Monday, January 18, 2021

Louella T Ballenger Williams, A remembrance of the woman I loved and of our life together.

Louella Ballenger
by Rod Williams - My dear wife, Louella passed away on December 21st.  She passed peacefully as I held her hand. She was in Brighton Garden's nursing home and due to lockdowns and quarantine I had last seen her on December 4th.   Fortunately, I did get to be with her when she passed. Her eyes were open most of the time and I got one faint smile.  I had about three hours with her.  I told her everything I wanted to say and held and kissed her and petted her and then told her that if she was ready to go, she could go at any time. About 20 minutes later at 12:40PM she took her last breath.

Louella is survived by me, Rod Williams her husband; two brothers, Ben Dillingham and Bruce Dillingham; a sister, Linda Eppard; and her two children, Lee and Dana. 

For those who only knew Louella after she was sick, I wish you would have known the Louella I knew. She was smart, well educated, cultured, adventurous, kind and had a easy smile and boundless curiosity.  She had formal education but never stopped learning and knew so much about so many things. She knew philosophy and art and history and was a ferocious reader.  She could name by the pattern numerous oriental rugs and loved fabrics and tapestries and especially oriental rugs.  She knew classical music.  She broadened my knowledge and we explored and learned things together. 

Louella was born at home in Barnardsville, North Carolina on May 5, 1941.  I have visited the community.  It is an unincorporated community isolated in the mountains.  Louella lived there until she was twelve years old. Part of that time she and her family lived with her grandparents on a farm and Louella shared fond memories of that period.  She told me of them keeping a goat and how when you got too close it, it would butt you.  She told me of playing in the attic and hiding and making scary noises and scaring her younger siblings, and the one time she left a gate open and the cows got out and how she got a real scolding from her granddaddy. 

When she was twelve her family moved to Engleside, Virginia where her father went to work with his brother at a market he owned.  Shortly after that move, her father died in a tragic accident. Sometime after that her mother remarried and they  moved to Alexandria where Louella graduated from high school.

Upon graduation from high school, Louella's aunt, Aunt T, encouraged Louella to go to college and invited her to come live with her and so she could, and Louella did.  Louella often told me how much she loved her Aunt T, and if not for her she would not have gotten to go to college and her life might have turned out much differently.  She lived with Aunt T in Winston-Salem and attended Wake Forrest where she graduated with a degree in Economics.

After college she move back to Northern Virginia, worked for a while then got married and had two children. She stayed home until her children were in their early teens and then worked part time for the Federal Government, working as a field representative, compiling data for the Consumer Price Index.  

Knowing she wanted to work full time as her children got older, she said she knew she needed more education to get the good Federal jobs. She enrolled in George Mason University and got a masters in Economics.  She said one of the high points of this college experience was sitting in a class taught by Walter Williams. She also studied Spanish and went on a several week study-vacation to Spain. 

Upon graduation, and after her children were grown, she went to work full time and then sometime after that her marriage ended in divorce.  During her career she worked for the IRS, some other agency a short while, and the CIA, but most of the time she worked for the Department of Labor.  She returned to the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statics, working again on the Consumer Price Index but in a full-time higher paying position. She told me that to advance with the Federal government one had to be willing to move within the government as job openings became available. After landing the job with the CPI, she said she reached a point where she did not care to advance higher, and stopped seeking advancement. She was content and enjoyed her job.

Fascinated that she had worked for the CIA, I asked her one time what she did.  She looked at me without cracking a smile and sweetly said, "I could tell you, but I would have to kill you."  She then told me she was an analysist in the Mexico division but it did not involve cloak and dagger. Actually she did not like working for the CIA. A funny thing I recall is that she told me she failed her lie detector test for getting the position.  Even failing when they asked her, her name.  She over analyzed each question. She said she thought about her name and asked herself if her real name was her married name or her maiden name and did the initial constitute her middle name, or is her full middle name called for to be considered her name.  After being coached to just answer honestly and not think about it too much, she passed and got the job.  She did not like the CIA however.  She would go to training session and was not even to tell anyone where she was, and she said you were not to discuss normal chit-chat stuff about your job with family or friends. 

I met Louella in May 1992. I was underemployed at the time doing whatever I could to earn a living.  I got a part-time job with the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, working as a field rep on the Consumer Price Index.  I had to go to a several-day training session in Annapolis, Virginia and it is there that I met Louella. She was one of the trainers. We connected due to an ice breaker game that this type training sessions often start with.  This one involved naming one's favorite broadcaster, beverage, and book.  We both named Atlas Shrugged. At break, I sought her out. I did not expect to find a fan of Ayn Rand at a federal government training session and I wanted to meet this person. As it turns out, neither of us were libertarians and were both pretty much mainstream pragmatic conservative Republicans but like a lot of people, Ayn Rand was somewhat of an introduction to purist thoughts on the nature of individualism, liberty and free markets.  

That brief introduction at break led to going with a group of about eight or so to a popular sea food restaurant where we got to know each other better.  Then the next night she and I met for drinks in the hotel lounge after the day's training. The drinks turned into a meal and we stayed late into the evening.  I had never talked with anyone so easily and had so much to talk about.  She was passionate about ideas, especially economics and political philosophy.  We knew so much on the same topics and had read so many of the same books.  Besides political conversation and current events however, we shared our life stories, and talked about family and she told me of her trip to Spain.  We got to know each other and immediately liked each other and had a lot in common. 

I was smitten. She was pretty, smart, curious and a good person and shared my views and values and was passionate about ideas.  When I talked about something, she knew what I was talking about. We kept in contact by letters, and email, and phone conversations, after that week.  A few weeks later I went for another, more advanced training session, this time in Baltimore, and we picked up where we left off and began a romantic relationship. 

We had a long-distance relationship that lasted until she moved to Nashville in 2001.  Long distance relationships seldom work out but ours did.  We saw each other frequently. The airline schedule worked to our advantage.  Louella's office was right next to the Union Station, across from a side street.  She had flex time and would leave work a little early on Friday, walk across the street, catch a train to the airport, and get a direct flight to Nashville, and I would pick her up at the airport at the curb and we would be home having dinner by 7PM, while some of her co-workers were still heading home on the interstate.  On Monday morning, I dropped her off at the airport about 7AM for a flight to Washington where she would again catch the train to Union Station and be at her desk by about 9:30.  On three-day weekends I went to visit her.  We saw each other at least twice a month.  

We enjoyed life.  We took up serious Asian cooking and would learn new recipes and shop for ingredients and cook together.  We had both been casual occasional wine drinkers; we became knowledgeable wine drinkers and went to wine tastings and read about wines, enjoyed shopping for wine and discovering new taste. 

Louella taught me to dance. I had been limited to swaying to a slow song, Louella taught me dance steps and to hear the beat of the music and we took a few formal dance lessons.  We went to the summer Big Band Dances in the Park and we often went out dancing to country music.  We loved going to the Broken Spoke, a bar on Trinity Lane that had a big dance floor.  I never became a great dancer but enjoyed it immensely. 

We loved art openings and the monthly art crawl.  We enjoyed annual events like Wine on the River, the Belmont Christmas program at Belmont Mansion, The Whitland Ave 4th of July, Festival of Nation, the Southern Festival of Books and others.  We went to lectures, writer's nights, free concerts at the Blair School of Music, honky-tonking on Lower Broadway, and we took hikes and long walks and enjoyed yard sales and dining out.  We were always on the go and having a good time. 

On three-day weekends, I would go to Washington and visit her where we enjoyed all there is to do in Washington.  We went to free cultural events hosted by embassies, we saw most of the Smithsonian Museums taking it in, in small doses at a time and we enjoyed eating out and exploring the city. Between visits, we talked on the phone, often for hours at a time.  

Each year we took a foreign vacation.  Travel had appealed to me but for some reason I thought it was too expensive and too daunting.  Louella convinced me it wasn't.  Our first trip was to Spain and it was wonderful.  Subsequent trips included Italy, France, Portugal, Mexico twice, Turkey, Czech Republic, and Hungary. We traveled light, without reservations.  With two good guide books we figured it out as we went. We stayed at ma and pa pensions mostly.  If we loved a place we would stay an extra day, if we had seen enough we moved on.   We had an itinerary but not a schedule. We took local trains and buses and subways. We visited the great museums of the world and explored and had adventure.  Prior to our trips, we spend a lot of time deciding where we would go and for months in advance we read about the country we would visit and its history and culture and art and what we wanted to see. We were knowledgeable travelers.  Louella was a great travel companion and we had magical moments and romance and adventure. 

The terrorist attack of 9-11 was a wake-up call for us.  We realized life is uncertain and short and if we were going to be together we ought to do it.  We bought a house together and Louella retired and moved to Nashville on Thanksgiving weekend, 2001.

Unfortunately, something was not right. Louella who had been full of life and had varied interests suddenly did not care what we did and had little enthusiasm.  We didn't fight much, but were just not happy.  In addition to quitting her job and moving away from her children, her mother died that year.  I thought Louella was experiencing depression but thought maybe also she was having regrets about our relationship and her move.  It wasn't constant, however.  We still enjoyed some things and there would be times when the dark cloud  would lift and things would seem as they were before, but something was not right. Then one day something happened that caused me to realize that there was definitely something going on beyond depression.  It took a while to get a firm diagnosis but by March 2005 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  As it turned out it was not Alzheimer's but Hydrocephalus, which is treatable and if she had been correctly diagnosed and treated early she would have gotten well, but by the time she was correctly diagnosed the brain damage had already occurred.

After being diagnosed, and getting on medication we had the sadness of the realization of her condition, but the undefined dark cloud lifted. We enjoyed life again.  In the early stages Louella still had her knowledge and still appreciated the same things she had appreciated, she just could not do things that required reasoning.  We had one more adventurous vacation, this one to Greece. Louella could not make change or read a map, but otherwise not much was different. We had a wonderful romantic time. We decided to not stop having fun and living life until we absolutely had to.  We enjoyed our family, and still went out to dine, and to events and enjoyed the political social life. On December 4, 2005, we were married in a beautiful ceremony at our home.  

Over the following years Louella's health declined.  We still had some good times, however.  But as the years rolled by she became less and less able to do the things we had done.  I was fortunate to find a good caregiver for Louella who worked for us forty hours a week.  The rest of the time, I was her full-time caregiver.  There were trying times when Louella experienced periods of agitation, and periods of insomnia, and there were scares where she almost died.  She declined and the last five years or so of her life she was "total care."  She had to be fed and changed and was in a wheel chair.  She totally lost the ability to talk.  It was sad watching her decline.  It was trying but I loved her and was glad I could take care of her.  Despite her inability to talk, Louella still had lots of personality and would say syllables in conversational tones and would smile and laugh and love attention. Despite her condition she was jealous of my attention.  If we had a guest and I was engrossed in conversation and ignoring her, she would act out.  In many ways she was child-like.

In February of 2020 there were some changes in circumstances and I realized I could just not take care of her at home anymore.  I found a place for her and put her in Brighton Gardens of Bentwood.  There are bad nursing homes and good ones and this was a good one.  They really cared about her and treated her with dignity.  The food was good and Louella was engaged and talked to. I visited with her for hours on end almost everyday, enjoying our time together in this new setting.  Unfortunately, the next month after putting her in the nursing home, the Covid-19 virus crisis erupted and my visits were restricted and there were periods of no visits at all.  She continued her decline and passed away on December 21. 2020.

I am glad I had Louella in my life.  I wish you would have know the woman I loved. I miss her. 

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

No comments:

Post a Comment