February 21, 2022

Colorado visit, so artistic, & remembering

Mrs. B walking Johnny to the door.
I enjoyed my visit with Mrs. B and Johnny in Colorado. The slower pace was just what I needed - I've had some stress 'at the office' lately -more on that later. A bus picks Johnny up during the week and takes him to his program. Mrs. B and I chatted, ate lunch out, browsed cute shops in the downtown area, attended morning mass, and arrived home in time for JB to be dropped at home.  

This photo of Johnny and I hangs on
their fridge. It was taken in my basement
 playing hot potato at my birthday party circa
 '75 or '76. My mom holding Mike in
 the background rocking the polyester.
I got to meet Mrs. B's group from church. What a lovely community and support system for her. I joined them after mass for breakfast one morning, and coffee and donuts the next. I entertained them with stories from the glory days when I lived two doors down from the B family and their five active boys. One of the stories was how I got my nickname, Ernie.

I got choked up describing the day we moved away: 
Mrs. B is a very talented artist.
She carved this in walnut over
 40 years ago. It's beautiful.
It was a week before Christmas. I was almost 7. Mr. B and one of his older boys drove us to the airport. My dad was already working in Chicago. They carried our luggage inside and helped my mom herd the 5 of us inside. Before we boarded the plane, Mr. B told my mom: 

I remember crying in his white station wagon, begging him not to let me move away. 

With 5 boys - Johnny the youngest was a year older than me, I was Mr. B's little girl. He got a kick out of my spunk. He showered me with attention, and laughed at my antics. My mom says that my sisters were quiet and clingy to her, but I was outspoken (wait, what? me?) and talked to everyone. The B family thought I
was the bees-knees. My happiest childhood memories happened in Davenport, Iowa. At the new house in the Chicago suburbs in the middle of the night, I used to wake up crying to go back to Davenport. 

Johnny's accident happened when he was 11 and I was 10. He suffered a traumatic brain injury during a competitive biking race. He was in a coma for 9 months. When we got the news that he'd woken up, I thought that meant he was back to perfect health. Back then, no one really explained stuff, and if they did - it wasn't clear, or I corrected it in my head to make it acceptable and easier to grasp. My parents rushed the 5 of us back to Davenport to see him. 

Mrs. B paints mugs for
 her friends' birthdays.
 They pick the flower and the bird.
 She paints their name on the handle.
 The mugs hang up in the church kitchen
 for their coffee mornings. 
I still remember that visit. I couldn't understand. The boy in the bed didn't look healthy. He couldn't speak. His eyes weren't always tracking. Sweat pooled in my armpits. My hands got weak. I thought I might faint. My sister, Marie, almost did faint and had to be helped out into the hallway. 

My mom started using what we called her 'teacher voice', loudly telling Johnny that we were so happy to see him. Then she nodded at me, like OK, you're up

I didn't know what to say. 

Johnny put one of his legs that was in a big white cast on the bed rail. He slid it over towards where I had been directed to sit. 

I smiled at him and said, "HEY, WHAT'S THAT FOR. IF YOU'RE GONNA KICK SOMEONE, KICK PAT. HE DESERVES IT, NOT ME." Johnny laughed.

It's been over 40 years since the accident. Johnny remembers things  before the accident, but struggles with short term memories. The women from Mrs. B's group wondered if he remembered me. Yep, he remembers. On this trip, I spend a lot of time reminding him of stuff, like how I'd gotten my nickname. "HOW BOUT MY DAD AND HIS BAD HANDWRITING? AND HE THOUGHT IT WAS SO FUNNY WHEN THE WAITRESS AT THE PIZZA PLACE SANG HAPPY B-DAY TO ERNIE." (insert JB dying laughing). When we played pretend and picked a new name for ourselves, he always chose Johnny Bench, who was a famous baseball player. 

I was heading for the
 airport. She'd forgotten
 to have me pick out a plate. She sent
 me to her dining room to pick
 one - she'd painted them all.
I love it. It made it safely
home to my hutch. Do you think
my family would miss me if I went out there
 for the summer and asked her to teach me?
He sometimes forgets that Joe passed away, partly because he wasn't seeing Joe daily. When he isn't at his program, he pours over the newspaper studying the stock prices. One arm is curled up and not really usable. The other is spastic, but usable. He understands what's going on and enjoys joking around. 

Mrs. B asked me about celiac disease. I told her a lot of Irish people get it. Johnny said something like "SWEE" - in his loud, garbled way. 


Johnny cracks up laughing, shaking his head, and waving his good arm in the air with a thumbs up.  

The day they drove me back to the airport, Mrs. B said:  IT'S GONNA BE BORING AGAIN, WITH JUST ME (Mr. B passed away just shy of his 91 birthday in Jan '21). The middle brother moved to Colorado from Tampa in '20 when Mr. B started becoming forgetful. 

She also sews. Their home is full
 of beautiful quilts. 
Heartbreaking to think of what could've been and the challenges they've faced. JB's happy and Mrs. B is amazing and devoted. She's 83 and worries that someone will decide she's too old to care for Johnny. One of her friends asked her recently is she could play bridge on a Saturday. Mrs. B said no - it wouldn't be fair to Johnny. The woman said LIFE'S NOT FAIR. 


Truer words never spoken. 


In order to get to their town in Colorado, I had to stop in Dallas first. Can you say out of the way? Where do you go that requires a stop in an out of the way airport? I wish it was easier to get there. I'd go more often. 


Nicole MacPherson said...

Oh, Ernie. This was so touching. I am so happy you got to visit such a special pair. JB was in a coma for 9 months! I can't even imagine how hard that would have been for the family. It sounds like Mrs B is an incredible person, and I am so happy you have had that family in your life. I laughed at the thought of JB "kicking" you.

Also, Mrs B is super talented, those painted mugs are beautiful. I'm in awe!

Cute photo of you playing Hot Potato! I forgot all about that game.

Pat Birnie said...

What a lovely post and such a tribute to a beautiful family. Mrs B & JB sound wonderful. She is so talented! I am sure you kept those ladies entertained with your stories as well. I hope you get to go back and visit again soon.

Ernie said...

Nicole - Thank you. I have written about Johnny before, so this might have been repetitive but I don't think I shared as much about how difficult it was to grasp that he was never going to be the same. At Joe's funeral, I learned that the accident happened on Joe's 17th birthday. How awful. His mother is a wonder. Between her artistic ability, her devotion to Johnny, and her strong faith, I'm in awe of her.

I froze a clip on a family movie from my birthday party and turned it into a photo. I sent that to her about 4 years ago. I was touched that it was still on her fridge.

Ernie said...

Pat - For such a short visit, I have so much I could share. One of the women from church is 90 years old. I found out that she went to Saint Mary's College like me. She came from Massachusetts. Her family couldn't afford the school, so she worked in the kitchen with a group of other girls in the same boat. They lived in different quarters from the other students, but she got her education for free. She felt it was a good deal, although looking back she says they were treated like 2nd class citizens. It took 5 years instead of 4 to get her degree. She graduated in '54. She was so interesting. I took a photo with her and plan to send it to the college for the quarterly magazine. What were the chances that we'd meet in this small town, and that our college background would be raised in conversation?

If it wasn't so hard to get there, I'd go back more frequently. It takes two flights of 2 plus hours and a layover. My kids are older now, so I can try to get away again before too long. Putting it on my list of things to do.

ccr in MA said...

I'm so glad you had such a good visit! Mrs. B sounds amazing.

Jenny in WV said...

Mrs. B is a fabulous artist!

I'm glad you got to go hand have a good time, you deserve fun and relaxation too!

Kari said...

I'm so glad you were able to go. It sounds like she loved having you there.

Ally Bean said...

I'm glad you had a good time, despite being routed through Dallas. About a million years ago when we travelled to London, England, we had to go west to O'Hare, then back east to the UK. Weird

Busy Bee Suz said...

My heart swelled up reading about your visit with them both; how sweet that you have such a long history together and that you've managed to keep in touch. That is quite a feat.
I love LOVE the photo from when you were kiddos.
Mrs B. has talents beyond most of us; wow.

Do you know if there is a plan for Johnny after Mrs. B departs? His brother perhaps? My cousin Patrick has found the most beautiful living arrangement for the duration of his days. It's not so much a 'group' home, but it's similar.
He loves it there; it's his family. My aunt and Uncle are so happy to know he will always have a safe and good place to live.

How annoying to fly to Dallas first; sometimes air travel makes zero sense.

Ernie said...

ccr - So am I. I wondered if it would be really emotional, but it was very comfortable. We talked about Joe and memories with ease. She's a remarkable woman. Such strength.

Ernie said...

Jenny - She really is so very talented - so many different artistic abilities. She told me that when Joe got engaged, he told her I'M GONNA GET YOU YOUR GIRLS. And he had two girls. ;)

I agree, it was fun and relaxing. I hadn't been there in 10 years when Coach and I and the kids stayed for a few days while traveling to Grand Canyon and Estes Park, CO. Too long.

Ernie said...

Kari - She did really appreciate me being there.

Ernie said...

Ally - I did enjoy seeing them both. When her friend were asking what exciting things we had planned for the day, she shrugged and said she wouldn't go more than 5 miles away from Johnny's program. I explained to her friends that I really cared little for an exciting visit. I have enough excitement at home. It was nice to slow things down.

It is always so weird to me that airlines take you for such a ride. As lovely as O'Hare is, I wouldn't want to go out of my way to see it. ;)

Ernie said...

Suz - I do wonder if our families would've stayed in touch for so long if it wasn't for the accident, but really I do think we would've. We all look back in awe that we only lived there for 3 years. We did everything with them - holidays, day trips, play time, all of it. Our folks got along really well. When Joe died, I think I struggled so much because it felt like I'd lost a big part of my history. I'm not as close with the other brothers. One brother is in California and I hadn't seen him since Joe's wedding in '85. I enjoyed catching up with him at Joe's funeral, so maybe we will stay in touch.

The brother that moved to Colorado from Tampa is going to take care of Johnny when needed. JB will be able to continue to attend his day program. That brother has a 21 year old son with spina bifida. He's in a wheelchair. So, he and his wife are in the know about handicapped needs. I think Mrs. worries that they'll remove Johnny from her home before she passes away. That would be really hard on Johnny. She is so spry for her age. I don't think that'll happen. They hired someone to come in and shower JB every other day after the dad passed away. I met her, and she was delightful. An angel and a true blessing.

Airlines need to go back to Geometry - what is the shortest distance between two points? A LINE. Dang it.

Beth Cotell said...

I am so glad you had such a much visit. I think Mrs. B is a saint in the making.

Beth Cotell said...


Excuse my typo.:)

Ernie said...

BEth - Typos are excused here on the regular. Thanks, I'm glad I was able to carve out the time to be there.

Martha said...

What a touching post and a very nice tribute to a wonderful family! I hope you find a way to visit more often, sounds totally worth it!

Ernie said...

Martha - Thanks, I've always been a big fan. Ever since I attended movie night at their house and each kid (they had 5 like us) was given their OWN bowl for popcorn. At my house, we had to dig into one giant bowl. Every man for himself. I'm in the process of bidding on a game from 1980 that I think Johnny will like. I might just have to get out there again so I can play it with them.

Bijoux said...

What an introductory post I’ve had, to your blog. It makes me happy to hear that you visited, along with your delightful childhood memories of where you used to live. But a sad story of your friend. It’s hard to imagine an injury like that from biking, but I guess that’s why helmets became a necessity. I hope you are able to visit them again in the near future.

Ernie said...

Bijoux - Welcome - yes, this is not the lightest post to stumble upon. I tend to write more humorous tales. I'm glad to have been able to make the trip.

He was earing a helmet, but he was a competitive biker and the street was supposed to have been cleared of cars for this race. A work truck was parked around a bend and a two by four hanging off of it hit Johnny in the face/forehead. Nothing a helmet could protect him from. He looked behind him to see how much of a lead he had and then turned around and hit the truck. Tragic.

I hope to get back there again later this year. Life gets busy, but my kids are old enough that they can often managed for a few days without me. Thanks for visiting.