Monday, April 6, 2020

SURVIVING THE UNEXPECTED (with prayer and toilet paper)

4/2/2020 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Hello, Grovers! The Chatterbox is back! After 22 years of conversing with my CG Sentinel readers, I had to stop writing for awhile and I missed you. Today’s column is a short update of my unbelievably crazy life these past months.

It all began with a dog attack. One year ago, on March 30, a large dog tried to take off my right arm. I was taken by ambulance to RiverBend, met by a trauma surgeon and informed that my wound could not be closed with simple stitching. I couldn’t see that there was no skin covering the raw flesh because I was wearing two sweatshirts. I quietly heard the surgeon say, “It’s serious and requires an immediate debridement surgery, another surgery and eventually a skin graft.”

In other words, It was a gory mess.

My healthy, happy self was changed in an instant. I was in shock. There are pictures of me just looking bewildered as I jumped through all the necessary hoops to restore my arm function. I truly feared that healing and restoration wasn’t possible.

Family, friends and strangers prayed.

I was in shock for weeks. My condition was described as “fragile.” The first two surgeries I barely knew what was happening. The skin graft was a real eye opener. I always wondered how they transferred skin from one place to another. In layman’s terms, they shaved a large area of skin off my thigh and stitched it over the skinless wound. Both the leg and arm were bandaged and the healing began.

I wore a wound vacuum attached to my arm and around my neck 24 hours a day for weeks. Eventually, it and the stitches were removed from the arm.  I wore a compression sleeve for months to continue the healing. The thigh skin removal was like a severe sunburn as it slowly healed. The ugly, crater-like hole of the arm wound area looks and feels like shoe leather.

Many thanks to modern medicine and an army of medical personnel who did everything they could to restore my arm. Along the way, I learned how to be brave and calm; to follow directions, endure multiple procedures, operate a wound vac machine and trust my husband to change bandages. One of the frustrating parts? It was two months before I could take a shower. Chuck washed my hair in the sink and I took sponge baths. Oy!

So much tissue was lost that I remained under the surgeon’s care until this year. The wound area is still tender and ugly as sin and there is residual nerve damage. Everyday life is hard on the arm and wrist: lifting, typing, stirring, opening jars, digging in the garden are all painful. But thanks to great care and hundreds of prayers, I survived and I am a grateful woman.

Now, you would think that would be enough medical trauma and drama for a little old lady in one year. But there’s more. In August, a routine exam showed that I had a non-malignant tumor of the parotid gland. The tumor was sitting on the facial nerve making it difficult surgery to remove.  More prayers were sent up and thanks to God and a great surgeon, I again survived the unexpected.

Finally, just before Christmas, when life was starting to get normal, more trouble was brewing. My husband has a long history of heart disease dating back to a 5-way bypass in 2003. In Dec. he began having difficulty breathing outside in cold air. No one thought that was a problem. “They” were wrong. He ended up at RiverBend, after a heart attack and stroke that resulted in more surgeries and weeks of Home Health Care. Many tears were shed and prayers were offered. Chuck survived the unexpected.

This year, for one brief month in January, life was looking up. Then came another surprise. A coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) arrived in America.

Unexpected? You bet.

Now, to everyone out there who is wondering what the world is coming to…I don’t know either. Only God knows. And so we pray. Please know that I’m following the rules and worrying right along with you and we will get though this. 

However, we are just about out of toilet paper. Kleenex, anyone?

Many thanks to all of you for your encouragement and friendship though-out my journalism years. May God bless you with hope, joy and good health as we plow through the year 2020! Keep looking up, praying and believing that we will survive.

Remember: This, too, shall pass!

P.S. After this went to press, a large box of toilet paper arrived in the mail from my sweet, thoughtful daughter who lives in Calif. Thank you, Kathryn!

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Athletics Coach Janice Jean Neely was a pistol!

7/17/19 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Today’s column is one of fond remembrances of Jan Neely, a beloved girls Athletic Coach and teacher who taught at Cottage Grove High School from 1952-1987. A Christian, she passed from this world into heaven on June 16, at the age of 92. Her former students and co-workers will tell you that she is gone but not forgotten. Their memories inspired this column. 

She still means a lot to her students and coworkers. For-instance, if you walk around the Cottage Grove High School campus, you will find yourself on the Coach Neely Fitness Trail. A plaque was placed there in 2012 in honor of this very respected teacher by a group of her former students. At the dedication, she had a personal tour of the trail in a golf cart.

Janice Jean and her twin sister Jean Janice were born on June 16, 1927 in Grant’s Pass, Oregon. They both graduated from the University of Oregon and later earned master’s degrees from the University of Washington. They both taught women’s physical education. Jean lived in La Grande for 30 years where she was a teacher at Eastern Oregon College until she retired and moved to Cottage Grove with Jan. She passed away in 2009.

Former Athletics Director Jerry Braunberger was fresh out of college when he came to CGHS in 1961. He and his wife Sherrie fondly remember Jan’s warm greeting and acceptance of them. Soon Jan was organizing activities for the faculty wives—most memorably, a weekly badminton group that continued for years. Sherrie remembers that “Jan set up the group and taught us how to play but she was heard to beat!”

Jerry said he really got to know her when they coached track together (along with softball, soccer, Lacrosse, etc.) He stressed that she was well-liked and developed strong relationships with her students. Whatever she did, her emphasis was always on the importance of physical activity for all ages. She would encourage all ages to exercise by saying, “You need to be active for a busy life,”

Jerry said that Miss Neely was an equal opportunist for women in sports—even in an era when girls’ sports in school were far less important than the boys, He added that “She was an excellent teacher and extremely dedicated. She was a dynamo!”

After hearing from graduates of several CGHS eras, it’s evident she coached, taught, mentored, encouraged, supported and motivated her students all while teaching them new skills. I think it’s fair to say that she was a super star teacher to her students. One with a sense of humor. 

As you will learn from the following comments about their “Miss Neely,” you might also say that she taught with love.

Cheryl R. from the class of 1966 says:Growing up there were three women who deeply influenced me: my mother, my paternal grandmother and Miss Neely. She was not only a wonderful teacher, coach and advisor, but also a wonderful role model to me and to hundreds of young women. She always inspired us to do our best and be our best version of ourselves. I know I am a better person for having her in my life."

Janece N., also from the Class of 1966, said..."I have wonderful memories of Miss Neely...definitely a woman before her time!"

Jan S., also from the Class of 1966 says: “My memories include powerful words to describe the role model she was for me...dedicated, motivational, positive influence, genuine, caring, and she paved the way for girls’ athletics by the way she positively interacted with people. She provided an unbelievable experience in physical education with curriculum involving basketball, volleyball, tennis, softball, gymnastics, fencing, archery, etc. I chose elementary teaching for my life long career and Miss Neely was a definite inspiration and role model in my life!”

One member of the class of 1959 recalls how kind and caring Miss Neely was while her PE teacher. It was this teenager’s senior year. She fell in love, got married and became pregnant. Morning sickness made it impossible for her to keep up in soccer. Miss Neely noticed, didn’t ask questions but suggested that her student “Go sit on the sidelines and learn by watching.” Now that’s teaching with compassion.

Finally, Marie L. (class of 1957), has some hilarious stories of trips that the various teams took to out of town sporting events. There were no buses for girl athletes so parents and Miss Neely did the driving. 

To pass the time, the girls would come prepared with prankster signs to flash out the back window. A couple of their favorites read, “Help! We’re being Kidnapped!” or “Single Driver.” They were afraid to put up the one that said, “Drunk Driver.”

As they giggled, Miss Neely would just say, “What are you girls doing now?” and keep on driving to the next GAA meet.

Today, all agree that they are grateful for having known her. She was an excellent teacher, mentor, role model and friend who greatly influenced their lives forever. There were many formal accolades and awards for her but as one former student said, “She was a pistol and got things done! 

Now you have to wonder what kind of athletics she is organizing in heaven!

There will be a Celebration of Life service for Miss Janice Jean Neely at Riverside Community Church of God, Saturday, July 20, 2019 at 2 pm.

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Cottage Grove historian shares 4th of July celebration memories

7/3/19 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser 
Note: This column is being published a little late. Sorry

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Are you ready to celebrate? Well, the Colonists certainly were after signing the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. But first, they had to get hostility out of the way. King George III bore the brunt of their actions.

Newspapers of the time describe how the military tore down a statue of the King in the Bowling Green section of Manhattan and later melted it into bullets. In Philadelphia, the King’s coat of arms was used as bonfire kindling. The citizens of Savannah, Georgia, burned the King in effigy and held a mock funeral to put him away forever.

The following year, the Virginia Gazette, dated July 5, described a more civilized celebration: “Armed ships and gallies were drawn up before the city, dressed with the colours of the U.S and began the celebration by a discharge of 13 cannon from each of them. The day was closed with the ringing of bells and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and ended with 13 rockets on the commons, illuminating the city.”

This year we will celebrate 243 years of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In many ways, our celebration hasn’t changed very much. For most of us, it will be a day off work, family reunions, parades, backyard barbecues and lots of fireworks.

In 2007, I wrote a column in which I asked readers to share their childhood memories of July 4th celebrations. The response was not overwhelming. In fact, I only received two emails. One was from Marcia Allen, now 96 years old, whom I consider to be the queen of Cottage Grove history.
Marcia has been my go-to-person for 20 years as a reporter and columnist. She has also been a driving force, along with many others, to preserve and celebrate the history and heritage of Cottage Grove’s people and buildings and culture. The Marcia E. Allen Historical Research Library is named in her honor. Got questions? Stop and see them @ 308 So. 10th St.

Here are Marcia’s childhood recollections of celebrating the 4th of July in the mid-1930s:
“I have several memories of my childhood and how I celebrated the 4th of July.  My folks were always very patriotic, and displayed a very large flag hung on the clothesline in the big front porch, where clothes dried in the wind in winter time. Every store downtown had bunting draped under roofs and windows, businesses were closed for the day.

We began at the Cottage Grove Armory, with a speaker and a HS student reciting the Gettysburg address.  The Civil War Vets were always proudly in uniform and honored as the oldest group. Seems like there were still about 8-10 who were able to come. Kelly Field is named for a hometown boy lost in WWI, and the Calvin Funk Post of the American Legion is also named for a CG boy lost in action.       

The Armory was built early in the 1930's because Cottage Grove was noted for its group of National Guardsmen who were crack shots with their rifles. They needed a place to practice inside so as to be ready for competition when they reported annually to "Camp Lewis" in Washington to camp and compete with all others in the Northwest. (see the story of the Armory in the Golden Was the Past II - page 65). 

There was usually a parade because veterans from the Civil War were still alive and the first World War had been over about ten years, and patriotic fever was high.

The way I remember CG parades used to be with the High School Band always involved as well as the CG Band of men - most of whom were WWI vets and businessmen. The parade led to the bridge, and on to the Fir Grove cemetery - to honor the dead after the service.

 Sometimes our family went by car over to Siuslaw Falls, down past Lorane to the west and had a picnic with friends from the Masonic lodge or others from the business community. A special treat of the day was the food - always watermelon and fried chicken- not usually enjoyed at other times. 

Sometimes Dad drove Mother and I to Florence where his uncle and aunt and some of their grown children lived. We drove down the twisty 2 lane highway along the Umpqua river to Glenada and boarded a ferry to cross over to Florence. The big bridge over the bay was not built until 1936, so travel over any river near the ocean was all done by ferries.  The first rhododendron parade was done on boats along where Old Town Florence is today. 

There were never any children my age to play with, but I usually had a package or two of firecrackers and a punk to light them and had a good time in the sand dune behind the house.

One time I lit a firecracker that burned its fuse and didn't go off. When I picked it up, it did go off and burned my fingers very painfully.  I was about 9 years old and had started taking piano lessons that constituted an hour's practice every day.  Needless to say, the practice sessions were on hold for about a week! 

May we never forget the “good ole days” and what our country stands for!”

Thank you, Marcia and God bless the U.S.A.!

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Oregon: Now is the time to reduce Wildfire Risk!

6/5/19 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Last month the London Grange hosted a presentation on preparing our homes and properties for summer’s upcoming wildfire conditions. It was followed by a pulled pork sandwich meal and scrumptious desserts— so you know I just had to go. The Grange is only a few miles down the road from us so Chuck and I showed up, paper and pencil in hand, promptly at 5 p.m.

Speaker Justin Patten from the Oregon Dept of Forestry was introduced to the group by Grange President Alice Nowicki. For an hour, Patten shared some helpful Firewise information for those of us who live in wooded areas and then took questions on specific local problem areas.

Until a couple of years ago, the possibility of a forest fire in our area had never entered our minds. We love living in the forested area across from C.G. Lake, where wildlife roam and silence is golden. We were oblivious to the fact that there were no fire hydrants or an escape route around the lake in case of fire.

Previously we had lived in cities where there were no wildfire worries. We grew up in Los Angeles in an era of vacant lots and citrus groves. Large, out-of-control fires were practically unheard of and if perchance one broke out, there was a firehouse nearby.

Later, we lived in Ventura, Ca. It sits near the ocean, has sunny and foggy days; citrus groves and strawberry patches. Again, fire was not a big worry. Fire hydrants were on every block and the kids were drilled at school to come home and teach their parents to put up fire alarms and agree on meeting places in emergencies. Nothing about wildfires.

The last couple of summers, it seemed that the whole West Coast was on fire. This year’s Snowmageddon really got our attention. Dangerously dry, huge debris piles are everywhere around us—forests, campgrounds and homes. Suddenly we realized that wildfires are possible in our own backyard. Scary stuff.

Our daughter Kathy, her husband, their two sons and daughter-in-law live in East Ventura. There are many houses some near lemon and orange groves. Tim is a 30-year veteran of the Oxnard Fire Dept. and he was on duty the night that the largest fire in the state’s history broke out—a few short miles from their home. The Thomas Fire ultimately burned 282,000 acres and was fought by an army of 8,000 firefighters.

Thomas started in Santa Paula’s Steckel Park, south of Aquinas College. It soon spread west along the foothills powered by the dreaded Santa Ana winds. It quickly reached the city of Ventura where it destroyed neighborhoods in the hills above City Hall. The fire kept going and didn’t stop for weeks, until it reached Santa Barbara. Lives were lost and properties destroyed.

That fire and others caused us to look around and plan how we could lower our own fire danger. We have a sprinkler system, have knocked down our tall weeds, keep our perimeters mowed, taken junk to the dump and removed flammable debris. But it takes the cooperation of everyone in the neighborhood to also keep their properties cleaned up.

Lightning strikes and other forces of nature are beyond our control.

Forester Justin Patten (at his Grange talk) pointed out these important reminders:

#1 The leading cause of human-caused wildfires in Oregon is escaped debris from backyard burning.…
°Check the weather forecast and call your local fire agency before burning
° Clear a 10-ft radius around your burn pile.
° Burn yard debris only and always stay by your burn pile with tools on site
°Make sure your burn pile is completely out when you leave.

#2 Equipment fires are the second leading cause of wildfires on state-protected lands in Oregon. Spring is the time to clean up excess vegetation, not summer. Use the right tool for the job.
° Call first to find out if equipment use is restricted.
°Use gas-powered equipment early in the day.
°Use a weed trimmer with plastic line.
°Be sure your tools are in good working order.
°Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose nearby.

#3 Create a defensible space around your home free of combustible material: Fire follows fuel.
°Clean up dead or dying plans, branches, leaves and needles everywhere—decks too!
°Move wood pile 30 feet from the home.
°Remove flammable plants and replace with fire-resistant species.
°Prune tree branches to a height of 6-10 ft to remove ladder fuels.
°Cut grass to less than 4 inches.
°Keep shrubs low and away from the drip line of house foundations and trees.
°Maintain driveway clearance that is free of flammable debris to allow fire engine access.
°More information at or home/.

Now we are praying for an uneventful summer. But just in case… I would appreciate it if someone would tell us an emergency escape route to London Rd. and the freeway.

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mother's Day Memories

5/8/19 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Head’s up everyone! This weekend is Mother’s Day. Now that you’ve been warned, there’s no excuse if you forget your wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother or anyone dear to your heart that you call “mother.” Mothers of all ages appreciate being remembered on their special day. So start planning now to celebrate them on Sunday. You’ll be glad you did.

Most moms are easy to please. Think about it. They raised you, didn’t they? At some point they must have told you how special you are to them. Maybe it was that primitive watercolor painting that you brought home from kindergarten and she framed. Or the Mother’s Day poem in your childish scrawl that still hangs above her desk. She loves you.

It takes so little to touch a mother’s heart.  Fughetta about the expensive stuff on the TV ads. Moms are just thrilled if you’re there. Flowers? Buy a single potted petunia to plant in the garden. Forget to send a fancy card? No worries.  Just pick up the phone and tell her that you love her. No money for a fancy dinner? Show up on her doorstep with her favorite chocolates wrapped in a ribbon and a great big hug. You’ll make her day.

And if your mom has gone to her heavenly reward, say a little prayer of gratitude.

How do I know all of these things? Because I’m a mother and it was the best job that I ever had. A mother’s love and caring instincts kicked in quickly for me and knew no bounds. I worked 24 hours a day for 20+ years and was paid in hugs and kisses. Still, from the day a baby is born and brought home until they fly away on their own, it’s work, work, work. But I always thought that was why we had kids. Their wants and needs ordered my days—from dawn to dusk and often, all night. Some people complain about the teenage years but I thought they were a walk in the park compared to infancy, toddlers and elementary school.

Actually, looking back, I sometimes wonder how I survived. My husband worked long hours, six days a week, often until midnight. He was also in the US Army Reserve. We had been married one year when our daughter Kathy was born. Jeff came 2 years later and John a mere 13 months after that. Money was scarce and so were creature comforts. No dishwashers or new-fangled clothes dryers. I spent most of my time feeding and burping babies, sterilizing bottles and formula, changing diapers, doing laundry by hand, ironing, hanging diapers on the clothes line and folding clothes after everyone went to bed.

I was young and energetic enough to cope with chaos. Most of the time. There were days when I was sure that I was going crazy. When the kids were toddlers, I really looked forward to naptime. But they all slept in the same room. Kathy dozed right off. Jeff was not so cooperative. One day he was very quiet. I looked in and he was gone! I found him outside in his underwear riding up and down the street on the neighbor kid’s tricycle! John never slept at naptime. His favorite trick was to empty out all the dresser drawers—every day. There was never a dull moment and lots of joy as their growing stages and harmless mischief kept me smiling along with the exhaustion.

In my childhood, Mother’s Day celebrations were a big deal and very formal. Growing up, the day revolved around my mother and grandmother’s wishes. Sunday was church day. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best—suits and hats—orchid corsages were mandatory! And dinner at the steak house with three well-behaved children was a must.

My Mother’s Day morning as a mom of three kids under the age of four years old was a little wilder. I would coax the kids out of bed and feed them cold cereal for breakfast. Sticky hands and faces were washed before they were dressed in their Sunday best; hair was combed and kids were plopped down in front of TV cartoons while I got dressed.

Then, between the time I ironed my dress and put on my stylish hat, an argument would break out. “Mom, he hit me!” And inevitably, one of the boys would run outside, fall down and rip out the knees of his new Sunday suit. Kathy stayed in her room just to avoid the commotion.

Somehow all five of us got out the door and into the car. As my husband drove, I would pull out a bottle of nail polish and paint my nails—praying they would be dry by the time we got to church. After church we all went out to supper (where the boys climbed under the table!) and then home for a nap!

Mother’s Day always began with chaos but was rewarded with hugs and kisses.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms of all eras! May all your memories be sweet. And if you’re a new, overwhelmed mom, remember that childhood is fleeting but love endures forever.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family
 and other matters of the heart.
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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Surviving "Oregon Snowpocalypse 2019”

3/27/19 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The snow may have melted, and the power restored to everyone but everywhere I go, people are telling their 2019 snow storm stories. Mother Nature really outdid herself last month and when she goes wild, the results are good, bad and ugly.

Let’s start with the good. It snowed! In the beginning, snow is beautiful. We ooh and ahh as the miracle white stuff coats everything. Snow is beneficial. and Planet Earth needs it to regulate the temperature of its surface. When it melts, the water helps fill our rivers and reservoirs. A couple of years ago it didn’t snow, and we lost dozens of trees on our property. Snow is good.

The bad? It snowed! And it kept snowing. Few of us were prepared for a heavy, wet snow to blanket everything. In taking down our power lines, it shut off our heaters and heated up our refrigeration. The snow plows opened up our main roads but closed off driveway entrances to and from our properties with three-foot-tall berms. We were totally isolated on our property.

Sun. Feb. 25, we were snowbound by late afternoon. No electricity in an all-electric house means no heat, water, refrigeration, flushing toilets, cooking facilities, lights, internet, cell or land phones. Monday, we woke up to crashing trees, 15” of wet snow on rooftops and ground. We turned on the generator intermittently to use the water, stovetop or microwave but we were very low on fuel and using it sparingly. Then the Jeep got stuck in the snow trying to get out of the garage.

The next 10 days I put in the ugly category. Thank goodness for a wood stove, a generator and angels of mercy.

Monday morning, we put on our boots and trudged out to the gate in about ¼ mile of deep snow. It doesn’t sound like much until you walk it several times in freezing weather. The gate was frozen shut. We needed gas for the generator, but no cars were traveling our roads, and neither were pedestrians. Our ATT cell phones neither received nor sent. It’s scary to be out of contact with everyone.

Chuck is still recovering from two heart surgeries and we needed help. But where would it come from? Miraculously, prayers were answered and miracles happened. Tuesday, our next-door neighbor, Aaron, jumped the fence and forged a path across the acres of deep snow. (He had power lines down across his driveway.) He daily stacked our firewood, shoveled snow, and was our contact with the outside world. His wife, Tanya (home with a toddler and baby) was able to contact our worried out-of-state family. Amazing!

Originally, we only had enough gas to minimally work our generator for one day. It consumes about 5 gallons a day. Every day someone supplied the basics we needed. Many thanks to Steve who lives nearby, neighbors Clint and Donna, friends Sella and Morrie in C.G. for bringing us gas, groceries and more. All were answers to prayer.

 Still, we couldn’t leave the property. And then the Marines landed! Clint and his monster truck knocked down an opening to the road and flattened our icy driveway. We were finally able to leave our property on Friday, March 1, but didn’t have power until 6 p.m. Wed. Mar. 6.

You can be sure that the busy EPUD and Tillamook Electric crews were a welcome sight as they strung wire and installed new poles for three days. I don’t know who was happiest to have heat again—us or our dogs Sweetie and Sammy. Thank you!

Now, a word about on-going electrical problems. This was not our first rodeo. At C.G. Lake, Dorena and other outlying areas, we have frequent power interruptions. We understand that we live in heavily wooded, rural areas. Transformers blow up and trees come down on the lines. But in 30 years, as the population has grown, we have seen little progress or changes to stop our long-term electric outages.

We have new meters to calculate usage and dedicated workers when something happens. But we also need communication and preventative action. Oregon’s electric companies tell us that underground lines are too expensive. Isn’t it expensive to keep replacing lines and equipment and pay over-time?

And what about the homeowners? It’s more expensive to NOT have electricity than it is to have it. Most households in our area do not have generators. They huddle in front of fireplaces and cook on camp stoves. Others spend hundreds of dollars on gas for small generators. Some stay in hotels at reduced rates worrying about pets and property. The system needs to be upgraded to the 21st century.

One final good thought. In spite of the inconvenience and frustration, we have much to be grateful for. One only has to read the news about droughts, famines, floods, wars and destruction in other areas of our country and world to know that we get off pretty easy here. So, I’m sure you will join me in counting our blessings and praying that another snowpocalypse doesn’t visit us again any time soon!

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

They meet at the U.S. Mexico border: The needy, the helpers and the guards

2/27/19 The Chatterbox 
Cottage Grove, Oregon
Betty Kaiser

Chris Heritage is a born helper and she is one busy lady. I first got to know her as the talented bell choir director at 1st Presbyterian Church. She’s also a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend. Plus, as a PeaceHealth Certified Midwife, she has always felt a call to help refugees around the world. But most of the places she hoped to go were too far away.

Then she heard about the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas—across from Reynosa, Mexico. The Center was started in 2014 in response to exhausted Central America refugees arriving in the U.S. to escape violence and poverty. They were alone and bewildered upon arrival.

Enter the church nuns. Their missions statement says in part: “We believe that human beings who have no food, no security, no access to shower, etc. are people in crisis. We will continue responding to the needs of these families in crisis as long as there is a need.”

Last year a request went out from the clinic for help from Spanish speaking medical volunteers. Dr. Lauren Herbert, M.D., a PeaceHealth pediatrician, answered the call and invited Chris to come along. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Travel to a crisis at our own border was reasonable, people were suffering, she speaks Spanish and the timing was good. She thought, “I can do this.” Another nurse from Bellingham, WA joined them.

Upon arrival at the clinic on Jan. 13, they were put to work immediately. Buses arrive daily from the ICE detention facility with several hundred refugees who have been released to enter the country. Here, they are greeted by the volunteers with smiles and given help in connecting with their U.S. sponsors, a hot meal, warm showers and bathrooms, beds, clothing, shoes, medical help, phone services and safety courses.

Chris says, “Most of them are headed east. They stay for a day or two before continuing on their journey. People who felt especially sick came right away to the clinic for medical help. There was usually a surge of children and adults needing our help in the afternoon and into the evening. We would go to bed and the next morning there was a line again. We took care of everything from minor colds to bruises, scrapes, headaches, stomach aches, athletes’ foot and occasionally more serious illnesses. People with life threatening problems are sent to the local hospital ER.

“They have so much hope,” she says.  “Even the ones with ankle monitors who would likely be sent back to the dangerous situations they are trying to escape. I have met and worked with similar families here in Oregon. They are hardworking, kind, hopeful. They have strong family values, are attentive to their children. So happy to be here. Now, having worked in Texas, I have a new respect for their struggles.”

The volunteers occasionally had opportunities to take a break around lunch time to learn firsthand about the border situation.

“One day we visited La Posada, a place where Catholic nuns provide longer term housing and support for refuges that don’t have an immediate place to go. Another time we visited a 19th century chapel that will be torn down if the wall is built. Then, the next group would arrive, and the work would start again until the early evening.”

Chris’ stories about the common humanity of the people she encountered are heartwarming. There were the needy, the helpers and the guards. The needy, of course, were the most obvious. There was a 12-year-old boy, separated (and later united) with his father in a truck accident, where people were killed crossing the border. Another boy had an infected leg from the wreck.

A woman who was 6-1/2 months pregnant fell in the Rio Grande River and was tossed about by the current. She was worried about her baby. Chris got out her stethoscope and they both laughed out loud as they heard the baby’s heartbeat. There were tears of happiness.

People from all walks of life come to help. There are clothes to be sorted, floors to be mopped, meals to be prepared and cleaning of all kinds to be done. A group of Mennonite men and women come regularly and prepare the soup of the day. A local church group comes often as does a church from Iowa. A Facebook group helps people in the McAllen area to donate pizza dinners to the Respite Center.

One day, Chris observed some official looking men with clipboards watching the children play. She was suspicious. Turns out they were sketching plans to build a playground. Kindness abounds.

And then there was an hour-long discussion with a border guard. The government was shut down, but this man was working without a paycheck for his family. Chris began their conversation by thanking him. The guard’s response was, “If I was not working, people would die. I could not live with myself if that happened.”

So, what can we do? These are not illegal immigrants. They are legal. They had a destination. Still, they are needy. Getting from their country to ours is not easy even when they’ve done the paperwork. Of course, the easiest way to help is by direct donations to organizations like the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande.

Advocating for just treatment of the immigrants is another way to help. Sometimes government needs a little nudge to tell them that what they’re doing is kinda crazy. Here’s an example from Chris:

 “When people cross the border and turn themselves into the border patrol, they are sent to ICE detention. Their shoelaces are removed and taken away. Everyone needs a new pair of shoelaces when they arrive at the Center. One of the volunteers tried to get the shoelaces back from ICE, but so far, ‘NO” is the answer. There may be a logical reason for this, but to have them replaced days later by donations and volunteers seems pretty inefficient.” Betty sez, “That’s government for you.”

Many thanks to Chris for sharing her story and to all who care for these newcomers with open minds, hearts and expertise.

 God bless them all and God bless the USA!

Contact Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox by email