Today is really October 29, by WordPress time. That day in 2004 was the very worst day of my life. Thus, it seemed an omen to me to use this for my blog post this week. There is something about books in here, as you’ll see if you stay with it. And me. This piece was originally written on November 2, 2004.
To Kris from Mama
Four weeks ago today I came to Ypsilanti, having invited myself to spend the week with my daughter and her husband, before going off to my 50th high school reunion that weekend. I’m so happy and thankful that I had that opportunity to spend a week with them. It had been a really rough patch for them the last few months.
Who could have thought—then—that I’d be back here so soon? And, for such an unhappy reason.
Yesterday, I needed to at least leave Brad a message, so I called their phone. And there was Kristi’s bored, off-hand voice. “Hi, you’ve reached KrisnBrad—(or was it BradnKris)—leave a message, cool, bye.” I was somewhat startled, but yet–they were indeed KrisnBrad or BradnKris. A unit. One being. Granted, they each had their prickly spikey edges, but they perfectly matched the prickly spikey edges of the other one. They made a wonderful, very interesting, pair.
When Kris first told me about Brad, she said, “You’ll like him Mom. He reads.” A pause. “And he likes opera.” Hmm better, yet. Then in a rush, “And he has red hair and rides a Harley.” What more could a mother want for her daughter? She didn’t say anymore. She didn’t need to, her giggles told the rest of the tale. In truth, I believe Brad to be the best thing that ever happened to her.
Kris would have been 45 on November 10, that year, although as it happens, November 2—this date (of her funeral)—was when she was due. She left this world much easier than she came into it. When she finally decided it was time (8 days late) she presented herself with the cord wrapped around her neck. Fortunately, the doctor was alert and able to turn her around, and the bundle of joy we were to name Kristen Nadeene Gust arrived safely.
She was the definition of the word ‘precocious’; her first tooth came in when she was just three months old. Not understanding the word ‘no!’ even then, I had to stop nursing her.
She disliked water, intensely! It took the presence of her younger brother Karl, born when she was nearly three, to convince her that water could be fun. How dare he have so much fun in the bathtub, splashing everything and everyone within reach! By golly, she was going to have some of that fun, too. She promptly undressed and jumped in. So much for that phobia!
Some years later, when she was recuperating from the surgery that removed her ruptured appendix, she disobeyed orders to stay off the high-diving tower for at least three months, and less than four weeks after the surgery, there she was, jumping off again. She wasn’t quite twelve.
She was very unhappy about the date of her birthday, especially after the Edmund Fitzgerald went down in Lake Superior in 1975. She was pacified a bit, however, when the Berlin Wall came down fourteen years later.
She didn’t always make the best choices, but then, neither did the adults who were supposed to be in charge. She went her own way, always. She was the consummate manager, always shepherding people into doing what she thought they were supposed to, even if she didn’t follow her own advice very well. She made sure that everyone she loved, including her dogs, went to the doctor whenever necessary. That did not include herself, of course! She was immensely strong, outwardly, but inwardly, she was a batch of contradictions.
She and I disagreed when she was not quite twenty; she came back to me ten years later. She had a problem and “Mothers solve problems and you’re a mother. Here I am. Solve mine.” It took a while, to be sure, and with Grandpa’s help, she became a single woman once again. There was a strange side-effect to this story. When her first marriage ended, she needed a place to stay. That turned out to be my second floor.
Less than two months after she’d moved in, she saved my life when my gall bladder ruptured in the middle of the night. I’m still not sure how she did it, but she managed to get the mostly-unconscious me down two flights of stairs, folded me into her YUGO, and took me to the hospital. Only those persons who have personally experienced a hurricane or tornado can have any idea of the force she exerted on those around her, in order to get what she thought best for her loved ones. I would have died then, had it not been for her.
Of course, Kris loved Brad, but she also really loved her dogs. She did a wonderful job with Tramp. When I was there a month ago, I was out on the deck one sunny afternoon peeling potatoes for a stew—our dinner for that evening. I remembered something I needed to ask her, so I left the potatoes there and went in the house. I came back out to discover Tramp with a half-eaten potato in his mouth. “What are you doing?” I asked him. “Give me that potato.” I then proceeded to take it out of his mouth! As I sat there holding this grungy, raw, half-eaten potato, dog slobber running all over the place, I suddenly realized what I had just done. I’d taken a piece of food out of the mouth of a PIT BULL! And I still had all my fingers, too!
I tell this story happily, trying to do my little bit to dispel the myth surrounding this much-abused breed of dogs. I swear the only way Tramp would ever hurt anyone is if he accidentally sat on their foot. Poor baby. He’ll really miss his Mama.
Kristi was responsible for my two books being set on Mackinac Island. She called one night during the writing process of the first one (Secret Shores) to find out how I was doing. I wasn’t. Writer’s Block had set in. “Well, where are you?” she inquired. I said “Chapter Fourteen”. She thought a minute and said, “Oh, that’s the shipwreck, huh?”
I responded with a yes. Another brief silence. And then she said, “Mom, you knew you were going to have that scene in the book—you told me that in the beginning. Now, put your ass in the chair and write!”
What else could I do? I put my ass in the chair and wrote. I wrote the entire chapter in one sitting. Two days later when I read it, I cried through the last half. I don’t think the editor changed a word in it, and to this day, everyone who reads the book comments on that chapter. How engaging and real it is.
I tell this story whenever I do a writer’s workshop. So, why have I bothered you with it? It’s my explanation—the only one that makes any sense for why Kristi is no longer with us. I think God ran out of generals, and needed someone to give some orders up there. Kristi was a very experienced general, so he took her to be with him, and help him out.
She tried so hard to hide the fact that she was a very caring, giving person. She cared about the environment, about all animals, about organ and tissue donations. Several very fortunate folks will benefit from this latter gift, which will also result in her gorgeous curly hair being given to Locks of Love.
One of the astrology sites on the web says that folks born on November 10 are ‘Intense, passionate and transforming’. And that’s without even having known our Kris. Rest in peace, my very dear.