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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Valley Places

My Aunt Toni

One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peaks.”- G.K. Chesterton, English Essayist, Novelist, and Poet

On Monday I took a day of vacation. I didn’t go shopping, see a movie or do anything fun. I attended my Aunt Toni’s funeral.  She was only 72 and I expected her to live many years.  My mom passed away at age 79 after a lifetime of smoking. So I thought Aunt Toni who had lived an active and healthy life would be around for many years. She got a really aggressive form an cancer and was gone in what seemed like an instant.  I didn’t want to say good bye. 

She had been an important part of my life growing up and later as an adult when I went through a tough time.

I grew up in a family of seven kids.  Money was always tight. We never went hungry, but like a lot of kids from big families we wore hand me down clothes and there was not much money for treats.

So we never went on family vacations. There was just no money for it and I am sure my dad did not want to be locked into a station wagon with seven kids.  One of the great treats of the summer was a visit to my Aunt Toni and Uncle Dewey’s house. Their kids Cheri, Neil and Coleen were my favorite cousins. I am 10 years older than Coleen and I can remember helping to take care of her  when she was a baby on one of my summer visits.

When I was really young my Aunt and Uncle lived on a farm. What a treat for a city kid to have wide open spaces for running around. We got to jump around in the hay barn and have all kinds of fun.

Later my aunt and uncle bought a bar in Ixonia, Wisconsin that eventually included a bowling alley. We would have the run of the place druing the day while it was closed. My aunt would open up bowling lanes for us and the kids from next store would come over. We also had use of the pool tables, pin ball machines and the juke box. Sometimes for lunch my Aunt would let us order from the bar menu. Pizza burgers and pizza were frequent requests.  When we got tired of that there was a pool and a swing set or we would ride our bikes around town. What a kid paradise. Sometimes there were outing to the Jefferson Country fair or a fishing trip. I had so much fun with my cousin’s I never wanted to go home.

My mom and my Aunt were always very close. So both families got together often for holidays and the usual family events like weddings, graduations and funerals. We always got together twice a year to visit the cemetery and take care of the graves of my grandparents and great grandparents, followed by lunch at a local Chinese restaurant.

 It sounds kind of weird but it was something I looked forward to because I would see my Aunt. We went in May and December. She had a May birthday so I would always bring a present of homemade soap or jewelry and she always had some craft item for me. At Christmas it was always a hand painted ornament. She loved my homemade soap, Such lovely keepsakes that I still cherish.

It was at a family event that my Uncle heard that I was unemployed and offered me part time work in his business. They had sold the bowling alley years before and moved out to a farm where he also ran a small business. He needed someone to help with some computer work for his business. It was easy stuff, sending out bills, marking invoices complete, that sort of thing.
It was only 10 or so hours at a time, but since their house was an hour drive away I would always stay overnight.  My Uncle was easy to work for and I would get out of bed and work all day in my sweats. One of the best jobs I ever had partly because I got to spend time with my Aunt and Uncle.

When my Aunt got home from work she would make dinner. After dinner she and I would do crafts, or watch musicals. If the Packers were playing we would watch that. If I had just gotten back from a trip we would look at my pictures and drink tea. We both like our tea with milk a habit I picked up on a trip to England.

The craft part was really fun. I am a crafter too, but no where near as talented as my Aunt Toni. She was an art major in college. She was a gifted painter and very creative. When I would visit she would show me what she was working on and if I admired it she would offer it to me. I have some really wonderful craft items she made for me.

When I would go back home after a visit my car would be loaded with produce from her garden and often meat from her freezer.

I did not know when I would find a real job. It took me almost 18 months to find a job. She helped turn a valley place into a wonderful time for me.  I still think about how much fun it was to get to know her and enjoy her company.

During that same time I discovered how much I enjoy writing and that I had a talent for it. I worked as a freelance writer developing training materials. I saw an ad and thought I can do that and approached the company.  I created dozens of training programs and really honed my writing skills.

 I used that ability to land my next job. I brought a portfolio of the course I had created. The hiring manager later told me that is what landed me the job. I’ve now spent 15 years with We Energies and writing is still a major part of my job.

I went on to write for two blogs and am about to have a book published. None of which would have happened if I had not discovered my love of writing during that tough time.

Once I got a job I did not see my aunt and uncle so much. We still had our twice a year outing to the cemetery. We exchanged emails. We even made plans to do a soap making lesson, but I cancelled at the last minute because my mom was in the hospital. That turned out to be the day my mom passed away.  

I did not see my Aunt much in the last two years because she started to have her own health problems, she was busy and I had things to do also.  So I’m really glad we had that time together when I worked for them. Being unemployed is not easy, but I have fond memories of that time because of the time I spent with my Aunt Toni.

No one likes going through those tough times, me least of all.  I know that no matter how tough it is, God will be right beside me helping me through those tough times. He will provide people like my Aunt and Uncle. He will give me the wisdom to recognize the opportunities only available in those valley places. Sometimes you don’t know the value of the experience or what you learned until years later.

I learned from my Aunt that sometimes the simplest gestures like her generous, caring and creative spirit can have profound effects on someone else’s life. Just the simple act of taking care of them and spending time with them can mean more than you will even know. Creating something beautiful like the ornaments she painted create lasting memories of love and good times spent together.

Being diagnosed with CMT could have been a valley place.  Having CMT, even a mild case like mine can be life altering.  But with the CMT has come opportunities to use my writing and athletic talent.  I never would have written a book or done races all over the country. Soon I will represent the USA at the World Duathlon Champsionships in Spain. I never would have done any of it without the desire I had to raise awareness about CMT.  So out of another valley place, amazing things have happened.

If I wave a magic wand and make my CMT go away I would. But until there a cure I will continue my work to raise awareness and money for research. I know being in those valley places is not easy, especially when there seems to be no end. I just know that in those places God is working and amazing things can happen.  

So thank you Aunt Toni, I loved you and I will miss you.


 Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 137 members in 27 states. We also have members in Australia, Canada, Vietnam, Turkey, Finland and Iran. If you wish to join us visit our web site.

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.

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