Writing project – Profile – December 2010

Posted on December 19, 2010 
Filed under Assignments

An oft-quoted phrase, perhaps incorrectly attributed to the Chinese, states “May you live in interesting times”.

To say that this past year has been interesting would be an understatement.

Earlier this week, my daughter was decorating our Christmas tree.  As is tradition with with many families, there are certain ornaments that we have collected over the years that we make sure always go on the tree.

Some ornaments are indicative of interests, like the Shuttlecraft Galileo and tiny Enterprise from Star Trek. There is a small spool of 8mm film representing what has given so much to our family over the years financially.

Others were hand made by my children, as projects in preschool, scouts or daycare.

A few others are special in another way, as they commemorate a series of “firsts”.  A small house with a lit porch light and a silhouette of a man and woman in the window is marked “First Christmas Together”.  This was the ornament that I gave my fiancé in 1990.  We were married 4 days after Christmas that year.  Two others are marked “Son 1991” and “Daughter 1996”.

This year there is another first Christmas, although it will not be the subject of an ornament.  This will be the first Christmas without my mother.

Carol Lyn Mansfield, née Timmons, was born to real salt of the earth people.  Her father, Washington Timmons, could trace his line back to the pioneers of Kansas and then farther back to the frontiersmen of Appalachia.   He was a farmer who raised his family on the income from a single 80-acre section, like many of his neighbors. During the Depression he hunted squirrels and pigeons with a .22 to add meat to the table.  His wife Elsie was born in the Wilhelmshaven area of Lower Saxony in Germany.  Shortly after the end of the First World War, Elsie, her Father and Mother, and two brothers, emigrated to America through the port of Baltimore, and made their way to northwest Iowa.  Life for the Timmons family was not easy.  Washington went through a bout of Rheumatic Fever sometime early in the marriage, leaving him with a weakend heart that slowed his pace considerably for the rest of his life, ultimately causing his death at planting season in 1977. Elsie gave birth to two sons and a daughter.  Both boys were stillborn, and my Mom was the only one to survive.

Carol was only 16 years old when she graduated from Okoboji Township Consolidated High School and moved to the big city, Sioux City, to attend what was then called the Lutheran School of Nursing.  Graduating in the spring of 1957, she received her cap and pin, and went to work as a nurse.  As was common in the nursing field in the mid 20th century, Carol held down several positions concurrently.  During the week, she was an office nurse for Dr. Bowers here in Sioux City.  Weekends would find her being a temp nurse on one of the floors of the Lutheran Hospital, or a local nursing home.

Sometime in the early 60’s, she met my dad, Roger Mansfield, and they were married in the summer of 1965.  Dad was, at the time, the Sports Director of KTIV.  Neither of my folks worked a “normal” 9 to 5 job for several years after they were married, even after I came along in the fall of 1966.  I know that my mom, who went to work in surgery at the newly formed St. Luke’s Hospital in the late 60’s went to work quite early in the morning, what was probably the 6am shift.  Dad was working the 6 and 10 sports, not to mention shooting sports events on the weekends. (You see, being the Sports Director of a small TV station in the late 60’s meant that you were more than likely the entire Sports Department.)  This, of course meant that he was getting home at something like 11pm.  Many days mom would ride the bus to work so Dad would have the car to take me to school.   I vaguely remember picking up Dad after the 6 and eating in the car while watching the Ozark Airlines planes come and go at the Municipal Airport, or perhaps while at Grandview Park. Dad would then drop us off at home so he would have the car to come home with late that night. Having only one car, as many families did then, meant getting the schedules to mesh with the precision of a fine Swiss watch.

Mom was a tireless worker.  All her life she battled asthma, for which she always carried a small rescue inhaler.  Wheezing and shortness of breath were just something to work around, and although I do have some childhood memories of her having to catch her breath from time to time, I don’t ever remember it stopping her for long.  I know that as a child, the asthma caused a lot of hospital stays and medicines that Washington and Elsie could barely afford on 80 acres of income.

As I grew, and started school, Mom was frequently at school for PTA activities, school programs, and bake sales.  One of my funniest memories was of her running the cotton candy machine at a school carnival, and winding up totally covered with the stringy sugar mixture that escaped from the whirling mess at the center of the contraption.  At our 6th grade graduation party, she made sure to give me a piece of the cake that did not have the teeth staining blue frosting, much to my dismay. My sister Dana, 5 years my junior, says in fascination “How did she do this?  Meals, laundry, school for us kids, work…It’s amazing.”

As my own children have grown, and I work through many of the same issues, I seem to have no shortage of new admiration of how my parents, and in particular Mom, kept the house running, and kept my Sister and I on track.  I graduated High School in the spring of 1985, and took some college courses and started my own career in television.  All seemed to be going well until the fall of 1988.

It was then that Dad got sick.  I do not know how she did it, continuing to work full time and also taking care of him as the cancer slowly robbed him of his health.  Chemotherapy, radiation and lots of doctor’s visits became the norm as the fall of ’88 became the winter and then finally the spring of ’89.  I don’t remember much as the days and weeks blurred together as I spent as much time as possible with them when I wasn’t working as the new 6 and 10 director at KTIV.

As the spring approached, hospice was determined to be the course most likely as the cancer spread to Dad’s brain.  However, he never lived to enter hospice and died with Mom and I at his side at St. Luke’s one warm May morning.  I was devastated, and I know that Mom was too, but years later she confessed to me that she accepted the inevitable the preceding fall and grieved silently as he faltered.

Life moved on and she did too.  In the summer of 1990, she took a second job as an overnight weekend nurse at a local care facility.  This was in addition to a weekday job at a local doctor’s office.  Having worked overnight weekends and regular weekday hours at the same time (while significantly younger), I still do not know how she did it.  As I said earlier, she was a tireless worker, although I could tell she was starting to slow down.

In the mid ‘90s, the doctor she worked for retired and the office closed, and she went into a semi-retirement, only working the overnight weekend job. This was not the easiest of positions to hold for a number of reasons, primarily in the winter.  The facility where she worked was separated into 3 or 4 different buildings, and that meant in her rounds she had to go outside to go from building to building, in blizzard like conditions and the intense Iowa cold that winter brings, several times a shift. This caused a lot of problems for her as the cold air severely affected her breathing.

But she worked this job until she was forced to retire after a fall in which she broke her shoulder.  She was afraid that with the diminished ability to do CPR, she would not be able to help a resident if needed.  Having worked so hard for so long, retirement did not suit Mom well.  With her diminished mobility from the previous fall and being diagnosed with COPD shortly before, the last few years for her were very hard.

In addition to her own health issues, my sister went through her own health problems the latter part of 2006 and spring and summer of 2007.  In the fall of ’06, Dana was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism that required a couple of weeks of hospitalization.  Then, in January of ’07, she was diagnosed with Leukemia.  Mom tirelessly went through all this, and the chemo and months of hospitalization again, this time with a better outcome. There were very few days where she did not get to the hospital. With Dana in remission, it would seem that life could go back to normal. Then, mom started to falter.  She was again starting to slow down, and was in and out of the doctor’s office, starting to rely more and more on oxygen. The last part of 2009 and the first two months of this year were the hardest as she fought several opportunistic infections and other conditions that seemed to feed off one another. During this period she was in and out of the hospital several times (Including an ambulance trip on the Christmas Day blizzard) and also did a stint in the care center for therapy.  In the end her lungs, weakened from 70+ years of asthma and smoking, finally could cope no more and gave out on her on a bitterly cold day the first part of March.

It’s the first Christmas without Mom, but although she won’t be here with us, she won’t be far from my thoughts.


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