Monday, September 1, 2008

Farewell to a Well-Loved Friend

Eugenia Faye Foote weighed two pounds when she was born July 7, 1912. Miraculously, she survived to go home from the hospital with her mother, but she wasn't expected to survive. Her mother made a bed for her baby in a shoebox she kept in her bed to keep her warm. She fed her with a medicine dropper. And Faye survived.

They were a hard-working, poor Texas family, and the big vegetable garden provided a lot of their food. Faye's mother was ill most of Faye's childhood and taught her young daughter how to can and cook from the bed. Faye would get up at 4:30 a.m. to iron and do chores before going to school. She was a good student. She loved to learn something new all her life.

Although they didn't have much, they had more than some of their neighbors, and Faye's mother sometimes gave away the supper Faye had already cooked to needful neighbors who had nothing. And Faye would go back to the kitchen to see what else they had she could fix for supper. And, she said, there was always something.

A new-fangled operation in the late 1920s or early 1930s gave new health to her mother. Back on her feet, she asked her teen-age daughter what she would like to do. Faye said she would like to be a nurse but there was no money for school. Her mother said not to worry. They'd find it. And they did.

So she became an nurse. She said proudly that the doctors used to assign her some of their highest risk patients because she had a reputation for fighting for them so fiercely. She prayed for them, too. That former two-pound baby knew all about fighting for life.

The vivacious, tiny (5'1") nurse caught the eye of a young Texan named LeRoy Foote who was at least a foot taller than she, and he gently courted her. They fell in love and she agreed to marry him. He was very kind to his mother, she said. That was a good indicator he would continue to be so sweet to her. And he was.

I've heard two stories about the wedding, but the one I like best is that the young couple had no money to waste on embellishments beyond her wedding dress --I believe her mother, a talented seamstress, made it-- and Leroy's good suit. There was no money for flowers. But when they came into the church, they found the front of the church covered with vases and jars the neighbors and townspeople had gathered from their gardens to provide flowers for the wedding. She said it was very pretty.

So they married, and World War II came along. He enlisted, and they wrote, and then his letters stopped and she and his mother learned he had been injured. They hung to their hope and prayers. After months, a letter came. Censors were so strict, he couldn't tell her the extent of his injuries. But he wrote that he walked to the window--he could walk, his legs were all right--and leaned on his arms on the windowsill--he still had both arms--as his eyes viewed the sunny day--he could see. He was home before they learned how close he had come to dying, and he carried shrapnel in his body the rest of his life.

She stayed home with their two sons until both were in school, then returned to nursing, this time as a school nurse. Long before there were government programs to help the impoverished, she had persuaded (read, bullied) the local stores into providing school clothes and shoes for needy children and collected gently worn jackets and coats from every member of the church. She knew who needed medicine and knew how to get it if the family couldn't pay. People knew she would ask politely and sweetly for her kids, but if you said no, she'd be back, and then she'd be back again. It was easier to give in and do the right thing the first time. (I think she also used this technique in raising their sons.)

She and Leroy bought an RV they enjoyed for a number of years in their travels around the country. After their retirement, they decided to see more of the world and led tours to China, New Zealand, Australia, Europe--was Egypt in there? I think so. Their older son was living with his wife and son in South America and they made several trips to visit there.

They were active in their church and community, of course. LeRoy was active in Boy Scouts, and also a mean cook. (She hated to admit it, but his pancakes were even lighter than hers.) She loved to "gussy up" and go dancing with LeRoy, and despite their disparate heights, they danced very well together. And she loved to gamble once in awhile (with the money carefully budgeted).

When LeRoy finally died sometime after their fiftieth wedding anniversary, she told me later she was glad she lived alone because the first couple of weeks after the funeral, she sometimes would roam the house, howling like a banshee. Of course, she soldiered on and got on with life, and one day, she looked around and realized there were a lot of grieving survivors, so she started a grief group in her 80's. It is still going, too.

Faye and LeRoy were friends of my parents, and their oldest son and I were really good high school friends (we did our geometry homework every night together on the phone.) When my dad died when I was 19, it was LeRoy's arms I ran to when I got home from college. And when I put Mother in a nursing home when I was 23 for Alzheimer's, Faye and LeRoy quietly stepped up as extended family. When I could get out to Alamogordo, N. M., with my sons, Faye and LeRoy provided the only grandparenting available after their dad's and my parents had died.

I remember one glorious summer day when they took us up to a friend's cherry orchards in LaLuz Canyon, in the lower foothills. Mint grew between the rows of trees, our feet crushing the fragrant plants as we walked under trees sweetly smelling of sun-warmed ripe cherries, the breeze down the canyon bringing the additonal scents of pine and cedar....we laughed and talked and picked and ate that day. There was a snake on the road on our way back, and LeRoy and Matt leaped out of the car to see what kind it was. On another occasion, we joined Faye, her son Bill, and daughter-in-law Cheryl at the High Rolls cherry festival. There was the scent of Indian fry bread with honey, and New Mexico -grown pistachios soaked in green chile sauce (mmm). Two perfect days to remember.

When my uncle needed help and I came out for a week to help him close up his house and move into a nursing home, Faye insisted I stay with her. Each evening, we would sit on the porch, not facing the sunset, but the eastern Sacramento Mountains, listening to the tinkle of the windchimes she had collected from all over the world and watching the colors and light change on our beloved mountains as the sun set. And we talked. Many of the tales I've recorded here--and so many more--I heard then, but most she also had told me over the years.

When my uncle died six years later and I came for his funeral, Faye told me then she had been diagnosed with what the doctors thought was Alzheimer's (it was dementia, which has different symptoms). It was a double hit.

Bill and Cheryl moved her to a fine place in Albuquerque that caters specifically to memory care, and near their home. After a few months of fuming over the move from Alamogordo, she adjusted beautifully . As usual, she became a darling of the staff. As long as possible, she attended church on Sundays with her son and his wife, but she became unable to go. In October, a year ago, she became unable to visit any more with me on the phone. She was already in hospice care. She sank and rallied, sank and rallied. The hospice nurses said they had never seen such a fighter. Three weeks ago, while she was on a morphine drip and lying in bed with her eyes closed, her nurse told her it was okay to let go and go with God. She said Faye opened her eyes, raised her hand and shook her finger under the nose of the nurse.

Yes, that was Faye. And her suffering those last months has been so hard on her family, but she just couldn't give up. My fantasy is that LeRoy finally came to get her, held out his hand, and they walzed off into eternity. She died in her sleep early Sunday morning, Aug. 31, 2008.

She is not related to me by blood or marriage. But she is the last of my chosen extended family. I had prayed for this day, the end of her suffering and her family's, but it hurts a surprising amount--selfish grief, I know. And reality. She's been lost to me for awhile, but she is really, really gone.

She was 97. Not a bad record for a puny, two-pound baby girl. She left a legion of friends, a plethora of family, and an incredible number of known and unknown kindnesses throughout her life.
She wasn't particularly sweet, but she was joyful, and she loved life hugely.She was bossy, but she didn't ALWAYS insist on having her own way. And she loved with her whole heart, and I was fortunate to be one of the people she loved.

This is my memorium to a woman who will always make me smile when I remember her. As will many others.


Omnibus Driver said...

I hope the Lord brings comfort to your heart for knowing with certainty where your dear friend is now. I'll be saying prayers for you.

night lightning woman said...

Thank you. How lucky I have been to have so many people like her in my life.

J.R.Shirley said...

I'm sorry for your loss, but happy she was in your life.

Thanks for sharing her with us.

phlegmfatale said...

Sorry to hear of the loss of your friend, but it's nice to hear about a rich life, well-lived. :) Safe travels.

night lightning woman said...

Well, I've been gone several days to go to her funeral and meet with her family. The number of stories were huge! And most of them made us all laugh. And there were a lot of us to laugh. Usually, by her age, and with five years of dementia, most folks, especially us common folk, would have been forgotten. Not her. She ENJOYED life so much. Relished it. And that is a mentor to emulate.