I turned the corner at the top of the rise and noticed a robin perched on the peak of our roof, half a block away. As I came closer its head pitched skyward and it warbled, as if singing, "God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world." I smiled briefly, then regressed to the questions doggedly pursuing my brain—would Mike’s drafting class be in the daytime or evening? Would the old station wagon hold up enough to get him there and back? More importantly, would it make the daily commute to Todd Shipyards without failing once he started working? Would he slip into an insulin reaction while driving, or in class, or at work, and cause more problems for us? A pang of regret that I had promised early on, to not tell anyone about his diabetes, began to gnaw at my sensibilities.
Mike turned his gaze away from the television news when I came in the front door. "You’re home!"
"Yes." We exchanged a quick kiss before I strode into the bedroom to change clothes. "What’s on the news?"
He followed me. "Not much. The feminists are still rallying everywhere they can. And, the networks are going to add more shows in color. Maybe, after I get a few paychecks, we could get one of those color TV sets? And a pickup truck? And a dog. I really want a dog—a German Shepherd."
"We’ll see." I grabbed an apron from the hall and shook my head all the way to the kitchen. "I hear those color television sets are kind of expensive. We’re still paying on the hospital bill and insurance and everything else, including your teeth." I chanced a smile in his direction. "French toast and ham okay for dinner?"
"Sure." He smiled back and sat down at the kitchen counter.
I pulled our cast iron frying pan from the stove drawer and put it on a burner to heat while getting the ham, eggs and bread from the fridge. "Tell me now about the drafting class and stuff. You start next Tuesday? Is that daytime or evening?"
"Evenings, from 6:30 to 9:30, at the school right over here by the freeway."
"Oh, that’s handy!" I was surprised and pleased it would be at the campus so close to home. "How many nights a week, and for how long?" I slapped three slices of last Sunday’s ham into the frying pan. They began to sizzle while I whisked together some eggs, a shot of milk, a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of sugar, and a drop or two of vanilla.
"Two nights a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, for six weeks. They call it a ‘comprehensive course.’ Anyone who can’t pass the final exam doesn’t get on at Todd’s." He smirked, exuding total confidence.
"Do you have to buy any books or drafting equipment for it?" I pushed three slices of bread into the egg mixture and turned the ham over.
"Yep. They’re mailing me a list. The gal at Todd’s said we could get it all at the college book store, or maybe J.K.Gill. It shouldn’t cost more than forty or fifty dollars for everything, she said."
"Fifty bucks? Where am I going to come up with fifty bucks?" I forked the ham onto our dinner plates and laid the egg-soaked bread slices into the pan. "Here," I went on, thrusting a handful of silverware at him. "Put these on the counter. Please."
He did, and without further comment added two cups of coffee plus a small jug of syrup, a jar of applesauce, and a squeeze-bottle of honey. "Does that do it?" He sat down again.
"That does it, thank you." I set the butter dish next to his plate and claimed the stool beside him.
We sat, eating our meal in silence until my compassion-laced common sense took over. "Let me go over the budget tonight and figure out where we can scrape up an extra fifty dollars for your class supplies. This is most likely an opportunity we shouldn’t disregard." Dear God, please help me find a way to do this.
After dinner I sharpened my pencil and reworked our budget while Mike parked himself in front of the television set. Sixty minutes later, I approached him with my findings: "We can do it. If I reduce our payments to the California hospital and insurance company, and grocery shop according to the weekly specials and coupons, I think we can manage the cost of the supplies."
"That’s good, honey. Thank you." He squeezed my hand.
"You might have to eat a lot of soup in the next two weeks."
"I’m going to search last Wednesday’s supermarket ads now and plan a menu for the next month." I used a calendar to organize varied yet nutritious meals based on the most inexpensive protein sources available, without so much as an ounce of waste. Under each date for the next month, I penciled in economical entrées I could make from scratch: hamburger patties, beef stew, English dips, meat loaf, waffles with bacon or ham, hard-cooked eggs on toast with cheese sauce, cheese soufflés, pea soup and pancakes, roasted chicken, chicken and dumplings and chicken soup. Barley, rice, noodles and vegetables filled in where they best fit. Sometimes, dinner was a hearty bowl of oatmeal. It became Mike’s habit to check the menu calendar every morning, and he began to look forward to dinner time.
Watching him eat a decent meal before driving off to his drafting class lessened my worry over insulin reactions. Determined to do well, he would study during the day, never forget his books and supplies, and was never late. He’d arrive back home around ten, full of enthusiasm and eager to share the evening’s undertakings in detail.
Between the drafting class reports and my increasingly heavy workload at the Ford store, the next six weeks passed swiftly. I actually had some headache-free days, thanks to allergy medicines prescribed by the new doctor at my second visit. Mike’s insulin reactions were less frequent than usual. He aced the drafting class final and went to work at Todd Shipyards as a draftsman, making schematic drawings of ships’ wiring. After a few paychecks from Todd’s, we bought a small color television set, which seemed to be filled only with newscasts of race riots, starting in Detroit and quickly spreading across the nation in what was called "the long hot summer" of 1967.
Mike drove the old station wagon to and from the shipyards each day in a grueling twenty miles of rush hour traffic. The pay was good. By August we had paid cash for a used 1955 Chevy pickup truck and bought a two year old German Shepherd, with papers, for twenty-five dollars a month for four months. She was a good dog, and easy to train. Mike grew tired of his job and the traffic and submitted an application to the King County Department of Public Works, more in keeping with his background in land surveying—an occupation he could no longer do with a painful, disabled shoulder. The county did not respond to his application.
While our jobs became more stressful, our combined paychecks and frugal lifestyle relieved much of our money woes. We fell in love with a brand new Magnavox console stereo and bought it on the installment plan that fall. The music soothed our souls as the payment plan began to build our credit standing.
That December we bought a Christmas tree, which Mike decorated with meticulous care—lights spaced evenly over the branches, ornaments positioned by size, small to large, tree top to bottom, and shiny tinsel hanging from the tip of each branch inward about a foot, the strands placed half an inch apart. It took him three nights to finish, and it was gorgeous! In the dark evenings before Christmas, we’d turn on the tree, slip a Mormon Tabernacle Choir album on the new stereo and crank the volume up so loud that anyone walking by the house could enjoy it as well. Life was good.
The following year, 1968, would bring changes. Occasionally I’d catch Mike slipping into an insulin reaction shortly after he got home from work. With my encouragement, he stayed persistent in pestering King County every three months for a job. We remained loyal to the budget and menu plan, saving whatever money we could, lest an emergency arose.
One evening, when I was paying the bills, I noticed it was the second month that we hadn’t received a statement from the California hospital or insurance company. I was in the habit of paying them a little whenever their notice came. "Mike!" I rushed into the living room. "I think the hospital and insurance company stopped billing us! The Ben Casey Plan must’ve paid it!"
His gaze moved from the TV screen to me. "What’s that mean?"
"It means, if they in fact did pay it, that we no longer owe them! That’s how they said it would work—if they approved our case, the bills would just stop coming! And it looks like they have!"
Believing the liability of Mike’s accident was now behind us, we began to dream about better jobs and owning a home. Our ultimate vision was to build an octagonal house one day, on acreage, and live permanently on the site. I spent my evenings configuring room and utility placements for an eight-sided abode. With each version penciled on paper, our dream moved from impatient to impractical, so we took interest in a home of a different shape—a two-story A-frame. We even ordered a set of building plans.
We searched for property too. One weekend we headed out of town just to get away from the rat race, and ended up putting a hundred dollars down on a ten acre parcel on the Olympic Peninsula. The property was thick with trees and underbrush—alder, cascara, choke cherry, salmonberry, ferns and other indigenous flora. A gentle slope fronted three hundred and thirty feet on the Little Quilcene River—a fast-flowing, somewhat shallow but wide stream running crystal clear over its stone bed, with rippling water so noisy we had to shout to hear one another when near it.
To live in this setting would be paradise.