to be trained in order to keep them safe and to help them develop necessary life skills. She didn’t quote Proverbs 13 or blame her upbringing in order to justify her mindset; it just was. Spanking was a quick and effective means to an end--the end being well-behaved kids. Sure, she’d “wallop” us a few times at home (but never in public--spanking in public was tacky and uncalled for); however, the point of any spanking was to keep us from misbehaving in the future, thus warranting another “beating” as she liked to call them. Her logic was simple:  You don’t want a beating?  Don’t misbehave. And while this may sound harsh or even abusive in today’s politically correct world, Mom felt that a child without limits was by far a bigger detriment to society than a parent to who swore, screamed, or spanked from time to time.

Before I continue, I need to make one thing clear: In spite of my mother’s loose use of words like “beat,” and “wallop,” along with her threats to kick our butts up around our shoulders or to mop the floor with us, the Cluff children were sometimes spanked excessively, but we were never beaten. Hitting a child in the head or face was unacceptable as was pounding on a child with a closed fist. In Mom’s estimation both constituted abuse--the very thought of which made her shudder. I remember one time, my siblings and I watched in complete and utter disbelief as Mom literally beat the crap out of a loaf of bread that had refused to rise and came out of the oven looking more like a defiant blob of dough than the golden, fluffy loaves we were used to. In her frustration, she punched and pounded the half-baked blobby ball, all the while cursing at it for wasting her time and money. And just when we thought she had given it all she had, she threw the floury mass into the garbage can only to pull it out again, throw it on the kitchen floor, and jump on it with both feet in true WWF fashion. She was pissed!--as she liked to say.  And I was grateful.  Grateful to know what a real beating was, and even more grateful knowing that she’d never beat any of us like she did that obstinate loaf.

Mom’s definition of a kid beating included a firm grab of the shoulder or arm, followed by repeated smacks to the butt with an open hand.  If you were lucky, she would lift you off the ground in unison with each strike. Not only did this give the spankee the sensation of being airborne, it also lessened the impact for the spanker, saving her from what I now refer to as the very painful (and sometimes difficult to explain) “Spanker’s Elbow.” It was a perfectly acceptable answer to our misbehavior and was her delivery method of choice--usually only lasting as long as it took her to “beat” us down the hall and shove us into our rooms. While it may be hard to believe, these series of spanks were not nearly as scary as the scoldings that accompanied them. In her fits of rage, Mom did say some awful things and much to her chagrin, got pretty out of control.  But, she never called us stupid or said anything to insult our intelligence during a rampage, nor did she ever threaten to kill us. That too was considered abusive and uncalled for (no matter how much she may have felt justified in doing so). On occasion, when we had pushed her to her breaking point, when she’d had enough of our “crap,” Mom was known to call us “ingrates” or “little shits” as she unleashed her frustrations on us, yanking and spanking while muttering through angry clenched teeth how she was “sick and tired” of our “bullshit.” In retrospect, the cathartic release of her emotion was almost palpable with every swat she delivered and every word she uttered as we made our respective journeys down the hallway of correction.

Mom always said her goal in spanking wasn’t to beat us up (or down if you will); her goal was simply to scare us so we thought twice about our behavior, thus becoming masters of self correction.  From time to time, when she felt her “beatings” weren’t having the desired effect--or perhaps she had broken a blood vessel in her hand--she would come at us wielding a wooden spoon or sometimes a spatula.  I believe this was done in an effort to “shake things up” if you will: add the shock and awe factor that would keep us on our toes. Eventually, all she had to do was yank open the utensil drawer, forcefully stir its contents, and just like Pavlov’s dogs, we were conditioned to be on high alert, scrambling to change our behavior and cover our tails (literally) before she got to us.

Did it work? Sometimes. Did we still misbehave?  Yes. Did Mom have to keep spanking us until we could out-run her? That’s irrelevant since none of us were stupid enough to try. But by the time we were agile enough to elude her tiger-like pouncing reflexes, we knew better than to cross her, and we did our best to avoid behaviors we knew would set her off...usually.

So, what exactly warranted one of Reb’s spanking rants?”  

Defiance, talking back, name calling, fighting with siblings, breaking (ruining or spilling) something whether deliberate or accidental, and laughing too much at things she deemed inappropriate were the top causes of spanking and discipline in our home.  All offenses were handled with swift precision, Mom swooping in when her eagle-like sensors overheard or detected any form of disrespect or misbehavior.  One such memorable swooping incident occurred when Todd decided to try out some of his new junior high talk by calling me the b-word while we were arguing in the kitchen on a sunny Saturday morning. Unbeknownst to us, Mom was listening from an undisclosed location--the flowerbed just outside the front room window--but her presence was made readily known when she removed her work gloves, flew into the house, and began beating his butt down the hall in my behalf. “Don’t. (Whap) You. (Whap) Ever.  (Whap)  Let. (Whap) Me. (Whap) Hear. (Whap) You. (Whap) Call. (Whap) Your. (Whap) Sister. (Whap) That. (Whap) Again!” (Whap, whap). If memory serves, that was the last time Todd was spanked. It was also the last time he called me the b-word...Correlation or Causation? It doesn’t matter. The behavior was eliminated. Reb had made her point, her reputation as "One Tough Cluff" secured.

Mom was all about intimidation, punishment, and extinction of unwanted behaviors, but contrary to common belief, she felt consistency was overrated as it lacked the element of surprise that flying off the handle afforded her--another tool she used in conjunction with spanking to “whip us into shape.” As we grew older (and bigger) and found her physical threats less intimidating, her verbal rants eventually replaced spankings. They were every bit as scary and delivered blows that often penetrated deeper than any swat to the rear we ever experienced.  However, after considering the cumulative crapload of nonsense five kids piled onto the woman--me being one of the worst perpetrators--I would rather not dwell on the verbal take-downs we all experienced (and probably deserved) from time to time, because while she was inarguably demonstrative in her anger, Mom was every bit as effusive with her thoughtfulness and affection. 

And, every now and a...decade she could laugh at herself and her explosive temper.

Upon realizing that she had lost it, beating a half-risen loaf of bread into baker’s-rage oblivion, Mom immediately burst into a furious fit of laughter--one we weren’t sure we should join her in, but eventually, in spite of ourselves, all five of us kids laughed with her...with caution. Likewise, some eight years later, after Todd had received his last spanking for calling me the b-word, Dad helped Mom find the humor in her disciplinary tactics when he played on the fact that prior to throwing Todd in his room, she yelled, “I don’t want to see your face the rest of the night!”  So, when it was time for dinner, Dad escorted Todd down the hall and to his seat at the table--a paper grocery bag over his head, covering the face that Mom had said she didn’t want to see. Todd’s bagged face and Dad’s giggling broke Mom’s anger, and again, she laughed at herself--smiling during the blessing on the food and smirking through our dinner conversation that night. I think the rest of us smirked too.

Yes, Mom was a dynamic woman. And just as her fierce temper was sometimes diffused with her healthy sense of humor, it was equally balanced with thoughtful gestures and her empathetic heart. She usually extended an extra measure of love and affection after she had lost her temper, often apologizing for her lack of control and any hurtful words. Scott recalls hiding from her as a little boy because he knew she was coming to apologize, but he “wanted to stay mad at her longer” and knew he couldn’t once she had said she was sorry. Why? Because Mom’s apologies, just like her rants, were heartfelt and sincere.  If she took the time to say she was sorry, she meant it. And we recognized it--even as children. We also recognized that couched within her apologies were messages that we needed to change how we acted because she never made excuses or allowances for our poor behavior. She "loved us too much to ever do that."

The bottom line is this: On a good day in the Cluff house, there was more hugging than spanking. More laughter than yelling. More complimenting than name calling. And, more than swearing there was...well, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there was a lot of swearing in our home, but there was definitely more good than bad--and Mom was at its center. In her words, she and Dad “must have done something right, because all of you kids turned out so great.” And as far as I know, each of us kids has managed to follow her admonitions to “be better and do better” in regard to disciplining our own children. I suppose the true test will be to see what comes down the grandchildren pike, and more importantly, whether or not our children improve on our parenting imperfections that we, like Mom, readily admit we have.

We love you, Mom. Temper and all.  We love you. Thank you for teaching us to behave.

With love,

Your Little Ingrates

Reb’s Tolerance Guide

mild swearing = damn, hell, shit, piss (remember, she grew up with religion … and farming)

f-word = fart (use of the real f-word, along with the word “suck,” was not even a consideration)

off-limits topics = sex and potty talk (I got around this one by marrying a plumber)

BIG No-Nos that might warrant a swat:
giggling during prayer or flag ceremony, imitating/talking about bodily functions, making fun of the poor, elderly, or disabled, lying to her face, doing a half-assed job, wasting money on things you don’t need, ruining something of worth, and making excuses.

Annoyance No-Nos that did not go unchecked:
sitting atop a made bed, leaving wet towels on the floor, taking more food than you could eat, shoving newly ironed clothes in a drawer, leaving shoes where others might trip on them, forgetting to write thank you notes, clean your room, or brush your teeth, wasting time watching TV, and eating the last cookie.

Complaining was okay.  Pouting was not.
Smiling about accomplishments was okay. Bragging was not.
When hurt, crying was okay. Screeching "like an idiot" was not.
Recounting spiritual experiences was okay. Preaching was not.
Standing up for yourself was okay. Talking back to authority was not.

I can't help but imagine how different our country would be if more parents had my mother’s expectations...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Crushes and Dying Naked

Warning:  This entry is not for the faint in heart.  Family members (especially the first responders), please read with caution. This is a topic I have wrestled with for almost fifteen years now, and I hope my words will bring a measure of comfort.  But if you’re not ready, I understand.  That said, you may want to grab some Kleenex. Oh, and my apologies to Orvid Balls. While you were Mom's first BF, I just couldn't figure a way to work your story in to this post. Thank you for understanding...

Mom had three crushes in her lifetime:  Elvis Presley, Alan Jackson, and my dad. The first needs little explanation as I’m sure every girl in America who graduated in 1957 shared her sentiments. No, she wasn’t one of those screaming-like-a-lunatic fans featured in old video footage at one of his concerts (even as a teenager she thought their antics were “a bit much”--especially the ones who fainted or were nervy enough to throw their underwear on stage). According to Mom, “That was just plain ridiculous” and she "wasn't about to swoon over him like an idiot." But she did love his music, and whenever she had a chance to buy one of his albums or watch a TV performance, she took it. News of Elvis’s death rattled her. On August 18, 1977, just two days after his sudden and unexpected passing, Mom watched the live funeral coverage, commenting on everything from the stream of white Cadillacs to the number of roses displayed in his honor. During the services she complained about the gospel music she didn’t know (or like) very well but sang along to “How Great Thou Art,” all the while ironing clothes and lamenting the fact that her teen idol had died alone, naked, in the bathroom--an eerie foreshadowing of events to come.

It took Mom nearly a decade to get over Elvis, and by the early nineties, she had moved on to the sounds (and looks) of country music’s newcomer: Alan Jackson. Now in her fifties and still happily married to Dad, Mom made little effort to hide what would turn out to be a two-and-a-half-decade-long lust affair with the popular singer/songwriter. Just like a teenager, she had a poster of AJ hanging in the office downstairs, prompting one of her young granddaughters to refer to him as “Grandma’s boyfriend.” This elicited so much laughter from Dad that whenever the opportunity arose, he would place Mikele in front of the poster and ask “Who is that guy?” just so he could laugh all over again.  We knew Mom’s crush was serious when years after Dad’s passing she went so far as to attend an Alan Jackson concert--buying and securing tickets on her own, figuring out transportation and parking, and convincing a friend from work to attend with her--something she never did for Elvis.

In spite of Mom’s two crushes and her occasional mention of Mark Harmon and Dieter F. Uchtdorf--two men whose good looks were enhanced by crooked smiles and military uniforms--she loved Dad more than words could ever express. He really was her “one and only.”   When recalling the first time she saw him walk across the commons area of the Student Union Building at Utah State, Mom would stop short of claiming that it was love at first sight, but the satisfied smirk on her face indicated that it was the next closest thing. They officially met the summer before their sophomore year of college and were married a year later in the fall of 1959.

From the beginning, they complemented one another’s personalities. Dad was the comedian, cracking jokes, telling stories, and using self-deprecating humor to make others laugh.  Mom was the serious one, straight-laced and driven to accomplish the goals of their time: home ownership, a large family, church affiliation, higher education--all elements of the “perfect life in suburbia.”  And while she too had a quick wit and a healthy sense of humor, Mom could hold a straight face and was more about getting things done than she was about getting laughs.  She was the Bert to his Ernie. The Tim Conway to his Harvey Korman. If Dad was funny, Mom’s rolling eyes, shaking head, and failed attempts to stifle her laughter only made him funnier.

They were a balanced act, a team--a team whose championship performance was cut short by a devastating and very unexpected lunch-time discovery: Dad. Just out of the shower. Lying on the bathroom floor. Naked. And alone.

At first Mom thought Dad was playing a joke on her.  Surely, any moment now, he would open his eyes, look at her, and say “Gotcha!”  But the punchline never came. She had lost her one and only--never to laugh together again.

That is until…

Fourteen years after Dad’s death, I confided in Mom how upsetting it was to me that Dad had died “in all his glory.” Even as a grown woman, it was embarrassing to me--so vulnerable, so undignified--not the way I wanted to imagine my father in his last moments on earth.  

Then, I had a paradigm shift as a friend of ours was relating his own near-death experience. He shared the one funny thought that kept coming to his mind as he was having a stroke in an out-of-state hotel bathroom while away on business. Imagining the poor maid’s face upon discovering his body in the tub, Randy said all he could think was, "Wait a minute...I’m not cool enough to die naked in the bathroom.” Through somewhat slurred speech, he went on to explain that it was all the motivation he needed to get out of the tub and use his best “beached whale impression to get to the phone for help.” Needless to say, the room erupted in laughter, and I immediately thought of my dad.   

In my next phone conversation with Mom, I told her Randy’s brush-with-death story and let her know that he had provided Dad with some new (and probably much-needed) funny guy material to use on the other side.  “Can’t you just picture Dad walking around up there asking people if they were cool enough to die naked in the bathroom? And then telling them, ‘I was!’”  Fortunately, Mom thought it was just as funny as I did and agreed that Dad was probably using that line because “that was just the kind of humor he loved.”  Her laughter brought me as much relief as my new perspective did, and I will forever thank Randy Toone for his humorous account of a not-so-funny situation. I believe it brought my mother comfort as well. But unfortunately, it would be one of our last laughs together, occurring just ten weeks before Mom too would be found alone, on the same bathroom floor as Dad, fully clothed, her hair beautifully done, her dignity in tact.

It has been almost four months since my parents were reunited, their class-act championship performance resumed.  While imagining what their everyday activities on the other side might include, I like to picture Mom stifling laughter, rolling her eyes, and shaking her head when Dad delivers his “cool enough to die naked in the bathroom” line to all the new pearly gate arrivals who have yet to hear his (now overused but funny) line.I also picture Mom’s here-we-go-again face as Dad brags about the fact that his naked-in-the-bathroom death story connects him to the likes of Judy Garland, Jim Morrison, Orville Redenbacher, Michael Jackson, and of course, Elvis Presley. And with the mention of his name, I think I hear Mom sigh from the other side of the veil, or maybe even swoon...just a little.  


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In Loving Memory of
Charles G. Cluff, Jr. March,1939-August, 2000
Rebecca R. Cluff September,1939-March, 2015
Randy Toone   May, 1968-January, 2015

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Protecting Power: The Beef Stew Miracle

It was a brisk evening in the fall of 1990.  My brother Todd and I were making our way through the rural highways of southern Idaho on our way to visit our Grandma Reeder who lived on the Utah-Idaho border.  We had been given our mother's car--a red 1980 Pontiac Phoenix--to drive while attending Ricks College, and with that privilege came a few stipulations: only drive it when necessary, drive it carefully--no wrecks, no tickets--and use it to visit our widowed grandmother when our schedules would allow. This was one weekend we were going to try and fulfill all of those requests.

As we made our way down the Oxford Highway at dusk, we noticed a few deer foraging for food on the opposite side of the road. I barely had time to take my foot off of the accelerator when I heard my brother exclaim something about the “Bambi” that had just crossed in front of our vehicle.  Ignoring every piece of driving advice my father had given me throughout my teen years, I swerved slightly to miss the animal's tail end; and by doing so, the passenger-side wheel caught the gravel shoulder, and we began to slide across the pavement at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour on the narrow two-lane highway. 

Although the entire incident was over in less than ten seconds, a menagerie of thoughts flashed through my mind as my brother and I braced ourselves for impact, our screams echoing the squealing tires on the roadway. In my periphery I could see Todd feverishly gripping the passenger door's arm rest with one hand and the console between us with the other; all the while his right foot was pushing an imaginary brake--the one Mom used so adeptly when we were all learning to drive.  He was not wearing his seat belt, and I found myself inwardly praying that my careless actions wouldn't cause the car to roll and possibly kill my younger brother who was preparing to serve a mission in the upcoming months. My parents would never forgive me. 

In spite of our speed, it seemed as though we were traveling in slow motion as we skidded 90 degrees and slid perpendicular to the road for approximately fifty yards.  It also seemed as though the power-steering wheel turned itself from one side to the other in stunt driver fashion as we did two more 180 degree skids and eventually slid down an embankment on the opposite side of the highway, the car facing north instead of south—the direction we had been traveling.

When the car came to a rest on a steep incline, a feeling of relief washed over both of us, but it only lasted a moment as it soon became apparent that any sudden movement on our part could easily cause the car to roll--we were that precariously perched on the hillside. In spite our dangerous situation, my inward prayers of pleading and gratitude immediately turned to regret, and I freaked out, pounding the steering wheel and dramatically lamenting that I had “wrecked Mom's car!" and had no idea how we were going to get it out of the ravine in which we now sat. 

"Calm down, Chris, at least we're okay," Todd said, stating the obvious. "Just don't move," he pleaded, looking out the window at the ground that was now adjacent to his seat. And just like he had done so many times before when I'd found myself in unfortunate circumstances, my younger brother talked me down from a ledge (or in this case, from the steep side of a ravine), and convinced me to take action, stay level-headed, and move toward a solution. 

Calming down, I turned the key in the ignition and started the car again, carefully navigating to a flat spot in the bottom of the embankment; but it was obvious there was no way we were going to drive the car up the steep hill we had just skidded down--not without help anyway. 

Still shaking, we gathered the few bags we had packed and hiked up to the road.  By that time, darkness had enveloped the farming community around us and the roads were quiet and barren. 

I am not sure how many cars passed by us that evening, but I will forever remember the young mother in a white mini-van who answered our flailing signals of despair and pulled over to see if she could help. Still hysterical from the near-accident, I couldn't articulate what had just happened, so my brother explained to her our situation, and before long, we were squeezing into the van amid her three car-seated children. She took us to the home of a family friend who then generously (and somewhat ironically) allowed us to take their brand new Cadillac the rest of the way to our grandmother's house in Weston.  This time, Todd drove.

The next morning, my uncle Steve and Todd returned the borrowed Cadillac and went to see if they could tow my mother's car out of the ravine. When my uncle's truck pulled into the driveway--minus my brother--my heart sank, not realizing what Todd's absence meant.  As Uncle Steve parked his vehicle, he wore a look of serious concern on his face, and I made the mistake of lifting both of my hands as if to ask, "Well, where is it?" He then approached me and motioned toward the highway where I saw Todd driving our mother's car and signaling to turn into the family farm property. The car was perfectly fine, but my desire to celebrate was cut short by Steve's retort to my silent question.  “Young lady, I don't know how you managed to NOT roll that car or, at the very least, crash it into something.  Do you know how hard it was to get that thing out of there?...”  He went on to explain how difficult it had been to even locate the car because it couldn't be seen from the road. The tire marks left on the highway were the only indicators that anything had happened, and from what he could assess, Todd and I were "two of the luckiest teenagers around." He then described how the car was parked between two telephone poles and numerous large boulders—all of which could have taken our lives had we hit them. 

My heart swelled with gratitude as I began to recognize the pattern of tender mercies we had been shown.

However, the greatest mercy was revealed when we returned to Rexburg and I decided to call home and tell Mom of our experience. She listened intently after I assured her that we (and her car) were okay. Then she got very quiet and asked me to recount the story to my father who had joined us on another line. “Oh, my...” was my father's only response, but my parents' knowing silence told me there was more to what they were and were not saying. They went on to tell me the following:

The evening Todd and I had been traveling, our dad was volunteering at the church storehouse and cannery back home in Washington State.  Before starting the shift, the presiding authority thanked the group for coming and during the prayer, pronounced a blessing upon the family members of those who were serving that night, among them our father.  He promised the volunteers that their children and spouses would be safe and protected as they did the Lord's work, and they would return to their homes to find that all was well with their families. The blessing made such an impression on my father that he felt compelled to share it with Mom when he returned home from his shift. 

And now, they were both sharing the correlation with us--in spite of the fact that, generally speaking, our parents used strict caution when drawing spiritual parallels to everyday occurrences.  They had little patience for stories of people praying to find lost car keys or evoking the powers of heaven to decide which brand of laundry soap to purchase in the grocery aisle.  But this was different. Not only would they draw a correlation between the cannery prayer and our safety that evening, they would continue to share this faith-promoting story in upcoming years, often referring to it as the "Beef Stew Miracle" because that is what Dad had been canning the night the blessing was pronounced.

 As a benefactor of that blessing nearly seven hundred miles away from home, I was (and still am) eternally grateful for both my father and the gentleman who pronounced that blessing upon the volunteers at the cannery that evening. I have a testimony of priesthood power and its far-reaching effects and the manner in which it blesses the lives of both the priesthood holders and those they love and watch over.  Additionally, I know my parents share that belief or they would not have recognized--then deliberately pointed out--the correlation between the prayer, the service, the "almost accident," and the good Samaritans who came to our rescue. I suppose, they could've just as easily chalked up our near misses with the deer, the telephone polls and the boulders to luck or fate.  But they knew better; they were people of faith.

Now, some twenty-five years later, whenever I hear of miraculous “almost accidents,”or good Samaritans stopping to help strangers, or brothers keeping sisters focused, or friends lending vehicles, or family members taking time out of their busy schedules to pull someone out of a difficult situation, or church members simply volunteering to fulfill a cannery assignment, I cannot help but reflect on that beautiful autumn day back in 1990—a day when my brother and I weren't just lucky, we were blessed by a miracle.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Loss of Innocence

--Written August 7, 2006

It has been almost a year since Marv told Kyle about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. The disclosure came as a shock to me. I wasn't ready. And although I trusted my husband’s judgment (mostly), I cried.  Immediately following the revelation, our oldest seemed to transform from a boy full of wonder into a young man who skeptically analyzed every tradition or game he encountered, a ten-year-old cynic.  Overnight, life had become a magic trick, and he was going to figure out the secret, expose the lie.  I will admit that this phase annoyed me to some degree because I no longer enjoyed the “Mom knows all” status that I once (thought I) had.  However, like all phases, his intense questioning of things faded and I was almost relieved when a few months later he was bewildered by the fact that the Tooth Fairy had forgotten him.  There were no looks of accusation.  There were no sly you forgot, huh, Mom? grins directed at me.  Certainly he had made the connection; but then again, maybe he hadn’t.  For a moment, my boy wonder had returned.

It was January of this year when Marv and I took our first (and last) cruise to the Caribbean.    I had spent countless hours figuring out details: packing just the right items, getting birth certificates so we could leave the country, and making arrangements for the kids to stay with grandparents and friends.  We even had a Last Will and Testament notarized.  I thought I had everything covered until a few days before we left, it occurred to me that we hadn’t made arrangements for someone to take care of Hondo, the kids’ dog.  I immediately thought of Kyle’s friend, Michael, but when I mentioned it to Marv, he insisted that we take the dog to his Dad’s.  It would be less hassle, and I don’t think Marv wanted to rely on an eleven-year-old to remember to feed and water a dog in the middle of January.  Besides, it would give Lolly something to do.  And it did.  He sectioned off a warm, cozy place in the barn and assured an anxious Kyle that there was no way he could get out.

Needless to say, I was devastated a few days later when we called from Houston and Lane told me that Hondo had, indeed, gotten out, and Kyle, along with Uncle Rod, had gone out looking for him without success.  My mind raced.  Maybe he went home, maybe he was out on the farm somewhere, maybe...My mother-in-law hesitantly answered my request to talk to her. I was trying to be positive, suggesting all of the possible scenarios of the dog's whereabouts and likely return, but each one was met with a, “That’s not going to happen.”   Thinking it strange that such negative responses were coming from the most optimistic person I knew, I kept on suggesting possible scenarios regarding the dog's disappearance.  It wasn’t until I threw out possibility number three or four and was met with rejection that it finally occurred to me to ask, “Do you know where he is? ...  Is he dead?”  I was sick when she confirmed what should have been the obvious.  I could hear pleading in her voice as she defended Lolly’s “set up” out in the barn. “There is no way that dog should have gotten out...We both are shocked...A female must have come along ...”(sure, blame it on a female I seethed).  “We just can’t figure...”I quickly ended the conversation with my unapologetic mother-in-law and announced to my husband, “Your dog is dead.”  Being a little quicker on the uptake, Marv said he had gathered as much from overhearing just one side of my phone conversation with his mother.

Baffled by his family’s seeming lack of emotion and matter-of-fact way of handling what I saw as a tragedy, I did what any frustrated wife would do.  I called my mom.  She was appropriately sympathetic, felt bad for the kids, and shared a story about a beloved dog she had.  I also called my sister Janice and my brother Todd, both of whom shared my pain in a way I appreciated.  Feeling slightly better, we sailed away into the ocean, very aware of what awaited our return.

Throughout the week, Marv and I shared our sad Hondo story with fellow cruisers and many beloved pet stories were shared in return.  We were advised by several people to just let our kids think that Hondo had run away, but Marv would not hear of it, especially since my family knew of the dog’s fate.  Ugh! Why had I opened my big mouth?  Why did I have to tell my family? Oh yeah, because I was looking for the “appropriate measure of sympathy."  Sympathy that I needed from my family, but didn't want to have to offer to my children.  I didn't want them to know. I didn't want them to need sympathy. I didn't want them to hurt.

I begged Marv not to tell the kids and swore my family could keep a secret (knowing that wasn't entirely true), but as with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus delusions, he thought the truth was our only responsible option.  I let it go at that and hoped he would change his mind before returning home.

After gathering the kids from their various destinations, and hearing all about their week (including that Hondo had run away the first night we were gone), I thought the coast was clear.  Marv hadn’t said a thing, and I was thrilled.  I thought maybe he'd had a change of heart and was going to let the “Hondo ran away” theory live on forever.

I thought wrong.

I will never forget the following Sunday afternoon.  I was on the phone with my friend Angela, telling her all about our first (and did I mention that it would be our last?) cruise when it happened.  Kyle walked into the living room with sunken shoulders and a look of excruciating pain on his face.  I practically hung up on an understanding friend and listened as a crushed little boy kept repeating through broken sobs, “Hondo’s dead, Mom.”  He had accepted his own runaway theory and had pictured his little buddy freely roaming on someone’s farm, or riding in a truck, keeping a nice older gentleman company.  But death?  It was unfathomable to his young, innocent heart.

Even after Marv had quietly related Hondo’s tragic end to Kyle, he was still full of questions and doubt.  Maybe it wasn’t Hondo who had been hit on Utah Avenue.  It was some other dog who just looked like him.  Payson Animal Control must have been mistaken.  They had the wrong dog!  Uncle Rod had talked to the Animal Control Officer the morning during our search.  If he had seen Hondo in the back of the A.C. truck, dead, why did we keep looking for him after that? My answer to his confusion was simply that, “Uncle Rod wanted to protect you, so when he saw Hondo’s body in the back of the Animal Control vehicle, he pretended he hadn’t seen it because he didn’t want you to know.  He didn’t want you to hurt, so that is why he said, 'Let's keep lookin' when he came back to you in the truck. ” As Kyle processed what his uncle had done for him, I wished we had followed Rod's lead and gone with the less painful option—even if it meant withholding the truth.

There have been many tears shed over Hondo, and I am sure there are more to come.  One thing I still grapple with is whether or not it would have been better to let our children believe that their dog had just run away.  I know, as a parent, it would have been the easier path to take, but I trust that Marv knows something of childhood-pet relationships and the lessons learned from their loss. 

In the end, it is my hope that Kyle will trust us, knowing we will tell him the truth--no matter how confusing, no matter how difficult, no matter how painful.  I figure we all have to learn at some point that with confusion comes understanding.  With difficulty comes growth. With pain, an opportunity to be comforted and feel peace.  It is my prayer that our children will learn and accept these universal truths.  But in the meantime, I selfishly hope our boy of wonder will return.

Ugly Doll--8th Birthday Memories

It was my eighth birthday and aside from looking forward to my upcoming baptism, like most kids I was focused on the most important part of the evening: presents! Unfortunately, I had to wait for Janice to come home from work before the ceremonious unwrapping could begin. At this point in my life I had experienced only one “friend” birthday party and knew I wouldn’t have another “friend” party until I turned twelve. Mom wasn’t all about noisy random kids in her house.  It stressed her tonight, it would just be family--all seven of us.

On this particular evening, I remember Mom was anything but stressed.  In fact, she was uncommonly carefree and giddy--to the point of giggling...a lot.  I remember thinking her silliness was strange, but it wasn’t until my sister finally made it home and it was time to open presents that my Mom’s behavior began to make me nervous.  The feeling was akin to the feeling you get upon realizing that someone is whispering about you. . .or that your fly is down. . .or both. But it didn’t end there. As I proceeded to open the gifts from my siblings, my mother sat in the corner--smirking and casting knowing glances at my father.  Then, when all of the presents were seemingly gone, Mom dismissed herself then reemerged from the other room carrying the last gift, the grand finale, the piece de resistance.  Holding back her laughter, she handed me a nicely wrapped box and explained that its contents included something she had ordered by mail but it wasn’t exactly what she had expected.  “You can say that again,” my dad added, sending mom into uncontrollable fits of laughter, regaining her composure only long enough to assure me that we would go shopping for something better in the upcoming days.

Great. An embarrassing gift, I thought to myself as I hesitantly peeled back the pastel paper. Removal of the box’s lid revealed a mass of packing peanuts and...a doll?  A look of confusion washed over my face which was apparently mistaken by my parents as a look of disgust--and that really set them off.  They both broke into what can only be described as a full-on Bert and Ernie laugh jam.

“I don’t get it,” I said, “What’s so funny?”  At this, Mom sensed my confusion (not about the doll but rather why my parents were laughing about it) so she explained.  

“Oh, honey, I thought I was ordering you the most beautiful dolly.  In the catalog she had pretty blonde hair, a hand-painted face, and her hat and dress were...well, detailed and well-made.” She went on to share how she had opened the box just as I had, only to find that the doll inside was not at all what she expected, especially when she considered how much she had paid for it. But, rather than be upset about it, Mom thought the doll was ugly enough to be considered comical, and  it soon turned into a family joke--a joke that lives on some thirty-six years later. I suppose, for posterity’s sake,  my Dad sat us all down that evening for a picture: me, Mom, and my new dolly that never officially received a name (other than Ugly). 

However, instead of the requisite “Say Cheese” Dad usually solicited before snapping a photo, he instead said, “Okay, on the count of three, everyone say “Rip off!”  This time, I laughed too.

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