Saturday, November 18, 2006

Velma's Wrinkles

“She’s doing your wrinkles, Grandma!” my youngest daughter said.
“I have a lot of wrinkles, baby,” my mother-in-law replied. After asking her for weeks, Velma reluctantly agreed to talk with me about some of her experiences during her sad, beautiful life.

One of her earliest memories occurred while Velma was living on a farm with her parents. An angry rooster attacked her, deeply spurring her face. Her mother was so angry that she killed the rooster and cooked it for dinner; it was an unpleasant, tough old bird.

Velma remembers she was about four-years old when the attack occurred because her Daddy was still living. She lost him when she was five, a death that drastically changed Velma’s life and the lives of her family. A young widow whose husband’s bad heart failed him when he was just 42, Velma’s Momma was unable to care for the children. She rejected the suggestion that the children be placed in an orphan home, instead she sent the three children away to live with family members.

Velma and her sister Margaret went to live with Uncle Jim and mean Aunt Bertha. Farm animals apparently found Velma to be disagreeable because a cow attacked her a few short months after moving in. She was outside in the barnyard and believed the cows were in the field. Unfortunately, a bad-tempered bovine came charging into the barnyard toward her. Her Aunt Bertha snatched her away from the cow and held on while it gave chase. Bertha swung a screaming Velma around in circles until her uncle was able to shoo the cow back into the barn.

Meanwhile, Velma’s brother Carl was trapped at the home of mean Uncle Link and the good Aunt Bertha for years. When he was 17-years old, Carl lied about his age to join the Army just to get away from his “adopted” home. Her sister also escaped a life that felt like servitude by setting up her own home when she was just 16. She married a veteran of World War II and today has surpassed her 50th Anniversary.

Velma was the only child who spent a lot of time with her Momma. Delia had found a job caring for a bedfast woman who agreed to allow the widow and her child to stay. After several months, the woman’s alcoholic brother came home. Every time he saw Velma, he threatened to kill her. Her mother was unable to leave the position, so Velma split her time hiding in a closet or visiting the neighbor who had no children. They finally moved out after the lady passed away.

Velma’s mother eventually remarried. She said her stepfather wasn’t all that bad, but he died the year Velma graduated from high school. Velma was ready for marriage at that point and wed my father-in-law two days after his return from Korea. She wishes she had waited longer to marry because Korea had changed him. After numerous affairs during their marriage, he deserted her and their young son for a woman he found in a bar.

Like her mother, Velma eventually remarried and moved to Owensboro. She regrets her 20 year marriage to husband number two because he was too lazy to hold a job. Velma would go to work in the morning and often come home to find he had sold her belongings. Once he sold two of her antique tables for $50 - tables that were worth thousands of dollars. Velma was heartsick, yet stayed with him and continued to pay the child support for his four daughters, the rent, and put food on the table.

Velma finally left him so she could care for her mother, who had grown old. For 13 years, she nursed her through Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease. Delia passed away when she was 89 years old.

Velma wouldn’t say it, but I suspect many of her wrinkles come from sharing a home with her daughter-in-law. Our relationship is bittersweet. We love each other, yet living together can be difficult. She makes the very best mashed potatoes in the world – ever. She brings laughter to our home and spoils all of us.

Yet Velma believes she is too old now, way too old. She said when you reach her age, you see your life spiraling down to the little bit and it makes her just thankful to be alive. At 72 years old, Velma says she can go to her grave happy for having such a wonderful son and two wonderful grandchildren.


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