"We’re fine," Mom said. "Dad’s been feeling better all the time, even working outside. Are you coming over?"
"Not this week." I sensed her disappointment. "We have a couple of mechanical repairs on the camper and truck we need to get fixed before Mike goes back to work." I explained about the burst hydraulic lifts and overheating engine, and how lucky we were to have enough vacation time left to get them repaired.
Mike came home from his first day back at work with a bad-news look on his face. "Guess what?" He plopped his lunch bucket onto the kitchen counter.
"They’re reassigning me to the downtown office, starting tomorrow."
"Why?" I looked up at him.
"Boss says I’m too unsteady out on the road. They’re afraid I’ll lose my balance and get caught under some equipment."
"Gee, I’m sorry, honey. I know how you love that outside job." I’d noticed for months what Mike seemed to ignore—that his legs were faltering. I remembered that the doctor who had performed his fem-pop surgery back in 1978 had warned that he was in the beginning stages of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Nerve damage. Over time, it can cause the loss of feeling as well as ulcers on the legs and feet that do not readily heal. It is not an uncommon complication in long-term diabetics, often leading to the amputation of feet and even legs, and I knew Mike was in his 30th year. Health-wise, our future did not look particularly bright.
"They’re going to teach me some computer stuff." He interrupted my thoughts.
"That makes sense, I guess, being you worked on computers at Boeing, way back when."
"Yep. But that was big main-frame stuff and IBM cards. This is computer drafting. With a monitor. And a keyboard. Hell, I don’t even know how to type."
"Maybe you won’t have to. Don’t worry about it," I tried to calm his fears. "Like you said, they're going to teach you."
Mike grumbled daily about the difficulties learning his new job, while I spent hours writing articles, screening wall hangings, and studying books on self-publishing. Somewhere in between, the days marched on through Thanksgiving and Christmas into a new year.
That procession halted for us, however, on the morning of January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. The entire crewseven U.S. astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffeperished in an instant. The gloom of those who admired our space program was palpable well beyond spring.
By then, my father had expressed his longing to return once again to the land of his birth. My mother wouldn’t hear of it. "No!" she’d call out loudly. "Absolutely not. You’re not strong enough."
My heart ached over the dejected look on my father’s face. If he felt compelled to visit his homeland once more, then let him! I interjected an unsolicited comment from time to time, like— "But Mom, Dad is doing well—you said so yourself." "There are doctors and hospitals and medicines in Sweden, if needed." "Why don’t you both go—even if only for a couple of weeks?"
"No!" Mom always had the final word. It reminded me of years back, when we kids were out on our own. Dad wanted to sell the Edmonds house, with its monster-maintenance grounds, and move to a smaller place. Mom had refused to sign any papers. She would not allow it.
She denied him then, and she was denying him now. Nonetheless, our lives carried into another year of tedious existencework, family, and insulin reactionssparked with an occasional surprise.
In April, I was approached by a woman who had once visited Dress Elegance to check out my cruise-worthy clothes, especially the all-cotton selections. She was the manager of a retirement organization in Seattle, and invited me to write personality profiles for their monthly member-bulletin. I accepted, and soon had a regular column called "Helen’s Circle of Friends." No pay, but they provided B&W film and names of people to interview.
Through those assignments, I met a retired community newspaper editor who had, for some years, self-published Scandinavian-interest books. She encouraged me to use my artistic and writing abilities to do the same. Our visits extended beyond the initial interview and we became good friends.
Also, from my writing-exposure in that bulletin, came an invitation to write content for a Seattle-based apparel trade paper. Over the next few months I did interviews as assigned, mostly via phone, with all of my work published. I ceased getting assignments after I declined to drop everything and rush to Sea-Tac Airport to do an interview. My refusal, citing a "family commitment," was, in truth, because Mike was in the throes of an insulin reaction at that moment. I had no hesitation in choosing my priority that day, and no regrets after.
With our camper now repaired, we attended a few Alaskan Camper Club outings. We quickly discovered that pumping up the camper-top was becoming increasingly difficult for Mike. His supervisor at work was correct, his legs were losing strength. We decided it was time to sell the truck and camper, and placed an ad in the local Truck Trader Magazine. Within two weeks, Mike’s Pride and Joy was sold. The hunt for a small motorhome began.
We found one we could afford the following week—a used, twenty-foot, Class C Tioga with a dinette at the back, next to its large rear window. While Mike was at work, I wiped it down thoroughly inside and packed our bedding and other supplies that we’d used in the camper. While visiting a recreational vehicle show, we met a couple representing a local chapter of the Good Sam Club, and we joined. The next weekend we attended our first chapter campout, which we enjoyed very much.
Following that, we joined a local chapter of a national motor coach association, and were quickly and warmly accepted at their rallies. Many of them were full-timers, traveling far and wide throughout this grand country of ours, living year-round in their rigs, no matter their age group or socio-economic status.
Several of those folks did, in time, become closer than family to us. With new friends to cherish and good times to anticipate, we looked forward to spending weekends with our new-found happy campers.
One morning, while I was loading the motorhome for one of those weekends, the phone rang.
My mother’s voice sounded strained. "Helen, we need a favor again."
"We’ve just been to the doctor’s office. Your father’s cancer has returned, and he needs to start chemotherapy on Monday morning."