"Well, we might need a ride to the hospital Monday morning. We’re going to ask Sis when she gets home from work today, but if she can’t, could you drive us?"
Thoughts of how my sister came to be living once again in our childhood home flashed through my brain—how she’d left her last husband a few months ago, creating an uncertain future. We invited her to stay in our house while we went to Colorado, and she did. Following that, she stayed with her childhood girl-friend for a time, then moved back home to our folks.
"Helen? Are you still there?" My mother’s voice brought me back to our conversation.
"Yes. Just let me know where you need to go and what time. I’ll call you when we get back from our campout on Sunday."
"Okay. Thank you. It’s Northwest Hospital, for six weeks."
"Wow. Long time. Well, that’s better than way downtown. We’ll be leaving tonight, after Mike gets home from work, so I’ll talk to you Sunday evening then."
We said our good-byes, and I continued gathering weekend supplies until nine o’clock, when I grabbed my shopping list and headed for the stores. A couple of hours later, I was back with twelve pie pumpkins, 36 small jars of poster paint in red, black, and white, and three dozen disposable watercolor brushes.
I washed the pumpkins and set them on a towel to dry for a pumpkin-painting contest planned for after Saturday evening’s potluck dinner. The contest would serve as entertainment as well as to keep the campers busy and visiting with each other rather than returning to their rigs to watch TV or read.
Several weeks beforehand, I had filled some jars with birdseed and buried at least ten items within each one—buttons, needles, pins, screws, coins, an earring, anything small yet identifiable—which campers were to discover by turning and shaking the jar. The idea was to keep the RVers inside the meeting room as much as possible during the weekend. I packed scratch pads and pencils for their convenience, and numbered the jars, keeping a list of what items were inside each one. The rules-of-the-game were that the jar could not be taken from the room, nor opened. Whoever correctly identified the most items in a jar won the contest on Sunday morning, after the customary continental breakfast. I do not recall now what the prize was, but I would forever remember the smiles and laughter those jars of birdseed created, and how they did draw campers into the room during "off" hours.
I also remembered that every time I worked on them over the weeks preceding our rally, Mike would make some insulting remark, like, "how juvenile, how stupid, what a waste of time." Yet when someone questioned him at the rally with, "Did you help make these?" His immediate reply was, "Yep. Sure did!" And he’d smile. Proudly.
I called him on it after we got home.
"So, I took a little of your credit." He grinned.
"It’s not the first time, Mike. Keep taking it and pretty soon there’ll be nothing left of me."
"Sorry." A meek but acceptable apology came forth.
I called Mom that evening and learned that my sister would indeed drive them to the hospital in the morning, but wouldn’t be able to bring her home. I willingly agreed to do that, and used the forenoon hours to unpack and tidy up the motorhome, then drove to the hospital to wish my Dad well, and take my mother home to Edmonds.
In the weeks that followed, I continued to visit my Dad in the hospital as often as I could. There he’d lie, in bed, tethered by tubes to chemotherapy drugs. "If this doesn’t work," he’d quip to the nurses, "I’ll be right over there." He’d extend his arm, his finger pointing in the direction of the cemetery across the side-street, where he and Mom owned plots. And he’d laugh.
I spent time working on marketing and screening my wall hangings, and began the research and illustrations that would become my first self-published book—Celebrate Scandinavia.
Mike complained constantly about his difficulty learning the computer drafting program at work. His frustration, coupled with hate for having to give up his outside job, led to expletives most every evening of each week. I learned to be silent but supportive. Dear God, please help us both through this difficult time.
Life moved on, one day mimicking the next. Dad returned home after about six weeks of chemotherapy, looking thin, and weak, and much too old. He turned 77 that November, and by Christmas, he’d gained back some stamina and a slight bit of weight. He looked forward to working in the yard again come spring.
At least once a week I’d stop to see my folks. On one particular visit they took me by surprise. Mom had requested I be there by a certain time. The table was set with small plates, china coffee cups, napkins, a spoon and butter knife at each place. The smell of Mom’s homemade sweet buns and freshly-brewed coffee filled me with nostalgia.
"What’s the occasion?" I asked.
"We need you to do something for us." Mom said.
"We want you to be our Durable Power of Attorney, in case Dad or I become unable to handle things on our own. We have an attorney coming in a little while with the papers. Will you do that for us?"
I was stunned, yet instantly realized that the china cups and fresh buns were for the attorney‘s benefit, not mine.
"Are you sure?" I asked. "Shouldn’t Sis be the one to do that?" I’d always felt that Sis was entitled to come before me in such matters.
"Your father and I have talked it over at length, as well as with the attorney, and made our choice … you."
"Are you certain you don’t want Sis?" I began to feel anxious.
"Yes! We’re sure." She was emphatic. "Your sister does not make good decisions. It’s just that simple."
"Well, okay then. But you’re SURE?"
"Yes. And one more request, please …"
"Don’t tell her about it."
"Okay." I hoped I would never have to use it.
The attorney came, thoroughly explained the documents, and we all signed—Dad, Mom, me, and the attorney as witness. He joined us for coffee and a sweet roll before leaving.
I stayed on, listening to my folks’ dreams for and doubts about their remaining years.