Written July 4, 2019
This is PART ONE of a three part post on the life and death of my oldest son. If you have any unease about this, you should leave this website now. Today’s post will cover parts of his life up to the day before he died. PART TWO is the day of the accident and Jeff’s death; PART THREE is the day of Jeff’s funeral.
George (my first husband) and I learned we were pregnant with our first child around mid-November of 1978. It was a bit unexpected, although we’d talked about having children – we just hadn’t made actual plans to start trying. We had only been married since January of that year, so were still newlyweds. I know that I was the one who wanted children more than my husband because he said as much. However, as the months went by, he began to get more excited about the baby.
I was sick from the get-go… nearly every day during that pregnancy. And it wasn’t just “morning sickness” because it happened randomly throughout the day. Nothing helped. Until the doctor prescribed Bendectin. Although the dosage was increased several times, I never quite got over being sick. Until the day before the baby was born.
The doctor said he figured the due date to be around July 6 of the next year, 1979. I can’t remember at which sonogram the technician told us that the baby was a boy, the one on February 19 or the second on May 25. Either way, the baby boy name suggestions started pouring in, mostly from my husband’s side of the family. My dad and brother were basically all I had at the time; dad was uninvolved and didn’t say much (probably because he was still grieving from mama’s death in 1971), and my teenage brother couldn’t have cared less.
About 11:00 p.m. the evening of July 3, I began feeling the tightening of the muscles around my middle, more of a slight backache than anything. But as the minutes went by, I finally decided I needed to wake my husband. When he opened his eyes, he said “Now?!” He’d only been asleep a little under an hour.
So, off we went to the hospital. Labor progressed as labor does. Nothing unusual. Toward the end, the doctor finally decided he needed to break the amniotic sac. At 6:23 a.m. on July 4, 1979, our son, Jeffrey Alan Enslinger was born. He weighed 7lbs. 11½ oz. and was 20¼” in length with reddish-brown hair. [Photo: Jeff at 3 days old.]
Later, when they got me to my room on the maternity floor, I could hear fireworks. At that time, the new hospital was still on what was considered the edge of town, so folks in the country were already shooting off fireworks for July 4th. Because of the day of his birth, we’ve always called him our “firecracker baby.”
About mid-morning, a doctor came in carrying Jeff and had another physician with him. He said, “I think we have something here that you may not have noticed,” and handed the baby to me.
I looked down at that sweet baby and my focus went to his left arm. Jeff had been born with a congenital birth defect… his left arm was shorter and he had a club hand. I don’t remember what the doctor was saying at that point, but the only thing I said was something like, “He’ll get enough love from everyone to make up for it.” The doctor said he wasn’t concerned about that, saying they would be watching the baby for signs of other problems and then left. All I could think was how much love I had for Jeff. My husband came in a while later; he hadn’t noticed Jeff‘s arm either. And then as family came and went during the day, we told them, also.
At Jeff‘s one month appointment with the pediatrician, I was asked if my OB/GYN had me taking Thalidomide; my answer was no, he’d had me taking Bendectin. He said he had never encountered anything like this, which I thought odd. They took a photo of Jeff‘s left arm and hand, then sent us on our way until the next baby appointment.
At my six-week appointment with my OB/GYN, the doctor did the usual checking me over. At the end, he said, “You should consider giving the baby up because there are probably other things wrong with him.”
I was stunned!
I stood up, got my purse, walked out of there and never went back to that doctor.
The months flew by, Jeff progressing as any other baby. His arm and hand did nothing to slow him down in any way. He was always smiling – a happy, silly, smart baby. For his first birthday, I made a Cookie Monster cake, and we had a family picnic at Carey Park. [Photos: my dad holding Jeff at his first birthday party; and Jeff cooling off in his new pool later that evening at home.]
I think Jeff was about 3 years old when we took him to his first fireworks event. I remember seeing his eyes sparkle and his mouth make the “o” shape as he watched those first explosions of color and sound. He turned to us and asked, “Is that for me?!” Of course we said yes!
Our second child, also a son, was born when Jeff was a little over 3 years old. We named him John. The older son loved the younger son so much – one day I found Jeff with his arm through the baby crib slats, gently stroking John’s head and cooing to him. I asked, “Do you like your little brother?” and he answered, “I love him so lots.” (That’s not a typo lol.)
Jeff continued to grow, staying ahead of other children his age. When he was about halfway through Kindergarten, his teacher called me one day; we chatted about Jeff doing so well and his arm/hand. I told her we didn’t know why it happened, that it seemed to be a one of those unexplainable medical mysteries. Eventually, she asked permission to talk about his arm and hand with the class, saying a couple of the children had noticed and asked about it. Of course, I said, sure, that was okay. She said no one ever really noticed anything but his bright smile and happy attitude. Later the next day, the teacher again called just to let me know that the whole class was very respectful to Jeff and listened intently, asking a simple question or two, and then the class moved on to other things.
Tidbit: One year I bought gloves for Jeff as a Christmas gift… forgetting that it should have been mittens – no fingers on his left hand for gloves!
It was several years later that we learned the drug Bendectin that my doctor had prescribed for my morning sickness had been found to cause a number of birth defects. By then, it was already too late to be part of the litigation brought against the manufacturer.
In 1986, when Jeff was 7 years old and John was just under 4 years old, George left us; we eventually divorced in 1990. Long story short, I struggled greatly as a single parent. In spite of that, I just loved my boys through it all and did the best I could to keep us going. Jeff and John became nearly inseparable. In spite of their age difference, they looked so much alike that people often asked, “Are they twins?”
I “met” my second husband, Jerry, when the boys were still in elementary school, although I didn’t know anything about him nor ever talk to him personally. His sons were in my Cub Scout den when John was a Cub Scout; his previous marriage was all but over at that time.
One summer when the boys were with their dad and stepmom in Texas, I decided to check out jobs in other towns, ending up in Dodge City. Several weeks later, I was on my way to get the boys from the airport in Wichita when I stopped at a highway rest area. Jerry happened to be there, moving to Dodge City where he’d just gotten a job. It took him some time, but he finally was able to get me to go out with him, and the rest is history. Although Jeff and John initially disliked the idea of me marrying Jerry (which we did in 1995), they were ultimately won over. He has always loved those boys as his own and did his best to help me raise them.
Jeff graduated from Dodge City High School in 1997; two weeks after he turned 18 that summer, he loaded his car and moved back to Hutchinson. He met Amanda in the Spring of 1999 and engaged the next year, they married on September 30, 2000. [Photos: Jeff and Amanda in April, 2000 on the day they told us they were getting married; Jeff and John on Jeff and Amanda‘s wedding day, September 30, 2000.]
Jeff and Amanda‘s first child, Andrew, was born in 2001; their second, Madison, in 2004; and third, Kara, in 2007. During the first of these years, Jeff and Amanda were managers at Burger King; John and his girlfriend of that time were also employed at BK. After that, Jeff was employed at Target for a while.
My boys could have turned out any other way just because of the divorce their dad and I went through, but they turned out to be great men. Jeff was doing such a great job of being dad to those three kids! He and Amanda were making sure the kids were well-loved, did their best in school, and were in good activities for their ages. Jeff had grown in so many ways as he became an adult, husband, and dad; he never allowed his physical handicap to hinder his life. The only thing he ever gave an inch to was, in fact, a small thing to people, but as an adult we sometimes are embarrassed by what we believe are our… flaws. By sixth grade, Jeff had taken to keeping his left hand tucked into his jeans pocket. That made this mama’s heart ache, but I let it be as I knew he was handling it his own way. [Photo: taken in March 2010, left to right, Kara (age 3), Amanda, Jeff, Madison (age 6), Andrew (age 9).]
By the time 2002 rolled around, Jerry and I were living in Newton, Kansas. Beginning with that year, July 4th came to be the summer get-together for our family, not just for fireworks and grilling, but also for Jeff‘s birthday. We had such great times together it just became expected they would all be coming over to spend the day at our house. We also invited a couple or so more folks to share the day with us in some years.
There were always plenty of laughs on July 4th. One year, Jerry, Jeff, and John were outdoors taking care of the grilling… we had two grills going. Jeff accidentally backed up into the one with all the chicken, knocking it completely over and into the dirt. The only thing injured in that incident was the poor chicken, but I brought it in, washed it good and they continued on with it. It was delicious.
I believe it was in 2004 or 2005 that Jeff asked if he could invite his best-friend, Thomas, Thomas’ girlfriend, Joanna, another really good friend, Jason, and Jason’s girlfriend, Holly, to spend the day with us. (Those two couples married soon after that). You know we said of course! Jeff, Thomas, and Jason were all managers at Target. I was so proud of Jeff and everything he had accomplished so far in his life, and for having such good people as friends. [Photo: John (left), Jeff (middle) and me in October 2006 when we had family portraits done; Jeff was a little chunkier back then and John a little scarier with his moustache – I was just happy I got my wish for the photos, especially this one with my boys. I’m wearing the necklace the boys bought for me when they were in elementary school – a Christmas “shop” had been set up so students could buy gifts for their families.]
By 2010 (not sure of the year), Jeff and John were both working at Airgas (previously Kansas Oxygen). Airgas specializes in industrial, medical, and specialty gases, and other products. Jeff was a production operator and John was a lab technician. They really loved their jobs and thought they would be working there forever, making a career of it. [Photo: Jeff on September 14, 2011, photo taken by John because he thought they should commemorate Jeff‘s forklift certification – that’s the reason for his silly grin.]
Jeff and Amanda had their ups and downs through the years, just like everyone else with jobs, kids, bills, etc. Awesome times… and really, really tough times. Amanda began her current job with the school district in 2011 as the head dietary in the high school cafeteria. Their work hours conflicted a lot of the time, but it all got figured out.
I think it was in 2011 that Jeff bought his dream car – a blue with white stripe 2007 Ford Mustang. He was so proud of that car. [Photo: I took this photo of Jeff‘s 2007 Ford Mustang shortly after he bought it.]
In 2012, we experienced the death of my [step]mom (February) and my dad (August). In May of 2013, Amanda accepted Jesus Christ as her savior and was baptised. At the end of that month, Jerry and I moved back to Hutchinson to be closer to the kids and grandkids; since my parents had died there was nothing to keep us in Newton anymore. Jerry had his spinal surgery in June; it failed and he had to spend the next five months in various hospitals and a nursing facility. The end of July and start of August of 2013 was extremely humid with so much rain and flooding in the area. Overnight on August 4 saw the place we were living (me, since Jerry was in the hospital) inundated with rain; since it was a ground floor apartment, the place had to be evacuated – the hallways, rooms, offices were all taking on several inches of water.
Jeff and Amanda told me to stay with them. What we thought would only be a few days’ stay turned into three months because the place had to be dried and a lot of the building redone. We brought my dad’s old Army cot down from their attic and I used it, staying with Madison and Kara in their room.
The last of October, residents were finally allowed to return as each apartment was finished. It was a continuing mess because the company that was hired to pack and protect tenants’ property had to be held liable due to employee theft and destruction of our property. But I got our apartment back in order best I could all the while waiting for my husband to be formally dismissed from the nursing facility where he was staying while recuperating.
End of Part One.