I was born in the wrong century.
I want to be a pioneer. I want to migrate west into a wild land with a caravan of Conestoga wagons and sleep under the stars at night. I want to sit around a campfire, get lulled to sleep by the smell of woodsmoke, the sound of the blaze crackling, and the light and shadows thrown about by fingers of flames.
I want a horse. I want to ride my horse over rocky trails and kick up dust, through creeks, up and down hills, pushing against the wind, alongside covered wagons, going to new land. I pretend my bike is a horse when I ride down Deering and then on the dirt and rocky edge of blacktop Third Avenue. My seat is whiskey colored leather, like a saddle, and I think I feel it shifting side to side between my sweaty legs, and I move with it much like I remember doing on the bare back of Dixie, Grandpa’s mare.
I check out every biography in the public library about pioneer women—Abigail Adams, Betsy Ross, Louisa May Alcott, Clara Barton, Nancy Todd Lincoln. The books have hardback blue covers and a yellow swirl around the title. I like how the older ones have softened with use and are easy to hold wide open, their pages bookmarked and worn at the edges. I am hungry for stories about women who take a stand, women who ride horses and cook over an open fire, women who make life better.
I should be one of those women. I should be a pioneer. After all, I am in the family of the most famous pioneer in the world. I’m a Boone.
I’m kin to Daniel Boone.
My grandmother was Anna Bell Boone, and she was born and raised in Kentucky, where Daniel Boone blazed trails through the wilderness and fought Indians and created new settlements. She was born in Maysville, in 1886, exactly one hundred years after Daniel Boone helped establish it.
She played a harmonica and sang “My Old Kentucky Home.” She ate rhubarb and dandelion leaves. She was a sharpshooter. She could stand in her living room, shoot a rabbit out the front door, and cook it for supper.
Daniel had a favorite cousin in Pennsylvania named Jacob Boone. Jacob had served in the Revolutionary War. He was the son of Joseph Boone, Jr., who was a brother of Squire Boone, Daniel’s father.
It just so happens that Jacob Boone is my fourth great grandfather.
When Jacob’s father died, Daniel went to Pennsylvania from Kentucky and talked Jacob’s widow and some of her children into moving to Kentucky. So in the fall of 1785, the Boone family wintered on the Monongahela River at the mouth of the Sewickley, built a flatboat, and floated down the Ohio River in the spring of 1786 to Limestone, Kentucky, so named before it became Maysville.
One night, when I was full of the migrating spirit of my ancestors, I put a candle on the floor beside my bed. I asked Mama if I could do it, and she said no, but I did it anyway because I wanted to. My bed was twelve inches from the wall, and I put the candle back there so Mama couldn’t see it from the doorway. I struck a match to it, then went to sleep, staring at the flicker. Mama said “something” woke her in the middle of the night and reminded her that I’d asked about a candle. She wouldn’t do it, Mama thought. Would she? Yes, she would. Mama found the candle flaming two inches from a ruffle on my tiered blue bedspread.
“You could’ve burned your whole bed up with you in it,” Mama said. “And burned your sister up, too.”
“I just wanted to be a pioneer,” I said, thinking that should get her off my back. Besides, Mama was the one who encouraged me to read all those pioneer books, and she was the one born Boone. But she just shook her head like she was disgusted and curled up one side of her mouth and shot frowns over at me. She told me how stubborn I was, and how much like my father.
Anyway, I got to sleep by firelight, like a pioneer, and it didn’t take much imagination to pretend I was out in the wilderness under a starlit sky, especially since Mama had stuck luminous stars to the ceiling in my bedroom.
My fourth great grandfather Jacob Boone helped Daniel Boone survey the town of Maysville and was one of its first trustees. He ran a tavern and ferry. He was the interpreter between the colonel of the Army and the Indian chiefs and warriors. He built a house on Front Street and lived there till he died.
Jacob Boone is buried in the Old Pioneer Cemetery behind the Maysville Historical Museum.
I really am in a real pioneer family.
Jillie and Hardy at Waveland beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Don’t let me linger, he always told me. If I’m irreversibly ill, if I cannot be whole again, let me go, let me die. No heroics. I don’t want to be less than what I am.
You need to know, I’d answer, that if I think there’s a chance for you to survive, I will take it. I will let them hold on to you for a while. I will give you every opportunity to live.
I don’t want to linger, he’d repeat. And if I do, you find a way to let me go. There are ways and there are places to go to find out how.
I could never do that, I’d say.
I would want you to, he’d say.
He’d tell me this when there wasn’t a thing in the world wrong with him. Then on June 27-28, 2008, the situation came up.
The doctor at Williamson Medical Center told me his organs had been without oxygen too long, maybe even his brain. With the mention of brain, I closed my eyes and let my head fall hard against the stone wall of the hallway. I couldn’t bear to hear that the brain of this brilliant man had been compromised.
Fix him, I said. He’s got to be at work Monday, he has customers depending on him, he owns a business.
It was an order. I meant it. I needed him, too.
So he lived through five hours of surgery. Then the doctor said his only chance for survival was to go to Vanderbilt, and he only had a 5% chance with that. And at Vanderbilt he had seven more hours of surgery. They fixed part of him; they repaired his heart, rebuilding it after the aortic dissection ripped it to shreds. But there was the issue of the other organs that had been without oxygen because of clots formed by tissue of the inner layer of the aorta. They’d take him off the heart/lung machine and he couldn’t make it.
So the doctor came to me and said, there’s one more surgery we can do, I think the outcome will be the same, but I’ve got a team ready if you want us to go ahead with it.
With that, it was all put on me. Do I carry out his wish and say no, enough, let him go, or do I give him another chance and put him through more surgery? The doctor stepped away for a moment and let me wring my hands, look beggingly at my brother-in-law, tell my son that I cannot walk away from this place without giving him every opportunity to live. My son said okay, of course, okay, sure, we’ll tell the doctor.
I cannot walk away from this place without giving him every chance to survive, I repeated.
Okay, the doctor said, and rushed away.
It wasn’t long into that third surgery, maybe ten minutes, before it happened.
I was sitting in the waiting room, leaning back, looking up at the lights, shaking with fear. I felt a calming warmth I’d never felt before in my life slowly brush against me from the front and take hold and wrap all the way around me and soak into my being, and then I heard my husband say urgently, I’m going, I’m going.
I went home from the hospital without him and as I walked in the front door, it hit me to go read that story, the one he had written two months earlier, titled “The Will to Live,” about the Styrofoam cup tossed about in traffic on the busy street in front of his office and how it finally found a resting place on the grass beside the curb. I went immediately upstairs and pulled it up on the computer. I knew he was trying to tell me something.
In the two years that have now gone by, I’ve read it again and again and found different meanings and have now reached another conclusion.
I thought of placing the cup back in the middle of the turn lane for another go, but decided it may prefer the resting place it had chosen and worked so hard to reach.
The cup chose its resting place. Did he choose his?
Such an adventurer needs freedom and would not fare well in captivity. So I left it where it was, and carried away the memory of its struggles and the lesson of perseverance it taught.
He didn’t want to live in captivity, less than he was, unable to do the things he wanted to do. He didn’t want to be less than whole. He chose to give it a good fight, and then quickly go to the other side where he was whole once again. He chose.
“Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”
I got this picture. It further illustrates the previous post “Kisses and Hugs.”
I cannot fathom what it is like to have a man that close all the time—touching, stroking, caressing, hugging, patting, holding your hand, biting, pinching, and pulling your hair, not to mention ripping out any ornament you might wish to wear in your curly locks. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Especially after watching my 14-month-old grandchildren interact. A girl and a boy. He is always there, right on her, watching and copying, pushing and playing, laughing and dancing. Now, she’s a tough cookie and can hold her own—she bites and pinches, she’ll knock him down if he gets in her way, she’ll bodyslam him to the ground. She’ll chase him down for a toy. She’ll also hug him and slobber a big kiss on his cheek.
The sweetest thing was when, while riding in their stroller, he reached over like a teenager would in the movie theater and took her hand. Oh man, what a memorable moment.
It got me to thinking about my mom and dad. My dad couldn’t keep his hands off my mom. He was constantly touching, probing, and patting, even in front of the kids. She’d pretend she didn’t like it and say, Quit Dad. He’d laugh and keep on. My sister and I would roll our eyes and shake our heads and say something like, Gross.
And I wonder often what marriage will be like for my sweet little Jillian. She will expect closeness; she knows nothing else. She will expect to be hugged, kissed, caressed, mauled all the time. She will expect to always hear a slight breath next to her ear. She will expect to eat every meal with someone, share bites of food, have conversation and laughter over the backbewwies. She will expect to always have a shoulder to fall asleep on, a warm body on a cold night, a naked butt to pinch when she feels like it. She will always expect hands all over her.
I hope there’s a tiny boy out there somewhere right now who one day will be everything she needs him to be.
(And somebody needs to tell her when that time comes, she needs to meet him at the end of the aisle in a Baptist church with her wedding hankie in her hand and the Hardy Veil on her head and not elope like others we all know and love.)
Guest Blog by Winston Rand
“Trudging through life, coping with the day-to-day challenges and turmoil, we sometimes need a reminder that we too can survive, even beyond all odds. Those little reminders come in various packages. Sometimes it’s a child with a serious affliction who is happy and smiling; other times, a warm, frisky puppy that has not a care in the world except to please you; and occasionally, it will be the totally unexpected. Such was the case one day last week.
Arriving back at the office in late afternoon, something caught my eye as I walked from the car to the office entrance. It took a few seconds for it to register that I was seeing an empty styrofoam cup in the center turn lane of the busy street out front. There was a push of air from heavy traffic in both directions, causing the little truncated cone to roll in an arc first one way, then the other. The occasional draft of a larger vehicle would move it up and down its chosen lane a few feet. Then more rolling in arcs around its new pivot point until another large draft moved it a few feet forward or backward.
Becoming quickly mesmerized, I stood for perhaps fifteen minutes watching the struggle, the close misses, the movement to and fro. At some point I realized I was cheering the little cup onward in its quest to survive against the impossible odds of the multi-ton monsters bearing down on it from every side. And then it occurred to me how much like life that is. Wishing the dancing traveler well, I went on into the office. Half an hour later after checking email, washing up, and shutting down for the evening, I emerged to find the cup still at it. It had moved about 20 or 30 feet down the turn lane and seemed to be slightly damaged, but not enough to keep it from rolling and arcing, performing its death defying dance. After watching a few more minutes, I had to leave the cup to its unique brand of madness, knowing full well that it would be flattened or completely gone come morning.
Imagine my surprise and delight to arrive back at the office the following morning to find the cup, not squashed by one of the many behemoths that passed this way during the night, but intact, resting gently on the grass a few feet from the street. It had a nick, but was otherwise alive and well. I thought of placing the cup back in the middle of the turn lane for another go, but decided it may prefer the resting place it had chosen and worked so hard to reach. Then I was tempted to take it in and leave it sitting on my credenza as a reminder. But such an adventurer needs freedom and would not fare well in captivity. So I left it where it was, and carried away the memory of its struggles and the lesson of perseverance it taught.”