Life and Hope

Late one spring night, my daughter Elizabeth woke us up with screams of “Fire! The house in on fire!” My wife and I got up and walked into the hallway, which was filled with smoke. We got our youngest son Erich from his bedroom and the four of us descended through the thick smoke and out of the house. But when we got there Elizabeth was missing. I was told that Elizabeth had gone back inside to get her cat. I went back into the house, calling her name, and went to her room. I couldn’t see anything so I felt around and kept calling out her name. She didn’t answer and I couldn’t find her. I had to crawl down the stairs and back out of the house. To my surprise, there she was with the others on the sidewalk. Still one missing!

Our oldest son had a bedroom on the first floor in the back of the house. I sent the family to our neighbor’s house and went to find him. I ran to the back of the house and to the outside of the missing son’s room screaming his name. I smashed out a window with my fist and tried to climb in, but the heat and smoke drove me back. I broke through another window, thinking that the smoke would go out the other window, and tried to climb in again but was driven back. All I could do was stand there screaming his name. At that time someone found me and told me that he had been at a friend’s house and was heading home. I then went to the front of the house and just stood looking, wanting to do something. A neighbor pulled me away and brought me to his house where I found my family being cared for. They were covered with soot and looked awful. An ambulance took us to the hospital and we were given oxygen. We were told that the Red Cross had arranged a motel room for us for the night, so we found our way there. We showered and didn’t sleep, but sat around trying to grasp what had happened.

The next morning at dawn, I went back to the house. One cat had died in the fire and one was unaccounted for. The house, garage, and the two cars that were parked next to the house were in ruins.

We spent the next two nights at one neighbor’s house. Another neighbor offered us the use of her house for following week, while her family went on vacation. After that we moved into a motel. We hunted for a local place to live so that the children could go to the same school and have the same neighborhood friends, but couldn’t find one.

Dear reader, this was a very tough time for us. Yours truly was at the end of his rope. I could see that the family desperately needed a place to settle down, but I couldn’t find a place to live. By chance, I remembered that a nearby church owned the vacant house next to it. One night as it was raining, I went to see the congregation of the church during their bible study night. I sat in the back to wait until they were done. They stopped their study and asked if I needed help. I said yes, but that I preferred to wait until they were done. When they were done, I asked who I should talk to about the house and was directed to the deacon. I presented my case and he said he would think about it. His wife was there and looked me in the eyes. After a short pause she said that we could live there. The deacon just looked at her and said, “I guess that’s it then”. They drove away and I started to walk back to my car. Suddenly, for no reason, my legs gave way and I dropped to my knees. I knelt there in the rain crying from relief. We moved in the next day.

The entire Town rallied to our side. People gave clothing, furniture and money. One man even gave us his car. I remember that when I thanked him that he said, “We’re all connected right?” The local school children collected cans to raise money for us, and the local stores had jars to gather donations. One neighbor arranged for a local television station to air our story and gather donations. Everyone gave.

About three weeks after the fire, I was driving through the village. A man was sitting in a stalled truck at the intersection, blocking traffic. I pulled over, and we pushed his truck off the road. I had jumper cables with me and we were able to start the truck. He told me that he was from another state and had just bought the truck and he was headed home. He pointed at a car that had pulled up near us, and I could see what I presumed were his wife and child waiting in it. They looked tired and hungry and so did he. He was concerned that the truck would stall out again. I gave him the jumper cables and told him that if he was ever in the neighborhood again, he could drop them off. He asked where he could drop them off. I pointed at my burned down house and said, “Well, I used to live there, but you can drop them at my neighbors house right there.” About a month later, my neighbor gave me those jumper cables back. She said that when the man dropped them off, he started crying. Apparently, he was overwhelmed by the fact that I would give him something after I had lost everything else.

Four weeks after the fire, I was where the burned house stood and was planning the new one. I was talking to my son, and started talking about the cats that we had lost. I was talking about one of the cats, mentioning him by name. This very same cat suddenly appeared out of nowhere and sheepishly came to us. He was very frightened. We brought him back to the family and he settled in with us.

We decided to put up a modular home where the old home had stood. A modular home is assembled in one day, the various parts of the house fit together like giant Lego pieces lifted into place by a crane onto a prepared foundation. The night before it was to be assembled, I received a call that my mother had passed away. I drove across the state to where she lived, just to be near where she had been. When I got back home, they had assembled the house, and my family took pictures of the event for me. After one month we were able to move in.

We lost a cat and all of our possessions in that fire. Some of them were precious. Family pictures, heirlooms, children’s keepsakes. But we saved the most important things; life and hope. If you have those, everything else will work out.

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It Will Be Alright

There are times when we need to be told that everything is going to be alright. Life is hard and there are times when you will feel like giving up. Don’t. It will be alright. It may not be the same, it may not be what you expected, it may hurt, but you will be alright.

I’ve seen trouble in my life. There were times when I thought I couldn’t go on. But I know that I’m not alone. Every single person in the world is carrying a heavy load.

It would be nice if someone just held you close and said, “It will be alright” and fixed all your problems, but that’s not going to happen. Most friends and family will usually give you their opinion and tell you what you should do. That’s not what you need to hear. This is. You’ve been through troubles before. You’ve made it this far. Don’t forget that. Hold yourself close.

From me to you, I promise that it will be alright.

Curt Struna

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Adventures in Midwifery

Whenever I tell anyone that I delivered each of my three children, I get an odd look. When my wife, Barbara, became pregnant with our first child, she was determined to have the child delivered in a birthing-room, which was a novelty at the time. For those unfamiliar with this term, a birthing-room is different than the usual room where one gives birth at a hospital. Instead of the cold, clinical room where this event usually takes place, a birthing-room, which is also in a hospital, has a regular bed, an easy chair or couch, a television, and perhaps a refrigerator. The idea is to make the person giving birth as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately for us, the nearest hospital that had a birthing room was in the next state, two and one-half hours away. During the drive to the first visit with the obstetrician, I was informed that this doctor was famous for allowing expectant fathers to be present during the birth. I figured that being present during the birth was the least I could do. During the meeting that we had with the doctor, he asked if I wanted to deliver the child, with him present. This was a new concept that he was trying to foster. His rationale was that the mother carried the baby, gave birth to it, fed it, and the inevitable result was that mother and child would naturally bond. By having the father deliver the child, the father is expected to feel that he has been part of the process, and consequently, bond with the infant and child better than if he had not. The doctor asked me if I was interested. I said I would do it because the due date was so distant that I thought that they would forget that I had said I would. They didn’t. I told my mother what I was going to do and she told me that when she was giving birth, my father hid in the woods. When I told my father, he said I was crazy.

Because of the distance from the hospital to our home, I was given books on emergency child birth. I studied them. We took Lamaze classes. Lamaze is intended to involve the father in the pregnancy and make the birthing process easier for the mother. I’ll tell you now that it didn’t work for Barbara. Pain-killers would have worked, but she had planned on a drug-free birth.

One day after work Barbara told me that she was having contractions and that it was time to drive to the hospital. Actually, she had been having contractions all day and had waited for me to get home. We made the drive to the hospital, settled into the room, and as she was having the very painful contractions, I tried my Lamaze skills out. Either Lamaze doesn’t work or I was doing something wrong. I blame it on the former. I did my best to comfort her, but it didn’t help. I confess that I spent the rest of the night watching old World War I movies on the television in the room. She had contractions all night. There was much screaming and every now and then a nurse would come in, or my wife would send me to get the nurse, who would come in, take a look and say that it wasn’t time yet. If there had been woods nearby, I would have made a run for it. In the hours just before dawn, it was finally time. The doctor showed up and told me to put on a gown, scrub my hands and follow his instructions, which I did.

After the head emerged, he said that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the infant’s neck, and he guided me through unwrapping it, and we finally had the successful birth of a boy. I have failed to mention that my wife is as tough as nails. After a couple of hours she announced that it was time to go home and we did. On the way, we stopped beside a stream; she sat on a rock and held the new baby while I took a picture. The baby’s name was Mark.

For the second child we went to the same hospital and used the same doctor. When it was time, my brave wife told me that it was time to go and we drove to the hospital. We were told that the old birthing room was taken and we were steered to a newer birthing room. When it was time to give birth, the doctor and two nurses showed up. One of the nurses pushed a few buttons and panels slid back in the ceiling and flood-lights emerged. Hidden panels slid back in the walls and trays came out. What had been a bedroom turned into an operating room. For everyone but Barbara, it was a fairly easy birth. I had brought a tape player and played the song “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder right after the birth and the nurses started crying. It’s the song that he wrote after the birth of his daughter. After a little while they wanted to take the infant out of the room to take foot-prints and blood samples. Barbara insisted that I not let the baby out of my sight, so I followed a nurse around the hospital and made sure that the same baby that had left the room was the same baby that came back. After a two hour nap, Barbara insisted on going home, so we did. We stopped at the same stream as previously, Barbara sat on the same rock and held the baby while I took their picture. This baby’s name was Elizabeth.

For our third child, Barbara decided to use a midwife and have the baby at home. The closest one lived over an hour away. During a snowstorm in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night, Barbara announced that it was time. She called the midwife who arrived two hours later with a nurse in tow. In the meantime, I was told to take the other two children to their grandmother’s house. My wife had told the midwife that I would be performing the delivery. This did not sit well with the midwife. She tried to get me out of the way by making me ill. She said that if you fried the afterbirth with onions, it tasted great. I turned green and got nauseous, but I didn’t leave the room. I delivered that baby too. His name was Erich.

Here’s what I learned. My wife is a very, very tough person. If men had to suffer through pregnancy and give birth, no children would be born. Finally, if you have a chance to be present during the birth of a child, do it.

Curt Struna

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WE ARE AWESOME !!! A Tribute To Those Born Before the 80’s.

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED THE 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who may have smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn’t get tested for diabetes.

Then, after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets, and, when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps, not helmets, on our heads.

As infants and children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, no air bags, bald tires and sometimes no brakes.. « Continue reading »

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To Summer at Eighteen

November 1994

Dear Summer,

Eighteen years ago I stood looking at you—fresh-born—through the big glass window in the hospital nursery, watching the nurses try to count your tiny toes. Minutes old, you were bright-red-screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs unbounded life, squirming and kicking in every direction—quite a challenge to those toe-counting nurses. How I wanted to reach through the window, to be closer to you as you celebrated your newfound freedom. From behind the glass, I breathed a promise: I would never stand in the way of your freedom. « Continue reading »

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Burnt Biscuits

When I was a kid, my mom liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work.

On that evening so long ago, my mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage and extremely burned biscuits in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet all my dad did was reach for his biscuit, smile at my mom and ask me how my day was at school. I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite! « Continue reading »

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1, 2, 3… My Kids and Me

I’m above average.  Instead of having 2.5 children, I’ve gone the extra mile and had a whole 3.  When my first daughter was born, and I was given the sparkly new name of “Mom,” I found out how ridiculously difficult being a parent is.  It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done… and I’ve been a waitress!  But this mom gig is so much more fun than waitressing and the pay of love and kisses is worth much more than any $2.00 tip. « Continue reading »

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When You Lose Your Way as a Parent

Like coal miners, parents plunge deep into dark and untrammeled spaces, searching for nuggets of goodness and truth along the way. And sometimes, like coalminers, we get lost. We hit a dead end. And the canary chirping happily in it’s swinging cage, goes silent.

This summer, I lost my way as a parent. Between moving and leading a top-to-bottom renovation of our new apartment, between writing grant applications and taking care of legal issues related to my nonprofit, I took a few wrong turns, caught up in the To Do’s and Didn’t Do’s scratched onto my notepad. Thankfully I have not one, but two canaries on my shoulders. When they stopped tweeting, I knew it was time to pause and reevaluate. « Continue reading »

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Today, I Married My Son

It was a sweet and simple ceremony.

Perhaps it was the beauty of the day with its cool pre-summer breeze and sunny afternoon , but most likely it was the picking of the pretty yellow flowers in the backyard that prompted the sudden proposal. “Mom, let’s get married,” he said holding the big bunch of yellow beauties. A few days before, I had noticed the shock of yellow in the corner of our backyard that we refer to as “the swamp”. I knew it was some kind of weed, but I had no idea the magnitude of it until I was right up on it. It grew high and had coiled, thick, purplish vines with the sweetest little yellow flowers with orange centers. I had asked Riley about coming with me to cut the flowers and he happily agreed. We grabbed a scissors from the kitchen and meandered our way to the swamp avoiding doggy land mines to reach the mammoth weed. He didn’t know, nor did he care what it was, he was just as enamored with the yellow flowers as I was. And, I suppose, that is was prompted his desire to wed. So, there it was, actually the third proposal of my life (but that’s another whole story!) and I thought, do I decline? « Continue reading »

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Fireworks and Memories

She is sitting on my lap as we gaze into the night sky.  This may be the last year she will be willing to do that.  She’s growing up so fast and pretty soon snuggling with Daddy will be embarrassing rather than comforting.  She lays her head against my chest and I smile.  Above us, cascading explosions of light and color brighten the darkness.  I glance down at her wonder filled face.  She doesn’t notice me looking at her so I take a moment to drink in her innocent beauty.  She is my little girl, my grown up baby.  With every flash in the sky, pictures fill my mind of different times when I have looked at this precious face… « Continue reading »

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