- Story Listed as: True Life For Adults
- Theme: Love / Romance
- Subject: Death / Divorce / Loss
- Published: 11/27/2017
Too Much To Do...Born 1957, M, from Anywhere, United States
February 23, 1964, was the very best day in the lives of Joe and Clovis. After 15 childless years of marriage, and numerous miscarriages, a baby daughter named Ellen was born to the now middle-aged couple who had all but given up on having children and starting a family.
Her breathing was shallow and labored. Although she was unmoving, she was clearly fighting the battle of her life…
Finally, after waiting for so many years and suffering so many false-starts, Joe and Clovis finally had the beautiful baby girl that, until then, had been so heartbreakingly elusive. They were finally ‘a family’.
Joe and Clovis were simple people, but in a good way. Both had very humble beginnings having been born just before the Great Depression wreaked its havoc on an unprepared world. But the calamitous times meant virtually nothing to the farm families living in the south at that time. Poverty and ‘doing without’ had been a way of life for many generations, so the often-ruinous effects of the meltdown on Wall Street went virtually unnoticed in rural Louisiana in the 1930’s.
It’s hard to believe that Joe and Clovis had progressed so far in their lives by the time little Ellen was finally born. They had both grown up on farms that had no electricity, no plumbing, and no prospects for a brighter future. Picking cotton and vegetables by hand, tending to the animals, and wearing clothes made from flower sacks was their life as they were growing up. These were people who had seldom seen an indoor toilet, or lived with the wonders of electricity all around. Growing up using outhouses, coal oil lamps for lights, and hand-chopped wood for heat, they had lived an existence that would have been recognizable in the 19th century.
And then the people who loved her the most began arriving…
Joe and Clovis were much older than their years. Having grown up in such sparse and humble surroundings, they were solidly grounded in those things that were, and are, the most important. They knew the value of a dollar. They understood the meaning of family. And they were encyclopedias of knowledge about how things used to be. From home remedies, to sewing clothes, to building barns, to making ice cream, they knew how to do almost everything a family might need done. Self-reliance wasn’t a catchy slogan, it was the way things were done.
Joe and Clovis loved to party. Beginning in the early years of their marriage and continuing on through the rest of their lives, they loved to have a good time. Bars in those days were less formal affairs and it was somewhat common for people to bring their kids along while they laughed, played cards, smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol at the local Juke Joint.
When Ellen was growing up, it was a common occurrence to find numerous friends and relatives at the Morace house on the weekends, partying until all hours of the day and night. And it was all considered harmless fun. In the 1960’s atmosphere of small-town Louisiana, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, so getting together with friends and loved ones was a regular anticipated event. Joe and Clovis’s house became the place to be, and these fun-filled weekends went on fairly regularly for many years.
The Morace family was very close. Being an only child, and being the child they had waited on for so many years, Ellen was the center of Joe and Clovis’s universe. Simple pleasures became extremely valuable. While Joe got up and went off to work in the morning, Clovis stayed at home with Ellen. Every day at noon Joe would come home for lunch, and every evening Joe would be there for supper. Most evenings, anyway. Joe was the manager of the water system for the parish, so he was on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. If something went wrong somewhere on the water system, Joe was there. It didn’t matter if it was the middle of the night, they knew to call Joe. Thanksgiving afternoon? Call Joe. Christmas morning? Call Joe. As Joe had always been, he was at his best when he was solving problems for others. It didn’t matter that in his 25 years as manager of the waterworks he only took 1 vacation. Ever. His sense of responsibility was immense and he took it as a badge of honor. He always knew what needed to be done, and he just did it unquestioningly.
A few years into their marriage Joe decided he wanted to open his own plumbing business. Fortunately, he was a great plumber. Unfortunately, he was a bad businessman. He was far too nice of a guy. When someone had a pressing plumbing problem but couldn’t pay for repairs, that never slowed Joe down. He always did what he had to do to solve every problem that ever came up. Whether in business or in his personal life. It was the same policy for everyone. If he could help-out in any way, that’s what he did.
For entertainment, occasionally Joe and Clovis and Ellen would slowly cruise the back roads of Concordia Parish in Joe’s pickup truck picking up empty soft drink bottles. In those days, soft drinks all came in glass bottles and after use, the bottles could be traded back in for a nickel a piece. If you could pick up 20 bottles you could get a dollar bill. In those days, it was extremely common for people to litter the highways by throwing their trash – and empty soda bottles – out of the car windows, which were usually down already because of the absence of air conditioning. The 3 of them would spend hours finding bottles and other interesting and uninteresting things by the roadside.
When Joe would have to read water meters once a month, Ellen was his helper and became adept at reading the meters and avoiding the snakes and spiders often found around the meters. After several years, she got to know hundreds of people in the Parish, and if you pointed out a house to her she could likely tell you who lived there.
There were also rare, quiet nights when Joe and Clovis and Ellen would park on the bank of the Mississippi River, lie down on blankets in the back of the pickup, and listen to the river, and the bullfrogs, and the crickets, and the tug boats as they made their way up or downstream on that mighty river.
Since Joe and Clovis were older than most parents, and because of the way they had been raised, there was more than a small generation gap. For Ellen, it was more like being raised by grandparents. They weren’t real receptive to pleas by Ellen to participate in the types of activities that were common among her friends. She basically never went anywhere, or did anything. No skating, no softball, no Girl Scouts, no band, and very little anything else. At times, for a young girl, it was a little like being in jail. Until her friend Sheila appeared.
Sheila lived in the next house about a quarter mile down the highway to the west. Although Sheila was 4 years older than Ellen, they became fast friends. As Sheila was a few years ahead in her maturation journey, Ellen quickly became more worldly about certain things. Because Sheila was older, Ellen’s development leap-frogged over her other friends that were her same age.
By the time Ellen turned about 15, Sheila had married and Ellen found herself a few years older than her years. She went through a couple of boyfriends and then settled for a local troublemaker named Glen LaBorde, who was 4 years older than she was. After a knockdown-dragout fight with her folks, she married him when she was only 17.
A year later, she was forced to bury her first child, Stacy, after she was born with a terminal birth defect. Stacy was a beautiful child and from all appearances she seemed healthy. However, Ellen learned almost immediately that her condition was not conducive to survival. On the 2nd day following Stacy’s birth, after she had travelled 70 miles to her home to get some rest, Ellen received the phone call that she already knew was coming. She never even got to hold her sweet baby girl, who was soon buried in the cemetery of a small church in Concordia Parish.
After suffering horrific and sustained physical and emotional abuse by Glen, she finally divorced him when she was 21, but not before her son Michael had been born of the marriage.
Within a year of her divorce, Ellen was married again to a man by the name of Danny Cox, who was 6 years older. He had hired her to be a clerk in a video store, which was one of several that he managed. Danny would say that he was stunned by Ellen the minute he laid eyes on her. Trying to avoid using his position as a way to meet women, Danny kept his distance from Ellen and although he was very attracted to her, he made no effort to try to get to know her personally. This worked fine until one day, Ellen asked Danny out.
Danny had grown up in Texas and Oklahoma and had worked his way up to middle-management in a national chain of furniture and appliance stores. Having left home at the age of 16, Danny had a rough beginning going through a number of different types of jobs before he found a position as a delivery man. Within 6 months he had moved into management, and within 4 years he had worked his way up into a multi-unit management position.
Danny was a ‘city boy’, having been primarily raised in large cities. He and Ellen could not have possibly been more different from each other. They could talk for hours and keep each other entertained with their widely separated viewpoints on nearly every subject. In their case, it was true that opposites attract.
Joe and Clovis at first didn’t know what to make of Ellen’s new husband. In their lives, they had seldom known or even been in contact with anyone like him. He might as well have been from Mars. However, they quickly saw that the love between Ellen and Danny was real, and that even though they understood very little about him, he was possibly going to be in a position to dramatically change Ellen’s life for the better. The pool of potential husbands was rather small in their parish in Louisiana, so for Ellen to be able to meet someone from the outside was considered a blessing.
Many years later, Joe would comment that Danny was “the best thing to ever happen to our family”.
The main thing they gave Danny was membership in a real family. Danny had grown up in a broken home and had spent most of his childhood moving around the country with no one place he could call home. Having never experienced a large and loving family, Danny spent the next few years integrating into it.
Danny had, for several years, worked in Houston. He had a decent income and thoroughly enjoyed his life as a young single man in a large city. Since he made a higher-than-average income, he went about his life as if there was no tomorrow, spending every dime he made on living in the fast lane. He did realize that one day he would likely get married and settle down, so he avoided making purchases on credit and avoided large purchases that would commit him to any one job or location. He stayed ready go wherever his career led him, so when he was offered a new and better position in Louisiana managing a group of furniture and appliance stores, he jumped at the chance.
Early-on Ellen saw that Danny was a blank slate financially. He could produce income, but didn’t have a clue as to what to do with it. But Ellen did. Having been raised in a household where money and financial expectations were minimal, she knew exactly what she needed to do. Giving her complete control, Danny was able to continue to put his energy in excelling at work, and Ellen began taking the steps to move the family toward a solid financial future.
She worked off and on, but was blessed to usually be in a position where she could stay home with Michael. In the late summer of 1987 she discovered that she was pregnant once again.
In early 1988, Ellen and Danny bought their 1st house, and worked to make it into the home that it soon became.
In May of that year, Matthew was born in a panicked rush. Although Ellen had made it to the hospital in ample time, the final minutes compressed down to seconds and she was forced to forego the anesthesia she had depended on for her first 2 childbirths. With Ellen screaming in pain and shock, Matthew arrived in a mad rush.
With Clovis watching through the window of the delivery room door, the panicked health professionals tried their best to control what was nearly a complete disaster. As Matthew exited his mother’s womb in a rush, it was immediately apparent that he was severely and hopelessly handicapped. With no advanced warning from the Dr (who had surely known what was going to happen), Ellen began to relive that time nearly 6 years earlier when the worst thing that could happen actually did. Within a very few hours, the diagnosis was clarified: Matthew would die soon. There was just no way around it.
Matthew went into the intensive care unit of a hospital 120 miles away, and Ellen and Danny drove across the state to be with him. Over a period of 10 days they saw a baby that was born to die actually improve and thrive against all odds. Everyone knew it was hopeless. Everyone knew he could not survive, but Ellen was so good at carrying her babies during pregnancy that even the ones that could not and would not survive went full-term and were born as healthy as was possible under the circumstances. Most mothers would have spontaneously miscarried such sick babies early in their pregnancies, but not Ellen. She was ideally suited to be pregnant and pulled it off with a care and dedication that went way beyond normal. She was just particularly good at it.
They finally got Matthew home after learning how to care for him. There was no time limit on his life, but they knew he could be gone any minute. The family did normal things. They visited Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s house. They had family portraits done. They proudly took Michael and his new baby brother out to eat. It was as normal as possible, considering the circumstances.
On the 39th day of Matthews life it was Father’s Day. Joe and Clovis came over to celebrate and it was a quiet and relaxing day. Ellen and Clovis made what would become a fateful decision. For the 1st time since Matthew’s birth, Ellen would leave his side to go shopping with her Mother. It was during this trip that Matthew passed away. With his awestruck father gently stroking his head and crying, Matthew took his final breath. For the rest of her life, Ellen didn’t remember anything that happened for many weeks after that day.
Arrangements had been made shortly after Matthew's birth for his burial next to his older sister, Stacy. He was laid to rest on an exceedingly hot and humid morning with a large crowd of family and friends as witness.
And then everyone went home and Ellen, crushed by her unimaginable grief, just kept putting one foot in front of the other. A pain like that of losing a child can only be surpassed by losing another.
Ellen was so overwrought by what had happened she looked for any way to distract herself from her grief from the past, and her apprehension about the future. She was staying home with Michael, but her restlessness was grinding on her.
After about a year she went back to work at a furniture and appliance store. Within 6 months, due to her passion to excel, her work ethic, and her keen intelligence, she became the store manager. She went on to spend the next year as the top producing store in her district, and nobody that knew her was surprised.
But there was something else bothering her. Even though she was performing extremely well at her job, she gradually began to feel like she had something else to prove to herself. She separated from Danny and left to figure out exactly who she was. Her plan was to come back for Michael once she was settled into a new job and a new apartment 125 miles away.
She had left her parent’s house as a child and married young. When that ended, she soon met her 2nd husband and again found herself married. She had never had the chance to figure out who she was. She felt the need to strike out on her own to prove to herself that she could do it. And, of course, she could and did. Within 6 months, however, she made the decision to go back home to her family. While she had been gone, she learned that the value of what she had left behind far exceeded the value of her more recent accomplishments. She was welcomed home with open arms.
Over the next couple of years, the family bought a bigger house and lived a wonderful life. Everyone was healthy and happy and the future was looking brighter all the time. In the summer of 1993, Ellen found out she was pregnant again. Her moods alternated between elation and fear as the due date got closer and closer. Fortunately, by this time pregnancy diagnostic equipment and procedures had evolved to the point that it was now possible to diagnose serious health issues in the womb. After some testing it was made clear that this baby had no problems. And that this baby was going to be a little girl named Hannah.
Ellen could not have possibly been more happy. She was finally going to have a healthy baby girl. The fear was lifted. The future could now be planned. The little dress that had already made 3 trips to the hospital was finally going to be worn home by her new baby daughter. This was a very happy time indeed. On Ellen’s 30th birthday, Hannah was born. Ellen was in labor for a dozen hours or so making it her longest. Earlier in the day, outside of her labor room, which would double as her delivery room, hospital personnel had parked a large, serious-looking, high-tech, portable incubator. It sat there all day long. And everyone knew it was there – except Ellen. Nobody dared tell her. As the day wore on and babies were being born all around them, everyone wondered if it would be needed and if the hospital staff knew something none of them did.
Finally as the time for Hannah’s birth drew near, the activities of the Dr’s and nurses increased. It was almost time. And then the most amazing thing happened: A nurse came by and briskly wheeled the incubator out of sight. Gone.
Everyone then understood that everything actually was going to be okay. Hannah was born around 6pm, and Ellen had non-stop tears of happiness for 6 hours straight, until her nurse finally insisted that she get some rest.
Over the next few years there were to be other happy moments. Ellen and Danny opened a new business. They built a bigger house. They had a handsome and healthy son they named Thomas, and her experience in relation to her pregnancy and his birth actually felt normal for the first time since Stacy. With the appropriate testing once again confirming all was well, Ellen was finally able to relax and thoroughly enjoy her pregnancy. It really was the best of times.
Ellen, early on in the marriage, had commented that she hoped to have enough money someday to allow her to go school clothes shopping and just pay cash instead of going into debt. Now, and for many years to come, having the cash became no problem at all.
They bought new cars and built a swimming pool. They took fabulous vacations. Everything looked like it would all last forever. But we know it never does. The only thing that never changes is the fact that everything always changes.
There came a time when Michael started becoming a problem. Although he had been adopted by Danny at age 5, he seemed to be significantly influenced by the outlaw genes of his biological father, Glen. Starting at the age of 15, Michael began getting into trouble with the law. After threatening to blow up his school, Michael was incarcerated for the first of what would end up being numerous times over the next 15 years. Ellen and Michael had always been very close and she was heartbroken that her handsome and smart son would repeatedly damage himself with multiple felonies and incarcerations. At a certain point, after she had become sure that it wasn’t her fault, she started to pull away from Michael. She finally suspended nearly all contact with him. It was just too painful for her after he was sentenced to a 10 year term in 2010. She did, however, eventually seem to find some peace regarding the situation.
As the years went by, Joe and Clovis’s age began taking its toll. In 2003, Ellen and Danny bought them a house in their neighborhood so they could be a more regular part of the family. Everyone was happy. Everyone was still somewhat healthy. For a while, anyway.
In October of 2007, while Ellen was eagerly awaiting the imminent birth of her granddaughter, Mia, Clovis’s health rapidly deteriorated to the point of no return. At home, surrounded by family, Ellen calmly told her dying Mother that everything was “going to be fine, and you can go now”. Moments later, as Ellen’s heart was being torn in two, Clovis passed away quietly and calmly, the same way that she had lived her life.
Clovis’s death was quite hard on Ellen. She had always been very close to both of her parents. Something inside of her broke that day. She would never again be the same as before.
6 months later, in the summer of 2008, Ellen and Danny separated. At the same time, the business which they had worked so hard on, and which had been so good to them, began to fail. As a result of the largest US financial crash since the great depression 80 years previously, the business was presented with obstacles it was unable to surmount.
She gave up the beautiful home that she and Danny had built and loved. She, Hannah, and Tommy moved in with Joe around the corner. She found a job and began rebuilding her shattered life again from scratch.
Joe’s health began to seriously fail in 2011 and Ellen divided her time between work, kids, grandkids, and taking care of Joe. Joe’s death in December of that year was protracted and excruciating for everyone involved, particularly Joe.
With both parents now gone, Ellen felt her ties to Louisiana weakening and she took a brave chance and relocated herself and the kids to Kentucky. By that time, Michael had another daughter named Joleigh and she and her big sister, Mia, started going back and forth between Louisiana and Kentucky every time their drug-crazed mother would relapse and then recover. Ellen spent every waking minute worrying about those girls and she was always there to pick up the pieces. She tried over and over to get custody of the girls but their mother’s family was politically connected in that part of Louisiana and they could pull the right strings as needed.
And then the unimaginable occurred.
They said it was serious but they thought they had caught it in time. She went through the chemotherapy and the radiation and the surgery. She gained back some confidence that everything would be fine. She went about the business of her life as if she would live for many more decades to come.
A year or so after her treatments were completed, and feeling much better physically and emotionally, Ellen continued to excel in her job. She bought a new car. She made plans to move into a nicer place.
She was excited about the upcoming appearance of little Charlie McArter, her 4th grandchild who was due to be born within weeks.
And then her world came crashing down.
Ellen was an old soul. She had one foot in the 21st century, but she knew many things that had long since been forgotten by most. Her connection to the old days and the old ways was solid. She could make pancakes and biscuits from scratch. She knew how to tend a vegetable garden and make ice cream. She could skin a fish and she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She never turned away a stray animal. She knew what it was to work hard and succeed. She was a great plumber. She knew how to love with reckless abandon. And she knew how to be the kind of person that would be very hard to lose. She was smart, and principled, and had an overabundance of common sense. She was very outspoken and you always knew exactly where she came down on any issue. You could have no better friend nor fiercer enemy.
She was a beautiful woman – inside and out. And the lives of everyone she touched will be enhanced forever.
Hannah and Jordan’s living room had been turned into a hospital room with all of the recognizable components. Being 6 months pregnant, Hannah really did need her rest…
A baby monitor that had been acquired was put into use early, allowing Hannah to hear her mother’s breathing from her own restless, sleepless bed through the long and fearful nights…
The apartment was small, and there was scarcely enough room for the number of people who were present during the final hours. At times, one or more would make their way onto the back porch to decompress from the intense atmosphere of the apartment…
While the mood was increasingly somber, the room was filled by loving words and gentle touches. At times – every few minutes - it seemed that she would try to shake off her coma. She would attempt to rise from her bed, and it seemed like she was trying to speak…
There were many regrets in that small room that day. A lot of guilt poured forth in the form of apologies and expressions of love…
After a while it seemed that Ellen might be in pain, so hospice was called and they dispatched a nurse to tend to what seemed like might have been Ellen’s discomfort…
Everyone gathered around hoping that medication might help her relax. There was no immediate effect…
About an hour or so after she was given medication to help her stay calm and pain-free, there came a moment when Ellen was alone as everyone else was on the back porch. Everyone except her almost 10 year-old granddaughter, Mia…
After a few minutes, Mia stepped out onto the back porch and announced that her Gammy wasn’t “making that noise anymore”. We all looked at each other and then rushed back inside…
And just like that, Ellen was gone. Much too soon and with much left to do. And those of us who remain are in shock, left with broken hearts, wondering how we’ll go on in this life without her…