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Friday, September 17, 2010

Just Another Fossil

This is the essay I wrote about the Living Fossil. I hope you enjoy it, and that it will be food for thought in your own life.

Just Another FossilIn my mind I can see myself fading, my skin decaying and eroding, my bones turning to dust. This has been nature’s way for millions of years. Why do I think immortality should be my due? A trip back home to the family farm has caused my thoughts to turn to my future. What legacy will I leave when I am gone?

It feels good to be standing here and remembering a time when my worst fear was missing a phone call from my boyfriend or wearing something that wasn’t cool. Life was relatively simple back then. We raised cattle, hogs, and a couple of horses. I didn’t mind chores much, except when the weather was really bad. It was then that I would fantasize about being a famous writer or artist in a nice warm cozy studio with my typewriter, easel, and paints surrounding me.

My years at the local community college were somewhat different. I dated regularly during my first year of college. Then one magical night I met a young man who had just returned from Vietnam. He was in the Navy and was home visiting his family before reporting to his next duty station. It was only a short time before I knew I was in love. We spent hours on the phone and exchanged letters for more than a year before we were married.

Three months after our wedding, I discovered I was pregnant. However, my excitement turned to dismay when I began spotting and eventually lost my baby. We came back home to Kansas to get away from my depression and to cure my homesickness. I named the baby David Wayne. There is no grave for my child and no one remembers him but me, and perhaps my husband occasionally.

Our sadness didn’t last long, however. I was pregnant three months later. We named him Joshua Dean. Joshua was followed by Jason Wade, then Rebecca Ann, then Teresa Marie. Our little family was complete. I was happy raising my babies. I was primarily a stay at home mom. We didn’t have much money, but we had plenty of love.

My baby Teresa was a very independent spirit. Sometimes her waywardness got her into trouble. She had a baby when she was 16. She planned to raise her child by herself. While she was attending classes for her nursing degree, she moved out of our house and into an apartment near the school. She moved a few times from house to house trying to find one that suited her and her child. She found a little wood frame house near her sister Becky and moved in. The house was not a very nice house in my opinion. But she seemed content there, and it was one she felt she could afford.

Teresa turned 21 on January 12, 1999. On January 28, Teresa and I had photos taken. They were glamour shot photos and we had a lot of fun doing it. In mid-February she took her nursing exam in Topeka. Her daughter, dad, sister, and I rode along with her for moral support. We went shopping while she was in the exam room. It was to be our last outing with her as a family.

At 4 a.m. on Sunday, February 21, 1999, our phone rang. Teresa’s friend Windy was calling to tell us that Teresa’s house was on fire and she could not find Teresa. She was hoping Teresa was with us. By the time we reached her house, it was totally engulfed in flames. The fire department was having numerous problems extinguishing the fire. When we saw her car in the driveway, we feared the worst.

No one can imagine the fear, the grief, and the frustration we felt as we stood there watching her house burn. Our dreams for her future and our hopes that she might have escaped faded like the smoke drifting up into the sky. We were not surprised, only filled with a deep never-ending emptiness and numbness, when the firemen came to tell us they had found her body but could not get to it because of the intense heat emanating from the still burning house.

We drove home in silence, dreading the chore of telling her brothers the grisly truth. Her sister Becky was in Colorado with her future husband meeting his parents for the first time. We had to call her. We called my parents, his parents, and other family members who began appearing on our doorstep to give us moral support and comfort. It wasn’t long before a steady parade of grieving neighbors and family were coming to our door. It was a day I will never forget.

We buried our daughter on my Dad’s 76th birthday. One week later we received the photos Teresa and I had taken together in January. A week after that, we received her nursing license in the mail. Her dream had been to be a good nurse. She never got to realize that dream.

Her daughter Regan keeps her mother’s photo on her dresser and talks about her frequently. Regan loves to hear stories about Teresa and occasionally takes items home with her that once belonged to her mother.
So that Teresa’s friends and classmates would always remember her, we started a scholarship fund in her name at the local high school. It is not a big scholarship, but will help to buy a much needed school textbook or help with other expenses.

When we visit Teresa’s grave, we often find a pack of cigarettes and a lighter or a full, unopened bottle of beer left beside the stone. It is then that I know her friends have not forgotten her. These are their love offerings to her. We quietly clean the gravesite and remove the items, knowing that the next time we come they will have been replaced again. We don’t mind. We want her to be remembered by her friends.

I look down at my feet and see the rock where I sat so many years ago and carved my name and date into the top of the fossilized stone. The rock is covered with moss now. Moisture, the ravages of time, and wind have deleted most of the etchings we created, as well as the top layer of fossils. It is a grim reminder of how expendable we humans are. These fossils were created so very long ago when the entire region was part of a vast sea. I can pick out seashells and small, fossilized fish skeletons. But the fossils are fading and being worn away by the wind and other elements. Will I be fossilized some day, too? Will memories of me last for a million or more years? I highly doubt it.

That is why I write, paint, and spend time with my precious grandchildren. They will be my fossil imprints on time. My writings and paintings will hopefully last long after I am gone. My grandchildren will pass on stories about their crazy grandmother who liked to hike up on hilltops, shout into the wind, and paint pictures of animals, people, flowers, and landscapes with mountains and waterfalls.

This grandma took lots of pictures with her many cameras and put them on the Internet so that if there was another devastating fire like the one that took her daughter away, the pictures would never again be lost. This grandma was afraid of dying not because of the pain and suffering that often accompanies death, but because she was afraid she was not worthy of being remembered.

As I spin slowly around, my camera quickly taking pictures of each panoramic view, I am awestruck by the beauty of the quiet Kansas prairie that stretches far beyond my vision. It is told that somewhere in this pasture is an Indian burial ground, unmarked and invisible. Is this the way that people will remember me?

Will my grandchildren some day recall that there once was a woman in their ancestry that was a little off her bean? She took pictures, painted, and wrote silly stories about her life and her family’s lives just to be remembered. My children and grandchildren are a large part of my immortality. They will continue onward after I am gone. Their children will pick up the torch and carry it into yet another generation while I will rest with the knowledge that I did the best I knew how to be worthy of their love.

Is this my destiny? If so, then bring it on. I’d rather be remembered for being a little eccentric than not remembered at all. I reach down and pick up a small fossil. I realize the time is growing late, so I take the fossil back to the farmhouse. I’m going to keep this poor fossil with me to remind me of my own mortality.

I do not know when my life will end. I only know that I will have lived it to the fullest. Hopefully, I will have accomplished something worthwhile during my stay here on earth.


  1. I smiled and cried as I read this!

  2. That's ok, Jennifer. I smiled and cried as I wrote it too. Have a nice day!

  3. NurseArtist~
    What a special look into the life of your family and you. Thank you for sharing. Not only will your children and grandchildren carry the torch, they also carry your genes!

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