Friday, 12 September 2008

My Rita

1. Rita was born 12 September 1944; she was given for adoption to Catholic Charities.

2. She was adopted by my Grandmother when she was about 2 years old, along with 2 other babies, Pat and Linda (John came a just a little later).
Grandmother named her Rita Elizabeth, though she already had the name Rita. Mom told me Rita had been previously adopted and named Rita Maxine, but she had been returned to the orphanage. As a child I remember being astounded and outraged that anyone could not adore Rita; I thought they must have been complete idiots.

She was a beautiful girl with curly dark hair and bright brown eyes.
She had something wrong with her feet that required surgery and some braces for a while.

4. My mom was about 26 when Grandmother adopted the 4 children.
As I mentioned earlier, Mom adored children. I think Mom partly took them on as her own, not just as siblings. There are nearly as many pictures of them as there were of me when I came along.

Mom and Rita were always especially close.

5. Rita was 12 when I was born.
I have a letter she wrote to Mom when she heard about the pregnancy; she hoped I’d have brown eyes like hers. Rita was my number one babysitter and in many ways like a second mother.

6. Rita was maybe about 5’8” and I'm not going to guess how much she weighed! She was slender in her youth. Like most women she was never happy with her weight; she was always fighting with it and with her curly hair, something I never understood. Rita also had serious acne as a teen. Nevertheless, Mom and I always agreed that Rita was beautiful. Even when Rita was older, she was striking. Bill says she was good at glam, which pretty much nails it. Rita seemed to take pleasure in looking her best but I don’t think she ever really thought of herself as a pretty woman, which is a shame.

7. Rita didn’t do well in school and struggled with dyslexia; consequently she ended up graduating high school later, in the same year as Linda and Pat, from Classen High School.

8. Rita was a devout sun-worshipper and tanned beautifully, with the help of a little Johnson’s Baby Oil with added Mercurochrome (or was it iodine – something reddish brown).
One of my earliest memories is of 3 or 4 teenagers on sun loungers in the long driveway beside Grandmother’s big house on 31st & Western, Gene Pitney on the radio, iced drinks to hand.

9. Rita attended church regularly – all the kids did – at the Metropolitan Baptist Church back when it was on 50th Street and Rev. David Cotten officiated. ( Rita kept the news clipping when he left.) If I was at Grandmother’s on a Sunday, which was usual, I went, too. I loved watching Rita get ready for church: hair curlers -- and lots of hair spray, make-up, pretty slip, best dress, matching shoes, jewelry; a real production. Nothing less was appropriate. I’m always surprised at how casually people dress for church now (not that I’m there so often I could claim any authority on the matter). As a child, I couldn’t read the sign out front and when asked where I attended church, I told people we went to the Methodist Baptist Church; it was a long time before I understood why they smiled.

10. The earliest I can remember, Rita worked as a hospital volunteer. She was going to be a nurse and soon after she graduated high school she become a Licensed Practical Nurse.

11. Rita sewed most of her clothes when she was younger. When she wasn’t working, it always seemed she was sewing. She had beautiful clothes and lots of them.

12. Rita loved to drive. She loved sporty cars and changed her car fairly frequently. She drove fast and confidently; she’s the only other person I ever heard my Dad say he approved of their driving. I don’t remember her ever having an accident, but she probably had a few speeding tickets!

13. Rita didn’t date much that I recall, something I never understood, but she always had lots of friends.
She seemed to make friends easily and kept long term ones as well. After she retired she had a whirlwind social schedule lunching with all her different groups of friends. When she was younger, I always had the impression that Rita was very disappointed at not finding a husband and having children.

14.Rita didn’t swear (“Oh, darn!!!"); she never smoked. She didn’t like alcohol, but she did like her food.

15. Rita liked peppery foods – the hotter the better. She put pepper on everything, loved hot chilies, mustard and Mexican food. I don’t eat much pepper, but one time when I was ill, she made me a fried egg, something I normally didn’t like. She chopped it up with salt and pepper and served it in a coffee mug with a fork so I could eat it in bed; it was delicious. To this day, when I eat fried eggs I always think of her as I pick up the pepper. She also taught me to love dill pickles with salt on them.

16. One of her best friends in high school was named Esther. Esther also had a niece, named Lois Ann, who visited from out of town.
I remember several times being out on a Saturday night in Rita’s car with Esther and Lois Ann. There were a number of teenage hang outs, the Split-T and Quick’s hamburger joint among them, and perhaps the Charcoal Oven, that were included in the rounds. The idea, I gather, was to talk to boys. This meant that Lois Ann and I had to duck down in the back seat floor and stay out of sight. I remember the heater vent being hot against my cheek. One time we popped up too soon, and some boy asked ‘Who dominoed?’ I needed a translation for that and I’ve never heard the term since. In more recent years every visit to OKC included Rita and I going to Johnnie's for burgers and his incredible onion rings.

17. Rita and I had great times when I was a kid.
She took me everywhere fun: to movies, the swimming pool, Twilight Beach, Frontier City (an amusement park), Quick’s for a coke or a shake. One time she took me with her to Dallas for her friend’s wedding, my first trip across the state line. Over the years she did these fun things with all the children in her family. When I stayed at Grandmother’s I slept with her, she cooked for me, I was her shadow. She wasn’t my Aunt Rita, she was My Rita. As I child I was very possessive of her and I wanted to be just like her. I even majored in nursing my first semester at university; however that only lasted until I realized I’d be dealing with other people’s body fluids -- ick!

18. My Grandmother wasn’t an easy person to live with. Though I loved my Grandmother, I always knew she had a quick temper and took a sour sort of pleasure from a good argument. To be fair, she was raising 4 teenagers, but I remember her YELLING a lot. When she yelled at and upset Rita, I would be rather cool to Grandmother, just to let her know whose side I was on, though for the most part I could do no wrong in Grandmother’s eyes. In later years Rita was fiercely loyal to Grandmother. She was curious about her birth mother and did look up what she could discover. She told me she only found out her mother was French Canadian, but nothing else. I think she was a little disappointed not to learn more, but she was adamant that her Mother was the woman who raised her. She stayed close to Grandmother and visited her and my Mom often when they were older. As I recall most of her apartments and the house she bought were near The Village, where Mom lived.

19. During Rita’s student nurse days, she came upon a traffic accident. Using her first aid skills, she was credited with saving a woman’s life. We were all proud of Rita, but then we were already very proud of her anyway.

20. There are several things that always stood out to me about Rita’s character.
One was that she was always very positive. Even when she complained about her curly hair (‘My hair! I can’t do a thing with it!) or talked about a disappointment, it was always with a dismissive laugh, including when she dealt with a number of life-threatening illnesses she had over the years. I rarely ever saw her cry. Somehow even when you had the impression that she wasn’t particularly happy, she still seemed to remain cheerful. The more I think about that, the more impressed I am. Though on the face of it she seemed to take things lightly, underneath she had a lot of stubborn determination. If she wanted something, like her RN qualification, she stuck it out, no matter how tough.

21. Rita almost never lost her temper; I can only think of a couple of occasions when she was really angry. It took an awful lot to make Rita lose it, and this was extraordinarily rare; but if you were foolish enough to really push her that hard: look out. Rita was entirely capable of taking care of herself!

22. She had quite a bit of confidence in her abilities to do things. She didn’t shy away from fixing things around the house and she was extremely confident in her nursing skills. The only time I ever saw her nervous was when I asked her to pierce my ear for me. I was quite patient and it wasn't too bad, but she fretted and fumbled, worried that she was hurting me. I was amused by that.

23. Finally, and foremost, Rita knew about caring and doing for others. When I was sick, she knew how to make me more comfortable; when Grandmother was in a nursing home, she visited every single day to make sure she was well looked after; a woman at the church told me Rita insisted on using the china plates for the post-funeral lunches instead of paper plates as usual, so it would be nicer for the bereaved families.

24. Rita was a do-er and she didn’t sit still for long. She stayed busy sewing, decorating her current apartment or house, running around with friends, shopping or cooking. She was in and out of the house a lot, running errands or picking up something she needed for the current project. She always seemed to be full of enthusiasm for all the things she wanted to do.

25. She loved to travel, though to my knowledge she only went abroad the once when she and Jack visited us here in England. Before they got together she went skiing and camping with friends, visited Disneyland, San Francisco and Padre Island, among other places. She actively developed a single lifestyle that involved a lot of fun and different experiences. She and Jack were always planning their next vacation, driving to see Jack’s daughters and grandchildren, taking Caribbean or Alaskan cruises.

26. She only bought one house; before that she had apartments and roommates. Mom once remarked that landlords couldn’t wait to get rid of Rita. She fixed up her apartments so well she upgraded their value and landlords could get more money from the next tenant. Rita liked decorating places, making curtains and buying furniture. Her apartments always seemed really cool and trendy when I was a kid.

27. Rita had a LOT of STUFF. Her house was always pretty tidy, but it was FULL. She had a spare closet stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of shoes, the garage had racks and racks of clothes, she had bookcases with shelves stacked with t-shirts – all grouped by colour. She worked hard at keeping it organized, but constantly kept her credit cards maxed and a couple of times had some financial difficulties because of her spending habits. When she wanted more money, she just worked extra shifts.

28. Over the 40 some years of Rita’s nursing career she worked briefly at St Anthony’s and Presbyterian; for a long time at Children’s and Baptist hospitals. She worked in a burn unit, as part of one of the first open heart surgical teams, and finally in neonatal intensive care where she settled.os kjfdlkjdf Rita loved working with babies.

29. There were a few very special children, one of which was Scotty. Scotty was hospitalized from birth and for many years. His parents were in the military and stationed far away. Rita invited them to stay at her home when they were up visiting and when they couldn’t come, she took Scotty out with his wheelchair and all his supporting equipment to give him special treats like going to a movie or an amusement park or just ‘running around’ like she did with me. Scotty was the ring bearer when she and Jack married.

30. Though she wasn’t good in the academic area, she was a whiz at practical things. She installed her own new kitchen sink and most all of the ceiling fans in her house. She could look at a complicated bag or piece of clothing and just copy it, without a pattern. I watched in amazement at some of the things she accomplished. I always said she was good at ‘three-dimensional visualization’, something I struggle with.

31. At some point around the 1970s, Rita had a very short marriage to someone named Wayne. I met him only once and I have a picture of them together. He was not attractive, I don’t remember him as particularly charming and I gather he tried to gain financially from their divorce. I think Rita was upset about the failure of the marriage, but I was always glad she’d got shed of him.

32. A few years later she decided that being an LPN wasn’t enough, she wanted to become a Registered Nurse. She went back to school to get this qualification. We were all amazed that Rita would willingly go back to school, knowing it would be tough for her. During the time she was working and studying, Rita contracted a serious fungal lung disease. Her lungs collapsed twice and had she not been at work where medical staff could promptly help, she might well have died much younger. She was put on a long course of steroids which of course had side effects. She hated how she ‘swelled up like a football player’. This on top of the stress of school was a very difficult time for Rita, but she made it through and got her RN qualification. We were all so proud of her. Her father, Grandmother’s ex-husband, even came to the graduation ceremony, the only time I ever remember meeting him.

33. When I got a job offer and decided to move to Utah, Rita helped me drive there in my little Mazda GLC, with a golden retriever (Sunny) and Mom’s white cat (sedated, in a box) in the back seat.
It took us 2 days and I really enjoyed the trip, though it was scary to be leaving Oklahoma City, where I’d lived all my life. Rita loved the adventure I was having, but was sad to see me leave as well. Before we left I had some last minute packing and it wasn’t going well at all. She took everything out of my suitcase and showed me her ‘zip-and-stuff’ method. She put all the hard items in the case and some of the bigger soft items. All the shoes and empty spaces were filled with little things. Then she started at the back, used the zipper to create a corner and rolled and STUFFED the smaller items into every available inch of space. Everything went into the 2 suitcases, easily. I’ve used her method since then and think of her whenever I pack a suitcase.

34. Rita met Jack through a personals ad that her friends at work wrote for her. She put the ad and his answering letter in the front of their wedding album, though they didn’t marry for some years, Jack being a bit shy of going that route again. They’d been together for 5 or 6 years when Rita was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It was the most aggressive type and she had several surgeries to remove it all. After watching her go through that, Jack cracked and they were married on 23 December 1991.

35. After Jack retired, Rita thought he needed broader interests than a weekly breakfast with other retired colleagues. She got him involved in delivering meals on wheels and volunteering at Mercy hospital. Rita joined the Catholic church and they began attending regularly, getting involved in the social side as well. When she told me about it she was vaguely embarrassed and apologetic, all her family being firmly Baptist. I remember how she flapped her hand dismissively, saying “But, you know, it’s the same God.” I really didn’t mind what Rita did, though it did seem a little strange at the time. I took it as a demonstration of how much she loved and cared about Jack; both he and the church benefited greatly from her involvement and she had yet another group of friends.

36. A few years later I was divorced (again) and had a job offer in England. I needed help fixing up my house in Salt Lake City to rent it out. She and Jack and Pat all drove to SLC and stayed a week or two. She and I re-tiled the kitchen floor and painted the bathroom, along with other improvements Jack and Pat did.

37. Rita had another health challenge, with hepatitis C, which we always assumed she contracted through her work. She lost a lot of weight during her 6 month course of interferon, saying that food had a metallic taste she found unpleasant. To be certain that the virus was completely gone, she was willing to do another course, but doctors assured her this was unnecessary. As she gained her weight back, she gave me some of her smaller clothes, which – as you might guess -- I still have. The doctors were right about the hepatitis, though. Rita was an organ donor and her liver is now giving new live to a recipient in California.

38. After over 40 years of nursing, Rita finally retired. She had only worked part time-occasional for a number of years, but she was increasingly annoyed with the changes in hospital management and was ready to be done. She was a member of several Red Hat groups and stayed busy keeping up with friends from Childrens, friends from Baptist, sewing friends and family members.

39. Rita was the centre of our family for quite a while, particularly after Mom died, though I didn’t really appreciate how much. She kept me informed about the major events of her aunts and cousins, the people of Mom’s and Grandmother’s generations. Rita always rang me on my birthday and at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We sometimes seemed to run out of what to say, our lives were so separate by that time, but we always told each other how much we loved each other and that was still very true.

40. Her sewing interests moved from making clothes into computerized machine embroidery. As usual she collected all the tools and supplies and all my Christmas presents for the last few years had beautifully ornate embroidery. She also liked beaded items and made a purse that a friend promptly bought from her. I asked why she didn’t sew for money instead of work at the hospital. She replied that then it would be work instead of fun, which made a lot of sense. Rita made Halloween costumes, designed and sewed wedding and brides maids' dresses dresses, made convention bags for Jack’s retired colleagues’ convention in Oklahoma City, made pictorial quilts for wedding anniversaries, sewed baby items for hospital fund-raisers and generally turned her sewing skills and creativity to any place they were useful and needed.

41. Bill and I have always talked about going to live in the US one day. I envisioned moving into Mom’s old house, about a mile from Rita’s. I was going to fix up the house and make it more modern and comfortable. I was going to have a big vegetable garden and give some of the surplus to Rita; I imagined Jack’s turning his nose up at having too many vegetables in his diet, him being very carnivorous. I was going to get Rita to go to the YMCA with me to swim and to go for walks in the evening. She was going to come over and teach me to sew better and we would ‘run around’ together like we did when I was a kid. I didn’t realize how much I’d envisioned about this future until she was gone and it wasn’t going to happen.

42. Bill and I were awakened by the phone ringing about 2 or 3 am one morning. We didn’t get there before Pat left a message that Rita had had some surgery to repair an aneurysm and it hadn’t gone well. Rita wasn’t expected to make it and the last rites had been given. The doctors were going to wait 24 hours before taking a decision about removing her from life support. It was a long 24 hours.

43. Rita died last year, 25 October 2007, aged 63. When the priest talked about her life at the funeral I felt a real sense of awe at all the good she had done. I had always just thought of her as ‘My Rita’, whom I loved so much, but more than almost anyone else I know Rita used her talents to reach out to people and give practical, tangible help. It’s not yet been a year since she’s been gone and we all miss her more than we can say.

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