It’s not every day that we have the opportunity to attend an eightieth birthday party, and this particular celebration—in honor of my stepfather Jim—coincided with the date of my eighth infusion. What’s a girl to do? Obviously, delay infusion!
A week ago, I skipped my pre-chemo steroid and caught a plane to Las Vegas instead. I was met at the airport by Jim and my mother Evalynn. A short time later, Jim’s sister Jane’s flight from Dallas landed, and the four of us drove 119 miles northeast to St. George, Utah. The next twenty four hours were rather quiet, but by Thursday night a large clan was gathering. Jim’s son Ed, his wife Pam, daughter Kristin and her partner Elizabeth. Jim’s other son Dave, with his wife Amy and their daughter Lauren. My brother John and his wife Amanda. A handful of childhood pals (some of whom Jim has known since he was a small boy growing up in Wyoming) as well as an assortment of local friends and neighbors. That was party number one, with cold cuts and a birthday cake. And lots of conversation.
In the morning, Jim had a date at the golf course with Ed, Dave and John. Mom, Jane and I were to go to breakfast. However, our morning was not without incident. After I showered I went to look for mom and found her in the bathtub, which was drained of water. She was unable to get herself out, and I wasn’t strong enough to lift her. We tried all sorts of tricks to no avail. I told her we had three choices: we could call Jim, the fire department, or their next door neighbor ‘Big Bill’ (who was a fireman for thirty years). Of course, none of these choices felt particularly appealing, but I slipped mom’s nightie on to preserve her dignity and Jane went next door to fetch Bill.
Minutes later he walked in the bathroom, addressed mom: “Hello sweetheart! I’m going to help lift you up.” And then, easy as pie, he slipped his arms beneath hers and pulled her to a standing position. I was crying as I thanked him—it is not often that I am on the caretaking side of things and I found this experience humbling.
Well, Mom still wanted to go to breakfast so I helped her dress. The next challenge was figuring out how to start Jim’s car—a new push button affair. After several attempts the dashboard noticed that a dummy was behind the wheel and a helpful message appeared—I needed to depress the brake at the same time I pushed the button. Aha! Next up—opening the garage door. The only obvious control was attached to the wall fifteen feet from the door. Jane, who is a young seventy seven, gamely offered to push shut after I backed the car out and to make a run for it. I will never forget her face as she came barreling out of the garage just inches beneath the descending door. We laughed until we were crying, and I expressed how glad I was that she’d made it as I wouldn’t have wanted to go next door to Big Bill’s again—“Could you please help me pull Jane out from under the garage door?” Of course, when we heard later that this door had no sensor to stop when it hit something, we felt a little chastened. File this one under all is well that ends well.
That evening we had party number two: mexican food, the family members and Jim and Ev’s friends Bruce and Barb and Bill and Shirley. After dinner we all gathered in a large circle and Jim shared some of the creative exploits he has been up to. In turn, he asked each of us to give a brief description of where our lives were at. It was a moving experience. Afterword, we broke again into smaller groups for more conversation. I came away with such love and pride for this side of my family, as well as a renewed conviction that so much time should not pass in between visits.
Tomorrow (if I’m cogent after chemo; I couldn’t put it off forever), Goodbye St. George and hello Vegas!