Into the Batter's Box...Again

MD Anderson Cancer Center, October, 2008
     In the summer of 2008, I was on the road to recovery from my heart surgery.  Though the spectre of further medical tests due to my blood problems while undergoing heart surgery (Read "The Heart of the Matter: A Chronicle of Heart Bypass Surgery," May, 2014) still hung over my head, I had been able to ignore the problem by avoiding my primary physician and his oncologist wife.  Shirley was still working at San Jacinto Methodist and ran into my two good doctors on a somewhat regular basis, and who, in their concern, were constantly asking Shirley when her husband was going to come in for the tests.  I was not anxious to start the tests.  Beyond the regular blood tests, Doctor Medellin (the oncologist) was also wanting to do a bone marrow aspiration to get an indication of the condition of my bones.  I had been the recipient of one of these tests about five years earlier, and I could say without qualification it was the most painful procedure I had ever experienced…and I was not anxious to repeat the torture.  So I avoided Doctor Medellin.

    But sure enough, the day came.  I went to the hospital to visit Shirley and while speaking to her, up walked my favorite oncologist.  By this time it was late August, and she would not take “no” for an answer.  Realizing it was something I really needed to do, anyway, I agreed to a date for the tests.  When the day came, the blood tests were a snap, as usual, but then came the bone marrow aspiration.  Doctor Medellin did the procedure herself, and I was very tense, to put it mildly.  However, in a matter of minutes, she put me at ease, and the aspiration went by without a hitch…and even very little pain.  As I write this, I have had several of these BMAs, and each has been very ordinary.  I have decided that I must have been the first BMA patient for my first doctor of several years ago, and he apparently had been still a little unsure of the process.

    It was not a good sign when a few days later, the doctor’s office called and requested I undergo further tests, including a CATscan, a PETscan and various other x-rays.  With a certain amount of resistance and anxiety, I agreed to the tests and all were completed.  It didn’t help my anxiety that when I had the PETscan done, they used a radioactive dye that was sealed in a large lead container.  When it was administered to me via IV, the technician said, “Now when you go to the bathroom tonight your toilet water may glow, but that’s normal!”  I don’t know if he was serious or not.

    Eventually, all the test data and pathology reports arrived on Doctor Medellin’s desk, and Shirley and I were called in for consultation.  What she told us put us into a stunned silence and not a small bit of disbelief.  The words “cancer,” “lymphoma”, “M D Anderson Cancer Clinic,” and “chemotherapy” were thrown out with my name right in the middle of them all.  She suggested an appointment with M D Anderson to register and begin the process of further testing to determine the exact extent of the “suspected” disease.  She spoke professionally and detachedly as doctors do when delivering bad news and did not offer any encouraging prognosis at all.  I needed, she said, to get to M D Anderson Cancer Clinic.

    Shirley and I left the office and had little to say as we headed home.  We were still in a state of shock over this sudden development.  At that time, I had no symptoms and felt pretty well, but my strength had not returned as it should have from my heart surgery, and now, looking back, it was probably because my white cell count had dramatically dropped.

    In early September, I registered with MDA (M D Anderson) and they immediately repeated all the tests that San Jacinto Methodist had done, much to my despair.  Within three weeks, I had been rediagnosed with hairy cell leukemia instead of lymphoma, which the doctor said was actually better because lymphoma is rarely cured, but only put into remission, whereas hairy cell leukemia can be completely cured.  Neither disease particularly appealed to me.  On October 6, I visited Doctor Ravandi-Kashani, the resident leukemia expert, who told me, “I have treated thirty hairy cell patients in the last two years and cured every one….and I’m not going to let you ruin my record!”  Already I liked him.  Doctor Ravandi prescribed a chemotherapy which included three powerful drugs.  He also made sure I understood that the coming days would get worse before they got better, and that chemotherapy can have many side effects.  But in the end, he promised, we could lick this problem.

    On October 20, 2008, I began my chemotherapy treatments.  Shirley and I left home early and were at MDA by 8:00 a.m.  I was placed in a hospital bed behind curtains as is normal in hospital treatment rooms, and for four hours through an IV I received the powerful liquid Cladrabine.  It is probably just as well that at that particular moment I did not know that each little one liter plastic bag of the stuff cost $12,000.  Thank the Lord for good insurance. This first session of chemo was a bit of a shock to my body, and during the process, I experienced alternating severe chills and heat waves.  They were either throwing blankets on me or pulling them off.  Eventually I settled down, and after the IV was depleted, I was required to just sit still for an hour to make sure there were no late effects.  There were none, and we headed home.  This process was repeated every day for the first week, and by the third day, I was having no heat/cold reactions, but I was losing my strength and had very little energy.  On Sunday of the first week’s end, I was given a Neulasta injection…some kind of a booster shot to increase the effectiveness of the Cladrabine.

   By the next day, Monday, I was running a high fever, and when we got to MDA, the doctor took my temperature and admitted me to the hospital section of MDA.  For the next five days, they worked to get my fever down without much success, but it finally dissipated on the sixth day, and we were able to go home on Sunday…only to have to come back the next day for my treatment.  At least by then I was scheduled to have only one treatment per week in order to give the Cladrabine time to do its magic. By the end of the treatment on Monday, I was dragging a bit and on Tuesday and Wednesday I was barely active.  Thursday morning I awoke with a splitting headache, and as the day wore on it turned into a migraine, and by Sunday I could not stand to hear a car drive by our house.  On Monday, when we went to MDA, I described my problem to my doctor, and he sent me to the Emergency Room, where I was admitted.

    It was here that MDA let me down a bit.  When I described my migraine to them, I was put through a battery of cranial tests, and when it was determined I had no brain tumors or obvious head problems, they told me, “Well, it will go away,” and I was released…still with the migraine.  The migraine continued into the next week, and I could not move or open my eyes.  On Wednesday, Shirley went to her work at the hospital and was describing my problem to one of the nurses.  The nurse had a history of migraines and told Shirley, “I’ll tell you, when I get a bad migraine I usually take six or seven (somethings)….I can’t remember what the pain medication was, but usually a person took no more than a couple of tablets at a time.  When Shirley told me, and I realized we had some of the pain pills at home, I decided I had nothing to lose….and took six of the tablets.  In two hours my migraine was gone and never came back.

    My migraine was gone, but so was my strength.  My weekly blood tests showed that my white cell count had dropped to 0.2 K/uL with the normal range being 5.0 – 11.0.  As a result of my weakness, after my treatments on Mondays I was given two units of whole blood.  It was an amazing experience; as I received the blood I could feel strength coming back.  More often than not, when we left the hospital, I would be starving and feeling well enough to stop and eat on the way home.  But the strength lasted only a few days, and the process would repeat itself the next week.

    In mid-November I took my last Cladrabine treatment with the Neulasta booster and started a new chemotherapy called Retuximab.  There was a dramatic change in the way I felt.  My white cell count began to creep up, and I began to feel a hint of returning strength.  From that time until mid-January, 2009, it was a slow process of weekly treatments and returning strength.  Each week, the latest blood test would be scrutinized with the intensity of a report card as we measured the white cell and red cell counts, platelets, and other vital statistics.  Each week showed improvement.

On January 30, 2009, we received the report we had been waiting for: “No overt morphologic evidence of residual leukemia.”

    Having survived heart surgery and leukemia, I have found it is easier to think that one can face any obstacle…and there have been more challenges in these later years.  In April, 2009, I underwent surgery on my right arm for removal of a cancerous melanoma.  At the time, however, it seemed just a minor bump in the road compared to the earlier major ordeals.  More recently, in April of 2014, I received a new left hip which has improved my mobility and quality of life dramatically.  Finally, in October of 2014, I underwent a left carotid endarterectomy…basically a clearing of a blockage in the left carotid artery in my neck.  Again, compared to 2008-2009…just a minor bump in the road.

    To those people who love baseball, I have heard the analogy that stepping into the batter’s box to face a pitcher is a microcosm of life.  The pitcher, like life itself, is determined to throw you a pitch that you cannot hit and thus force you to defeat by striking out.  The batter is determined, at the same time, to take the challenge thrown to him and hit a homerun and to enjoy the fruits of victory and the accolades of the crowd.  In other words, to be successful against life’s challenges. One thing we can be certain of, Life (the opposing pitcher) will be throwing us curveballs and unexpected pitches as long as we live.  How we face Life’s adversities will determine the level of success we enjoy.  I have stepped into the batter’s box on numerous occasions and have had a measure of success.  I am about to enter the batter’s box again having been recently diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL, a different strain of leukemia unlike hairy cell.)  Fortunately, it is in the embryonic stage and is a very slow progressing disease.  No treatment is planned for the near future, just monitoring.  With support and prayers of family, friends, and church I hope once again to hit the ball out of the park.

   

Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man, and ...the Church???


 

     In 2012 “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a relaunch of the original “Spider-Man” of 2002, was presented to the moviegoing public.   At the time, there was much question about the brevity of only ten years between the original and the new version, even more so since it had been only five years since the second remake of the original “Spider-Man,” namely “Spider-Man 3,” in 2007.  However the quote, “Five years is a lifetime in the movie business,” proved to be accurate as “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a smash hit, and, you guessed it, in 2014 we have been blessed with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” The saga no doubt will continue.  After all, James Bond as Agent 007 has been around now for fifty years.

     Before you get the idea that I am a habitual moviegoer, let me say that the opposite is truly the case.  Blame it on religious dogma from my youth or disgust with the quality of present movies, I have no interest in sitting in a noisy theater with kids, adults, and cellphones blaring around me while I’m trying to watch a movie.  It’s a recipe for a confrontation, and I’m an intrinsically nonviolent person.  Not to mention the fact that I grew up in an era when churches (not just Pentecostal) had standards of behavior, dress, and decorum, and preachers actually told you how to live, and the members followed those instructions.  Were church members persecuted?  No, they were happy and enjoyed the fruits of their faithfulness.  It’s hard to break the mold after the clay is set…so movies are not my thing.

    I read an article recently that struck me as more telling about our world than even the article gave itself credit for.  In the “Los Angeles Times” recently, Neal Gabler wrote an article entitled “Perspective: Millennials Seem to Have Little Use for Old Movies.”  In his article he wrote the following:

     “The new “Spider-Man” betrays something important about young people’s relationship to films.  Young people…so-called millennials…don’t seem to think of movies as art the way so many boomers…30-50 year old adults…do.  Millennials think of movies as fashion, and, like fashion, movies have to be new and cool to warrant attention.  Living in a world of here and now, with whatever is current, kids seem no more interested in seeing their parents’ movies than they are in wearing their parents’ clothing.  Indeed, novelty may be the new narcissism.  It obliterates the past in the fascination with the present.  One has to acknowledge that part of this cinematic ageism is the natural cycle of culture.  Every generation not only has its own movies, it has its own aesthetics, and the contemporary aesthetics might be labeled “bigger, faster, louder,” because our blockbuster movies are all about sensory overload…quickening the audience’s pulse.  Millennials find old movies hopelessly passé---technically primitive, politically incorrect, narratively dull, and slowly paced.  In short, old fashioned.  Even Tobey Maquire’s Spider-Man is a Model T (for you millennials, that's a nearly 100 year old Ford car) next to Andrew Garfield’s rocket ship of a movie.”

    The observations presented by Gabler go far beyond just moviegoing and offer a viable explanation for much of what we are experiencing in our world today.  Nowhere is the generation gap more evident than in music.  Every age bracket above the millennial stage reveres and clings desperately to its genre of music and will defend to death its superiority to every other style.  But, like movies, the newest popular music has become a fickle fashion statement instead of a reflection of art…what is important is pounding the listener/audience with a sensory overload of strobe lights, fireworks, graphics, and deafening sound…all with the intent of quickening the listener’s pulse with a temporary auditory high.  Actual musical skill on the part of the performer is somewhat optional depending on the backup theatrics.  Flipping through the channels a few days ago, I happened upon a presentation of a live concert by one of the most dynamic and famous “divas” on the musical stage today.  As the fireworks were exploding, the lasers were strobing, and the crowd was screaming, I listened and watched as this young lady strutted and writhed seductively and sang with a high pitched, squeaky voice.  I decided that if she had been a high school student trying out for the school choir, she wouldn’t have made the cut.  But she wasn’t selling her voice; she was selling an image.  And the millennials were buying the whole package.

     Which brings me to the point of this little essay.  I mentioned in one of my earlier articles (“The Concert”) about overhearing a pastor describing the outreach of his church by declaring, “Every outreach activity we do is geared to the 17-25 age bracket.”  When I read Gabler’s article, I immediately thought of this pastor’s comment.  Then the full realization dawned on me:  just as movies, music, and even video games (which I didn’t discuss, but are comparable to movies and music) have traded substance for style in order to attract the age group (millennials) which spends by far the most for entertainment, churches have responded in kind and are abandoning a tried and true modus operandi in order to attract a larger audience.  In short, just as in the movies, the old style church service and the Christian lifestyle with its standards of behavior, dress, and decorum have been deemed hopelessly passé---technically primitive, politically incorrect, narratively dull, and slow paced.  In other words, old-fashioned.

     The upshot of this change in strategy on the part of many churches has been exactly what the new wave pastor desires…an increase in attendance.  Services are fast-paced and the music is loud and visceral with video screens to complement the audio onslaught…all with the same objective as the blockbuster movies…to get the consumers’ heartbeat racing.  Just as in the movies, not much concentration on the subject is required, primarily because the senses are already being assaulted from every angle.

    But a heavy price is being paid by these "progressive" churches.  The downside of this “sizzle instead of steak” approach is each event or service must be bigger, better, and brasher than the one before it, and, just as moviegoers demand a bigger, better “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” churches feel pressure to offer more theatrics, more volume, and more excitement to keep their constituents entertained…and it IS simply entertainment.  At the same time, however, the churchgoer, with the desire for a higher heartbeat and the latest spiritual fashion, will drift to “where the action is,” and any loyalty or allegiance to a single church will vanish…which in turn forces the church leaders to come up with a new pitch to entice the members back to the fold.  It is a vicious circle of competitiveness.

    Even amongst moviegoers, however, there is a cadre of movie enthusiasts which still has a reverential attachment to the works of Hawks, Hitchcock, Ford, Capra, and others.  Film courses have blossomed in colleges, and, the message of movie quality over movie bombast is still being broadcast albeit from an ever-shrinking number of boomers and post-boomers.  The same applies to church goers; against the tide of a new church generation which equates the presence of God to auditory and visual stimulation, there are those who still revere and cling to the spirit of the past and remember when God’s spirit could be felt in a church service with only an organ’s melodious notes as a background and the sound of quiet, effective prayer…when church members came to service to be encouraged, taught the Word of God, and feel His quiet, comforting spirit…and not be bludgeoned with spiritual fireworks, laser beams, and earth-shaking acoustics.

    Perhaps this progression (digression?) within the church is inevitable, and it is simply evidence of the cycle of culture.  Within churches, just as in movies, music, and video games, the millennial attendees follow the prevalent style of the day, and those who market the movies, music, video games, and, yes, even churches, are constantly striving to catch the next new wave of fashion.  But compared to the madness of the media, could it be possible that, being led by a higher power and with a much more noble purpose than simply entertainment, the church ought to be more of a beacon of hope, a haven of sanity in an insane world, and an unshakable rock in a tumultuous sea of worldly chaos?

    

The Heart of the Matter: A Chronicle of Heart Bypass Surgery


     In February 2008, I was, as most teachers were at the time, getting geared up for the final push toward student state evaluations in April.  Christmas vacation was a distant memory and the routine of school has already been reestablished.  I had noticed a slight change in my normal morning preparation for the school day.  From where I parked my car at Williams Elementary, it was a fairly distant walk to my class, but having completed the daily trek for over ten years, it was a routine I scarcely thought about as I made my walk.  The difference was, however, I found I was becoming quite winded in my walking journey and was being forced to catch my breath as I walked through our cafeteria.  After sitting for a couple of minutes, I was able to finish my trip to class and get the day started.
    On this particular Thursday, I made my walk to my classroom, but just as I reached for my door handle, I experienced a severe chest pain which startled me.  I made it inside to my desk and sat down, and in a few minutes the pain subsided.   With the logic that only a person in denial can conjure up, I concluded it must have been indigestion.  I made it through the day with no further flare-ups, but the next morning, the same event occurred at practically the same instant as I reached for my door handle.  That gave me cause for alarm, but I kept my concerns to myself.  The next day, Saturday, I decided to wash my two cars in our driveway at home.  I did not make it through the first car ordeal before I had to stop because of the chest discomfort.  I walked inside our home and told Shirley of the events of the last three days, and she immediately demanded I see my doctor.
    I made the appointment for the following Tuesday, and the first thing Doctor Bernick proposed after hearing my experiences was an EKG.  I don’t think I did very well, as he immediately took me into another room for a stress test.  I did not last four minutes before I nearly collapsed with exhaustion.  Needless to say, he immediately scheduled me to see Doctor Salma Challa, a cardiologist who happened to be my mom’s cardiologist years earlier.  A couple of days later he performed a heart catharization, at which time it was determined that I had severe blockage in five places in my coronary arteries.  I was referred to The Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center to  Doctor Mahesh Ramchandani who would perform the surgery.
    All of these preliminaries to surgery occurred in a brief flurry of days, during which I also notified Mel Capelo, my principal at Williams, that I would be out of service for several weeks and there was a need to arrange for a substitute and coordinated lessons plans.  This all occurred in an almost surreal atmosphere;  I was 64 years old and had never had a serious health issue, and I went through the motions of gearing up for a long hospital stint as if I were preparing for someone else.  Our church had prayer for me, but I was so numb with disbelief that I felt like they were praying for another person.
     March 3, 2008, I entered the office of Surgeon Mahesh Ramchandani, whom I soon learned was an Indian, educated in England, and who quickly set our minds at ease with his easy demeanor.  Well, relatively at ease anyway…it’s not every day you visit a heart surgeon whom you know will in a few days have your life in his hands.  He showed us a photo on his wall of his alma mater, Downing College, which apparently is a sub-college of Cambridge University in England.  He asked if our strain of Downings came from England, but I told him the Downing side of my family is Cherokee Indian.  Eventually we settled down to the issue at hand.  He told me that my upcoming surgery had all the inherent risks of heart surgery, but it was a procedure that had been proven effective over time.  He told me I would be having off-pump artery bypass grafting, which meant little to me, but I found out later was the very latest in heart surgery.  As we left his office, I was pleasantly surprised to see the latest issue of “Texas” magazine and note that Dr. Ramchandani had been selected the Surgeon of the Year for the past year.  At least I didn’t have an amateur.
    At 5:00 A.M., March 11, 2008, Shirley and I walked into The Methodist Hospital and proceeded to Pre-Op.   In a matter of minutes I was whisked into a private room where I was readied for surgery…i.e.…I was stripped.  I was covered with a sheet, then a nurse came in and proceeded to shave my legs, arms, and torso.  This was for the monitors, tubes, etc., he explained.  Anyway, it was an electric razor that sounded like a lawn mower as it chewed up my skin.  Immediately afterward, I was rolled into a pre-op room where I met my team of surgeons who would be assisting Dr. Ramchandani.  Each in a professional manner described their function in the operating room and made an attempt to comfort me in that I was in good hands.  By this time I had received an IV in preparation for sedatives, and upon completion of all the preliminaries, I was wheeled down the hall to greet my loved ones en route to the operating room.  It never occurred to me to think that I may never see them again if the surgery went wrong.  God either gave me a sense of peace or I was just too dazed to understand my situation, I don’t know.  I greeted my family and into the operating room I went.  The anesthesiologist told me he was going to give me something “to relax me”….and darkness fell.                                                                                                                                                        
    My next sensation was that I was choking…seriously choking, and someone was hollering, “Mr. Downing! Mr. Downing!  Try to relax! Try to relax!”  So I made a supreme effort to calm myself, and as I concentrated on being calm, I was able to control the choking.  But then as I relaxed, I would lose my concentration and start choking again.  The apparent problem was I still had the breathing device inserted down my throat, and it gave the same sensation as your sticking your finger down your throat; you have an involuntary reflex to reject it.  All this time someone was holding my hand, and in time said to me, “Mr. Downing, do you think you could breathe easier if we removed the breathing device?  Squeeze my hand if you think yes.”  I crushed his hand!  In a matter of seconds, the device came out of my throat, and I began to ease.  I still had a hyper-sore throat, but at least I wasn’t choking.  Still heavily sedated, I was wheeled into recovery.  I remember asking someone for a little water.  “Later,” she said.
     When I began to regain some semblance of consciousness, I first heard the sounds of nurses apparently talking to other patients and the shuffling and quiet clatter of moving carts and shifting trays.  A few minutes later, my guardian angel, apparently a nurse assigned to me, greeted me with a “Well, you’re finally awake!” and a smile.  She proceeded to check all the gadgets attached to me, and I began to realize that I had more wires and tubes running to me than your average small engine.  According to her, however, I was doing very well, but I was shocked when I asked her the time….it was after 8:00 P.M.  I had been in surgery over ten hours.  The anticipated surgery time had been three-four hours, but there had been a problem with my losing blood, and I had been kept in surgery until the blood loss could be halted.  By 8:00 P.M., however, I had stabilized and hence my location in the post-op intensive care unit.  By now I was becoming more aware of my surroundings and saw that Post-Op ICU held about ten patients with a corresponding number of nurses to monitor the situations.  The most notable event of Post-Op was when a bevy of doctors came in.  One was obviously the leader and the others, I would assume, interns.  They stopped at the bed next to me and the leader said, “This gentleman has had quintuple bypass procedures…that what forty years of smoking will do for you.”  I thought to myself: Now wait…I haven’t smoked a day in my life, and that patient and I have had the same procedures.  What gives?
    Anyway, sometime in the evening, my beloved family was allowed to come visit me, which lifted my spirits, and preparations began to be made to put me in a private room.  Once those arrangements were made, it was time to unplug me from some of the hardware I was hooked up to….plus two others I wasn’t even aware of.  Apparently I had a “port,” which is an intravenous device inserted in my jugular at my throat to allow for fast injections of medication.  My nurse said sometimes when that thing is removed there is a lot of blood due to one’s blood pressure.  She pulled that thing out and slapped her fingers around my throat to compress the incision, and I thought she was going to choke me to death.  She held her hand there for what seemed like an hour but was probably two or three minutes.  No blood though, and all was well.  Next, I found out I had a large tube inserted in my abdomen to allow for internal drainage which had to come out.  She said, “Take a deep breath,” and began to pull.  Weird sensation…like someone had attached a vacuum cleaner to your belly button, except it went inside.  Not painful…just….uncomfortable.   But in a few seconds, it was out, and we went through the hand compression routine again to alleviate any blood loss.  All went well again.  I was ready to roll out of there!
     Around the stroke of midnight I was wheeled into a private room to settle in for the night.  By this time Shirley had joined me for the duration and (I think) the kids and loved ones had gone home, probably exhausted.  Strangely enough, I was feeling pretty well and had yet to feel any pain or discomfort.  Within an hour or so, however, the labors of the day began to take hold, and after the nurses had busied themselves with all their detail, I drifted off to sleep…only to be seemingly instantly awakened at 4:00 A.M.  Apparently every day at that ridiculous hour, every patient in the Methodist system is awakened to have vital signs taken and weighed…which means being rousted out of a peaceful sleep and standing up at the edge of the bed on a scale to get your exact weight.  There’s logic there somewhere, I guess.  Anyway, I drifted back to sleep, and of course, in three more hours it was time for breakfast. 
     The first day post-op was a bit of a blur in the sense that I was sleeping a lot with brief but frequent interruptions by doctors, nurses, aides, custodians, visitors (welcomed), and family.  My one dependable constant, however, was I had only to say, “Honey?” and Shirley was at my bedside awaiting my need.  I quickly learned that even in a darkened room I could look over to the dim outline of a couch and see her curled up there, and it gave me great comfort.  The entire time I was in the hospital, she never left the room, and I am forever thankful.  I rested well, and looked forward to mealtimes.  The prognosis seemed good, and I still had not experiences any pain, for which I was thankful.  I learned the reason for the lack of pain was an epidural injection that was placed in my back.  It administered a low dosage of pain med on a somewhat regular basis, and I could even push a button and receive more if I became uncomfortable.  I never did have the need.
    By Friday, March 14, I was feeling well enough for a therapist to come by and walk me around the hallways for a little exercise, and I had been disconnected from some of all the tubes and wired to which I had been attached.  In fact, I was feeling well enough that I was think about home and a hospital discharge, but that afternoon, my happy bubble burst.  The doctors came by for a visit and expressed satisfaction with my progress, and then announced it was time to remove the epidural in my back and see what level of pain I may experience.  I wasn’t too concerned because I had felt so good up until that time, so out came the epidural and my umbilical cord to a pain-free life.  That evening, my comfort level began to drastically change.
    The first thing I noticed was when I lay quietly I could hear my heartbeat clearly.  You wouldn’t think that would be distracting, but I found myself listening to the rhythm, and it seemed to me that after about every ten beats, it would sort of skip or jump a beat.  I mentioned that ability to hear my heartbeat to a nurse, and she explained that due to the freer flowing of the blood through the heart after surgery, many patients experienced that phenomenon, but it would eventually dissipate.  At the same time I was beginning to feel a creeping sensation of pain in my chest that seemed to increase with each hour.  By the late evening I was most uncomfortable, and the nurse brought in a new pain medication to give me some respite.  I had a very restless night, as the medication didn’t seem to help very much.
    Since I was recovering from heart surgery, I had been attached to a heart monitor, the data from which was transmitted to the nurse’s station so they could constantly monitor my progress.  On Saturday morning the nurse announced that my heart had been acting erratically since around 4:00 A.M.   That was not news to me, since I had been lying there counting the beats and listening with a measure of alarm each time I didn’t hear a beat when there should have been one.  Anxiety breeds more anxiety which seemed to increase my chest pain.  It was decided that a different pain med would be administered since the first one was ineffective.  About the same time, another event took place that let me later realize just how poorly I was feeling.  A nurse came into my room and announced it was time for me to have a bath, and told me another nurse would come in and help me with my sponge bath in the bathroom.  She unhooked me from all my monitors, tubes, etc., and asked me to wait for the bath nurse.  A few minutes later in walked this young, very attractive nurse who announced she was there to give me a bath.  Like a docile lamb, I shuffled to the bathroom, took off my gown, and sat on the toilet, while she gave me an all-over sponge bath…and all the while, all I could think about was how good the warm soap and water felt.  She was most professional, and treated me like a mother bathing her child.  I felt no embarrassment or unease; I just enjoyed the cleansing water.  I must have been really sick.
    That Saturday was one of the more painful days of my life.  With the nurses seemingly unable to find the right combination of pain meds to alleviate my discomfort, I could only lie there and groan.  On top of this, the pain meds begin to affect me in other ways.  I began to hallucinate, although it seemed real at the time and funny now.  Here’s an example:  The nurses’ station was outside my door and to the right maybe 25 feet.  The station was not visible from my bed because of my closet, bathroom, TV, etc.  However (I’m not making this up), when I stared at the wall and squinted my eyes, a hole would appear in the wall, and I could see the nurses working at their station.  Looking back, this probably occurred the time the nurse brought in a container of pain med for my IV that was supposed to be dispensed over a period of hours, and somehow I received the whole bottle in a matter of minutes.  I began to have involuntary muscle contraction, tremors, and extreme shaking.  When the nurse realized what happened, she ran outside and there was a conference as to what to do, but the deed had been done.  They thought I was having hard chills and threw all sorts of blankets on me, but I wasn’t cold, I just couldn’t lie still. At the height of the problem, the event occurred which I described in my blog “Is Healing Overrated?”  Shirley called Kimberly over to the bed and said, “Let’s pray.”  They began to pray, and as they were praying I took a couple of deep breaths, quit shaking, and fell asleep.  I do believe in God’s touch.
    Early Sunday morning, I roused out of my sleep and took an inventory of my heartbeats.  The arrhythmic pattern was still there, and in the silence of the darkened room, my heart seemed to be pounding.  By now I had garnered a dread of the early morning, post-midnight hours.  In the quietness, listening to an erratic heartbeat, and wondering if I was ever going to get out of that room, I probably endured the lowest point in my recovery.  The pain in my chest had subsided a bit thanks to a better combination of pain meds, but the pain and the arrhythmia gave me little promise of a bright prognosis.  My only comfort during these early hours was that I could turn my head to the right and look at the dim shadow of my wife as she no doubt uncomfortably slept on that hospital sofa.  Just knowing she was there gave me a considerable amount of peace.
    By midday Sunday, my condition began to improve, as the right combination of pain meds had been discovered, and I was able to do my walks with the therapist and entertain a fair number of visitors.  My only problem was my 4:00 A.M. heart arrhythmia was persisting, and my doctors made it clear that I would have to have a full 24 hours of nice, smooth heartbeat before I would be released to go home.  Well, that increased the tension, because for the next few days, I invariably awoke at 4:00 A.M. and started listening to my heartbeat.  Sure enough, I would note a skip or feel a flutter in my chest and I knew I was condemned to another day in the hospital.  The early morning report on my nurses’ station heart monitor would confirm my suspicions.  That was enough to depress me for the day.  By Monday, my chest pain was pretty well under control, and I was feeling fairly strong.  I was doing physical therapy by walking around the hallways a couple of times per day, and I was getting increasingly anxious to go home.
    About this time, the nurse replaced my bandages on my chest, and I was amazed to see that I had no stitches or staples.  I can remember when Dad Creel had his heart surgery in 1975 he came home with staples in his chest the size of box staples, but I was astounded to learn that I had been glued together!  Underneath the skin, the breastbone was wired together, but the surface skin looked just like someone had laid down a bead of silicone glue and glued the two sides together.  The nurse said the glue would wash off in a few days and that would be it.  Thank God for modern medicine.
    Wednesday night I experiences my first arrhythmic-free night, and it was announced that if I made in through Thursday night, I could go home Friday.  I sent up a few fervent prayers, and avoided exerting myself in any way, and sailed through Thursday night without a hitch.  Friday morning, May 21, 2008, I was given my discharge and release papers, and packed up, ready for the checkout.  That’s when I found out no one was in a hurry for me to leave except my family, because I didn’t get wheeled down to patient pickup until after 6:00 P.M.  Didn’t matter, I was going home.  Bobby and Shanna were there to drive us, and when we rolled into 405 West Archer, the old home never looked more beautiful.  If I had been able to, I would have gotten out and kissed the ground.
    Saturday was spent just enjoying being home and making adjustments for my recovery.  I found that our regular bed was too flat for me to lay there for an extended time, and a “zero gravity” reclining lawn chair was placed in the bedroom for me to try.  I could adjust the angle of reclining and balance my position.  For the next few weeks, I alternated sleeping in my bed and then switching to the lawn chair every few hours during the night.  I’ve always been pretty restless at night anyway, and the different positions for sleeping helped a great deal.  I was able to re-appreciate sitting on our rear deck, feeling the fresh air and seeing something besides hospital walls…and just being home.  Sunday I still wasn’t strong enough to go to church, so it was a repeat of Saturday.  The kids visited, and things almost seemed back to normal…except I wasn’t very active.  At least I was home, and feeling pretty comfortable with minimal pain.  The only thing I noticed I seemed to be short of breath.  I did not have to take very many steps before I seemed to become very winded and had to sit down, but I attributed the problem to standard recovery from heart surgery.
    By Monday morning, however, my breathing problem was becoming more acute.  Since I had no other symptoms, I tried to ignore it, but as the day wore on, I reached the point that even standing for 15 seconds brought a struggle for breath.  Finally I asked Shirley to call Doctor Challa and describe the problem.  His nurse made an appointment for me for the next day, but by the early afternoon, I told Shirley I didn’t think I could make it till the next day.  She called Dr. Challa’s office, and we were told to come in immediately.  While Shirley changed clothes, I decided I needed to take a quick shower before we left, but I knew I would need to hurry because of my lack of breath.  I ran for the bathroom, dropped my clothes, jumped in the shower, grabbed a bar of soap, and……that’s all I remember.
    I was not aware of what happened in the next few minutes because I was unconscious.  Somehow Shirley pulled me out of the shower and determined I had gone into respiratory arrest.  She called 911 and began to administer CPR.  Apparently I had no heartbeat or pulse for several minutes.  The paramedics arrived and began to do their life saving work, and a pulse was reestablished.  How they got me on that gurney in that narrow hallway I’ll never know, but apparently I was rolled out our front door, down the side walk, and out our driveway to the ambulance.  Sometime on the way to the hospital, I regained consciousness and became aware of feeling sort of a cool breeze.  I learned paramedics do not take time to dress the patient in such emergencies. At the same time, I realized I knew one of the paramedics.  I guess he wanted to relax me for the trip because, in reference to my coming out of the shower, he told me, “Well, Brother Downing, at least you were dressed for the trip!”  They had easy access, anyway.
     I was rushed into San Jacinto Methodist Emergency and after a quick analysis and x-ray it was determined that a large amount of fluid had built up around my heart to the point that the fluid had compressed my lungs to a quarter of their normal size.  The fluid needed to be removed immediately, so I was sat up on the side of the gurney in preparation for a large needle to be inserted into the chest cavity from the back.  I still had no clothes, and although I was still groggy from the shock, I asked for a blanket or some kind of covering.  By then I had been given a sedative, and an area of my back was anesthetized in preparation for the needle.  The doctor said, “You may feel this,” which is never a good omen, but due to the sedatives or shock, I can’t remember any of it.  To make a long story short, 3.9 liters of fluid were removed from my chest….that's just a little over a gallon.  But I was able to breath.
    Once the immediate crisis was over, I was admitted to San Jacinto for observation to make sure the situation did not reoccur.  For the next couple of days there was a constant repeat of EKGs, x-rays, and blood tests.  I was having a little chest discomfort, so I was administered some kind of pain sedative that affected me like the pain sedative at Methodist Downtown.  This time I could not see through walls, but I could conjure up my lap top computer anytime I wanted by just staring straight at the ceiling.  My laptop would float by, and I found I could push the keys by just looking at each key.  I stared at the “r,” then “o,”, then “b,” then “e,” and all the other letters until I signed on and I could access the internet!  People kept coming in and stacking boxes in my hospital room, and I would ask Shirley about the boxes.  She would say that there weren’t any boxes, and I would get out of bed to show her, and as soon as my feet touched the floor, they would all disappear. I could fly, too, but I’m not sure where I was.  It wasn’t the hospital, but I could zip through a wall like it wasn’t there.  I wish they sold that stuff over the counter.
     By Thursday, March 27, my condition had stabilized and no more fluid seemed to be accumulating.  I spent a restful next two days, and on Saturday, March 29, I went home from a hospital for the second time.  Thankfully, from that day on I have had no more heart/chest problems.  The next three months were spent regaining my strength.  I was able, thankfully, in the latter part of May to go back to school and close out the school year.  I had only one challenge for the future: My doctor wanted to do a few more lab tests of my blood to try to determine why the surgeons had such a difficult time stopping my bleeding during my heart surgery.  I was scheduled to visit an oncologist in the latter part of July.   But that’s another story.

The Iron Lady


    I have written in essays past about my parents’ conversion to faithful churchgoers in the early 1950’s when I was just a child of seven.  At that time, through the eyes of a child, the only dramatics changes I noticed were the all-Downing all night domino/beer binges stopped and I seemed to gather a new bunch of friends at the church.  When you’re seven years old, you don’t notice the adults around you very much, choosing rather to size up the kids in your age bracket instead.  Such was the case as my family and I began attending Peace Tabernacle in Baytown, Texas, pastored by Rev. V. A. Guidroz.
    The first adult I remember noticing with any regularity was, naturally, my Sunday School teacher, Glory Guidroz.  Glory was one of the several adult Guidroz children who served their parents in some church capacity.  A friendly woman with a pleasant face, she made me feel welcome in this strange world of new kids.  On my first Sunday at church, she put my name on the attendance board on the wall and a gold star next to it and told me that when I had five stars on my attendance board I would be a genuine full-fledged member of the class.  Four weeks later I watched proudly as she affixed my fifth gold star, and I felt like I had arrived.
     As time advanced, I made many new friends and even learned to recognize some of the adults…mainly those who were parents of the kids I had become acquainted with.  There was one woman, though, who, though she had no dealings with the younger youth, still seemed to be somewhat visible to everyone, and even caught the attention of us younger kids…although (please forgive me) not in a respectful way.  She was known to us as “The Lady Who Sings Funny.”
     Miss Anniedeen Bateman was a school teacher, unmarried, who lived with her mother.  During the summer vacation, they would disappear to Alto, Texas, to a family farm, and then magically reappear about the time school was to start in the fall.  A watercolorist, pianist, and singer, very talented in any creative endeavor, she was deeply involved with the music of the church, directing Christmas choirs and whatever other special choirs the church deemed appropriate and singing special songs during services.  It was in this activity that she caught the attention of us kids.  You have to remember that in the era of the fifties in deepest, darkest Texas (especially in somewhat conservative Pentecostal churches,) practically everyone sung with sort of a down home country twang backed up with a piano and maybe an organ or guitar.   Sister Anniedeen Bateman, however, put her musical skills to the forefront and played every song exactly as it was written in the book and sang with an operatic gusto that was so far over the heads of us immature little rug runners that we would listen, giggle, and squirm until she finished her song. (Even as I write this, I am embarrassed.)  Occasionally, as we played after services, we would attempt to duplicate her operatic skills, but it was hopeless.
     I came in closer contact to Sister Anniedeen (as she was affectionately called by the church members) a few short years later when I reached my early teens.  She had begun giving piano lessons at her home, and my sister, Judy, had become a favored student, though she was five years younger than I.  After Judy had been at it for about a year, Mother decided that I needed some culture in my life and signed me up for lessons also.  Actually, I was a little excited about it, and got Judy’s early study books out and began to practice on our home piano.  I had about the first six songs perfectly nailed (I thought) and was ready to impress Sister Anniedeen when I finally sat down at her piano.  I took off on the first song at about sixty miles an hour with no concept of rhythm, and she yelled (quietly), “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!   Let’s follow the rhythm!  Now ready?   A-one, a-two, a-three…..”   I told myself silently that this was apparently not going to be as easy as I thought.  I lasted for about a year and a half, but, once I discovered girls, my piano career (truly regretfully) fizzled.  However, she still would not let me off the musical hook.  In her eyes, everyone has a musical talent, and she insisted that I receive a few voice lessons, and so, in a matter of a few months, I sang my first solo at church…quavering voice, knocking knees and all.  But I found that I sort of enjoyed it.  I began to appreciate the artistry of her singing.  She enunciated her words clearly and I could feel the spirit behind the words.  No one will ever be able to sing "Jerusalem" like she could.
     It was in my teenage years that I began to see the value of Sister Anniedeen.  She took a special interest in the youth of the church, serving as our Sunday School teacher, guidance counselor, and to a certain extent, disciplinarian.  She opened her home to youth gatherings and was instrumental in creating the Conquerors’ Club, a social organization for youth which emphasized personal responsibility, devotion to the church, and Bible understanding.  The club spread to several other churches in the Galveston Bay area and was highly popular amongst the youth for several years.  Our Sunday School classes were heavily Bible oriented, and she was not afraid to offer pointed advice about how we as young people should conduct ourselves.
    Shirley and I married in 1961, and having been booted out of the Conquerors’ Club due to our marriage, our contact with Sister Anniedeen became limited to church and an occasional older youth visit to her home.  Shirley had suffered through the loss of her mother in 1957 due to cancer.  My father-in-law remarried, only to relive the same cancer nightmare with his second wife.  In 1963, however, we were stunned to learn that a third marriage was imminent.  The Reverend James L. Creel announced the engagement and pending marriage to none other than Sister Anniedeen Bateman.
     It seemed strange at first to realize that Sister Anniedeen wasn’t just “Sister Anniedeen” anymore, but rather “Mom” or “Mom-in-law.”  Shirley and I probably had less of an adjustment than the rest of the family to make because we basically disappeared for four years as I joined the United States Air Force in the fall of 1963.  Although we occasionally visited Baytown while on leave or traveling to a new assignment, it was not until the fall of 1967 that we moved back to Baytown to reestablish a home.  By then, the new order had been well established.  Sister Anniedeen brought order to a family which had suffered the loss of two mothers, and the fact that she was new at parenting didn’t seem to be a drawback.  After all, once a teacher, always a teacher.  She applied her teaching skills to parenting with the same enthusiasm.  The cycle was complete when the child of the new union, Rocky, was born.
    In 1970, our church in Baytown suffered through a tumultuous time resulting in a minister leaving under clouded circumstances.  As it turned out, I found that my in-laws and I were on opposite sides of the issue, and, when the climax occurred, there were some hurt feelings and strained relationships.  From our marriage in 1963 to 1970, I had addressed my father-in-law as “Brother Lemuel” and my now-mother-in-law as “Sister Anniedeen.”  In 1971, my in-laws moved to Casper, Wyoming, to take the pastorship of a church.  Shirley and I visited them the next two summers, and somehow a new relationship with my in-laws was formed.  That fall I wrote them a letter and said that after ten years of marriage to their daughter, I would like to go beyond the “Brother/Sister” relationship and call them “Mom” and “Dad.”  I still remember the wonderful, gracious letter I received in return which I still have stored in my archives somewhere.  They have been “Mom” and “Dad” ever since.  We moved to Wyoming in 1974, and for the next seventeen years my bond with Mom and Dad grew stronger with each passing day.  For the remainder of this essay I will refer to “Brother Lemuel” and “Sister Anniedeen” as Dad and Mom.
     I haven’t the time to describe my every experience with Dad and Mom.  Dad, quick-witted, quick-tempered, opinionated, and outspoken, met his match with Mom, who could match her husband in every aspect except maybe the quick temper.  She was far more temperate in her emotions and was the consummate dutiful wife.  Serving as the pastor’s wife, she enthusiastically performed her duties, and continued to display her musical talents with piano/organ playing, singing, choir directing…and insuring that we did our parts also.  She still reached out to the youth in Sunday School classes and social gatherings, stressing not just the social aspects, but also the need for the youth to have a spiritual foundation.
    As the years drifted by I began to suffer the dreaded “middle aged spread” and started having to really watch my weight.  It was during this time that Mom really began to get on my nerves.  OK, I’m just kidding, but she has always been somewhat of a health nut…always watching her calories, etc.  So when she would see me eating a greasy hamburger with double meat and double cheese with extra fries, she could not stop herself from saying something.  I was tempted to start eating only in the dark, but that’s hard to do in a restaurant.  I finally resigned myself to the idea that she was just looking out for my best interests, whether I wanted her to or not.
    I have written in previous essays of my daily morning trips to their home for coffee and breakfast on the way to work.  I was touched after Dad died in 1989 when Mom asked me to keep coming by for our morning visit and coffee.  It was about a year later that I truly discovered the depth of her spiritual faith and Christian behavior.  A short time after Dad died, our church elected a new pastor.  As is the case sometimes, all was wonderful for a while but things began to unravel in a year or so. Controversy began to swirl around the pastor, and, as luck would have it, Mom and I wound up on opposing sides. I am not a person who likes confrontation.  When I have something to say, I prefer to write it down, so I wrote letters to two people respectfully stating my opinion and what I though needed to be done.  One of them was to Mom in which I also stated that until the trouble blew over, I felt it best not to come by for breakfast in the mornings.
     Within a few days after mailing the letters, I received a phone call at my office.  The caller was the other letter recipient, and it was clear to her that my spirit was bad, I had bitterness in my heart, and I needed to pray through this issue and clean up my bad attitude.  It was obvious to her that I was completely wrong.  By coincidence, a day later I received a written letter from Mom, and my only regret is that I have since misplaced it.  She was so gracious and so understanding, praying that the turmoil would soon be resolved and we could reestablish our relationship.  It was so beautifully written that I instantly wanted to resolve any conflict I had with her.  As it turned out, the issue was soon resolved, and in short order we were having breakfast again.  My respect for my mother-in-law went through the roof.
    In 1991 Shirley and I moved back to Texas, and Mom stayed in Wyoming even after Dad’s passing.  We visited several times, and she came to Texas occasionally, but by 2009, with most of the family in the Houston area, and others leaving the Casper, Wyoming, area, she chose to come back to the land of her roots, also.  Shirley and I retired in 2009 and moved to the Spring area to be near kids and grandkids, and Mom settled not too far from us in a retirement home.  We all attend the same great church and have enjoyed a closer relationship than ever before.  We have had many interesting discussions about the endtime and Bible prophecy.  For years, she has been a highly respected Bible scholar and teacher and is a virtual well of information concerning scripture and prophecy.
    Shirley and I have now been married over fifty years, and my mother-in-law occasionally still harasses me about my eating habits.  But what can I say?  She is on the north side of ninety now and is probably in better shape than any of us “kids.”  She continues to read, study, sing, play, pray, and live a life of impeccable Christian virtue.  She has become, not just an institution, but a pattern for behavior.  I think I love her.
 

The Life and Memories of Coya Creel Eddleman


Note:  The following words are Coya's...with the exception of a place or two where I interjected additional information for clarification.  The words which I interjected are written in italics. 
     My earliest memories are of Pelly, Texas.  We lived on Duke’s Hill, and our house was built on the hill to the point that we kids could walk underneath the porch.  That’s about all I remember about Pelly, because after a short time we moved to Adoue Street in neighboring Goose Creek.  In later years the three communities of Pelly, Baytown, and Goose Creek would consolidate under the name of Baytown.  We lived next door to a family named Barr, who had a son my age named Bobby.  Bobby and I played hide and seek and all the other childhood games.  Shortly, we moved again, this time to Cedar Bayou, an area on the edge of Baytown situated near…Cedar Bayou.  There I roamed the fields with a new friend, Wendell Hunt, who had a horse.  I was fearful of the horse at first, but soon realized that the horse was gentle.  Wendell was very kind to me, and we spent many summer days catching crawfish in the big ditch in front of our house after a big rain.  I soon learned I had to be careful when I picked up a big crawfish.  Its pinchers could wrap around your finger really quickly
    I started the first grade at Cedar Bayou Elementary, and my teacher was Mrs. Hunt.  We had some Hunts as neighbors, but she was no relation to them.  I didn’t like going to school.  Other than going to church and seeing kids there, I had not been around anyone except family.  My sister, Jeanette, took me to school on the first day.  At that time Cedar Bayou School had all grades from first to twelve, so Jeanette dropped me off with Mrs. Hunt and headed to her own class in the high school section.  Mrs. Hunt showed me the table that would be my desk, as well as five other classmates.  As class began, Mrs. Hunt wrote the alphabet on the blackboard and asked us to begin writing the letters on our papers.  The paper had lines, so I didn’t have any problem; that part was easy! 
   But…as I sat there thinking I was in a completely different world, my heart began racing, and I just knew I had to find Jeanette so she could take me home.  So, I just got up, walked out the door, and began running to find Jeanette.  I ran in the front doors of the high school building only to see a hall that seemed to be long and dark.  I went to every door and peeked in to see if Jeanette was there.  I finally found her.  This scene went on for several days to the point that when I opened the front doors of the high school and started running, Jeanette’s class members would yell, “Jeanette, here comes your sister!”  She was so embarrassed!  One time she grabbed me and spanked my bottom right there in front of everybody while I loudly cried.  Finally, however, I settled down, learned to love Mrs. Hunt, and became a good student.  If we ever missed the school bus, though, my sister, Daris, would march us to school, even calling out, “Left! Right! Left! Right!” until we got to school.
    Just as I was to enter the third grade, we moved to 303 Dyer in Baytown.  I finished the third grade at Alamo Elementary in Stewart Heights, but I wanted to be back to my friends at Cedar Bayou.  So I got a transfer and moved back to my old school to begin the fourth grade. Mrs. Gentry was my teacher.  I loved being back with my friends.  I enjoyed school, loved my teachers, and completed the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades without a problem.  I then moved over to the junior high section of Cedar Bayou to begin the seventh grade. 
    One of my first acts in the seventh grade was to sign up for choir.  The first day of choir, the teacher, Mr. Williamson, called the roll.  When he came to “Coya Creel,” he stopped, looked at me with a stern face, and asked, “Are you any kin to C.B. Creel?”  I told him he was my brother.  He looked at me with a glare in his eyes and said, “We’ll have none of that monkey business!”  The class laughed, and I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say.  Apparently, C.B. had been guilty of a lot of “monkey business” when he was in choir.  However, we all became friends eventually, and I loved choir…but apparently C.B. didn’t.
    I spent two or more weeks each summer in Livingston with Auntie and Granny.  Auntie (Naomi) and Uncle Grady Stephens were Mama’s sister and brother-in-law.  Granny (Ivy McCaghren Gaylord, b. 1876  d. 1921) was Mama’s mother.  Robert Lee Gaylord (b. 1876, d. 1921) was Mama’s father.  During one of my summers there, I met Letha Mae Doyle, daughter of Brother Doyle, the pastor of the Livingston Church at that time.  Letha later married Brother Jerry Ward, one of the evangelists who visited our church in Baytown.  Once, when Letha and I were playing outside, a big thunderstorm suddenly came up. Instead of my going back into their house and waiting it out, I became frightened and felt I just had to get back to Auntie’s house.  I struck out running down the side of Highway 146 praying and promising God that if He would just get me back to Auntie’s house I would forever be good.  As I came running up the long driveway to Auntie’s house, Granny met me on the porch.  She was so concerned and asked, “Child, why didn’t you wait until this little storm blew over before coming home?”  I answered, “I was so afraid and wanted to be home!”
    We were members of Peace Tabernacle in Baytown, and Brother V.A. Guidroz was the pastor.  The Guidroz family had children who were about the same ages as the Creel children.  They had eight in their family and we had ten.  Judy was the closest to my age.  We had lots of good times.  One Sunday I went home with her after church.  Come evening church time, we went back a little early, and Judy said, “Let’s go to the garden and pull us a radish.” (Sister Guidroz had a beautiful garden behind the parsonage.)  So we did.  That radish was so hot, I was on fire, and there was no water to be had.  When Mama arrived at church she wanted to know what I was crying about.  I had to tell her about the radish.  Of course, she said that was what happens when we do things we shouldn’t do!  No pity!
    We had a simple, sweet growing up life.  We were poor but didn’t know it.  The neighbors on Dyer were all good.  Mama worked, and Dad worked, weather permitting.  Dad was a carpenter and worked, I think, through a union shop.  Later, when his health began to fail, he worked as a janitor at the Roseland Park Swimming Pool.  I was eleven years old and got a job working at a shoe shop.  I needed a minor’s release to enable me to work, which Mama signed for me.  I got my Social Security card and earned fifty cents an hour working after school.  Daddy would drive me to work.  By then, his ankles were swelling and he wasn’t feeling very well.  When I was thirteen, I went to work for Herring’s Drug Store on Main Street next to The Style Shop, an up-town ladies’ dress shop.  One of the ladies who was a sales clerk there came into Herring’s and ordered one of our fresh chicken salad sandwiches.  (Mrs. Herring made fresh chicken salad sandwiches every day.)  I served the lady her sandwich, and she immediately lifted the slice of bread and asked, “Where’s the pepper?”  I didn’t know what she meant.  Mrs. Herring walked over and told her that I was new and didn’t know about the pepper. Mrs. Herring picked up the plate and brought me behind the counter and quietly told me the lady always wanted plenty of pepper on her sandwich.  She picked up the pepper shaker, and I thought she was going to dump the whole shaker of pepper on the sandwich!  That’s the way, she said, this customer wants her sandwich.
    I learned to make coffee in a big urn at Herring’s.  When I would arrive at work on Saturday, it was my responsibility to make the coffee.  Mr. Hill showed me how to fill the urn with water, remove the large cloth filter, clean it, and add fresh coffee grounds.  We had hot donuts delivered to us from Patterson’s Bakery across the street every day.  After the coffee was ready, a warm donut along with that hot, fresh coffee was divine!  That’s how I became a coffee drinker!

     By the time we were living on Dyer Street, it was just C.B., Loretta, George, Karen, and I living at home.  C.B. was going to high school and playing football.  After school and football practice each day, he worked at George Smith’s Humble gas station at the end of Dyer Street and North Main.  Mama was working, and C.B. would come home many times for lunch, and I would fry some potatoes (maybe some Spam) and fix him a sandwich.  Sometimes C.B. would need his shoes polished (he was dating Bobbie by then.)  He would start out by saying what a fine job I did with his shoes.  The shoes he was referring to were the shoes that were given to me.  I loved those shoes.  When I first got them, they were a little big, but I grew into them, but then they got a little short!  But it didn’t matter to me; I loved those brown leather, lace up shoes.  I polished them every night!  C.B. saw this and bragged on me so much that he talked me into polishing his own shoes.  He told me he would give me a quarter every time I polished them, and that did the trick.  I polished his shoes every night whether I got the quarter or not.

  By this time, Daddy was unable to work.  One Christmas the Goodfellows Charities brought us a large bag of groceries and toys.  The toy bag had a doll, a fuzzy red cap, a truck, and some puzzles.  I let Loretta and Karen share the doll, and George must have taken the truck.  I took the fuzzy red cap.  It fit so cute on me and tied under my chin.  I do remember feeling sad because we could not have had Christmas without the Goodfellows.  The Goodfellows were a blessing, but I remember feeling in my heart that someday I wanted to be able to do the giving myself.      
    I was thirteen when Daddy died.  I remember him lying in a hospital bed in our living room growing weaker by the day.  The day he died, May 4, 1951, he had been in a coma for hours (didn’t realize it at the time.)  When Myrt came to the house, she immediately went into the kitchen, gathered up whatever was in the cabinets and refrigerator, and began making soup.  While the soup was cooking, she picked up a broom and started sweeping the floor, crying the whole time.  I realized at that moment that Daddy was bad off.  The house began to fill up with family because my brothers and sisters always supported one another.  I’m not sure of the time of day that Daddy died, but I do remember Jeanette sending someone to Lyon’s Grocery in Stewart Heights to get something.  I rode in the car with, I think, C.B. and Bobbie, and sat in the car while they went in.  I couldn’t understand why everyone seemed to be going about their business when Daddy had just died.  For a while afterward, it was hard for me to pick up and live each passing day knowing that things would never be the same.  I didn’t realize that God had His hand on me and knew my future and my needs.  With a praying mother and family, my life was secure.
   One summer our yard needed mowing, and the flower beds that Mama insisted on having needed cleaning.  I was working full time at Herring’s Drugs.  Mama was working, and by now C.B. had gotten married.  To take care of the yard, I hired a neighborhood man to mow and clean our yard.  I don’t remember how much he charged, but I was able to pay whatever it cost.  The yard looked really nice…for about two weeks! 
    When I was in the eighth grade at Cedar Bayou Junior High, I became a cheerleader for the junior high football team.  I was also in the band.  The band would march for the high school football games even though we were junior high schoolers.  C.B. was playing on the high school team, and it was exciting to hear his name called over the loud speaker at the games.  I played the snare drum in the band.  I chose the snare drums because the school furnished the drums.  There was no way I could afford to buy a musical instrument.  Also, the uniforms were furnished with no fee.  The cheerleader skirt and vest were furnished, but I had to pay a fee for use.  I managed to earn enough money to cover the cost.
     During this time we siblings were furnished meals by a program for orphans, so I was able to eat in the school cafeteria every day.  After lunch I was able to buy an ice cream cone for five cents.  There was this cute boy who worked the ice cream counter.  Each time I returned to my table, my girlfriends would say, “Coya, that boy likes you!”  I would look at them and reply, “No way! He’s too old for me.  He’s in high school.”  They just laughed.  That went on for a while until I began to realize that they were right.  We began chatting, and he would give me an extra dip of ice cream and a big wink.  The girl friends said, “Wow! Coya, he likes you, he has a new car, and he’s very nice.”  They apparently knew him from Cedar Bayou Baptist Church where he and his parents attended.  Soon, Don Eddleman asked me out for a date.  He picked me up about 6:30 on a Friday evening, and we went to Princess Drive In on Decker Drive and got hamburgers and French fries.   We visited there for a while, and then he took me back home about 8:00.  On the next date, he came to church with me to a young peoples’ function.  We began dating every Saturday night, usually to a youth church function or just to eat out somewhere.  We really didn’t care where we went…just so we were together.  Don was 18 and I was 14 when we became engaged; I was fifteen when we married.  Within a few years, we were blessed with two beautiful children: Pamela (January 4, 1958) and Donald (May 12, 1961.)
    Don and I enjoyed 56 beautiful years together.  Before we were married, my Aunt Lizzie (Daddy’s twin sister) told me that if I would “put that marrying business behind me” and finish school, she would see to it that I was able to go to college.  She, a retired school teacher, and her husband, Uncle John had no children.  I would visit them for a couple of weeks every summer.  But, as we know now, her talk didn’t change my mind about “that marrying business.”  She always told me, “Coya, you’ll probably have a houseful of kids by the time you’re 25.”  Her fears of that event never came to pass, but I always appreciated their love and concern.
    In 1955 I was working for Franklin’s Dress Shop.  O.E. and R.L. Downing were brothers whose families were attending Peace Tabernacle.  By then, Don and I were attending there, also.  The Downings owned Downing Roofing Company, a business located just down the street from our church.  One Sunday morning, R.L. told me he would like to speak to me after church, so Don and I waited in front of the church.  R.L. had a lot of responsibilities with our church, so he was usually one of the last people to leave.  He began by saying, “I know you are working at Franklin’s, but we are needing to hire a full time secretary.”  O.E.’s wife, Reba, was working as secretary at the time but was ready to go back to fulltime housewife.  Of course, I was certainly interested.  A secretary wasn’t on her feet all day meeting the public!  Plus, the environment would be nice, because both O.E. and R.L. were perfect gentlemen.  I became proficient with the telephone, especially the calls that came in on rainy days.  These people always wanted immediate repair service!    During my employment with Downing Roofing Company, I was able to become better acquainted with the Downing families.  R.L. and Ethel had small children who would come visit while they waited for R.L. to come in from a job.   It was a pleasure to see how they adored their dad and waited patiently to get a hug from him.  The oldest, Bobby, was nearly grown (he thought.)  He was a brilliant young man, very mature for his age. He loved coffee.  I can’t remember just how old he was, but I kept all the coffee fixings in the adjoining room to the office.  I kept the cream and sugar packets handy but also had a box of sugar cubes nearby.  Bobby would go into the room, fix his coffee, come back into the office to visit, and comment, “This sure is good coffee!”    This went on for a few days until I realized all the sugar cubes were gone, because Bobby loved his coffee really sweet.  I had to laugh, but I just kept buying the boxes of sugar cubes.  Bobby had two sisters at this time, Judy and Kathy.  Later, another sister, Mary would come along.  To this day, I love these kids.
    I worked for Downing Roofing Company for about six years, during which time I had my daughter, Pam.  I went back to work when she was four weeks old, thanks to wonderful neighbors, the Vanovers (Roy and Beatrice with their two older kids, Patsy and David,) who lived next door to us on Windy Lane.  Beatrice (or Vanover, as we called her) wanted to care for Pam while I worked.  This family loved Pam and treated her as their own.  Patsy eventually taught at James Bowie Elementary while David went to college. Pam became so much a part of their family that when David went off to college, he took a photo of Pam and said she was his sister!  Roy loved to let Pam hang on to his finger while she walked up and down their front walk.  Vanover always had beautiful flowers growing, and Roy would let Pam pick one of the blooms.
   Today, in this part of my life, there is so much that I could say but just don’t know how.  God has been so good to me.  When Don passed away suddenly on March 4, 2010, it was the most jolting, life changing event that ever came my way, yet I never lost my faith in God.  That event will forever be embedded in my memory, and I won’t write down all the details because it causes my heart to restrict even now.  I just need to say that I know that God has had His hand upon me each day of my life.  He knows what is in store for each of us.  Of that terrible day of Don’s passing, I remember telling the doctors that I just needed to talk to Don.  They were telling Pam and me (Donald had not arrived yet) that Don was brain dead.  Everybody who knows me knows how I depended on Don always.  There I was, and after 56 years of marriage being completely dependent upon him, I couldn’t ask him what I should do.  “Oh, wow! I sure need you now, Sweet Jesus!” I prayed.  I have to say…along with my children, family, church family, and lifelong friends, God has brought me to this day.  It has now been four years since I lost Don, and I still believe that God is in control.  I have faith, and I’m so glad I know Him.
    During this time my son, Donald, has been absolutely awesome.  Pam and I have wondered many time, “What would we have done without Donald?”  In the midst of his grief over losing his dad, he handled every detail that had to be done.  He and Pam organized all the details of Don’s funeral.  They, along with the grandchildren, were grieving, but with dignity each one played an important part of making sure Don’s homecoming was beautiful.  The song “I’ll Fly Away” sings about when He takes us home “…To a land where joy shall never end.”  We sang the song at Don’s memorial service.  It is comforting to know God took Don home in his time.
    I want to tell about how Don and I became lifelong friends with Hazel and Wilburn Bracht.  Don worked with Wilburn at Phillips Petroleum throwing fertilizer bags.  Phillips was having a company picnic one Saturday.  Wilburn and Don had to work, but Hazel and I were to meet them that evening.  Hazel came by to pick me up.  We were living on Alford Street at the time.  I had never met Hazel at that time, and I was pregnant with Pam.  It was the summer of 1957.  Hazel and I visited in the car on the way to the picnic, and our friendship grew from that day onward.  We’ve had many wonderful, precious times together.  To this day, Wilburn and Hazel are just as precious to me as any of my siblings.  The same goes for their daughter, Cindy.  Cindy and her husband, John, have two children, and their families are precious to me also.  Time and age makes our friendships more cherished with each passing day.
    I wish Hazel, Wilburn, and my children could add their memories to my story.  I’m sure they could add some really interesting moments.