Jean Crankshaw, Hobe Sound, Fla.

Marketplace Contributor Jun 8, 2012

I chose this photo of my mother and I, taken by my father in our yard in Stuart, Florida shortly before she died in 1996.
My mother was a nurse who worked in her father’s doctor’s office before she met my father. My father was in the Korean War then came home and went to college. He was planning to join the FBI but then he met my mother in 1959 and his priorities changed. (How they met is another lovely story.)
Both of my parents came from emotionally strong, fair-minded families who produced kind, hard-working offspring.
I was away in college when my mother had the stroke that left her hemiplegic with aphasia. I wanted to come home. My father would not allow it.
I spent my summers caring for my mother and when I finished school, I stayed home and took care of Mom because I was needed. My father didn’t want me to. I don’t know how else they would have made it. He paid for a nurse during the day and I helped during the day and took care of her at night until he got home.
My mother, for all her troubles, was a gentle, good-humored woman. She couldn’t talk and she couldn’t walk and she struggled to feed herself but she laughed often and loved us in spite of ourselves.
My father kept working to support us and keep the house when he should have been retired and they should have been relaxing. He was bankrupt but he never declared it. We had a nice house on a two and a half acre plot with a pond suitable for canoeing and fishing. It was Dad’s rural dreamhouse. Even though it was humble and plain it was full of love.
Mom survived for 12 years after her stroke. I stayed in and cared for her for the last eight of those years. Dad sought help. Mom was able to participate in the county’s day care program so she could get out of the house and we could have some respite but all Dad got from politicians and other programs was “God bless you.” No local politician, governor, representative or congressman queried raised a finger to help in any way.
When Bill Clinton became president and Hillary Clinton was working on healthcare issues, I nagged Dad to write her a letter detailing our story. He got a call from The White House. He thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. The Clintons were coming to South Florida and they wanted to meet Dad. They had been moved by his letter, not because of our problems but because Dad hadn’t begged for help. He asked for a change that would prevent other people from having to go through the same thing. He didn’t want other children to give up their dreams or for other people to have to keep working into their 70s and beyond just to survive.
Meeting the Clintons was all the reward Dad has ever gotten on earth for taking care of my mother instead of abandoning her in a nursing home. Later, when he traveled to Europe to report on World War II anniversary events, President Clinton spotted him standing aside in a crowd and left his entourage to shake his hand again.
We work hard to support ourselves. We love each other. We don’t have all that much but we are proud to work for what we do have. We could complain but we keep on working instead.
Caring for my mother left us with nothing much. Dad, who eventually remarried, is still working full-time at 81. It keeps him going, I think. I’ll be 47 this year and have no retirement savings because I find myself, also, bankrupt but not declaring it. I’m stubbornly holding on, too. It’s what we do.

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