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<< 15. The Summer of '66 16. A Change of Plans 17. I Got a Job! >>
My sister's words hit me hard and fast—as if she had kicked me in the stomach. There's been a change of plans. What did that mean? I was almost afraid to ask. "How so?"

"They're not moved out yet," Sis answered, referring to our cousin and family. "You'll have to stay at Mom and Dad's until they are." She watched for my reaction.

"How long will that be?" Frustration swelled inside me.

"I don't know—maybe a couple of weeks, maybe longer. Something to do with the paperwork on their new house."

Maybe longer. The words scared me, and I cringed, stopping dead in my tracks in the parking garage before we reached her car. Mom's voice rushed into my mind, spewing out the edict she had delivered over three years before . . . "If you marry that man, you are never to come back into this house again."

Home never sounded so good yet so bad to me in the same day. How could they make such plans without consulting us first? Mike grabbed my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "Don't go ape on me," he whispered into my ear. "We'll make it."

"You don't understand," I muttered. I'd never told him of my mother's remark. Should I now? How defensive or irritable would it make him while staying there if I did? "I'll tell you later," I added, hoping he would forget all about it.

We loaded our travel bags into my sister's car and headed for the freeway with Mike in the front seat, me in the back.

"So," my sister began, "Did you have a good flight?"

"Yeah," Mike replied. "Good weather, nice and smooth. I'm glad to be back where it's cooler. That apartment in California was one hot place. Not as bad as the hospital though—no Mr. Wu at home!" He laughed. One simple question and he was off to the races, telling about everything from his first haircut after the accident to how the ripe figs would fall from the tree by our apartment and explode when they hit the pavement, to the Bay Meadows trips with the landlord, to walking downtown on a broken ankle. It reminded me of the early days of our marriage, when he would chatter to anyone in his presence, on any subject, and never come up for air.

As his words echoed in my head, I regressed quietly into my personal world of worry—would Mom welcome us? Would there be food in her kitchen that Mike would eat? Would I be able to find a job soon? If I did, how would I get back and forth to work? Would we be able to afford an attorney, and would a lawsuit somehow clear us from the balance owing on the car?

"Want to stop for a burger?" my sister's voice pierced my thoughts.

"Sure," I answered. "Sounds good." I hoped she was thinking the same thing as I, that Mike had better get some nourishment soon to keep his blood sugar from falling.

She turned off at the Northgate exit and stopped at the TicToc Drive In. We ordered burgers and soft drinks from the car hop, who efficiently brought them on a tray that fastened onto the slightly rolled up window. It was a refreshing stop, and I was hungrier than I realized. We downed the burgers and sodas, then drove back onto the freeway, heading north in the approaching twilight. Before long we were going up the front stairs of the family home in Edmonds.

Dad stood waiting in the open doorway. He hugged me tightly. "I'm glad you're home, honey." He shook hands with Mike, then gestured for us and Sis to come inside.

We did, setting our travel bags down in a corner of the entry hallway. Nostalgia overwhelmed me at the familiarity of the home I'd rarely seen since my marriage. The home where I was raised—the painted plaster wall next to the wallpapered one with its pale green background and maroon flowers, the ticking of the mantle clock that Dad wound every Sunday, and the always present hint of stale air, overpowered now by the aroma of freshly baked bread and hot coffee. My mother's doing, without a doubt. Remnants from her Swedish upbringing—company arrives, coffee is served.

I was still taking in the scene, when Mom pushed open the kitchen door and hurried through the dining room toward us. She cradled my face in her hands and planted a kiss on my cheek, then offered a handshake to Mike, much to my relief. He took it and smiled.

"Good to see you doing better and back home," she said. "How about some coffee? I made buns today." Without waiting for an answer, she rushed into the kitchen and returned to set a tray filled with warm buns, hardtack, sweet cream butter, a small dish of pickles, cheese blocks and a cheese slicer on the dining room table. "Helen, get the cups," she said, and disappeared again into the kitchen.

Conditioned by childhood training, I stepped to the china cabinet and pulled out five bone china cup and saucer sets, matching their various designs, then added five china bread and butter plates. From the buffet I picked teaspoons, butter knives and napkins, and set the table for five.

Dad and Mike and I took seats while Sis brought cream and sugar, granulated and cube, from the kitchen. Mom followed closely behind with a pot of hot coffee, cautiously pouring it into each cup before she, too, sat down.

This is home, I thought—family, warmth, Mom's wonderful baked goods and Dad sucking hot coffee through a sugar cube held in his teeth. He laughed at himself and at us for watching. And we laughed back. For an instant, I felt like a little girl again.

"I'm glad you kids are home," He said between bites of his hardtack and cheese. "Mommy and I were worried about you."

"Sorry for that, Dad." I took the lead before Mike could swallow his coffee. "Thanks for putting us up until Cuz's house is ready."

"That's what parents do," Mom added, and smiled.

She was nice. Dad must've had a talk with her.

"We didn't know Cuz's house wasn't empty until Sis told us at the airport," I said. "I'll need to notify the moving company to put our stuff into storage when it gets here."

"No." Dad spoke up. "No, you have them bring it here. It'll fit into the garage, won't it?"

"I think so, but . . ."

"No buts about it," he interrupted. "You put it here until Cuz's house is ready to move into."

"Okay," I said softly, hesitantly.

"Gee, thanks Pop," Mike chimed in, then began recounting the stories he'd told during the drive from the airport.

Sis rose when Mike's stories had faded. "It's getting late. I've got to get home to my boys."

"I could use some sleep," I said, and began clearing dishes from the table. Our homecoming was over.

After turns washing up in the bathroom, Mike and I retired to the back bedroom—the one that my sister and I had shared when we were kids, the one that still housed the twin beds my Dad had made from a set of bunk beds decades earlier.

I pushed the door until it latched shut. "Thanks for being polite to Mom," I said, stretching out on the bed nearest the door in my travel clothes—too tired to change. "This has got to be difficult for her."

"Yeah. Putting up with me." He flopped down on the other bed.

"Well, you can be cantankerous at times."

"I don't mean to be. It's just that when my shoulder hurts and I think about having to endure it for the rest of my life, it makes me angry."

"I understand, Mike, but try not to take it out on other people. It's difficult enough, staying here. We can't chance making it worse." I turned out the light and sunk into my thoughts for only a few minutes before Mike began to snore.

Thank you, Dear God, for a safe flight today, for Sis picking us up at the airport and for Mom and Dad accepting us here. Bless all our family members, please, and especially my brother Norm.

Mom cheerfully fixed a nice breakfast for us the next morning. We were pleasant to her and stayed out of her way and she, in turn, didn't make any comments about ever saying I was never to return to that house. Maybe she had forgotten about it. Not so for me, but I wasn't about to remind her or mention it to Mike.

Dad would leave early each weekday morning for his tailor shop in downtown Seattle. Mom would spend a few hours outside in the yard doing fall-cleanup, which allowed us to accomplish necessary chores without interruption, like change of address notices to our creditors and convincing the moving company, whose truck with our household goods was somewhere between California and Washington State, to change the delivery destination.

I called a few attorneys in Seattle, asking about their fields of discipline and fees, and chose one named Gustav Kostakos. He had experience with finance and insurance claims, and accepted our case. He asked me to mail certain information to him, and scheduled an appointment for three weeks later.

In the meantime, the moving van arrived at my folks' home one afternoon, garnering attention solely by its unusually large size and the driver's repeated attempts to back into the ditch instead of the driveway. A handful of neighborhood boys on bicycles jeered his efforts each time, then scattered when the truck was at last in place and its doors opened for offloading.

Our furniture and boxes went into the garage to await the final trip to my cousin's house. Reflecting on the driver's bout with the ditch, I hoped none of our things had been damaged in transit. I didn't know then that it would be two long months before we could move and unpack our belongings.

I shoved that worry to the back of my mind to join the others, along with my guilt over Dad having to park his car outside at night. I'd have to deal with all that later because Mike's physical and mental condition was of more concern to me now.

Perhaps exacerbated by the chilly, damp fall of the Pacific Northwest, the constant pain in his left shoulder became a daily focus. He'd lift one of Mom's kitchen chairs a few inches off the floor, still striving for more than twenty-five percent use of that arm, then spend the rest of the day complaining. "Damn, it hurts," he'd say to me, grabbing his left shoulder and holding it for hours, his eyes teary.

"Here." I'd take an aspirin tablet from Mom's supply in the kitchen and hand it to him with a glass of water.

He'd down it and thank me.

The days of pain and aspirin stretched into weeks with no moving date in sight. I dug a few more clothes out of our belongings in the garage, and helped Mom as much as she allowed around the house. Every night I searched the newspaper for job openings.

The morning of our attorney appointment, we rode to town with Dad and found our way home by bus. The lawsuit papers were drawn up and filed later, the end result being that our insurance agent—who failed to place coverage as promised—was required to pay the balance owing on the Volvo by making our monthly payments. I continued to pay five dollars to the subrogation insurance company for the glass truck that Mike hit, and ten dollars to the hospital.

Mike kept up with his arm exercises and pain complaints. Sometimes we'd ride with Mom to the local shopping mall and window shop along the corridors. Our choices for outings were limited, having no car and about as much money. Mike grew more bored each day, and I more frustrated. We needed a break—a change of scenery.

That opportunity came one early afternoon when my sister stopped by, jumped out of her car and rushed into the house, a big grin on her face. "Cuz and family are at their new house," she called out. "They finally got the keys! They want us to come see it—right now!" Her enthusiasm was contagious. "Come on, I'll take us."

"No," Mom responded. "It's such a nice day, and can't be more than half a mile away. The walk will do us good." She picked up a sweater that was hanging on the back of a chair, slipped it on, and headed for the door.

Mike and I grabbed our jackets and hurriedly followed behind. Within minutes we arrived and were welcomed inside and given the "grand tour." The house was lovely. I was genuinely happy for them and excited for us, knowing it meant we'd be able to move into their old place soon.

We were about thirty minutes into our visit when I noticed Mike getting fidgety—making senseless comments and silly noises.

Adrenaline shot to my heart. Could his blood sugar be getting low or was he just trying to be funny? I reached into my jacket pocket, expecting to find a piece of candy like I usually carried. There was none, so I slipped out of the room to check the refrigerator for something I could offer him to eat. It was empty, of course. They hadn't moved in yet. I returned to find him uttering profane remarks followed by raucous laughter. My family was bewildered. I was embarrassed. Never had his blood sugar fallen so quickly and, evidently, without warning.

I took his hand and headed for the door, mouthing to my Sis "Mike needs food" on the way out. I coaxed him along the whole distance back to Mom's, knowing that the walking would probably reduce his blood sugar even more.

It did. By the time we got there, hypoglycemia had possessed him. He laughed. He swore. He could hardly keep his balance, cavorting around the kitchen as I searched the refrigerator for suitable food. Juice? None. Cheese? Yes. He liked cheese, that might work. I set it on the cutting board and pulled a paring knife from the drawer. I cut a small slice and handed it to him. He started to chew on it while I cut another piece, then rewrapped the cheese and put it back into the refrigerator. Next thing I knew, he had the paring knife against my throat and was sneering and mumbling and chewing on cheese. It took every ounce of courage I had to stay calm. Damn that diabetes!

As quickly as he had held the knife to my throat, he took it away and set it down. I hid it in a pan of murky water in the sink. Thank You, God, for keeping Mom's long-standing reputation of having dull knives intact.

The cheese allowed me time to butter a slice of bread and spread with jam. He ate that, too, washing it down with a cup of instant coffee. Within twenty minutes he was back to normal. The crisis had ended, reduced to a memory that only I would hold.

We waited, mostly in silence, for Mom and Sis to return. I was thinking back on his insulin reactions in California when it hit me—I'd not really witnessed the onset of those, I only hurried home to pull him out of them. I realized, suddenly, that Mike's diabetes had changed, that the threat of insulin reactions was now more critical than his injuries. I would have to accept it, diabetes had become a new master in our lives, a more severe one. Admitting that the delicate balance of insulin, food, and exercise were requirements that he had been good at ignoring wasn't easy, but I must.

I would need a great deal of patience, understanding, and an ubiquitous watchful eye to help him manage a disease that could be easily thrown off-track by the effects of stress, illness, injury and medication. I had to ask, one more time, without sounding accusatorial . . .

"Couldn't you tell that your blood sugar was getting low?"

"No, I couldn't," he answered. "Seriously, I didn't feel anything unusual. Guess it just ambushed me. I'm sorry, honey . . . I'm sorry I caused this whole mess—the accident, everything."

"Me, too. " I said. "But we'll survive it. Somehow."


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