Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How's Your Wife?

“How’s your wife?... How’s she doing with the idea of your aging, of your retirement? Is she basically life-affirming or has she had about enough? Is she on your side? Or on your case? Does she like you? Do you like her? What do you think of each other, anyway, now that you’re getting older?... Here’s why I ask. It’s too damn hard to do this thing alone, that’s why. And it’s a real help if you happen to have someone who loves you and whom you love.”
Younger Next Year – Live Strong Fit, and Sexy Until You’re Eighty and Beyond, Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D.

I can’t get very far into this project without acknowledging that anything I have to say about aging, I say in the context of having Deb as my partner, companion, and best friend. For much of last year, I worked on a project called Ten Most Wanted. I drew portraits of ten people who I thought made the community a better place. I also wrote a profile of each of the people. Deb was one of the people I chose to portray. I wrote the following about her:

Here is a scene from the life of Deborah Drew that gets reenacted about once a month: Debby is standing in line at the coffee shop or the supermarket, or walking on the beach. A smiling woman approaches her with a gawky adolescent child in tow. “Debby?” the woman asks tentatively. “Oh, hi!” Debby says enthusiastically. “Its so good to see you.” They embrace. Debby says, ‘Now you’re going to have to remind me of your name.” After a little conversation, they turn their attention to the teenager, who gets a deer in the headlights look in their eyes. “Megan, honey (or Kristin, or Trevor, or Wyatt) this is Debby Drew. She was your midwife. She was the first one that saw you when you were born!” The kid now has gone into full panic mode. It seems to be worse for the boys. They want to shout, Oh, my God! She is discussing my biology in public. But these are polite kids. They mumble, “Hi,” and shake hands, saving some face by avoiding eye contact.
In a career lasting more than twenty-five years, Debby assisted more than two thousand women to give birth. She practiced in Washington, D.C., the Maryland shore, rural Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. She attended births in homes and hospitals. She saw her work as educating and supporting women so they could have the births they want. She advocated within the health care system for women to have births with little medical intervention or full use of the available technology, their choice. She wanted the women to be informed and in charge.
In 2004, when she was approaching sixty, Debby closed her midwifery practice in Westerly and joined the Peace Corps. From 2005 through 2007 she lived and worked in a small town in Honduras. She became friends with Reina, a neighbor who supported her family by baking bread in a mud oven and selling it door to door on her bicycle. During this time, Reina gave birth to her seventh child. In the middle of the night, Debby went to Reina’s house to assist the eighty-year-old local midwife. The labor was long and difficult. Reina labored in one bed while her children slept in the other bed across the room. The midwife asked Debby to see if there was any crowning. Debby realized the old woman’s vision wasn’t very good and in the dark bedroom she was having trouble telling what was happening. Debby pulled out her cell phone and used the built in flashlight to see if there was any sign that the baby was coming. Nothing. Reina was afraid and the family started to search for someone with a pickup who could take her to the hospital. One person said no, not in the middle of the night, wait for morning. Another had no gas and no money to buy any. It was during this quest for transportation that the baby came, a healthy, beautiful boy.
Debby misses the Peace Corps and the small town where she served in Honduras. There is a strong pull exerted by the stimulation of living in a different culture. In the future she may do more international work. However, for now, she is focused on living in Peace Dale and finding ways of being a fully contributing member of the Rhode Island community.
Earlier this year, Debby was asked to take part in a conference at Lincoln School for International Women’s Day. The theme of the conference was “activism.” The students heard from a series of speakers doing important, large-scale organization on a variety of social issues. Debby spoke to several small groups about her work with traditional birth attendants in Honduras. She showed photos of the rural midwives, mostly old women living in very humble circumstances. She talked about spending a year visiting them in their homes; eating the meals of tortillas, rice and beans they served her. She described the creencias (beliefs) about childbirth in the Honduran countryside and the importance of showing respect for this belief system while introducing new ideas. She talked about her efforts to support the parteras of Honduras, give them some new skills, provide them with some basic materials, and get their work a bit more recognition within the professional health care system. She concluded each of her presentations to the young women at Lincoln School with this message: “I just want to say to you that kindness is a form of activism. In your day to day life, whenever you are kind to another person you have been an activist.”

I am one of the primary recipients of Deb’s kindness, although she certainly spreads it around. She has a deep understanding of casting your bread on the water. So far, I’ve had twenty years of basking in her generosity, humor and optimism. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get another fifteen.
Deb and I start most of our days at about 6:30 playing cribbage and drinking coffee at our kitchen table. The stakes are high. If I win I get to wear a plastic bracelet that advertises a Honduran soccer team. She has a special necklace she puts on for the day if she wins. During these card games, if we have been conscientious about filling the bird feeders in the back yard, we can see cardinals, flickers, downy woodpeckers, mourning doves, American gold finch, rufous-sided towhees, and brown-headed cowbirds, to name some of my favorites. Occasionally a humming bird shows up. In cribbage, there is sometimes a perfect cut card that will boost the hand you’ve been dealt from good to astronomical. Deb and I confess to secretly praying for that perfect cut card. I confess to secretly praying for fifteen more years with Deb.


  1. Really beautiful. There is such intensity in being able to imagine how many card games, walks on the beach, laughing at private jokes might be left and it makes me thankful for each of those moments. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. That is beautiful, to have someone say those things about the person they love and admire is so awesome. You both are great, Love Melissa

  3. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  4. What a terrific tribute--thank you for posting it. I love the stakes and the perfect cut card....;-)
    --Lorna Fossand

  5. Fifteen Two
    My life with you
    Fifteen four
    Opens the door
    A run of three
    For you and me
    A double run
    To age with fun
    A 29 hand
    Would be grand
    But I'm just happy to play
    With you each day

  6. Way to turn on the tear faucets! I'm a mess over here. Someone hand me a tissue.

    Love you two so much!


  7. Your richly intense, and lovingly mirrored heart-songs lifts my mind-heart-being. Your love feast union in gratitude, inspires mine for you.

    steve sherrill