Now that Mike had survived the amputation and his disability benefits were secure, I applied for a mortgage through Sears. We received an approval a few days later and signed the papers—a huge relief to me.
He spent hours at our kitchen table, working on his remote-controlled (R/C) model car—painting, adding decals, and making tiny tools—or outside in the carports, speeding that little racer over the dirt driveway and lumpy lawn. Mike thought it hilarious, rather than dangerous, to chase me with it if I ventured out to see how he was doing. Although the chase greatly irritated me, I had to admit it was an exceptional gift my nephew gave him—a sense of mobility he now lacked.
In addition to his constant nagging to buy more R/C car parts, he began pressuring me to have an oval asphalt track made on our side lot—so he could practice driving his R/C car. "The club members could hold races here." he’d say. He spent long hours designing it, right down to the degree of banking needed on the curves to how many cubic yards of asphalt would be required. Clearly, his years of road-design and inspection know-how were still intact. He couldn’t, however, seem to fathom that such a thing would not be welcome in our residential neighborhood, nor did we have the funds to build it. Sometimes I was able to change the subject, but that never lasted long.
My days were filled with driving him either to the R/C hobby shop, or to Seattle to have adjustments made to his prosthesis, and listening to him plead for that asphalt track.
Following one of our many trips to Seattle, the Jidosha failed again, only one block from home.
"Damn." I shouted as the pedal collapsed to the floor during my shift. "The clutch broke!" I stopped the car.
"Go ahead in whatever gear you’re in." Mike urged.
"It’s stuck in neutral, Mike. I can’t get it into any gear."
"Well get my chair out and take me home!"
"Oh, wonderful!" I snapped. "Just leave the car sitting in the middle of the road? I don’t think so. You calm down and wait here. I’ll run over and see if anyone is home at the neighbors."
I hurried to the house of the only neighbors we knew. Luckily, the adult daughter was home, and helped me push our car around the corner and into our driveway, far enough so I could get Mike and his wheelchair out.
I called the dealer in Burlington, who dispatched a tow truck. Two days and two hundred dollars later, the dealership’s courtesy van transported me back to pick up the car.
On our non-appointment days, Mike would sit in the carports and run his R/C car for hours, allowing time for me to run errands or pursue promotion of my How-to make Newsletters book, like sending a query letter and a sample copy to the Writers Digest Book club.
Later, much to my surprise, they responded with an order for several hundred books but only if the cartons were shrink-wrapped together on a pallet and delivered to their loading docks by truck. I searched the phone books and located a moving company in the next town that agreed to accommodate those requirements if I brought the cartons to their loading dock. A few months later, that book showed up in the book club’s monthly list of offerings as the alternate choice to the featured book of the month. I basked in the wonder of it for months to come.
The book club didn’t pay much—twenty percent of the suggested retail price—but it was a Godsend at the time. Also, a library book distributor, Quality Books, requested a supply and within three months my book rose to number nine on their Top 40 Best Sellers List. Thank you God!
Another time, when Mike was busy at the kitchen table with his R/C car building, I hurried to the grocery store to restock our empty kitchen cupboards. After loading eight bags of groceries into the back of our wagon, the car wouldn’t start. I waited a few minutes, then turned the key again. Nothing. Damn!
Back into the store I went. The produce man let me use a back-room phone to call for a tow truck. When it arrived, my car started on the first try. Of course. I talked the driver into following me and my groceries home. As soon as I unloaded the car, he winched it up onto the flatbed and took it to the dealership for repairsomething about the distributor and they had to order parts. Two weeks and three hundred dollars later, we got the car back.
Another time the fuel pump quit. I had to have the car towed to the dealer and wait one week for a part. I would never drive that car again without fearing it might quit on me.
Mike got his first artificial leg just before Thanksgiving that year. He was a real trooper, showing off at the prosthetist’s office by trying to jog between the parallel bars used for training. He grinned non-stop, as if he’d just won a multi-million dollar lottery. Neither I nor the aide behind him, holding tight to the security belt around his middle, thought it funny.
Standing upright on two legs again brought sunshine back into his being. Still, it wasn’t the end of the process. Weekly trips to Seattle for training and adjustments to the new leg continued. Mike’s anxiety over reclaiming his heretofore lifestyle, to gain back his independence, to drive again, turned into daily campaigns.
"I met a guy named Steve at the hobby shop who can move the accelerator in the Jeep to the left side. He’s got a custom car shop down near Arlington, and said he’s done it before for people. Even put hand controls on a car."
"Yeah? How much is that going to cost?" I knew our budget was getting slim.
"Probably around two or three hundred dollars. Can we do it?"
"I’ll have to study our finances before I can answer that. How about a riding lawn mower instead? Then you could mow the yard and save me a lot of time and major foot pain."
He thought a moment, then responded. "Yeah. Okay. You can take me to the store and the hobby shop, and then we could go look at them."
"No." I said. "The store and hobby shop—okay. But we don’t need a lawn mower until next spring."
"Okay … well then could you take me down to Steve’s tomorrow so we can get a price on moving the accelerator in the Jeep?"