A Drive with Just Charlie

Growing up living in Wisconsin, many of my summer vacation memories revolved around trips to West Virginia and Ohio to visit with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a bevy of cousins. I loved listening to my cousins (who spoke with a bit of a Southern drawl compared to my distinctly Midwestern dialect). I loved to hear their back and forth banter and all the family stories that unfolded. As much as I loved it, I recognized that my cousins had something I didn’t really have: first-hand stories to tell of times they had spent together with our grandparents.

Now that I have six kiddos who call me Grandma, I’m happy they live close enough for them to each have at least a story or two to tell about time they’ve spent together with me. My grandson Charlie has a few fresh stories to add to his collection because he took a little road-trip with me last summer. But, let me tell you a story about him first. I told this one on Facebook about eight years ago:

Charlie – age 4 1/2 showing off the birdhouse he helped paint

Conversation with my 4-year-old grandson, Charlie:

Charlie: Grandma, you smell.

Me: Ummm…do I smell bad, or smell good?

Charlie: You smell like my grandma!

Seeing that one come up as a Facebook memory made me wax all nostalgic and drove me to look through some of my older Facebook photos. Such joy this kiddo has brought to his grandma’s heart.

Charlie is now 13 and more of a young man than a boy. After last summer’s trip to Ohio, he now knows that his grandma sometimes snores and that she has a way of making the on-board navigation system say, “Make a legal U-turn at the next intersection” quite a lot.

With a short window of time for our trip, it was a lot of driving, snacking in the car on the way here or there, staying overnight in hotels without the greatest breakfasts (due to a world still reeling from Covid), listening to audiobooks, trying to figure out how to get motel televisions to play the shows WE wanted to watch, and such. Once we made it to Wintersville, Ohio it was a lot of meeting relatives he didn’t know he had (and that I haven’t seen in years), eating, driving, eating, and hanging out with (mostly) older folks who spoke with an unfamiliar twang.

The purpose of my last minute trip to Ohio was to attend the memorial service for a beloved uncle who went Home to heaven back in 2020. With Covid restrictions for large gatherings lifting, we could finally gather as a family to both mourn our loss and celebrate his homegoing. There is just something special about knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that you will see your loved one again in heaven. ‘Til we meet on heaven’s shore, Uncle Bobby.

Our trip to Ohio was over a long holiday weekend sandwiched between days I had to work. So, other than hotel pools along the way there and back, this wasn’t a trip filled with fun stops and great amusement. But it was certainly filled with family – it was so good to be together.

My family loved Charlie, as I knew they would — he’s an easy kid to love. And I love that Charlie had the privilege of meeting both my Aunt Linda and my Uncle Jim, my dad’s youngest sister and oldest brother. I am grateful that Charlie had the opportunity to hear what a godly influence and man of Christian character his great-great Uncle Bobby was as his children and grandchildren shared their stories about his life and legacy. Charlie got amply loved on by my cousins and second-cousins and even got to taste my Aunt Linda’s cooking.

One of my favorite candid photos from this trip is of my Uncle Jim chatting with Charlie (below). This warmed my heart more than you can possibly imagine. Uncle Jim reminds me so much of my dad–right down to the well appointed pocket protector. I loved hearing Uncle Jim tell Charlie some of the same stories of yesteryear that I had heard, and I my heart warmed as I watched him share a life lesson or two with Charlie and anyone else willing to listen.

My heart is a little sad today knowing my Uncle Jim joined the heavenly throng this morning and that I will not get to see him again on this side of Glory. Though my heart is heavy knowing the sorrow that his children and grandchildren are feeling right now, the sting of death is mingled with the confident joy of knowing my Uncle Jim is with his Lord and Savior. If there is a receiving line in heaven, I’m sure my Aunt Robbie was at the front of the line to see her beloved Jimmy again. Uncle Jim just celebrated his 97th birthday here on earth, so I’m sure there were a lot of loved ones who got there before him and were lined up to greet him, but I can well imagine that my dad was elbowing his way to the front of the line to be among the first to greet his brother when he showed up this morning. Jim was not only my dad’s older brother, but he was also someone who faithfully prayed that his little brother Jerry would come to know the Lord. I will forever be grateful for Uncle Jim’s faithful witness and God’s answer to his prayers.

The Hidden Grace of Social Distancing

I’m a familiar face at Oregon Manor Skilled Nursing Facility in Oregon, WI. Normally, I’m in and out of there several times a week, transporting my brother Brad to or from somewhere or another, or just stopping by to bring him a smile and a cup of coffee (and a donut, if he’s lucky).

Things are a bit different now. Now I can’t go in at all.

On Monday, I rang the doorbell to the skilled nursing facility and then waited on their front porch. Tom, the facility’s administrator answered. I told him I was there to pick up Brad for an appointment at the VA. Tom went to get Brad from his room and then delivered Brad and the necessary paperwork with his medical information to me on the front porch. Tom apologized for being unable to let me in, but I understood; it was for the safety of everyone, myself included.

Even purchasing a cup of coffee for my brother was entirely different, somewhat strange experience.

I usually stop at the Kwik Trip just down the road from where Brad lives and pop in to buy him a cup of coffee to drink on our way to the hospital. Brad likes their coffee, so it’s a treat for him. Today I couldn’t pour him a cup of coffee and fix it the way he liked it because they had suspended all of their self-serve food and beverages. No worries, though. Thankfully, an employee, donned in gloves, poured Brad’s Kona dark into the extra-large cup, then added half & half until I said “when” – he likes a LOT of half & half, so “when” took awhile.

Our route takes us through the UW-Madison campus, normally teaming with student activity. Not this time. No students on bikes. No pedestrian traffic. Businesses that cater to student customers seemed forlorn and bereft of customers – some looked closed. Definitely an easier commute, but sad at the same time.

We needed to answer more than the usual screening questions at the VA’s parking garage, which seemed cavernously empty. In stark contrast to my usual squeal of delight when I actually am able to find a handicap parking spot (with my brother giving me the amused side-eye), we were both in wide-eyed wonder that we had our pick of ALL the prime handicap spots today. In fact, ANY spot would have been large enough to maneuver my brother in and out of the car with his wheelchair. It was like a ghost-town.

The procedures for gaining access to the hospital changed too, so as to minimize the risk of infection. There was a designated entrance with closer scrutiny and screening, and explicit directions to use an entirely different designated exit to minimize contact. There was no wait for an elevator (although there was one man on the elevator who protested that we got on it with him); it’s really hard to practice social distancing when you’re in an elevator and pushing a wheelchair.

Checking into the podiatry clinic was different too. A line of blue tape on the carpeting masked off a safe distance from the clinic’s reception desk. Brad and I had the pick of ALL the spots in the empty waiting room in the Lighthouse Clinic’s waiting room, where we normally have to find a spot within ear-shot in a nearby hallway. Very few patients are being seen, but they wanted my brother to come in because he is at great risk for bone infection and they are concerned about the possibility of him losing his big toe. I’d show you a picture, but trust me, you don’t want to see it.

Working with a skeleton crew in their clinic, the doctor himself came out to call Brad back to an examination room. Normally dressed in standard issue scrubs, today he was wearing a mask and had a hospital gown over his scrubs; the gown wasn’t the usual disposable gown made of blue paper, rather the cloth type one wears if they are an in-patient in the hospital — you know, the ones that tie in the back and leave your backside exposed. He carefully examined Brad’s toe, emphasizing how important it was that we get this problem under control in order to avoid amputation. Brad routinely refuses care in his nursing home, so I’m hoping that this frank discussion put a little more cooperation in him. We’ll see.

In no time, we were headed back to Oregon Manor. Arriving at the same porch where I picked Brad up, we rang the doorbell and reversed the procedure. I thanked Tom and Brad’s nurse for all they’re doing to keep residents safe and healthy, assured them of my prayers for wisdom and protection, then headed home.

It’s a beautiful spring day and it was late-morning, so I decided to make McKee Farms Park my destination on my way home. The luscious fresh air is still a little nippy, so I buttoned up my jean jacket and headed to the paved walking path. It’s my custom to pray as I walk. Today I thanked God for the people who, at risk of their own health and welfare, take care of my brother and my mother. Walking, praying, and enjoying the beauty, I couldn’t help but notice how social distancing is evident even here at the park with people keeping the recommended 6 feet of distance between themselves. The playground was eerily quiet, with no children enjoying it, even though they are all out of school.

But you know what? I noticed something else at the park too – something nice. Families. They weren’t hanging out at the playground with the kids running around and parents seated on benches looking at their cell phones. Moms, dads and kids were out walking or riding their bikes together. They were talking, smiling and laughing together. One dad was out there teaching his little one how to ride a bike. Another dad was helping his kids fly kites while mom pulled a little picnic blanket and snack out of her backpack for them. One family was taking a walk ahead of me on the path, and the kids were having fun practicing what we’ve come to know as ‘social distancing’ as they held onto the ends of 6′ ropes.

As I continued my little prayer walk, I thanked God for showing me another hidden grace of this difficult time when we’re being advised to shelter at home and practice social distancing: families truly enjoying this slower pace of life together.

I would love to hear from you! Please share in the comment section below one of the “hidden graces” you have noticed during this crazy time of responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

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