Friends are priceless – III

(This quartet series (Part III) is all about my friends whom I had the pleasure of meeting during my trip to US in the year 2008)


At the small railway station in Quincy I was met by Eric Sieck, the elder son of my friend Gwen Sieck who I had come to visit.

Gwen who is from Madras (sorry Chennai)and I were in the hostel at Queen Mary’s college, Chennai in 1948 – 50.

After graduation she received a Rotary Fellowship to do her Master’s in Nutrition  and Dietetics at theUniversityofIowainAmes.

On her return to India she taught at the College of Nursing in New Delhi. In Madras and Delhi we had shared weekends and many occasions with each others families.

She returned to work at the University atAmes, and there she met and fell in love and married Larry Sieck. At the University of Missouri where Larry taught Civil Engineering they built a home and raised two boys. Gwen’s widowed mother came fromMadrasto live with them, where she developed a close bond with the grandsons. Both boys went to medical college on scholarships given by the Armed Forces, and after a stint in the military started work in the area of their specializations, Eric an ophthalmologist and Brian an ENT surgeon (sorry, an otolaryngologist).

Gwen lived alone in her own home in Missouri when Larry died, — until she had a fall, and later was hospitalized with an abdominal obstruction. Both sons came down to care for her, but then they persuaded her to sell her house and come to live closer to them so that they would be within call.  Knee replacements, diabetes and other ailments made it necessary to have 24 hour nursing care. Eric then found a fine nursing home a short distance from his house in Quincy where he works as an ophthalmologist at a Medical group practice.

I visited Gwen at Sunset Home, a facility for senior citizens which consists of two types of accommodation – Assisted Living in small attractive apartments with all services provided,  and a nursing home with round-the-clock nursing care where all the residents were wheelchair bound. From the upstairs windows one had a view of the distant Mississippi river, now in flood causing great distress to those who lived close to its banks. It had burst through two or three breaches in the levees, and the citizens were busy filling sandbags to block its course. Barak Obama, Senator fromIllinoiswas shown on TV helping them in this task.

It was a joy to see Gwen after many years. She had lost a lot of weight, but the smile that reached up to her eyes was as bright and happy as ever. Her room is full of photographs. Her granddaughters (she has four granddaughters and four grandsons), have given her a small wooden screen which has framed in it pictures of all the important events in her life – her marriage, babies, weddings of the sons, and the birth of her grandchildren. We talked long hours on people and events in India.

It was the weekend of Fourth of July. There was a special event at Sunset Home. The residents of the apartments had got together a “Kitchen Band” to entertain those in the nursing home. I wheeled Gwen down to the Recreation room, where an impromptu stage had been set up.  In front were rows of wheelchairs. The “orchestra“ was seated behind a Red White and Blue cloth stretched across the hall. Near window were a CD player and the Emcee – a woman social worker who had rehearsed the orchestra for this special performance. The players all had  kitchen tools for percussion – in the back row a man with a wooden ladle beat on a plastic bucket, a woman with a washboard, another with a metal plate and spoon,  two wooden spatulas, a tambourine, a jar with beans which made a noise like maracas, pan lids for cymbals, graters and egg beaters..!!  The conductor a woman in her eighties waved her spoon like a baton as the record played patriotic songs and marches. The orchestra beat the rhythm thoroughly enjoying all the old and stirring Sousa numbers. At intermission they came and spoke to the wheel chair audience, introduced themselves and engaged in conversation. It was the most moving musical evening I have attended as I looked around and saw the enthusiastic participation of both the musicians and the audience in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Battles were being fought against Aging, and paraplegia, and they were having a lot of fun marching along.

On July 4th, Gwen’s two sons and their families sat together for a meal in Eric’s house. Brian and his wife,  both doctors from Lacrosse,Wisconsin, drove down with their three sons. The “boys” carried Gwen’s wheelchair down, folded into the car and then wheeled her into the dining room. Eric asked a blessing, and we all ate together, the adults in the dining room, the children in the kitchen. There were no fireworks in the town as the floods had submerged the ground near the river where the firework display was usually held.

The following day, the sons again carried and wheeled Gwen to a family meal at a Greek restaurant. The “boys’ were so caring and gentle with their mother as they included her in this gathering, that I felt the warmth of family togetherness.

On July 6th I left Quincy with Brian and his family. Gwen and I did not say Goodbye– instead she said to me in Tamil “Poitte -va” – Go and Come back.

I stayed overnight at Brian’s home in La Crosse. The next morning Sandy took me and the boys – along with several students from their school – to a summer camp in St. Peter, Minnesota.  Here The Parcel from India was passed on to ….

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