The Path It took along time after she left us for grass to return, to erase the path across the front yard where she drug her foot. Whenever someone comes across one of the few photographs I have of her as a young woman, there is always a pause, their face lightens, and the inevitable question, “Who is this is? She is gorgeous.” Even in an old farm dress too large for her slight frame, trying to hide her pregnancy in an era where it was scandalous for a pregnant woman to be photographed, my Great Grandma Elise Soderstrum was breathtaking. There are few actresses in Hollywood today as beautiful as she was as a young woman. Her frail bird-like neck turned. She seemed more focused on her toddler son being held in the arms of her husband dressed in baggy overalls, work gloves, and beaten up hat casting a shadow over his tanned features, than the camera. It is as if she did not have a second or two to spare to give whoever was taking the photographs her attention. Her hair pinned back in one of those makeshift buns of a woman who does not have the time or vanity to worry about how she looks. Yet, even in the black and white fading photographs of her, she had that rare kind of Audrey Hepburn-like fragile features that unconsciously draws you in and warms your soul. It is hard to believe that a few months after these photographs were taken they would all almost die. Spanish Influenza, that cared little if you were young or old, strong or weak, rapped on their door and made itself at home in their house. It was all she could do to tend the toddler and her newborn son. The four of them would have probably all died in that drafty farmhouse if my great-great grandfather had not happened to stop by to check on his son and young family that day. The doctor was summonsed. They all somehow survived that illness that ended so many Americans’ stories mid-sentence. Elsie was a fighter and you had to be to survive on an Iowa farm without power, lights, and all the modern conveniences we take for granted today. They worked dawn to dusk, with never much to show for their efforts, and had to get by on even less when the Great Depression hit. She lost a child somewhere along the way. He was what they called a blue baby back then. He lingered for months in his crib, an image that still haunts his two older siblings seventy years later. One day their brother was no longer there. I cannot imagine what that does to a parent. It must just tear you in two, to love a child, and everyday, hope beyond hope, that somehow God hears your cries and grants you a miracle that some small piece of you knows will never come. One day you walk to that crib. That little hand does not move. That leg does not kick. Then comes that silence that drowns everything in its wake. And a large piece of you washed away, never to return and somehow you have to move on, dragging what remains of yourself into the next few days, weeks, months, and years. When you have a child no one ever tells you that you will never be carefree again. In her late thirties or early forties, Elsie was diagnosed with early on-set severe rheumatoid arthritis. Today, we know better. It was probably a rare genetic disease of the bones called Paget’s, which doctors still do not know much about. Your bones basically betray you, break down, and become honeycombed inside. It is a lifetime of severe pain. You become a prisoner in your own body. My grandfather had it, his brother had it, my father has it, and my sibling and I have a 50/50 shot of inheriting it. Thankfully the symptoms of it usually don’t show up until a person is elderly. My great-grandmother was not so lucky. Not only does it lead to your bones becoming as fragile as glass, but there is constant agonizing pain. It causes hearing loss, headaches, a bowing of the legs, and a stiffness that never goes away. Even the shape of your head can change. She was at her height, still so young, and God said no. He was going to take her away from this world piece by painful piece. Most of us, given such a sentence, would probably go down easy, but the loss of a child and a Great Depression showed that she was made of tougher stuff. She began to eat healthy at a time when it was not even a concept in most people’s minds. She visited every quack, chiropractor, and doctor she could find. She even spent time bathing in and drank the warm salt waters of Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Most of these cures probably caused her more pain than relief. Where they came up with the time and money for such efforts, considering how little they had, is a miracle in itself. She crocheted and did things with her hands to keep them busy, even though each stitch and cross-stitch had to have been painful, but she never complained. It did not stop her from going to her boys’ games. Always wanting to make sure no one saw her suffer and maintaining her dignity, she would have her husband pull their old 1949 maroon Ford as close to the ball field as possible so she could be a small part of their minor victories. Quietly, with widows rolled up, she was always there. It was a dignity she kept even in her own house. Her grandchildren know she moved around the house, and it must have been agonizing to watch, but they have almost no memories of those moments. She just appeared in her chair or on the stools she sat on while she cooked or ironed. Elsie was independent and a perfectionist to the end. When the disease took away her ability to lift her arms, she would put a rag on the end of a stick to dust the house. She never stopped cooking for her husband and the boys when they came in from the field or returned home from one of their games. How she did it and found the time given the crippling effects of the disease is impossible to imagine. That independence was tested when her husband had a minor stroke. Strokes and heart attacks do strange things to the mind, most of which were not understood back then. She wouldn’t let that damn gun in the bedroom. When she returned home with one of her sons from her visit to the chiropractor, she noticed that gun was missing. She simply said, “Go find him.” She knew. They had never talked about it, but she knew, somehow she just knew. He left her behind in that house, still so young, with so many years ahead of her. While what he did is understandable given all that we know about the mind today, I still have trouble forgiving him because she really needed him, even though it happened long before I was born. Elsie stayed in her house. How she was able to do that is beyond me. The mailbox was not that far. A child could have run across that front yard in a few seconds. It took her forty-five minutes to get her mail everyday. It was painful to watch. The mailman repeatedly asked her if he could just bring the mail into the house for her. Her sons even said they would do it for her when they stopped by to checkup on her everyday. No, it was her mail. Forty-five painful minutes. After awhile a permanent dirt path where she drug that foot behind her from the house to the mailbox formed. She never stopped, no matter what the weather. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and that is why she made that walk. She never wanted to stop being her. She did not let that disease kill her. She grew old, not as old as she should have been. Even though it constantly worried everyone that being all alone in that house she would fall or one of those bones would just shatter for no reason at all. It was a simple hernia that popped back into place when my dad picked her up to take her to the hospital that killed her. Even though she was okay, the doctor decided to go in anyway and he screwed up. There is still resentment to this day about it. A part of me likes to believe she is in heaven dancing and as beautiful as she was in those early photographs. The pain that was a part of who she was no longer there. But that path, that path, I like to imagine it’s still there. The answers regarding so many things in this world are probably there, somewhere along that path.
 The Path It took along time after she left us for grass to return, to erase the path across the front yard where she drug her foot. Whenever someone comes across one of the few photographs I have of her as a young woman, there is always a pause, their face lightens, and the inevitable question, “Who is this is? She is gorgeous.” Even in an old farm dress too large for her slight frame, trying to hide her pregnancy in an era where it was scandalous for a pregnant woman to be photographed, my Great Grandma Elise Soderstrum was breathtaking. There are few actresses in Hollywood today as beautiful as she was as a young woman. Her frail bird-like neck turned. She seemed more focused on her toddler son being held in the arms of her husband dressed in baggy overalls, work gloves, and beaten up hat casting a shadow over his tanned features, than the camera. It is as if she did not have a second or two to spare to give whoever was taking the photographs her attention. Her hair pinned back in one of those makeshift buns of a woman who does not have the time or vanity to worry about how she looks. Yet, even in the black and white fading photographs of her, she had that rare kind of Audrey Hepburn-like fragile features that unconsciously draws you in and warms your soul. It is hard to believe that a few months after these photographs were taken they would all almost die. Spanish Influenza, that cared little if you were young or old, strong or weak, rapped on their door and made itself at home in their house. It was all she could do to tend the toddler and her newborn son. The four of them would have probably all died in that drafty farmhouse if my great-great grandfather had not happened to stop by to check on his son and young family that day. The doctor was summonsed. They all somehow survived that illness that ended so many Americans’ stories mid-sentence. Elsie was a fighter and you had to be to survive on an Iowa farm without power, lights, and all the modern conveniences we take for granted today. They worked dawn to dusk, with never much to show for their efforts, and had to get by on even less when the Great Depression hit. She lost a child somewhere along the way. He was what they called a blue baby back then. He lingered for months in his crib, an image that still haunts his two older siblings seventy years later. One day their brother was no longer there. I cannot imagine what that does to a parent. It must just tear you in two, to love a child, and everyday, hope beyond hope, that somehow God hears your cries and grants you a miracle that some small piece of you knows will never come. One day you walk to that crib. That little hand does not move. That leg does not kick. Then comes that silence that drowns everything in its wake. And a large piece of you washed away, never to return and somehow you have to move on, dragging what remains of yourself into the next few days, weeks, months, and years. When you have a child no one ever tells you that you will never be carefree again. In her late thirties or early forties, Elsie was diagnosed with early on-set severe rheumatoid arthritis. Today, we know better. It was probably a rare genetic disease of the bones called Paget’s, which doctors still do not know much about. Your bones basically betray you, break down, and become honeycombed inside. It is a lifetime of severe pain. You become a prisoner in your own body. My grandfather had it, his brother had it, my father has it, and my sibling and I have a 50/50 shot of inheriting it. Thankfully the symptoms of it usually don’t show up until a person is elderly. My great-grandmother was not so lucky. Not only does it lead to your bones becoming as fragile as glass, but there is constant agonizing pain. It causes hearing loss, headaches, a bowing of the legs, and a stiffness that never goes away. Even the shape of your head can change. She was at her height, still so young, and God said no. He was going to take her away from this world piece by painful piece. Most of us, given such a sentence, would probably go down easy, but the loss of a child and a Great Depression showed that she was made of tougher stuff. She began to eat healthy at a time when it was not even a concept in most people’s minds. She visited every quack, chiropractor, and doctor she could find. She even spent time bathing in and drank the warm salt waters of Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Most of these cures probably caused her more pain than relief. Where they came up with the time and money for such efforts, considering how little they had, is a miracle in itself. She crocheted and did things with her hands to keep them busy, even though each stitch and cross-stitch had to have been painful, but she never complained. It did not stop her from going to her boys’ games. Always wanting to make sure no one saw her suffer and maintaining her dignity, she would have her husband pull their old 1949 maroon Ford as close to the ball field as possible so she could be a small part of their minor victories. Quietly, with widows rolled up, she was always there. It was a dignity she kept even in her own house. Her grandchildren know she moved around the house, and it must have been agonizing to watch, but they have almost no memories of those moments. She just appeared in her chair or on the stools she sat on while she cooked or ironed. Elsie was independent and a perfectionist to the end. When the disease took away her ability to lift her arms, she would put a rag on the end of a stick to dust the house. She never stopped cooking for her husband and the boys when they came in from the field or returned home from one of their games. How she did it and found the time given the crippling effects of the disease is impossible to imagine. That independence was tested when her husband had a minor stroke. Strokes and heart attacks do strange things to the mind, most of which were not understood back then. She wouldn’t let that damn gun in the bedroom. When she returned home with one of her sons from her visit to the chiropractor, she noticed that gun was missing. She simply said, “Go find him.” She knew. They had never talked about it, but she knew, somehow she just knew. He left her behind in that house, still so young, with so many years ahead of her. While what he did is understandable given all that we know about the mind today, I still have trouble forgiving him because she really needed him, even though it happened long before I was born. Elsie stayed in her house. How she was able to do that is beyond me. The mailbox was not that far. A child could have run across that front yard in a few seconds. It took her forty-five minutes to get her mail everyday. It was painful to watch. The mailman repeatedly asked her if he could just bring the mail into the house for her. Her sons even said they would do it for her when they stopped by to checkup on her everyday. No, it was her mail. Forty-five painful minutes. After awhile a permanent dirt path where she drug that foot behind her from the house to the mailbox formed. She never stopped, no matter what the weather. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and that is why she made that walk. She never wanted to stop being her. She did not let that disease kill her. She grew old, not as old as she should have been. Even though it constantly worried everyone that being all alone in that house she would fall or one of those bones would just shatter for no reason at all. It was a simple hernia that popped back into place when my dad picked her up to take her to the hospital that killed her. Even though she was okay, the doctor decided to go in anyway and he screwed up. There is still resentment to this day about it. A part of me likes to believe she is in heaven dancing and as beautiful as she was in those early photographs. The pain that was a part of who she was no longer there. But that path, that path, I like to imagine it’s still there. The answers regarding so many things in this world are probably there, somewhere along that path.