More Hampton Garden

I’ve been working some outside at my new place between the raindrops and making some progress. Got a few new perennials in, the hibiscus planted in the big ole mosaic pot and added a shasta daisy to the hosta border. Ellyn tells me to “stuff it full” so it looks like a proper English Cottage Garden and I am taking orders here. And while I was out today a neighbor I had never met pulled over to the curb and shouted to me from her car…

“I’ve been waiting and watching for you to get your garden ready,” she said.

“Why, thank you!” I replied.

“I don’t know what you’re planting but I just love to drive by your place and have a look. Please keep it going!”

“Well, I will,” I said. “And I’m so happy you enjoy it!”

Then off she drove and I have no idea who she even is! But isn’t that nice feedback…

And since I haven’t had time to sketch in my new bitty garden yet, I’m still posting pics of my former Hampton Garden because those sketches were never on this blog before and I want to record them. Here’s a few more from the original Garden Sketch Journal:

Bluebells…. I only had a very small bunch of these spring-blooming beauties and I didn’t even plant them. They just came up one time in my front flowerbed so I had to thank some random bird for leaving the seeds there. These bluebells were simply glorious. Papery thin blooms that swayed in the wind. I would stop every time I walked by them to enjoy their unexpected presence. The color was stunning and it mesmerized me.

However, my daughter and I decided to transplant them to make way for a new cherry-red Knockout Rose. We moved the bluebells to the side of the house next to the peonies. The Rose – it was spectacular. Grew to new heights every year. But the bluebells… no. They withered and died. They didn’t like their new spot. And I haven’t tried to grow them since but I just may have to try again.

Bluebells

Another volunteer in my garden was this Spiderwort. It came up unexpectedly right next to my favorite chair in the back garden. The leaves were tall and spikey and the blooms were like miniature iris in a purplish blue. It took me a while to figure out what it was but I fell in love with it. AND… it turned out you could crush the leaves and rub them on insect bites. It was wonderful to relieve the itching the mosquitoes caused!

spiderwort

And yes, I had some lovely Stella D’oro near the front porch. They are like a wonderful early day lily in golden yellow. Such a cheerful welcome to the beginning of the floral parade of the season. I am especially fond of them since my name in Italian is Stella. And Stella D’oro means “star of gold.” I can’t think of anything nicer for a namesake.

stella d'oro

And one more plant for today is Spirea Japonica or “Little Princess.” We planted a group of four of them directly in front of the porch. They don’t get too big but they get the most delicious pink blooms in June every year. And if you keep them cut back they will bloom forever. This little bunch was the foundation planting in front of the house for over 20 years. Until the new homeowner uprooted them to plant petunias. Which should actually be a crime. O. M. G. I simply have no words for someone who doesn’t understand a foundation plant from an annual. So I just won’t drive by anymore and look at such a travesty. At least I have the same dwarf spirea at my new house as the front foundation planting and I enjoy it everyday.

spirea

Time now to go out and water the new garden plants but I have much more to share from the Hampton Garden days. And once I get that all down we’ll move on. Always gotta keep moving forward. Nice to reminisce, but need to look to the future as well. I love the past, but I love the future even more. Lots of sketches to do yet! Need to fill those books! And I thank everyone who follows along on my journey here. Be back soon!

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Reminiscing in the Garden Journal

I know I’ve said this before, but I have one entire sketchbook devoted to my garden at my former house. That house was on Hampton Place in Middletown Ohio. It was a 1.5 story brick, cape cod style with a very steep roof and drafty old windows. I loved everything about it. And in my last post I shared a couple of sketches from an aerial view detailing the house and layout of the garden.

Now I want to post more of that sketchbook here. Right now it is time to get my current yard in order, which I am doing a small bit at a time. The little work I do now wears me out and it is nothing like the garden I had at Hampton House. But I am extremely grateful I got to have the garden of my dreams for a time. So while I am busy in my new yard, I will post drawings of my previous little paradise.

The first sketch is a side view of the house and garage with blowups of the peonies and the oak leaf hydrangea. That hydrangea was the most robust plant in the world. I dug new plants off it from the roots for years and ended up with a dozen more hydrangeas that were foundation plantings in the back yard. It had grown in height beyond the first story of the house but I always trimmed it back from the driveway. Sadly, the last time I drove by the Hampton House, it has been sheared into a small ball. Its glory has been wounded.

peonies plus

Then there was the huge mulberry tree in the back yard. It was a grand old thing but had a huge hollow in its trunk. One time when I had tree-trimmers on site I asked them about it. “Oh it’s fine!” they declared. “Old trees get those big holes but it doesn’t hurt anything.” And that was what I wanted to hear. So I asked my son-in-law to hang me a swing from it that I could actually use. He made one from a solid wood board and heavy rope but he told his wife (my daughter) that SHE had to measure my bum for the size of the board. I agreed. And me and my grands had many swinging sessions on that lovely tree swing.

Eventually the tree looked like it was tipping over. It was very noticeable because the swing kept getting lower to the ground. But before I decided to do anything about it, nature took its course…

One night there was an intensely fierce rainstorm. The lightning and thunder sent shivers though the whole house. It was the kind of storm that would have had me hiding in the closet as a kid but for once I was not afraid at all. I remember pulling the covers up tight and thinking it was a furious mess passing all around me while I was tucked safely in my bed. I slept like a babe.

The next morning I walked out to the garage and hit the opener so I could go to work. As the big old wooden door creaked upward I knew something wasn’t right. The garage was strangely dark. I stood for a moment and looked around me. I noticed that the back window of the garage was completely covered by a leafy tree branch. It had never looked that way before.

I put down my purse and work bag and went out through the back gate to the rear of the garage. And to my utter surprise, there lay that mulberry tree across the entire length of the back yard. Its topmost branch was smushed against the garage window but hadn’t broken it. The patio furniture was buried as was the whole left side of the yard. It was an amazing sight. And on the ground, just to the front of the tree, was my rope swing.

It was always funny to me how it just fell down and I didn’t hear a thing. I know it was ready to go and it literally slid right out of the ground.

Mulberry Tree

Fortunately, insurance covered the loss and cleanup (although they REALLY raised my rate after that!) and I was able to replace the furniture. Here is my son Bill and his wife assembling it for me…

B&C chairs

Then, after the chairs were put together we had a little sit-down in them for the evening. And I went upstairs and did this sketch of the garden as it was then from my bedroom window. It did still evolve after that, but I’ll let you see how that happened as I post more of the original garden journal.

view from BR

For me, gardens and plants are one of the joys of life. No matter how small a space I live in I will have a bit of garden for sanity. And thankfully for me, my daughter Ellyn is of the same mind. She is an even better gardener than I am. And she helps me immensely. Those last few years at the Hampton House she spent many a day tending my garden. And she has single-handedly established the perennials where I am now. I do a bit of puttering and putting annuals in pots, but Ellyn is The Director. Even when she was a tiny tyke, she would study my flower beds and caress the flowers without picking them. And now I can relax and defer to her judgement, which is always spot on. She collaborated with me in the Hampton Garden and she is scaling me down where I am now.

She did make the mistake of suggesting a Knock-Out Rose border outside my back door, however. And that may be my very next project as soon as I can get her and her tiller back up to my house….

Oh how I love a garden!

Missing My Garden (and a RANT!)

I’ve mentioned before how I downsized a couple years ago. Sold my 4BR house that I lived in for 23 years and moved to a very small 1BR apartment. It wasn’t something I wanted to do…. it was something I HAD to do. And I still have VERY mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I had planned to stay in my house until I was carried out of the place. I truly loved that house and felt like it was a gift every day I lived in it. On the other hand, even though it was pretty low maintenance, it was getting too much for me.

Now I would have liked to have hired things done as needed but in January 2009 I lost my job. It was the height of the recession and I worked for a Fortune 500 company, AK Steel Corporation. AK was a major supplier to the Big Three Auto Manufacturers and they were cancelling their orders left and right. It was a disaster and AK had to take drastic measures to survive.

First they asked older employees who COULD retire to take a bonus package and vacate. Most did not. These were people who were working for health insurance or who had kids in college, etc. They still needed their paycheck.

Then the cuts came. Several hundred people were let go and I was one of them. And I do understand why I was cut, but I have never gotten over how it happened.

First of all, I was in a subgroup of the metallurgical engineering department. My group was originally 4 people who supported the metallurgists. When I joined the department I replaced two people – one who had retired and one who had been fired. The work was spread among 3 people at that point. We got along great and I loved that job. I might have been new in the department but the other two guys had been there 30+ years. They welcomed me and taught me the job.

Then one day there were some cuts and my close partner got the axe. I was shocked. But he had made a “mistake” that cost the company some money and he was let go. I cried and helped him pack. He was gone in 15 minutes. The two of us who were left took on the work of the whole department. After that we were never allowed to be gone at the same time so we had to coordinate our time off with each other.

As time went on, my remaining team mate announced his upcoming retirement. At that point I began training with him to learn what I didn’t know about his job. Of course, I thought someone would be brought in to replace him. Nope. When he was gone, the work of the entire department – which used to employ 4 people – fell on me. I was given an “assistant” – the department clerk – to train and help me. She was a nice enough person but in no way qualified to do engineering work. She made a lot of mistakes and I was held responsible for her actions. It was a no-win situation.

So when the big cuts came, I was on the chopping block. I was the only non-engineer in an engineering department. Who else were they going to let go?

My direct boss (mgr) loved me but my bigger boss didn’t like me at all. And I couldn’t stand his sorry a$$ one bit. He was an arrogant, condescending SOB who had his favorites and made no bones about it. He was also a cheapskate. He would take his pets on paid-for golf outings but refused to buy a ham for the department holiday carry-in dinner.

In January 2009 I got a message on my work phone. Not even a live call. I picked up the phone and it was beeping so I clicked to get the message. HR had sent an internal message to come to their office at 4pm. I knew what that meant. And when I walked by the big boss’ office on my way there, the little snake was watching. He followed me to HR and took a seat across the table from me. The HR boss sat between us.

Mr. GG was the ultimate wuss. He kept his head down while I was told I had been terminated and given the papers to sign. I was also told I was expected to return to work the next morning to train the metallurgists on the job I had been doing. It just so happened that I had been re-applying steel orders so as to rescue work in progress and not suffer the usual loss of cancelled orders. This had required me to learn a lot of chemistry, which was quite a stretch for my brain, but I did it. My manager had been so pleased he asked for a detailed report that he distributed to all of HIS bosses on up. My report showed that I had saved the company $2.3 million in the past 4 months. GG was scrambling to save his arse because that report had just come out the day before I was terminated.

I did, in fact, come in the next morning, and was totally bombarded. “GG says I have to sit with you all day!” said a number of panicked metallurgists. And after a half hour of this I snapped. One woman had called me 15 times and demanded that I be at her beck and call all day to teach her my job. She was someone who normally never gave me the time of day so I didn’t answer her calls. She finally showed up at my desk and began to scold me.

“Who do you think you are not answering my calls?” she screeched.

Whoa! “Outta my face!” I said.

“You can’t talk to me like that!” she declared.

“I no longer work here, so I will talk to you as I please,” I said.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she replied. “I can make your life very miserable.”

“Well, that might have been true once, but no more,” I said. “And I will not show you a damn thing because I’m leaving.”

She turned and went into a nearby office and slammed the door. That was the last I ever saw of her and that was in 2009.

Then my manager showed up at my desk and I said, “I’m done. I’m leaving.”

“I’ll help you carry out your things,” he said. And he did. I was back home by 9:30am.

Later, when I got my last paycheck, GG had docked my pay for leaving that day. I didn’t even get paid for the two hours I was there. Just shows what a low-life imbecile he really was. And I’m sure he has slept like a baby all these years since because he has no conscience. I have never despised anyone so much in my life. And I know I sound bitter but it was a very bitter experience.

But the real reason I am going on and on about this is because it is what led to me having to move from my home of 23 years.

It took me a year or so to get back on my feet. That drained my savings down to zero. I was able to make enough money to pay my bills but not for health care. I was paying $325/mo for a health care policy that didn’t pay squat. (My corporate insurance didn’t cost me anything.) And the first time I got sick I ran up $20K in medical costs that wasn’t covered. Another evening I cut myself and had to go to the ER for stitches. I wouldn’t have gone but the cut was down to the bone and wouldn’t stop bleeding. I was sewn up by a physician’s asst – didn’t even see a doctor – and it cost me $2,000. Took me a year to pay for it.

Finally the health care was doing me in. I had to sell my house even though I would have had it paid for in just a few more years. That’s life, I guess. And the results of actions of people like GG, who have no loyalty or conscience to speak of.

And so I left my house and my garden. I’ve made the best of it and I truly am happy where I am now. It is small but it is all I need and I cleaned out 40 years of “stuff” my kids will never have to worry about. But, oh the garden! I spent a good 10 years building that garden. What once was a totally green back yard became a garden with only a lawn path to walk along and enjoy the seasonal blooms.

One of my sketchbooks is totally devoted to that garden. The very first page is an aerial view of the house and the lot with the original garden laid out. I initially started on the garden in 2001 but I wasn’t doing sketchbooks then. In 2006 I started the garden sketchbook and this is the first page.

Garden site 1

That whole sketchbook is devoted to garden drawings, which I will post here later. Then the last page is 6 years later in 2012 just before I moved. It doesn’t look a whole lot different on paper but there were some significant changes. They are detailed in the text which most people won’t read, but that’s ok. I’m posting here for my own record. (And I assume you know you can click on any of the pictures in this blog to enlarge them and read any text on the page.)

Garden site 2

Meanwhile, I am doing drawings in my current sketchbook to record what is in my yard now at my apartment. I still love flowers and the annual parade they start when spring hits. My yard does have an established lilac bush. which I love…

lilac

My daughter Ellyn planted some Stella D’oro in my front beds and they are already blooming. I especially enjoy them since my name in Italian is Stella…

Stella D'ora

The Hosta are already HUGE! I may have to divide them next year because they are doing so well!

Hosta

I don’t have any peonies here (had a whole row at my Hampton House!) but the ones at my neighbor’s are glorious…

peony

Nor do I have any Iris (why didn’t I bring some with me?) but I am tempted to sneak down the street at night and snip a few from someone else’s garden. OK, OK, I won’t… but I want to…

Iris

So those are my drawings of the past couple days. And I must say I cannot bear to drive by my old house. The new owner SAID she loved to garden but she obviously is mistaken. The $150 ornamental cherry tree I put in on the street lawn has been cut down. The dwarf spirea that was the foundation planting in front of the porch for over 20 years has been torn out and replaced with petunias. PETUNIAS!!! Who tears out a foundation planting and puts in an annual plant that is so low to the ground? And the Oak Leaf Hydrangea that was 12 feet tall and nearly as round has been cut to the ground. Is that someone’s idea of pruning? Good God! It’s a blessing I can’t see the back yard, but I won’t be driving by any more. It’s just too painful.

I need to be grateful for what I have and tend to that. This weekend is a good time to putter in the yard and enjoy the spring weather. There will be plenty of flowers here to look at and to sketch. And not near the garden to take care of! All good… all good.

One More Karen Story By Request

When the Karen Series came out here on the sketch blog I heard from a former sister-in-law who was also close to me and Karen for a number of years. “What about the cold hot dogs?” Rita asked.

Ahhhh yes.

I guess I had to pick and choose to write my memories of Karen but this was another classic incident. And Rita was a big part of it. Again, I’ll just tell my version of it for what it’s worth. I may not be entirely accurate, but it’s a good story.

This goes back to the days when we were all “working parties.” Our boss was Karen’s mom Betty, who was also mother-in-law to me and Rita. We worked those parties for years and years, some very small and some very large. Sometimes it would be just one of us serving drinks and dinner to 4-6 people in a private home. Sometimes it was all of us plus a commercial catering crew doing a wedding for several hundred people.

One of the biggest parties we did was on a summer evening at a residence on Route 37 just north of Lancaster. It was the home of the man who owned the local radio station and it was a whopper of a party. I don’t recall the occasion, but a local restaurant/hotel was doing the food and Betty had our whole crew on hand to bartend and serve.

We got there in the late afternoon and began to set up. We didn’t often work with “the hotel” as we called them and their staff didn’t seem all that glad to see us. I’m sure they would have preferred to bring their own servers but Betty had the market cornered when it came to her clients and their home entertaining. We got more than a few curious looks from the hotel staff and decided we should probably just be nice but stay out of their way.

Like I said… this was going to be a BIG party. There was a champagne bar in the front yard, a full bar in the back yard, various tables of food all around and a huge spread in the dining room of the house. At one end of the table was a whole roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. So you can imagine all the other entrees and side dishes that went along with this celebration. And Karen was fascinated with that pig. She kept walking by it and touching it and adjusting the apple. Rita scolded her to quit it and I just laughed. And of course we didn’t let Betty see us fooling around.

roast pig

Rita and Betty took over the backyard bar and Karen and I went out to the front yard to assemble the plastic champagne glasses. There were several galvanized troughs full of iced-down champagne bottles so Karen and I studied the situation for a few minutes. Then Karen suggested we start taking the paper and wire cages off the champagne so it wouldn’t take so long to open the bottles when the crowd hit the bar. I thought that sounded like a good idea.

We both started getting the bottles ready but leaving the rounded corks in. Then Karen went back in the house for more napkins or something and I was fussing around the bar-top organizing things. All of a sudden I heard a loud pop. I turned to look and didn’t see anything. I went back to what I was doing.

About that time, Karen came back outside and something popped again. “What was that?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I replied. And then all heck broke loose. Pop! ..…Karen and I looked at each other… Pop! ..…Karen squealed, “What did you do?”… Pop! Pop! Pop! …..“I didn’t do anything!” I said in alarm.

Then we realized that the champagne bottles, without their wire cages on, were exploding their corks left and right. Not only that, some of the corks were shooting clear over the house and landing in the party in the back yard! We could hear the startled cries after every pop!

At this point we couldn’t stop what was happening and we began to laugh. Pop! And Karen guffawed. Pop! I was howling. Then we saw Betty running from around the house towards us. “What’s going on?” she shouted. Pop! Pop! Karen and I simply could not control ourselves. “Stop it this instant!” yelled Betty. “We can’t!” we protested. “Then stop laughing!” she demanded. “Everyone can hear you!” We were banished to the house to calm down. But it was no use… the tone of this party was set. Every time Karen and I passed each other we would lose it.

Meanwhile, Rita was doing most of the work because we could barely get hold of ourselves. And it only got worse.

Rita kept smacking Karen to stay away from the pig and we were all keeping out of Betty’s way to keep from getting scolded. Then we stumbled onto the head guy from the hotel (I’ll call him Roger) who was working on the alcoholic dessert drink recipe in the laundry room. Now none of us were big drinkers, but this drink he was making looked really good. It was some kind of tropical concoction that was more like a milkshake. He invited us to take a small taste with a spoon.

“Wow!” said Rita. “Yum,” I chimed in. But Karen… she got a look of pure bliss on her face. “I can’t wait for one of those!” she exclaimed.

Roger, however, gave us a look of disdain. He literally looked down his nose at us and retorted in his lisp-y voice… “the help doethn’t get any!” (Yes, he said “doethn’t” not “doesn’t.”)

“We’ll see about that,” said Karen under her breath.

So the party went on and when we got dessert served, Karen hissed to me and Rita, “meet me in the laundry room.” We did and there were a half dozen mugs of that special drink. We each grabbed one and chugged it. “Don’t tell ME we don’t get any!” crowed Karen.

Back to work we went but I noticed Karen and Rita ducking in the laundry room quite a bit. At one point when I walked past I peeked in and they were taking turns drinking that milkshake stuff out of a coffeepot. I figured I’d cover for them since they were obviously having a lot of fun.

Soon I noticed I was all alone in the back yard clearing dishes. I took a huge tray to the kitchen and the hotel staff was looking at me suspiciously. “Where are your friends?” someone asked. “Out back working,” I lied.

“I don’t think tho…” lisped Roger. “You should check the hall bathroom.”

Uh oh.

I went back the hall and heard muffled voices behind the door. Then a groan. I gave a quick warning knock and opened the door. “It’s me,” I said. “what are you guys doing?”

“I need to be sick,” Rita said weakly. “Me, too,” said Karen. “I’d be better if I could just throw up.”

I looked from one to another and said, “well, my sister always says that when she needs to be sick she just thinks of cold hot dogs…” And before I could say another word, Rita was bent over the toilet and Karen was wretching in the sink. I closed the door and fled.

Somehow we got through the rest of the night without Betty catching us and I cleared dishes double time while Karen and Rita recovered. But I was later told by both of them in no uncertain terms… don’t ever mention cold hot dogs again!

And I don’t think we ever worked with that hotel staff again either. Oh well… their loss!

So to end, here are a few more classic Karen moments…

Karen gets something in her eye at the Memorial Day Weaver family reunion and thinks she’s going blind. Rita must think so, too, while Kristen tries to help.

Karen eye2

After a day in the Hocking Hills we still weren’t ready to go home so we pulled into a roadside park area to sit and chat a while longer. The guys probably had beer. Sure enough a patrolling officer said we had to leave. Karen turned on her charm with him and got him laughing. But we still had to leave.

K and police2

Here’s Karen and Jim at Burr Oak State Park lodge. Why they look like this – and why that couch cushion is raised up on the far end – have always been a mystery. This photo was always a hit at the annual family slide show.

Burr Oak couch2After that we always encouraged Karen and Jim to be goofy in pictures. This one was taken at Bill and Brad’s graduation party.

Karen and Jim grad party2

Karen always doted on my boys.

K with B&B2

And she lived for her girls

Beth grad2

Betty, Karen, Beth Anne, Grandma Tisdale

Jamie play house2

Jamie Jo

Julie2

Julie Justus

Karen knew how to get comfortable anywhere. This is when we shared a cabin at Burr Oak. She was always Queen of the Cabin!

Burr Oak cabin2

Karen and the Big C, Karen Series Part 10 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

I hope you have enjoyed this series dedicated to one of the special people in my life – my sister-in-law, Karen Daubenmire Wohrer. This is the final installment and I am so sorry that she was taken from us at an early age. There could have been nothing better than this bright beautiful soul careening through life while dragging her family and friends along with her. But it was not to be so we have to look back and treasure all the experiences we had with her.

I’ve told you how I met her circa 1970. And we didn’t get along. We fought. We threatened to scratch each other’s eyes out. Then we would have a few good times before things would explode again. But that was all surface crap because we were young and immature. The day Karen had Tara, everything changed. Tara was a delicate preemie born too soon. And two weeks later I had Ellyn. That could have been a constant reminder to Karen of what she lost. But it wasn’t.

Karen treasured Ellyn. And it was a good thing since Ellyn looked more like her than me!

Then Karen had Jamie and Julie. By this time we were past all our mean-girl spats and doted on each other’s kids. I loved hers and she loved mine. And oh what fun we had taking picnics down to the Hocking Hills with our families. Not only that, Karen was always an instigator. After our picnic we would want to ride through the hills and enjoy the scenery. But we didn’t do it in a traditional way… oh no…

Karen made Jim get in my car with my husband Bill so they could ride together and I would get in the passenger seat of her car so we could ride together. The kids landed wherever they did. We took a count to make sure they were all there and off we would go. “Why would I want to ride with that old goat I see every day?” she said to me. (meaning Jim, of course.) “I’d much rather talk to you and get the scoop on my brother.” And then she would laugh loudly as though this was perfectly normal. I would look at her in amazement as I would never have thought of this arrangement myself, but I knew she was brilliant. We had SOOO much fun on those car rides through the hills. And if I remember correctly, she had a few treats hidden away that we could snack on while the guys didn’t know any different! Yes, brilliant, I tell you!

All that pretty much ended when Bill and I moved to Middletown in late 1990. And I’ve detailed a few “Karen” stories that happened after that in previous installments of this series. Even worse, Bill and I got divorced in late 1994. It wasn’t my idea and I talked to Karen a lot during that time. I was broken-hearted over the loss of my own nuclear family and my Daubenmire in-laws. (Who knew I would really miss them for real?) Karen and her oldest daughter Beth and her parents Bill and Betty stuck firmly by me. They were devastated as well.

Here’s a sketch of the gorgeous Beth Anne from that time period…

Beth

But divorces happen and lives change and time goes on. I got myself back on track and moved forward and my former Daubenmire family never left me. They still never have even though we lost that close touch we once had. It’s life. And I will tell you this… once I got through that shocking time I was better for it. I got to keep my family AND have a freedom I had never known before. It really worked out for the best and I love my life now.

Lately I’ve connected with Jamie and Julie on Facebook.

Here’s Jamie who has her mother’s twinkling eyes and mischievous smile…

Jamie2Note… Jamie named her son Christian, so Karen got her way after all!

And Julie, who has the same firecracker personality as her mother…

Julie2

Julie also has her mother’s passion for life and is active in raising money for the National MS Society since all three of these sisters suffer from that malady. If you want to donate check out my previous blog post about my Warrior Nieces. They are awesome!

But let’s go back to the late 90s. I was divorced and had gone back to work for a Fortune 500 company. Painting just didn’t pay the bills. I very often talked to my former in-laws as they cared about me and would call to see how things were going. One day I got a call from Betty and she told me that Karen might be in trouble. When I asked why she told me about the dreadful mammogram results and that things weren’t looking so good.

“That’s not possible!” I insisted.

“I know,” commented Betty. “But I don’t have a good feeling about this.”

We kept in touch and it turned out that Karen did have a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. I didn’t know what to think. So I got in touch with Karen personally.

Karen called me back at work and sounded like her usual self. “OMG,” she said. “Mom and Dad are freaking out about this and it really is no big deal.”

“How can you say that?” I asked.

“Believe me,” she said. “I go the hospital and get radiation treatments and go right to work. It’s a piece of cake! I’ll be cured in no time.” And I believed her. Then she went on to say that she was trying to plan her mom and dad’s 50th wedding anniversary party and she couldn’t believe I wouldn’t be there to help her. “How can you do this to me?” she cried. “You always know how to do the best parties and get the perfect gift and I don’t care if you aren’t married to my brother anymore, you owe me!” We both laughed and hung up and I knew that was her way of saying she missed me and was going to be ok.

But she wasn’t.

My dear Karen went down that awful dark, lonely breast-cancer path. She took the poisonous meds. She lost her hair. Her beloved husband and daughters and parents had to watch this happen. She did her best to get them through it.

One day I got a call from Betty.

“Karen’s in the James Center and she’s asking for you. If you want to see her, now is the time.”

First I cried. Then I called my best friend and asked her to go with me to Columbus so I could visit Karen. She did.

My friend waited in a nearby room as she had never met any of my former in-law family and I gathered my courage to go see Karen.

I remember walking into the room and there were a lot of people there. But all I really saw was Karen in the bed with her dad on one side and her mom on the other. I hadn’t seen her through this illness and she was almost unrecognizable to me. Karen looked up and our eyes met. “Come here,” she whispered.

I crossed around to the far side of the bed because she was leaning that way and I wanted to get close to her.

Big Bill let go of her arm and put her hand in mine. I felt my throat swell and tears start to come on. I had no words. But Karen did…

“What do I look like?” she asked in earnest.

I was flooded with emotion but I knew just what to say.

“You look like Big Louie to me,” I replied with all the love I could muster.

A wan smile crossed Karen’s face and Big Bill turned his head away as the tears streamed down his face.

I leaned over and kissed Karen for the last time. She slowly closed her eyes and let me go. We both knew it was all we could do.

Some time later when her obituary was published, all her family was listed. And one small sentence after that said she was survived by “special friend, Starr Daubenmire.”

That meant the world to me and still does. Our story was this… Girl meets Girl. Girl hates Girl. Girl marries Girl’s brother. Girl hates Girl even more. Girl experiences the joys and sorrows of life with Girl. Girl eventually becomes friends with Girl. Girl learns that life is better if she loves and depends on Girl. Girl forms bonds with Girl than can never be broken. Girl loves Girl till the end. Girl left behind wants to share the love she felt with departed Girl’s family. Girl writes Girl’s story so it is never lost. Girl loved Girl with all her heart after all.

Karen Sue Daubenmire Wohrer – January 17, 1949 – April 12, 1998

Karen2

Karen and Crazy Uncle Louis, Karen Series Part 9 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

To set the stage for this story I have to back up in time again.

When Karen and her 3 brothers (Bill, Rick and Mike) were kids, their Dad would occasionally take the family on a day trip to see his Uncle Louis. Louis was a mentally-challenged man who lived in a group home. Even after the youngest sister Kristen had come along – and I married into the family – we all made a trip there once to visit him while he was still alive.

So, yes, the kids all thought this uncle was “crazy,” but that wasn’t really accurate. I don’t even know exactly what his illness was except that he couldn’t take care of himself.

As children, the Daubenmire boys loved nothing more than giving Uncle Louie a snack and a soda pop. Which Louie found very exciting! He would eagerly accept and then the boys would sit back in anticipation of what was about to happen…

Remember… in those days soda pop came in glass bottles. And to drink one you had to wrap your lips around the top of the bottle in a certain way to control the flow into your mouth. Louie couldn’t do that. He simply tilted his head back and poured it in. And nearly choked when that carbonated beverage hit his throat.

Louie would grin in delight and repeat the process. And the Dauby boys would bust a gut watching. That was Crazy Uncle Louie all right.

846-06111795Of course, as an adult, I would act appalled and scold them for getting a kick out of such a thing, but can’t you just see it as an incident in a period 50s or 60s movie? It was typical, but very innocent overall. And actually pretty funny.

That was the history…

Fast forward to when they were all adults.

I’ve already mentioned how much time we spent together as a family. Weekends, holidays, vacations and more. And the Dauby boys all liked to drink a few beers and have a bit of fun. One of their favorite pastimes was making fun of their big sister, Karen. AKA the Drama Queen. Who… being the diva she was… always played right into their hands.

I can’t remember now how it started, but Karen had done some funny thing and one of the boys said “OMG – that’s just what Crazy Uncle Louie would have done!” And they wouldn’t let her live it down. In addition, Karen had gained a bit of weight, which vexed her to no end, and the boys knew that, too. They began to call her Big Louie. And it stuck. And if the truth were known, she rather liked it. Believe me when I tell you that this family enjoyed their “drama.”

But it didn’t end there.

I, too, was ballooning up weight-wise and was horrified by it. I tried every new diet that came along. I starved myself and exercised like crazy. Karen and I commiserated with each other and would then sneak off for a pizza or a Dairy Queen Blizzard and vow that no fattening calorie would ever cross our lips again until we were thin again. Karen declared that she might look and act like Big Louie but she was really Bo Derek in disguise… just waiting to get her hair braided, don a bikini and run toward Jim Wohrer – or maybe John Travolta – on the beach. We both knew this could happen.

One of our common problems at the time was finding clothes that didn’t make us look like old ladies. This was the days before the “plus-size” industry and we were forced to buy the ugliest tent-like garments that only old Jewish grandmas could have appreciated. And Betty, (Karen’s mother and my mother-in-law) was naturally thin so she not only had beautiful clothes, she chastised both me and Karen for “letting ourselves go.” She didn’t mean anything malicious by this – she really just wanted to help – but we both could have gleefully choked her for her remarks.

Then, as we were getting ready for our annual summer trip to Lake Erie, Karen called me one day with excitement in her voice. “You’ll never guess what!” she exclaimed. “I was out shopping for some shorts for the trip and there’s a new thing called “extended sizes.”

“What is that?” I asked. “Oh…” replied Karen delightfully, “they’re normal clothes in sizes for people like us! They’re the same thing everyone else wears just bigger! They’re wonderful!” She told me where to go and shop. So I did. And like Karen, I was enthralled. At last… we were going to go on vacation and not look like freaks past our prime.

But there was a downside to this we did not anticipate. Let me explain…

Here we are at Lake Erie in our respective cabins. We get our kids dressed for the day and send them out to play. We duck back inside to get ourselves ready. I’m humming a happy tune while I make the beds and do the breakfast dishes. I look out the windows to check on the kids. It’s a beautiful day and excitement lies ahead to see if we are going to swim or boat or just sit on the deck and sun ourselves.

CousinsAbout the same time Karen and I come out of our cabins. Everyone else is already on the deck watching the activity on the lake and keeping one eye on the group of cousins playing nearby. I look across the way at Karen on her stoop and she looks back at me on mine. And to our horror, we are dressed exactly alike. Exactly. Alike. Not only that, we both have insanely white thunder thighs exposed that would be the perfect shark bait if sharks actually lived in Lake Erie. (Thankfully they don’t!)

For a brief moment all was silent as everyone took in this spectacle. Then Karen and I both screamed in unison and our crowd of husbands and brothers and assorted relatives became hysterical. And I mean rollicking hysterical. There were fingers pointing and eyes rolling and tears falling and people bent over double trying to contain themselves. It was a near-riot at our expense.

Now I do believe Karen was not as devastated as I was. My heart sank because these were the only clothes I had to choose from on this trip. I wanted the lake to send some rogue surging wave over my doorstop and swallow me up. I wanted to walk 150 miles back home and get in a fetal position. I wanted the whole thing not to have happened.

Not Karen.

Karen, being Karen, took a bow. She faced down our jeering crowd. She knew I was trapped so she came over to me and said, “don’t worry. I’m going to go change right now. And I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.” She made me feel enough better that I took a second bow with her. And when our relatives insisted on taking a picture of us together we posed – each of us leaning on either side of a large tree… matching tops, matching shorts and huge white thighs for all the world to see.

Karen and Starr tree2

And here’s the really funny thing. I got a nickname out of the incident. Forever after that, Karen was Big Louie and I was Louie Jr. We never lived it down. And neither of us wanted to. Karen was proud of who she was. It didn’t bother her to have other people think she was me when we were working private parties (see a previous installment of this series for that story) or to have her brothers and dad call her Big Louie. She knew it was a sign of affection. And it was how her family operated. She was a Queen Bee in that family. She was “Queenie’s” oldest daughter. And she was proud to be known as Big Lou or Big Louie.

I, on the other hand, grew to love being Louie Jr.

And let me tell you the sequel to all of that…

My daughter Ellyn looks and acts a lot like Karen. (God help us all!) In the past year some funny thing or other happened – I don’t quite recall it exactly now – but Ellyn followed up with an email to me and her brothers Bill and Brad. And she signed it “Louie Jr II.”

The boys and I knew exactly what she was referring to and each of us guffawed out loud when we got that email.

Karen lives on.

You’ll see in the next (and final) installment in this series why I had to explain this nickname at this point…

Karen and the Monumental Mural, Karen Series Part 8 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

Around 1990 or so my husband Bill was once again looking for work. And this time he had a lead in another town in another part of the state. I didn’t like it.

Bill had had a lot of various jobs over the years and I never really minded. It wasn’t all that stable, but we always got by and I did the private party work – and a lot of artwork on the side – and we always managed. But this was different.

By now our kids were getting pretty grown. The boys were going to be seniors in high school and Ellyn was soon to be a freshman. All our family lived locally or in surrounding towns. Family was our life – we were with one or another of them all the time and that was our world. How could we be the first to move away from that? I told Bill flat out NO for the first time in our long marriage.

But he did it anyway. He took a job in Middletown Ohio – 2 hours away – and moved into an apartment with his boss and friend from high school. I stayed behind and took care of the house and kids. And worked in my art business as much as possible to keep my mind off what was happening.

Bill lived down south and came home on weekends for over a year. At that point this seemed like something he was going to stick with, so I put my foot down and said we needed to move to where he worked so we could be a family again. The kids and I had mixed feelings about it, but what were we to do?

In hindsight, I now know that Bill was moving on in more ways than one, but I didn’t realize it then. And when I gave him an ultimatum, he said, “fine, move down here. But only if you sell the house yourself and we don’t lose money on it.” I was fine with that.

I kept a very nice house and it was decorated and painted up like a fairy tale. I listed it “For Sale By Owner” in September 1990 and got a bidding war on my hands. I think I showed it 7 times the first week and got 4 offers. One lady had cash and sweetened the pot. All I had to do was hire a lawyer to complete the sale and it was a done deal. But then there we were with 30 days to get out and nowhere to go. Yikes!

Meanwhile, my mural painting business had blossomed and I had more work than I could handle. I painted by day, packed whenever I wasn’t working, and went house-hunting in Middletown when time permitted. I moved myself and my kids into my brother’s house and stored all our household goods in his barn. It was stressful because it happened so fast!

We got moved to Middletown and it was culture shock. Everything was so different. And Bill and I hadn’t lived together for over a year. Plus, I had numerous painting jobs in progress in Lancaster so I spent more than half my time going back to finish work and staying at my brother’s house. What a whirlwind!

Karen was a common denominator for me. We talked a lot and she would help me figure things out. Plus she was now on the local school board and was instrumental in figuring out how to get my boys graduated when we moved during their senior year. Credit requirements were vastly different in Lancaster and Middletown schools so we went to the board and actually instituted a policy for students who move during their senior year. The boys were able to go to school in M’town but abide by Lancaster requirements. All they had to do was return to Lancaster to graduate with their original class. Karen also requested permission to be able to hand them their diplomas when they walked across the stage on Fulton Field. She did that and gave them big embarrassing smooches on the cheek – and we all stood and cheered from the stands.

At the same time my brother was in the process of opening a new independent restaurant called Tavern at the Mill on South Columbus Street. It really had been an old mill and he wanted some special artwork to bring it to life.

So one day, Larry called me and said “I know what I want.” When I asked him what it was he explained, “I had a dream about flying horses. I want flying horses over historic Lancaster and whatever you can think of to tie that together.”

Well, that didn’t exactly make it easy on me but I was intrigued. I began to do some research and came up with a bunch of ideas. One was the flying horses, of course. Another was to incorporate an historic street map of Lancaster that showcased the original location of the mill. Finally there was a scroll that explained the story behind the map and the depiction of the flying horses. It was a very ambitious project. And I wanted it to be spectacular so I even bought some glow-in-the-dark paint for the stars in the sky so it would really shine.

I came to Lancaster from M’town, leaving my kids at home with their dad, and began to paint. It was a huge undertaking. I spent two full weeks of long days on a ladder painting my guts out. In the end we had flying horses over historic Fairfield County with an accurate street map and a story written in a scroll to explain it all. I think I finished just one hour before the grand opening of the restaurant and nearly collapsed. But the people who were at the VIP opening loved it – and bought me shots of whiskey to celebrate. That was fun while it lasted but I sincerely had the worst hangover of my life the next morning. I rarely drank back then. Pure exhaustion and high-octane alcohol are not a good mix. I never did that again!

flying horsesscroll

So what does this have to do with Karen? Let me tell you….

I don’t think Karen and Jim were able to make it to that grand opening so I was settled back home in M’town by the time they stopped down to see Larry’s new place. They came in for a drink and Larry showed them around. And when Karen saw the mural of the flying horses she was absolutely stunned. She recognized what a huge feat it had been for me to paint it and she loved every inch of it.

When Karen got back home she gave me a call to tell me about it.

“It was amazing!” she cried. “I always knew you had that kind of talent and you should be famous and making millions of dollars! You should be rich with what you can do!”

And actually, I hear this kind of thing from my supportive friends all the time but I know it doesn’t really work that way. Still, I was grateful for her words. It encouraged me a lot and made me feel somewhat less homesick. I basked in her praise.

Karen then explained that she had been so emotional when she saw the mural that she felt rather overcome. She asked Larry to help her on with her coat as she feared she would pass out. (Pure Karen!)

“Oh, don’t exaggerate,” I cautioned. “It’s good, but it’s not that good.”

“Yes it is,” replied Karen. “And you know what the best part is?”

“No, what?” I asked in reply.

“Everyone will think I did it!!!!”

And of course they would – she’d been taking credit for my work for years. Which I didn’t mind at all because of the way she did it. She was just being ornery and I do hope there were those who thought she created this work of art. She’s my doppleganger and I hope she got a lot of mileage out of the whole thing!

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