This Easter’s Eve, I spent the afternoon baking and dying Easter eggs with my daughter. I rummaged through my mom’s old recipe box and found the one for her pecan monkey bread, one of my favorites. My daughter, who loves to bake, volunteered to help me out. My mom typically made this coffee cake on the mornings of special occasions like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter. We always looked forward to the holidays.
My mom was a registered nurse by profession, a wife, mother, and grandmother. She worked full-time as the director of nurses at a skilled nursing facility and came home exhausted most evenings. Tired as she was, she always managed to cook dinner, unless we decided to go out to Pancho’s or another local eatery. She was a great cook, sewed, and crocheted. I remember that mom also wrote regularly in her diary. She would get a new one each year.
Mom married my dad on October 6, 1962, in Omaha, Nebraska where dad was stationed at Offut Air Force Base. On February 25, 1963, just four short months after their wedding, my dad suffered a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage which nearly took his life. Mom accompanied dad via air evacuation on a T-29 military aircraft to San Antonio, Texas, I’m assuming to a more specialized military hospital, where he underwent surgery. I can only imagine how frantic she must have been. In the bottom of my dad’s dresser drawer, I found an original Western Union telegram that was wired to his mother in California from Offutt AFB. This is what it said:
1963 FEB 26 PM 7 01
I WISH TO OFFICIALLY INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON MAJOR WENDELL R BUCK, 37033A, WAS PLACED ON THE SERIOUSLY ILL LIST AT THE 865 USAF HOSPITAL, OFFUTT, AFB, NEBRASKA, AT 1200 HOURS ON 26 FEBRUARY 1963, AS A RESULT OF A CEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE. HIS RECOVERY IS QUESTIONABLE. HE IS BEING EVACUATED BY AIRCRAFT TO THE USAF HOSPITAL LACKLAND AFB, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, IMMEDIATELY. THE ATTENDING PHYSICAN RECOMMENDS YOUR IMMEDIATE PRESENCE AT HIS BEDSIDE. IN THE EVENT YOU ARE UNABLE TO VISIT HIM AT LACKLAND AFB, THE HOSPITAL COMMANDER WILL FURNISH YOU A REPORT ON HIS CONDITION EVERY FIVE DAYS, UNLESS A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE OCCURS IN WHICH CASE THEY WILL ADVISE YOU IMMEDIATELY. PLEASE ACCEPT MY SINCERE SYMPATHY IN THIS TIME OF ANXIETY=
ELKINS READ JR COLONEL USAF COMMANDER==
After reading the telegram, I thought what a miracle it was that Dad survived. Mom wrote in one of the diaries I found:
“Wendy operated on. Subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. God spared his life. Thank you dear Lord.”
After the aneurysm, dad spent several long months in rehabilitation. I remember dad telling me that he had to learn to walk all over again. The aneurysm left him partially paralyzed on one side and caused extreme headaches. He told me that the sound of mom’s pantyhose as she walked into his hospital room was excruciating. Dad eventually regained his strength and was able to resume work, although paralysis permanently weakened his left side. I believe that this unfortunate event was a turning point in his life. At the height of Dad’s military career, he was discharged from ever flying a plane again due to “physical disability.” It must have been such a crushing blow for him. He was then assigned to a new position as Personnel Director until his retirement in 1972.
Mom didn’t write about dad’s recovery in her diary. Maybe it was all just too much to write about. Two months after the aneurysm, she began practical nursing training. She graduated in April 1964 from the Omaha Public School, Vocational Education Dept. in Practical Nursing and went on to successfully pass her state boards. Mom went back to school much later to become a registered nurse (RN), around August 1972. By that time, she was 47 years old and had a full-time career in nursing as an LVN. I remember mom taking me to class with her a couple of times at Louisiana State University. She probably couldn’t find a babysitter.
For the next two years, mom struggled through nursing school and late nights studying while juggling a demanding job and taking care of the family. I don’t know how she did it. The funny thing is, I don’t ever recall seeing her study, but according to her diaries, she often studied for biology, anatomy, chemistry and psychology after my niece and I were in bed. She spoke of the biology labs nearly killing her and failing a few tests. She was so disappointed in herself when she failed a test. She finally graduated from Northwestern University in August 1974. I will always remember mom wearing her white nursing uniform, white stockings and shoes, and nursing cap.
Now that I’m a mom, I empathize with the stress my mom experienced as a nurse and raising two little ones at an age when some folks were already grandparents. Every evening after work, she and my dad relaxed with a couple of martinis before dinner. Dad used to put an olive speared with one of those little plastic cocktail picks at the bottom of their drinks. When we were little, my niece and I tried to sneak up and steal the olives right out of their glasses when they weren’t looking.Looking back, I’m sure that my parents both used alcohol and cigarettes to self-medicate. They had a difficult marriage, and I remember yelling and screaming when they fought. They both chain-smoked, something they started as young adults, but then that was popular in their generation.
Mom didn’t ever seem to rest, not even during the holidays. She’d get up early and cook nearly all day. Christmas was always my favorite. At the end of the day, mom was exhausted.
I’m definitely not half the cook my mom was. This is the first time I’ve attempted to make her monkey bread recipe. I’ve included the recipe here in case you’re interested. We’re looking forward to eating a slice 🙂
Festival Coffee CakeFirst put 3/4 cups nuts into greased bundt pan. Mix 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Melt 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup liquid brown sugar or 1 cup packed brown sugar. Boil for 1 minute. Cut 3 cans of biscuits into quarters, roll in sugar and cinnamon and place evenly on top of nuts. Pour butter and brown sugar on top. Any cinnamon and sugar left over, sprinkle on top of biscuits. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let set for 10-15 minutes after removal from oven. Turn upside down on plate. Enjoy! (Note: May need to extend oven time to ensure center of cake is baked through)
M – this is lovely – I like the tone and the fast pace – it is almost as if you have to get it out quickly because you have so much pent up – so much you did not know – a good technique in memoir writing – I like the style.
The stories are good and woven well, but I would go deeper on the depression and the impact of your father’s operation on their relationship – some may be speculation, but I think it would add to the story.
The recipe is a nice touch and the love you had for your parents is apparent – you do need more paragraphs – it will give it a warmer feeling – don’t run it all together.
I like the pictures – be sure we know dates on them and relate to your writing.
The martini comment should be addressed – her grandmother raising her should be looked into as well – critical to her as a woman. Did that impact your relationship with her?
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I didn’t think my parents had left me much family tradition but I realized as I read this that you described southern tradition pretty dead on from what I remember it. A few of the dishes were different but holidays were special and never to be passed over and forgotten.
What a wonderful look into the life of your parents! I’ve kept diaries for years and I’ve often wondered if I should destroy them before something happens to me. I’m glad your mom did not destroy hers. It has turned out to be a real treasure.
Wow. I thoroughly enjoyed that story. I am always amazed at just how much that generation went through and without complaint!
I was born in May, 1963, on Lackland AFB. Isn’t it a small world?
Your parents would be so proud, that their story is being told and for the ages. 🙂