Gardner, the author of Dirty Feet and Hungry Hearts, begins by sharing details of the day she left Greybull, Montana, for Billings, met the love of her life, married him after a five-week courtship, and began what she calls "the great adventure into marriage and motherhood." As she relays her poignant and humorous experiences, Gardner divulges the entertaining antics of her five children as they grew from toddlers to teens. From eating Drano, to starting fires in the chimney, to falling from trees, and swallowing pins, Gardner's anecdotes highlight one mother's sometimes hilarious-sometimes tearful-struggle to survive the challenges of raising a large family where the daily goal was often to just keep everyone alive.
Gardner's look back at the craziness of motherhood filled with gray hair, laughter, tears, heart-stopping emergencies, and a heart overflowing with love prove that the absolute best job in the world is to be a mother.
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"Angels" and PawprintsA Lifetime of Love, Laughter, and Tears
By Jeanette Mercer Gardner
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Jeanette Mercer Gardner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGood-by Greybull
Fifty-three years have passed since I watched Uncle Lyle drive off, throwing snow and gravel behind his tires, furious at me for interfering in his plans. My mother, my sister Virginia, and I didn't have a clue as to what our future held.
My Daddy died in November, 1954, when I was in my freshman year of college. His old age pension was our family's only income. With his death the pension stopped. I came home from college to take care of my mother and sister. College had been my only dream from childhood on, and of course I knew I would go back someday.
I was certain we would survive, but at the age of twenty, I didn't have much of a plan. I was determined that Virginia would stay in school and graduate, but she was just as determined that she wouldn't. And as often happens the future takes many turns, not all according to our plans. By the end of January, two and a half months after Daddy died, my temporary job at the county court house was finished and I was handed my last check, along with a thank you and good luck. Nina, my former classmate, co-worker and ride to work, was also told good-by and good luck. I guess we typed ourselves out of a job. I had no idea what I would do next.
Greybull is a very small town in Wyoming, with few opportunities for a young girl to earn a living wage. Nina was chomping at the bit to get out of Greybull. She saw this as the perfect time to escape.
"I'm goin' to Billings to get a job. How about you goin' with me? We can get an apartment together and share the rent."
It took about two minutes for me to make up my mind. I was ready to fly away anywhere, as long as it was bigger than Greybull where I grew up. Billings had always held a fascination for me, with its tall buildings and big stores. Wealthy people in our town went there to shop. Billings was the 'big city'.
"I'll have to tell Mother, make sure she and Virginia will be ok, but count me in, I'd love to move there. It shouldn't be too hard to find a job in a big city like that."
The day I left Greybull with my few possessions packed in Nina's green car, Mother stood at the door of our old log house wringing her hands, tears flowing, filled with fear that I would never return. Virginia had already decided she was going to quit school and become the breadwinner for Mother and herself. She didn't exactly accuse me of abandoning them, but she held no hope that I would return with big pay checks to help.
I was just happy to be out of there and on the road to a new experience. Returning to college was still my ultimate plan, but the reality seemed more distant each day.
Nina and I were as different as night and day, in every respect. She was drop dead gorgeous, tall and slim. I was short and slightly chubby, nothing to write home about. We looked like Mutt and Jeff as we walked down the street together.
Her family was financially comfortable. She was used to buying whatever struck her fancy. She was familiar with a life I knew nothing about. Night clubbing, drinking, and all the things I wouldn't dream of doing, were part of her life.
When we arrived in Billings, we spent our first hours sitting in a café, with the Billings paper spread out on the table, searching the want ads for apartments. In those days many people rented out their basements as a small apartment. If there wasn't a separate entrance, the back door of the house was used as the entrance. You traipsed down the stairs past the open kitchen or dining room of your landlord.
We probably should have been searching for a job first, but we really didn't have a clue. We thought we needed a place to sleep before we started our job search.
I had selfishly kept most of the money from my final paycheck from the court house. It was a mere pittance, not enough to cover rent and food, but I had to make it stretch as best I could. Nina seemed to have unlimited funds, thank goodness. We settled on an ad that sounded good and headed to that address. It was a small basement apartment with one bedroom and twin beds, which we snapped up immediately. The rent was twenty-five dollars a month. I had just twenty-five dollars and Nina had a check book.
Our first trip to the grocery store was a real eye opener for me. As I pushed our basket up and down the aisles of the super market, Nina grabbed and tossed in everything she thought we needed to exist. I wondered why we needed a cupboard stocked with spices, staples of every kind, and enough food to open a gourmet restaurant, but I just trailed along beside her, growing more apprehensive as the basket filled. Upon reaching the check-out stand, I nearly fainted when the total bill rang up to nearly one hundred dollars. That would cover enough food for three months or more for my family. As I stood there red faced, trying to figure out how I would pay my share, Nina nonchalantly took out her check book and started writing.
"You can pay me later for your share, I'll just write a check for it now."
This would be the first of many times I had no money to pay for the things she took for granted.
We both found work within the first couple of days. Otherwise I would have been scooting home with my head down. My goal had always been to attend nursing school and become an RN, so I decided to look for work at Deaconess Hospital first. I thought I could perhaps get a job as a nurse's aid and then work into nursing school later.
The stern looking woman sitting behind the desk frowned as she looked over my application. I felt small and insignificant as she grilled me about my work experience and why I wanted this job. By the time she was finished I was ready to creep out the door in defeat. Her words came as a total surprise.
"Well, I'll try you out for a month and see how you work out. But I'm going to have you work in the x-ray department as an aid. We need someone in there. We'll see how you do anyway. Come in tomorrow at eight and check in with the guys down there."
I wanted to skip and shout, but I controlled my elation, and instead walked demurely down the hall with my heart pounding.
My salary was one hundred and thirty eight dollars a month. Pay day was once a month. Rent, food, telephone, clothes, and money for Mother had to come out of that, along with taxes. Oh how naïve I was!
But I loved working in x-ray. The three people I worked with were fun and became my good friends. My goal changed from being a nurse to becoming an x-ray tech. I went from floor to floor with a gurney or a wheel chair to pick up patients who were scheduled for x-ray procedures. When all the patients were taken care of for the day, I worked in the supply room prepping trays for sterilization, rolling bandages, doing whatever was needed. I was even put to work from time to time in the emergency room when they needed an extra hand for something. I was told there would be an opening in about a year for training as an x-ray tech and I set my eyes on that. No bedpans or sponge baths for me.
Nina headed to an employment agency, her looks and typing skills in hand. With a few flips of her hair and a sly smile for the guy interviewing her and she was hired immediately as a receptionist for a lawyer. Her salary was double the pittance I worked so hard for.
My first three months in Billings living with a free spirited, beautiful girl was an education in itself. We cruised around the city in her car as we did in tiny Greybull, but this wasn't small town Greybull. We knew everyone there, with only one main street and it was safe. Nina had no fear of strangers in cars. If there was a good looking guy behind the wheel or in the passenger seat, he was fair game. I sat beside her both appalled and amazed at her attempts to meet someone. She (make that we) dragged strangers back to our apartment without as much as a blink of the eye. We stayed up late listening to her radio, laughing, talking loud, everyone but me drinking beer. I still cringe to think about what could have happened to us, but luckily it didn't. Anyone who came around was only interested in her, so I didn't have to fight off anyone.
She went on occasional dates with old family married 'friends' who were in town for the weekend or a business thing. One time the guy she was with woke me with a phone call about midnight.
"I lost Nina, did she come back there?"
"No, how did you lose her?"
"We're at the Northern Hotel bar; she went upstairs to the restroom. I can't find her anywhere."
Of course panic set in, but I didn't know what to do. He continued. "I'll keep lookin' and when I find her, I'll call you. Don't worry, she'll turn up."
He did call about a half hour later after finding her dancing on a table among a room full of convention goers. I think her friend bought her more than a few drinks. She stumbled through the doorway about three in the morning leaving a trail of discarded clothes as she made her way to the bedroom. Her coat lay just inside the door, next was her skirt looking as though she just stepped out and let it fall to the floor. Her blouse, undies and nylons lay in a heap beside her bed. It was my first introduction to a 'hangover' as I watched her the next morning, unable to get out of bed, puking into one of our pans. I would be sure to avoid using that pan!
My 'education' along this line continued until she left three months later to marry her high school sweetheart back in Greybull.
By then we had moved to a different apartment after having been asked by the elderly landlady of our basement apartment to do so.
"Please find somewhere else to live. There is too much coming and going and commotion with your company all hours of the night. I just can't have that."
Living with Nina I learned one thing very soon; any guy who came around was bedazzled by her. I know she didn't intend to steal every guy who walked in the door. It's just the way it was. I'm glad she was gone before Richard came into my life. I wasn't ready to get serious or even think about marriage when I met him. I was still focused on a career, hopefully as an x-ray technician.
But while I waited for my training to start, working as an aide was fun most of the time. My trips to and fro fetching patients were interesting most of the time. People liked to banter when I pushed them down the hall, asking if I had a driver's license, giving me a bad time about one thing or another.
One of my regulars was a handsome truck driver who lost his foot, had it re-attached and needed close follow-up x-rays to see if it was healing properly. He would be in the hospital for several weeks as it healed. He refused to wear the standard hospital gown, opting instead for snazzy leopard print shorts. He had the nurses eating out of his hands of course. His comments to all of us ladies brought color to our cheeks, giving him great satisfaction. He loved telling the story about his accident, watching the reaction on people's faces. His truck went off a bridge into an ice covered creek. When he was rescued his boot was sitting across the ice several feet from where he lay. The medics decided to pick it up and take it with them. To their horror they saw his severed foot inside the boot. They must not have noticed he didn't have a foot when they first started working on him. They brought the boot and foot along to the hospital where the doctors were able to re-attach it because it was still frozen due to the below zero temperatures.
Not all of my experiences were good, however. One heartbreaking delivery to x-ray made me want to quit. A tiny girl, about two, had run into the path of a car. She died in my arms as I carried her to x-ray. The lady who hit her sat in the hallway sobbing while the little girl's parents tried to comfort her. After that, many nights I found myself crying uncontrollably. It made such an imprint on my heart, I think it changed forever the way I looked at young children.
Although it was only five months from the time I moved to Billings, met Richard and got married, I went through three roommates, two apartments, and made lasting friends.
By the time Nina decided to move back to Greybull, Sandy, a gal who worked at the hospital with me in the supply room was my good friend. She was divorced and the mother of a two year old boy. She was rough around the edges, used language I was not used to hearing, but she had a good heart. Her life up to then was hard, having to live in terrible places with her little boy. She needed to find a new, safe place to live and I needed a new roommate. So she moved into the second bedroom of my apartment. Her little boy, Robbie, was fun to be around. I had never been around babies or toddlers so this was a new experience for me.
That spring Elton, an old boyfriend, popped back into my life. When I was a senior in high school in Glendo, I dated him for a few months, most of it long distance by letters. College was the only thing in my future, no engagement, no marriage, no long distance boyfriend. He thought he could change my mind. When he realized I really meant it he went back to Alaska where he had been working. Now he was home from Alaska, living with his family in Wordon, and determined to try again. He called and asked me to have dinner with him. I hesitated about doing even that. I didn't want to give him any encouragement. Maybe if I did have dinner, I could make it clear my feelings hadn't changed.
When he picked me up, I introduced him to my roommate Sandy. And I told him my feelings hadn't changed. But he kept coming around after that to see Sandy. She was very obviously attracted to him. They went to a few movies and started dating, making her very happy. One night when they returned from a movie, he came into my bedroom and sat down on the edge of my bed.
"I'm gonna ask you one more time if there's a chance for me. If there ain't I'm gonna ask Sandy to marry me."
I was shocked that he would even think to ask me such a question if he loved her enough to marry her.
"It won't change, I don't love you. You're a good friend. I think you should give her a chance if that's what both of you want. She's a good person and Robbie needs a dad."
I knew him well enough that I was certain he would take good care of Sandy and Robbie if they got married. I doubted whether there was real love on his part, but she was certainly in love with him.
I was her maid of honor at their wedding later that summer. They were married for many years before she became ill with cancer. Over the years I lost touch with them, but I never regretted my decision.
I met Rich, my future hubby, at the Nazarene church right after I moved to Billings. His family was always in church every Sunday with their seven children. I started going there right after I got settled. Their daughter Roberta was a senior, ready to graduate in May. Richard, the oldest, was already out of school and working in Billings, but still lived at home on their farm. They were both in my Sunday school class. I thought he really didn't know what he was talking about when he interspersed his ideas into the classroom bible discussions.
But he was very good looking. Not interested in me though. He had a girl friend already, Elton's cousin as it turned out. And the whispered word around church about him was,
They lived a few miles from Billings in the tiny community of Shepherd. Roberta was anxious to move into the city as soon as she graduated. She hated living on the farm and couldn't wait to escape. When she asked about moving in with me, it was easy to say yes. She was a good friend and lots of fun. She and I would share my room until Sandy moved. We all got along pretty well, shared the cooking and friends. She set me up with a few dates, but most of them were creepy or not my cup of tea.
Richard stopped by one afternoon after work to give Roberta some money soon after she moved in. He had a date with a girl from Shepherd for an Eddie Arnold concert, and found out just before he got to our place she was going with a friend of his instead. He and this other guy were always in competition for girls, according to Roberta. So not to be outdone or dateless; I was there and he needed a date. And he could parade his date (me) in front of this guy and say
Of course I had noticed him at the youth group parties, even got a ride home a couple of times with him and his girl friend.
That night when I got back from my date, Roberta was waiting to find out all about it.
Excerpted from "Angels" and Pawprints by Jeanette Mercer Gardner Copyright © 2010 by Jeanette Mercer Gardner. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Good-by Greybull....................1
Chapter 2 Baby Makes Three....................16
Chapter 3 Our Second Angel Arrives....................23
Chapter 4 A Dresser Drawer Makes A Fine Bed....................30
Chapter 5 Rescued Again!....................39
Chapter 6 A New Beginning....................48
Chapter 7 Settled in Pocatello Idaho....................58
Chapter 8 Good-by Pocatello....................138
Chapter 9 Never A Dull Moment....................144
Chapter 10 Lessons Learned....................164
Chapter 11 Mother's Day 1969....................181
Chapter 12 Bunnies, Dogs, Cars and Stuff....................185
Chapter 13 Where Do We Go From Here?....................213
Chapter 14 Growing Older And Maybe Wiser....................231
Chapter 15 Oh No! Please Not Again!....................241
Chapter 16 Life On The Run....................247