A few weeks ago my sisters and I flew out to Washington for a visit with two of my older brothers and hang out at the lake with them. We spent a lot of time laughing at family stories over delicious meals with lots glasses of wine and beer. We grew up in a crazy, big farm family in Iowa — our parents had twelve kids (9 boys and 3 girls) over seventeen years. A sense of humor was a gift given to us by our parents that has served us well over the years.
As we are all getting older, I decided I should write some of the stories down before they are lost in time. The following is a story of my mom, Marie, who was in her 80’s when this story took place, crippled with arthritis and still stubbornly living on the farm.
The Great Escape
Mom thought it seemed like a good idea at the time, going for a little drive with our family friend, Helen, whom we called Aunt Helen. What fun it would be to get out of the house for a coffee klatsch and gossip with my Aunt Margaret in the next town. Little did my mother know the chain of events she would set off with this simple action.
My mother had been living on the farm alone since my father’s death years earlier. Due to her arthritis, she walked with a cane and had stopped driving a few years earlier due to her lack of strength. With twelve children (nine boys and three girls) we divided up jobs to keep her safe, mostly healthy and living at home. One of the compromises she made was to agree to the “Help, I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up” button. This made us feel better about her being alone on the farm — that, and one of my brothers only lived a mile away so he was first on the call list. Mom was also Miss Popular with a bevy of friends and neighbors dropping in for a game of bridge or a Little Debbie and coffee.
One lovely summer day the phone went out at the farm. This was actually not that unusual in our area, but mom worried about not having contact and decided it would be a good idea to press her “Button” to inform them her phone was not working. Mom’s lack of knowledge about anything technical made her unaware that the “Button” actually needed a working telephone to communicate with the “Button” people. After several minutes of no answers from the “Button” people — she gave up and started on a Plan B.
This was before cell phones were common and most of us would probably have just waited a few hours to see if the phone company got it fixed. Well, not my mother. No, she decided she really needed it repaired ASAP and since driving wasn’t an option she was determined to come up with a plan. Known mostly for her Lucy and Viv type plans, the odds it would go a muck were pretty high.
Her plan was simple, she, cane and all, would drag a folding chair up to the end of the driveway, almost a football field in length. Then she would sit along side of the road and wave her cane at cars driving by to get someone to stop. Once she got them to stop she could talk them into driving into town, going to the phone company and informing them her phone wasn’t working. First of all, I can’t even imagine how she could have pulled off dragging that chair to the road, let alone thinking of the image of her shaking her cane at strangers driving by — they must have thought she was a crazy old woman yelling at them for driving on her road!
According to her side of the story, it took a few cars before someone stopped and she was able to convince them to do this task…however, not really trusting the first driver, she decided she would wait for another one to stop — just to be safe. It was only a short time later she snagged her second driver who agreed to her request — she was in business.
Just as she was getting ready to drag her chair back to the house Aunt Helen drove up on an impromptu trip to visit mom. Ok, Aunt Helen was really the Viv to her Lucy. Mom was itching to get out and about so she convinced Helen to drive into the next town where they would visit my mom’s sister, Margaret. In a wink off they drove, probably like a bat out of hell knowing Helen. So what on earth could go wrong with this plan?
Remember that “Button” she pushed? Yup, you guessed it — the phone came back on, and the people on the other end of the “Button” were notified that Marie needed some help. Yes, you are right again — she wasn’t answering. And then the phone calls began — my brother who lived the closest couldn’t be reached, so the next one on the list was my attorney brother living about 30 miles away — his response…”Call the Sheriff’s Department.”
Within 30 minutes the farm was swarming with Sheriff’s deputies, EMT’s, and several of my brothers looking in ditches, corn fields, barns, and everywhere in the house. When they had arrived at the farm all they had found was an empty folding chair at the end of the driveway. Had she been kidnapped? Was she dead in the ditch? She couldn’t walk that far, so had someone taken her…the search was on and my brothers were frantic. But apparently not frantic enough to call me. I sat at work not having a clue.
After nearly an hour of combing the ditches, my mom and Aunt Helen — aka Lucy and Viv, drove slowly up the gravel road, totally oblivious to the chaos they had created. I can hear them now, screaming in their best Lucy and Viv voices, “Oh Crap!”, as they came over the top hill and could see sheriff cars, an ambulance and even a fire truck at the farm. Right then and there they knew they were in a sticky predicament.
How were they going to get out of this one? Aunt Helen was particularly concerned since she had worked at the court-house for years and was on a first name basis with most of the deputies. She would never live this one down. So she did the only thing she could figure out — she drove down the backside of the driveway behind the garage, had my mom do a tuck and roll out of the car and then ditched her. Well, she probably stopped the car and helped her out, but she skedaddled as fast as she could, hoping she wasn’t seen by in all the hubbub.
Oddly enough, I really never heard what my brothers said to my mom — probably a bad nursing home threat and something about leaving a note when she left the farm. She probably said, “OK” and then said something sassy under her breath. I thought it was hysterical when I finally heard the story later that night. Go Mom Go. My brothers — not so much!
Thereafter, whenever mom left the house she always left a note written on a paper plate that she tucked in a kitchen cabinet door that only read, “Here is the note”.