The word “heroes” is often tossed around with reckless abandon describing heroic acts — both large and small. In my 58 years on this planet, “my heroes” can be described by the three stories below. First, my mother, Barbara, a teacher and dear friend, Olen M. Wilford, and Dr. Francis K. Moll, Jr. These three, through their quiet encouragement, prayers, and skill have shaped the woman I am today. The words “thank you”. will never be enough.
The Broken Energizer Bunny
The Tony Awards were on TV, my mom’s favorite awards show. She sat in her chair wrapped up in an afghan but still she shivered, sick… very sick. Fast forward to Wednesday when she had to have a stress test which she failed and was scheduled for an arteriogram the following day.
“Where’s Mom?” Dad had returned home without her. He was ashen and calm, too calm.
“She’s in the hospital,” he said, “and it’s not good.
He showed me copies of the x-rays. Three of her coronary arteries were nearly shredded. In four days’ time my energetic, funny, and loving mother had been broken, and so too, were my dad and I.
“What’s next?” I asked.
“She’s scheduled for triple-bypass surgery tomorrow morning. She’s going to call you in awhile.”
I wondered what she was going to say. Goodbye? Don’t worry, I’ll be fine? I waited anxiously for her call. The conversation was light-hearted, each of us trying through the phone to buoy each other up.
Then came Friday, June 13, 2003, a day etched in my memory. I hadn’t slept. Numb and still in shock, my dad had asked my best friend at the time to stay with me while we waited for news. It wasn’t until 18 hours later that Mom regained consciousness, and an additional 48 hours passed until I saw her face to face. I remember meeting the Coronary Care Unit Manager outside her room.
“She’s very sick,” I said. “I guess she’s going to be here a long time.”
“No, not very long,” she replied. “Her surgeon will probably let her come home in a day or two.”
Inside her room, our eyes locked. She looked frail, frightened, and so tired. The nurse came in and got her up for a walk. Little by little during that visit, I began to see glimmers of my “energizer bunny” coming back to me.
She was discharged as the CCU manager had said, and Mom’s long recovery began at home. Nearly 12 years have passed and she recovered well.
She and my dad have traveled the world, their most recent cruise to the Baltic in 2012.
I will never look on Friday the 13th as something to fear but as a lucky day because I have my “energizer bunny” back in one piece, healthier than she’s ever been.
“The Tender Troubadour”
The O.H. (Orthopedically Handicapped) Unit of Greg Rogers Elementary is divided into two groups of twelve children (grades 1-4 and grades 5-8) with a variety of disabilities. Mr. Olen Wilford, the Unit’s “Tender Troubadour,” teaches the older children.
My name is Beth. I’m six years old. We always go to Mr. Wilford’s room for music, and it’s now way past lunch. Our teacher, Mrs. Shenners, keeps talking, but I’ve stopped listening. I’m looking around the room, out the windows, and finally my excitement bubbles to the surface. I can’t sit still another minute. I’m happy in my room, but happiest venturing into the place where I hear the music. I raise my hand, interrupting Mrs. Shenners. “Is it time for music yet?” I ask. “I can hear the music coming from the other room already.”
She looks at me sternly and says, “Yes, Beth, it is. Everyone line up at the door quietly.”
Connected by two sliding doors with a short hallway in between, we move single file — in wheelchairs, on crutches, and those who can walk unaided, from our room into a magical, musical world — a musical “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”. As each of us comes into the room, a very suntanned Mr. Wilford welcomes us with open arms. Thin but muscular, his hugs melt every little girl’s heart including mine. His hair shines like the color of a new copper penny with golden highlights. His blue eyes dance. His clothes are simple, sport shirt and slacks with low boots.
“Well I declare! Look at all your smiling faces,” he says , as he sits down on a chair that swivels, and picks up his guitar. “Ready to sing?”
“What shall we sing first?”
“Puff The Magic Dragon,” we shout in unison.
And so it begins, like it does every afternoon. Mr. Wilford’s favorite songs are ’60s folk songs, with some gospel mixed in, too. He loves teaching us the songs, and we love singing at the top of our lungs and clapping along. A perfect end to the day.
I saw my “tender troubadour” and teacher the final time in 1977, when I’d returned as a summer school volunteer in the OH Unit. While I was waiting for a ride home, and watching the children being loaded on specially equipped buses, a man resembling Mr. Wilford caught my eye. As he walked closer I let him pass me. “Mr. Wilford?”
He spun on his heel and said, “Well I declare! Hello Beth Casey.”
Seeing his face and hearing his unmistakable drawl transported me back to a time of innocence and indescribable joy. He ran to me and kneeled beside me. We hugged for a long time. I was six years old all over again.
Sadly, I learned that Mr. Wilford died in June 2012 at age 83. If heaven is anything like the mythical land of Honah Lee that we sang about so often, I know that Mr. Wilford is in a happy place.
Olen M. Wilford
“Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.”
Dr. Francis K. Moll, Jr — Doctor, Healer, and Forever Friend
As I’ve laid in many hospitals beds this past year, I kept thinking about and wondering, “What would Dr. Moll do?” Dr. Francis K. Moll, Jr. (a Naval Commander and Orthopedic Surgeon) performed a spinal fusion surgery on me in 1969. I was 8.
In July 2014, I decided I was going to try to locate him, not knowing if he was alive or where on this enormous planet he lived. So, I went to Google, typed in his name, and got a hit, but this hit was for another orthopedic surgeon residing/practicing in Florida, approximately my age. What to do? What else? There was an email listed for his practice, so I emailed him, identifying myself, and asking if “my Dr. Moll” was related to him. Days later I received an email back with the wonderful news that Dr. Francis K Moll, III, was his eldest son, and let me know that “my Dr. Moll” was alive and well, married 58 years to his wife, Sophie, and that they resided in a town outside of Atlanta, GA. Imagine my joy at this news! I’d found him!! Frank (the son) passed along my email and within a couple of weeks a letter from “my Dr. Moll” arrived in the mail, and we’ve been corresponding by mail ever since. Funny, strange, odd, but after we reconnected, I began to heal slowly and steadily. Is he my guardian angel? You bet he is!