Jeff Manes | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: March 18, 2013 6:48AM
“I know that God will not give me anything that I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”
— Author unknown, from a
clipping attached to the refrigerator of Karen Hess Goheen.
Karen Hess Goheen, 55, and Kelly Hess, 47, are sisters who were born and raised in Lake Village. We met at Karen’s house in the Shady Shores subdivision of Shelby. Kelly lives in Niles, Mich.
Karen and I were classmates from first through 12th grade. I don’t remember Kelly, but I do remember when the sisters’ mother died.
Karen was 12 and Kelly, 4.
Karen, I remember attending your birthday party when we were in the fourth grade.
“Yes, you and Jeff Ridgeway were the only boys who showed up.”
That’s because we were raised to be respectful and our mothers forced us go to a girl’s birthday party.
“Do you remember when I broke both arms on the playground at school?”
“Danni Jo Love and I were going up the slide and some ornery boys were pushing us up the ladder, telling us to hurry up. Danni yelled at the ornery boys to stop, but, of course, they didn’t. All of a sudden, when I got to the very top, I got pushed off.”
It’s sort of coming back to me.
“Those ornery boys were you and Jeff Ridgeway.”
You were wearing a green dress and white go-go boots. It was the other Jeff who did all the pushing. I swear; ask Danni Jo. Strike that. She’d never get it right.
“It was late October and I didn’t get to go trick-or-treating because my arms were in casts.”
Alrighty then. Kelly, any pleasant Lake Village memories for you?
“I remember Wiley Stone helping me with my poetry. I loved Mr. Stone. He’d be working in his greenhouse and I’d help him.”
I have a signed book of his poetry, “Echoes of Home.” Stone was born in 1900 and died in 2000. Strange how some live such long lives and others are taken so young.
Karen: “I think one of the hardest things for me was watching Mom deteriorate. She wanted to let me know what it was like to have lung cancer. She’d show me where the radiation had burned her so badly. Mom was a two-pack-a-day smoker. She made me promise that I would never smoke.”
Anything else about your mother’s final days?
Karen: “She’d say, ‘I think I could eat this, do you think you could make it if I tell you how?’ My dad would position the bed so she could see from the bedroom doorway into the kitchen. I learned to make soups and things she could handle.”
Kelly, you were so young, did you know what was going on?
“I knew Mom was sick and couldn’t get out of bed. I remember the night she died; they took her out on a gurney. I stood there in my pajamas and watched my mom go away. I can close my eyes and see her face.
“Losing your mother when you’re young, and then when you become a mother yourself, it makes you hold on that much tighter and makes you love that much harder.”
Karen: “When Kelly was living in Tulsa, she asked me a question about Mom. I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, I never realized, she wouldn’t know that.’ I decided to write down Mom’s favorite flowers, color, songs — her hobbies. Once I finished the list, I called Kelly and we had a great talk. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of tears.”
Kelly: “It wasn’t like I hadn’t asked before. I had asked Dad, my brothers and Grandma Iliff. None of them wanted to talk about Mom. Once she died, Mom was a taboo subject. Dad always said I looked too much like my mother and it brought him too much pain.”
Karen, I felt so bad for you, but at age 12, I just couldn’t find the words. I remember you began hiccuping uncontrollably soon after your mother’s funeral.
Karen: “Those hiccups stopped just a few years ago. The doctors said it was from nerves.”
Kelly: “Can you imagine sharing a bedroom with her?”
Karen: “Every substitute teacher would think I was being a smart aleck. They would tell me: ‘Once more and you’re going to the office.’ I was like, ‘Sure, make me more nervous.’ Off to the office I’d go.
“My home-economics teacher would get furious with me. She made me put a paper bag over my head and hold it around my neck. She made me do that in front of the entire class. She also made me drink dill pickle juice. The craziest thing she made me do was to drink a glass of water upside down.”
Your brothers, Kenny and Benny, were out of high school when your mother passed.
Kelly: “Karen became a mom to me.”
Karen, taking care of your kid sister couldn’t have been easy. I mean, you were just a kid.
“If she had homework, I’d help her with it. Then, I’d do my homework, and cook, and clean. Wherever I went, Kelly went with me. With Kelly on my shoulders, I’d walk from our house in town all the way out to my friend Diane Dexter’s house.”
That had to have been at least three miles. Karen, I recently was told you’ve suffered from multiple sclerosis for years.
“Before I realized what I had, I could hardly get my hands off the steering wheel when I came home from work. Doctors told me I was overtired and overworked — stressed.
“I told one doctor, ‘I can’t be feeling like this, I have to care for my dad and husband who are dealing with grave health issues.’ Then, my brother drowned while diving for clams; Dad died five weeks later.”
When was that?
Kelly: “In 1993.”
Karen: “I was finally diagnosed with MS in ’94.”
You were widowed early.
Karen: “Joe, my first husband, was diabetic from the time he was in high school. He went for a kidney-pancreas transplant and didn’t make it.”
Kelly, life after high school?
“Dad and I couldn’t seem to see eye-to-eye on anything so I took off. I wound up in California. That’s where I met the first of my two abusive ex-husbands.”
Karen: “Kelly would call me every week.”
Kelly, is it safe to say you became a wild thing?
Karen: “That wouldn’t begin to describe her.”
Kelly: “Yeah, I was the holy terror of the family.”
Any parting thoughts?
Karen: “Kelly was not only my sister, she also was like my child. The townspeople really helped me out a lot with her when she was growing up.”
Kelly: “They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, that’s what Lake Village did.”
It was nice meeting Kelly and reuniting with Karen for the first time since the ’70s. Like most us, they’ve endured some rough patches. But they have each other, and it was touching, witnessing these two sisters staring into each others’ eyes while holding hands from across the kitchen table — remembering their departed mother.
And, maybe, after all these years, I’ve found the words.