I’ll never know for sure, if it weren’t for that bent derailleur, might’ve just finished in ’21. Other than the early rain and later muddy B-roads, weather wasn’t a factor. I flubbed the execution.
Impulsively flipped the bird driving by that same Loves truck stop yesterday on my return from Lincoln. It’s just off Nebraska Highway 2, near Syracuse. A visceral reaction. Nothing against them. It’s what happened there. The emotions are still raw, one year later.
Which may help explain why I signed up again. Made a plan and caught a couple bugs, including corona in February. Both relatively mild. Slowed me down some. Before we get into what happened next, let’s go back still further…
In February ’06 a GI bleed continued for several days and required hospitalization. About when the doctor started discussing transfusions, it stopped. Afterwards, the diagnosis was diverticulitis. Not a particularly severe condition, managed with diet.
It could have been worse. A wake-up call. I made the necessary changes along with an increasing amount of exercise, particularly aerobic. Over the intervening period were tweaks to lifestyle. Taking the foot off the gas pedal. Achieving a work-life balance.
Back to last February, bleeding again. Fortunately, not as severe. No hospitals. It didn’t stop.
We’re not going into the details and you’re welcome. What I’ll share, the diagnosis is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). There’s no cure. It’s managed with medication. The goal’s remission. No consensus on the cause or how to get (and stay) in remission. There are strong indications that it’s autoimmune. Meaning nobody knows for sure. We’re left with guesses and playing the odds.
Despite this lack of conclusive scientific evidence pointing to any particular cause, drastic changes were made to diet. Most of the stuff I loved to eat and drink were off limits. Moving toward plants, less meat. No problem. This part’s overdue. It can be turned positive.
What’s up for grabs is riding and was advised to stop. The doctor can’t make me, but It’d be unwise to do otherwise. It’s also tricky. It might be alright to ride like a normal person, say twenty-five miles a day. That’s not how I roll.
One of the meds tamped the symptoms. Would be great if it weren’t prednisone, which isn’t a viable long-term option. Gradually, the dosage was reduced and stopped in early July. No relapse. In remission? Was given the green light to return to normal activities.
Not in time for Unbound, the first Saturday after Memorial day. Had to defer that entry and volunteered instead. A gratifying experience and made up for the disappointment. It’s now summertime, no more riding restrictions and enough time for a credible shot at Long Voyage on August 19th.
Then the mishaps. Hit the deck twice the first couple weeks of July, about ten days apart. Cracked number six, bruises and scrapes. Thought maybe a broken tooth and another rib. Nothing serious. Healed up and resumed training. Lost another month and it’s only three weeks until the event. Should be tapering, not ramping up.
I was determined to give it a go anyway. Be a good test. What’s the worst that can happen? Probably a lot. Call it defiance or stupidity. Was talked out of it by both wife and coach. Neither thought it a good idea. I relented. On the last day to make changes at Gravel Worlds, I dropped to the 150 mile course.
Arrived at Lincoln early last Thursday. Did the shakeouts. Hung out at the venue during the day and rested at night. On Saturday the weather was gorgeous and so was the course. I completed the sandy roller coaster in thirteen hours and some change. Held steady until the end and it was pretty awesome. Made some friends and caught up with old ones. Inspired by hearing all of their stories of redemption and courage.
This story isn’t exactly that. It was a great ride and included a nice finish. Good enough for now. Redemption can wait.
It’s now been almost five years since Oracle announced the donation of Java’s enterprise layer to the Eclipse foundation. It stipulated a name change, removing “Java”, ostensibly due to trademark issues. Eclipse chose “Jakarta” as the new name.
As Java programmers, we understand organizational boundaries of dependent modules are enforced via package names. How we reference them in our code.
For many years now we’ve had this durable base of auxiliary software coming from the platform and the 3rd parties that comprise its ecosystem. It’s free and shields us from the intricacies and accelerates development. Makes our job easier. The reason I continue to use Java.
The programming language itself factors into why we choose to use it too. Java ranks at or near the top, in my estimation. We’re not discussing theory or practice here and I’m not trying to convince you the platform’s viable.
Back to the main point. There’s a cost associated with using free software, despite the language in which it was written. Sometimes it changes. Always for reasons outside of our control. That means we must change our code to accommodate. The Jakarta migration requires that millions (billions?) of lines-of-code be changed. We’re talking about the biggest disruption to the Java ecosystem in its 27 years.
Not a rant-post and we’re not going over tactics here. That has all been covered elsewhere. I will point out that converting the code is simple. Just change the package imports and pull in the newer versions of the libs into whatever dependency mechanism is being used.
If you can find all of them. As of today, many affected suppliers have published Jakarta compatible releases, some are still working on it, while still others have it on their roadmap.
That’s quite remarkable actually and demonstrates the robustness of the ecosystem. It’ll handle it — eventually.
The runtime’s ready, with a logjam in the projects upstream. Until all of the projects we use have published their compatible packages, we can’t migrate. In turn projects dependent on us must wait until we publish our conversion, and so on. We can replace our non-compliant libraries (a ton of work) or wait.
What’s hanging in the balance is which Servlet container runs and which version of the JVM will be in use. Older code can’t run in newer containers and vice versa. There are ways to sidestep the compatibility restrictions. Conversion routines that modify the packaged bytecode so it works with the jakarta namespace. Can you say shim? For me, I’ll wait just a bit longer. Hope it doesn’t take too long.
Sung to the tune of “Message In A Bottle” by The Police
Just a question say, I’m completely in the trees, so Another bug in the way, so c’mon help me please, oh More erroneous than any scan can take Rescue me before I lose my hair, oh
I’ll dump questions on the world I’ll send dumb questions to the world I hope that someone sees mine I hope that someone knows mine I hope that someone answers mine Your guess is anecdotal, yeah And these guesses cause me trouble, yeah
A week has gone since I wrote my post I should have known this right from the start Only hope can keep me together Just a little luck and then we can release No luck at all means we’re fucked
I’ll dump questions on the world I’ll send dumb questions to the world I hope that someone gets mine I hope that someone knows mine I hope that someone answers mine
Your guess is anecdotal, yeah And these guesses cause me trouble, yeah So, don’t be guessing on my post, no
Googled again this morning, can’t believe what I saw Hundred billion questions popped into my chrome Seems I’m not the only one that’s confused Hundred billion other people, still searching for a clue
It sounded good at the time. Fueled by the liquid courage a few IPA’s brings during the cold winter month’s planning of the summer’s upcoming events. I received the invitation to enter a new ride, called The Long Voyage.
The courage lasted until this arrived in my inbox:
“Congratulations! You have been selected as one of the 100 riders for the inaugural Gravel Worlds: The Long Voyage sponsored by Komoot! This event will challenge your mind, body, and spirit and we can’t wait to hear and see your adventures!”
Oh, crap. 300 miles across some of the most godforsaken roads in the Midwest. Set to take place in late August, long before the summer heat has subsided.
My last Gravel Worlds was in ’19. Finished the 150 mile gravel event in just over 13 hours. Crossed the line and had to sit down for a few minutes (first time ever). Walked to my truck, drove 1000 meters, pulled over and lost my cookies. That was my finish line experience.
The Long Voyage is 2X that distance. 30 hours to complete, start at 5pm, ride all night and the next day. What have I gotten myself into?
Knew I had to step up my game. The last couple of years has been a struggle on the longer events, which have been described in painful detail here. The problem’s called ‘rot gut’. Get halfway into an all day event and stomach stops working leading to all sorts of difficulties.
So, I hired a coach, Frank Pike, and started working on a structured training plan. I also worked on my hydration strategy, experimenting with various mixes.
Things were going pretty good. I was getting stronger and headed for the first big challenge of 2021: Unbound’s 200 miler in the Flint Hills of Kansas, the week after memorial day (June 2).
Being a 4x finisher, my confidence was high. That lasted for all of about 70 miles, until the heat kicked up and I found myself struggling to keep a proper pace. Things came to a head at mile 125 at the 2nd neutral water stop in Alta Vista.
“Good job, you made it just under the cutoff!”, the volunteer stated as I arrived. Oh, crap. Just Under The Cutoff. Barely able to maintain 10 mph and facing a stiff headwind home. I pulled the plug. My first-ever DNF at DK.
I was bummed, but remained resolute in fixing the problems and not giving up. Frank introduced me to an expert in sports nutrition, Nicole Rubenstein, who helped me determine my sweat rate and calculate a proper level of intake of electrolytes.
The problem is called hyponatremia and occurs when the sodium level in the blood is too low. I was taking in proper amounts of fluids, but not adding enough electrolytes. I started taking 340mg salt capsules in addition to what’s in my drink mixes.
Another area that I needed work on being calorie intake. It was tough to find something that’s tolerated over the course of a race, say 12, 16, 20 and with my upcoming ride, 30 hours. Under Nicole’s direction I started rolling plain white bread into little balls, and carrying in ziplock bags. One slice is 120 calories, easy to carry and well tolerated.
In the weeks leading up to The Long Voyage the training miles increased. 300, 400 miles per week. Back-to-back centuries, double centuries, all night rides, midday rides (in the heat) were part of the plan. Also continued with the structured intervals on the trainer.
A couple of weeks before The Long Voyage I felt good. I tapered my training under Frank’s direction. Rest was a priority as was eating right and avoiding things like beer.
At 5pm the weather was hot. But, a front passing through would bring some rain and cooler temps before nighttime. Frank provided last minute instructions. My buddies, Dawn, Jerry and Mike, were riding Saturday and there to provide encouragement. I lined up with the 70 or so other riders and we’re off.
Most of the others, say 50, were much faster and sped off into the distance. That was fine by me. It’s a long ride. No need to hurry. My goal was to maintain a leisurely pace, between 12 and 14 miles an hour. There were about 20 others that remained in the back. We had pleasant conversations and played leapfrog until the storm hit.
I’m pretty comfortable in the rain, and so didn’t have any problems when it hit. Fortunately, no lightning and most of the roads were fine.
When night fell the rains had stopped. I rolled into the first stop, Weeping Water (no pun intended), around 9:30 pm (mile 54). Because The Long Voyage is unsupported, the stops were convenience stores in small towns. I refueled and hit the road again, feeling pretty good.
The first minimal maintenance road (MMR) was just before the second stop, outside Syracuse. MMR’s are lightly maintained. Graded occasionally, but gravel is not laid. This means they get muddy. The consistency of the mud can be described as peanut butter. Very sticky, it will quickly build and make riding impossible. Try to ride it, and a derailleur or the chain will break.
That first MMR was rideable because the rain over this section was not heavy, but it was an indication of what’s coming.
The next stop was a Loves truck stop (mile 80) just outside of Syracuse, Nebraska. We first saw its giant sign 10 miles away but it would disappear and reappear again as we descended and climbed the hills.
I rolled in about midnight and so far things were according to plan. Refueled and enjoyed a treat of fresh pineapple and was on my way again in about 15 minutes.
Leaving the truck stop I flubbed hopping a curve, hit it head-on and did an endo (back wheel raises up and over) and dropped it hard on the concrete. It was embarrassing as there were maybe a dozen riders who were sitting outside and witnessed it. One helped me get up. I thanked him as I assessed the damage. Besides my pride, I noticed one of my aerobars got knocked loose. After readjusting and tightening I rode off again.
Back on the road is when I realized the bike’s derailleur was damaged and returned to the truckstop. As I fiddled with the derailleur the chain came off and got twisted in the spokes of the rear wheel.
When it hit that this ride might be over. A long way back to Lincoln (60 miles) and I had no way to get there. I was bummed. How could things get so bad after being good just minutes before?
Eventually, my mind eased and I worked the problem getting the chain back on again and reassessed the situation. I don’t have gears 4 – 9, but I do have 1-3 and 10-12. I can make this work.
Now 1:00 am and in dead last place I took off again. It was a tough decision, leaving the relative comfort of Syracuse into the darkness, knowing my bike could break down at any time leaving me stranded.
During the first half hour, I beat myself up. The skies had cleared and a nearly full moon had emerged. We had a candid discussion about competency, i.e. the lack of. Eventually, I got over it and found a rhythm. Not having the middle gears was a setback. It meant either standing up in tall gears or spinning in short ones.
My chances to finish were slim, average speed had dropped to around 10 mph and I lost an hour at the truckstop. Oh well, shit happens. Find something to like about it.
About 4:30 am (mile 115) a truck approached me with their bright lights on. “Turn your f***ing brights off”, I muttered to myself. The truck slowed as it passed and a man stuck his head out the window.
“Hey!”, he greeted, before this…
“YOU’RE WAKING UP THE DOGS, WHAT THE F*** ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE YOU STUPID MOTHERF***ER”, he shouted.
I could tell there were others inside the cab with him. These hicks must have been up all night drinking and who knows what else. I wasn’t in the mood to discuss, on friendly terms or otherwise, lowered my head and kept riding. Fortunately, they drove off.
Soon, I rolled into Adams (mile 120). Blink, and you miss it (even on a bike). I passed the closed convenience store and heard shouting from a block down a side street. I looked and saw two riders in a dark parking lot. This was our refueling station. I would have missed it if they hadn’t called out. There were cases of bottled water stacked up, a water hose, paper towels, an air pump and some misc tools.
I got reacquainted with Molly and Steve. We met over the first 50 miles of the course. Molly was upset and told us about being harassed by the rednecks. They stalked her and tried to run her off the road. She called 911 and a deputy showed up. He told her boys will be boys. I would have been pissed too. She didn’t know what to do next.
“You can ride with us”, Steve said.
“Yeah, you can ride with us”, was my reply.
Before we left, we spent time getting our bikes cleaned up, mud out of the chains, gears and brakes.
“Thanks for letting me ride with you guys”, she said.
I had already figured out that she was a badass and so it’s not like we were doing her any favors. Everyone pulls their own weight.
Now three strong we worked together and rode on through the night. About an hour later, as the eastern sky brightened so did our spirits. In 30 minutes, a beautiful sunrise greeted us and I began to entertain thoughts of finishing once again.
That’s when the next MMR hit. Backing up, earlier in the night, before the mishap in Syracuse, there was a nice lightning show down south. Not worried about having to ride through it, I didn’t think about how it was soaking the roads in our path.
It means either trying to ride the ditch or carrying. One cannot even push the bike on the road because the mud builds up and freezes the wheels. Missing my middle gears, there was no way I was going to pretend I had a mountain bike. Steve actually was riding a mountain bike and so he had some success riding to the side. Molly and I carried.
For four miles we carried. Built on a grid, each segment of road is exactly one mile. Each mile carried felt like an eternity. Over each hill we hoped to see a stop sign marking the end.
That is when we would stop and clean the mud off shoes, cleats, and the bikes, if we were dumb enough to try to ride any part of it. The cleanup took about 20 minutes. Walking a one mile segment at about a two mile per hour pace followed by the cleanup meant each MMR cost about 50 minutes of time.
Do you remember those old cartoons where the characters are moving but the same terrain gets recycled? That’s what this felt like. Haven’t I passed that tree before? Are We Even Moving?
After the third mile of carrying our hearts sank. Ahead was yet another MMR and another mile of carrying. Up to this point Molly had endured without complaint. Now her determination began to flag, as did mine. How much more of this can we take?
“What do you have to say about this predicament?”, she asked, somewhat rhetorically.
I repeated a line that Frank told me back at the starting line. “You have to embrace the suck”.
Satisfied with this response we accepted our fate and trudged on, not knowing this was to be the last time.
The halfway point was Beatrice (150 miles). I was supposed to be here by 6:00 am and it was now almost lunchtime. This is where Steve tossed in the towel and called someone to pick him up. I couldn’t blame him.
“Do you need a ride to Lincoln?”, he asked me. I politely declined but congratulated him on sticking it out thus far thanked him for being a good guy.
This was probably my lowest point, other than the truckstop. I was very hungry but the store’s fresh food options were dismal. I gambled on a sausage and egg biscuit, but it didn’t pan out. Tossed into the garbage after one bite. I settled on a giant payday candy bar and a coke but my stomach wasn’t happy and tossed them also.
“I’m not stopping”, I told Molly somewhat defiantly, popping another bread ball into my mouth. It was seasoned with some good ole Nebraska dirt, from the MMR’s. (Note to self: make sure you seal those ziplog bags containing foodstuff) She was inside the store talking to her husband on the phone.
“Me neither!”, she exclaimed.
And then there were two
Leaving Beatrice we turned north headed back to Lincoln. For the first time since the starting line, we’re now getting closer to the finish instead of further.
We were wearing down and saddle sore but worked together and did alright despite now headed into a stiff headwind. As expected, our pace slowed considerably. I was missing those middle gears more than ever as they are most needed when riding into the wind, over rolling hills.
After the MMR’s any chance we had of finishing on time was over. If I had had a working derailleur I might have tried anyway. It would have meant crossing the finish line at say 2:00 am Sunday morning. Another night of riding. The last 50 miles being the hilliest of the course, I knew it would be a struggle, literally uphill.
Without saying anything to Molly, who was still talking about finishing, I began to calculate where to pull out. 200 miles sounded like a good number. That’s the number of miles I should have rode at Unbound back in June. It felt a bit like a consolation prize, but I was ok with it.
Rolled into the Casey’s General Store in Wilbur (mile 176) at 1:30 pm. Here was a first class watering hole, complete with fresh pizza and icey’s. I hadn’t eaten solid food in almost 24 hours.
We got some looks from the nice townsfolk of Wilbur and we must’ve smelled bad. They were polite about it, but kept a respectful distance. Not that I could blame them. I doubt it helped matters that one of the items on my shopping list was a bar of soap, but we sure thought it funny.
“Try to look serious”, she told me before taking this shot.
This is when I told Molly about my plan for stopping at 200. By this time she was getting tired, suffering from saddle sores and readily agreed. Our next stop was Crete at mile 190. The next one after that, mile 225.
We decided Crete was the place and called our respective rides so they could meet us there.
It was anti-climatic pulling out at 190. Definitely felt like there should have been more to this story. I had another 100 miles left in the tank. But, was satisfied with getting this far, after the earlier mishap. It could have been worse. This is why we never take a finish for granted. Shit happens. It’s all about the execution. The course has the final say. Find something to like about it.
Molly and I said our goodbyes, exchanged contact info and called it a day. A Very Long Day.
Getting back to Lincoln, had a nice beer and burger and soaked in the atmosphere of Gravel Worlds’ finish line. This Is A Great Event. Its gotten bigger over the years but has retained an Indie vibe. The organizers are very nice and cool people. I’m very glad to see their success.
Went back to the hotel around 7:00 pm, showered (of course) and slept for 12 hours. Woke a little sore and very hungry. I had the first of two breakfasts, followed by a couple of lunches. Later, I met my sister in KC and we enjoyed a nice dinner.
I think we can all agree that 2020 was pretty rough. Many lost their jobs and loved ones. Our economy tanked. Businesses failed. Governments teetered on the brink. It felt like 1918 and 1930 combined.
An absolutely terrible year and it ain’t over yet. For all but a few of us, the worst in memory. So please forgive dear reader, this painful look into a past yet unhealed.
There were other declines to reckon with. In nearly every personal pursuit, 2020 pretty much sucked.
Mine’s cycling. So, how’d that work out? Not great. Most events, and all of the big ones were canceled. Dirty Kanza (now Unbound Gravel) was first postponed, then cancelled. The goblet would have to wait (was to be the 5th). Gravel Worlds went virtual. It was both disappointing and a relief. The right decision. But, it left a void in training resolve. Why suffer through all those miles now? What’s the point?
Paradoxically, cycling as a hobby enjoyed unprecedented success. People started riding their bikes. The benefits were immediate and obvious. Parents now spending quality time with their kids, instead of following their typically obsessive and harried schedules. Senior citizens and others (who look like they could use a little exercise) were now on the trail. Not just the typical hard core athletes. I welcomed them and offered encouragement. The trail is for everyone. The more the merrier.
A perfect pandemic activity. Tailor made for lockdown conditions. We can still ride while maintaining a safe distance. We can meet fitness goals (when so many others have gone awry) and blow off steam. It’s fun, cheap and anyone can do it.
Another silver lining, the pandemic induced conditions, i.e. isolation, schedule interruptions and travel restrictions opened up lots of free time. It offered the opportunity to work on weak areas of my game. Now that all rides are non-stop and solo, I can become adept at self-reliance. I learned how to carry more water, worked on electrolyte and caloric replenishment strategies. These are critical aspects in endurance cycling and areas I needed to improve.
As the year drew to a close a personal best in yearly total mileage was reached. A typical year is around 8K mi (12.8K). I’ve toyed with the 10K mi (16K km) mark for years, but due to injuries and travel was never able to get there. The yearly total reflects a commitment to a healthful lifestyle. It requires a focus on recovery and ancillary goals (rest, diet, etc.). It means being on track to ride well into the future, to enjoy its benefits for as long as possible.
Why I ride. I passed that previous yearly total by a fairly wide margin. But, exactly how far, or how fast, isn’t the point. It’s that we never stop.
The driver overshot the white line that marks where the crosswalk begins by about one-and-a-half car lengths.
I was cursing under my breath as I navigated around his car, placing me into the onrushing traffic.
He must have heard as he shouted at me after I passed. Keep riding I told myself, but against my better judgement, circled back and issued a fairly standard reply:
“WHAT?!!!!”, I shouted back.
It’s a busy intersection servicing an even busier interstate interchange. There must be 10,000 cars passing through daily. I’ve passed through myself on a bike countless times and have long since ceased being surprised by what happens here.
It’s an important transition point between riders who stay local and those who want to continue in the greater metro area. To say it’s not built for cyclists is an understatement, but this is the only way out of town.
“Nice Spandex bleep bleep bleep”, was his reply.
“Fuck-off”, I told him nonchalantly and turned back onto the original pathway.
I thought it was over, but this is when his engine roared to life and with tires squealing, he made a right-turn from the left-turn lane, cutting off the other drivers who were in the right-turn lane. He next made another right-turn, hopped the curb, crossed my path and forced me to brake hard to avoid a collision. Clearly this cat’s off his MEDs.
I quickly went around his car yet again, back onto the path and made a beeline for the nearby Circle-K service station, where I knew there’d be witnesses in case the situation escalated further.
Apparently he wasn’t interested in having witnesses and continued on shouting epithets and speeded away.
I was mildly shaken, but continued on with my ride.
On a scale of 1 to 10 this was about a 5. I’ve had much worse. From a danger perspective, it was fairly low. More of an irritation.
I’m not unique, ride enough miles and this kind of event becomes fairly commonplace.
I’ve given up trying to figure out the why. There’s no pay dirt in it. It’s more about trying to make sure it doesn’t bring me down, discourage from engaging in an activity that I have every right to be doing.
A little while later, on the trail, still a bit down, when I passed by a young mother walking. I slowed down and overheard her telling others that her daughter was on a bike but the two separated. I remembered seeing the little girl, stopped, assured the mom that it was going to be OK, that I’d seen her a hundred meters away, and would help them get reunited.
It felt pretty good to help and erased the negativity of earlier. It also helped seeing the other people rallying around the young mother and her lost daughter.
These types of occurrences are not unusual on the trail. Once, I delivered a juice-box to a kid going into diabetic shock on the Big Dam Bridge. His frantic mother had just retrieved it from her car in the parking lot but was maybe a mile from her child. It was one of the best miles that I’ve ever ridden. Another time, an old man who happened to be a veteran, got his electric wheelchair stuck off the path, and couldn’t get back onto it. Helping others in these types of situations is a privilege. We get more from it than they do.
A good metaphor for life. Ignore the bad stuff (that can’t be fixed), embrace the good. Do what you can to help others.
My earliest memories of Mom were framed by the ’60’s. I’m not talking about the late 60’s, Vietnam, Nixon, Hippies, but the earlier post-war boom, rise of suburbia, shopping, passenger trains, cool cars, Beatles, Beach Boys, NASA, Kennedy’s, when everything seemed shiny, new and above all with promise.
She thrived in that era but didn’t choose sides. Not too conservative, nor too progressive, straddling the line, taking the good from each. Later, when the Hippies came into fashion, she borrowed stuff that she liked. Peace symbols, make love not war, happy faces, bell-bottom jeans, sandals (not the casual sex and drugs part). Again, the good stuff.
As the 60’s turned into the 70’s things changed. Some of that promise turned hard. Wars, political strife, etc, started to bring us down. Along with that Mom and Dad persevered, and tried to make the best of it, for all six of their children.
Some of those early memories, bringing home lizards, snakes, sometimes alive, sometimes dead. She didn’t much care for either. Those early days, with so many babies in the house, she was all business. I loved her, of course, but also sometimes feared her. I feared crossing paths either when in the wrong, or when she had a vacuum cleaner in hand.
Boy did she clean. The house made spotless on a daily basis. I didn’t appreciate how much work that was until later, after realizing I would never live up to her exacting standards in that regard.
Her care for us was near perfect. Every day before being sent off to school was a careful inspection. We were expected to have combed hair, brushed teeth, serviceable clothes, ample supplies in hand. Getting out that door was a business transaction and non-negotiable. That continued all the way until high school graduation. My last year, she literally dragged me out of bed on a daily basis. Would douse me with cold water if necessary. I Was Going To School. (Although I might not stay there). If there was a big ballgame, concert, play, recital, any kind of award, you can bet she’d make it. Same goes whenever trouble came. Trips to the principal’s office, tickets, citations, summons, tardies, unauthorized absences, always routed through her desk first.
In dealing with sickness or injury, it was under control. So many disasters, one of my siblings has made a career in the emergency management field, has literally written a book on the topic. With six active, willful, rambunctious kids, things sometimes went haywire. All the trips to the emergency room, with broken bones, teeth, dislocations, sprains, stitches, gashes, punctures, bites, concussions, black eyes and contusions. Trips to the fire station for help getting a finger, hand or foot dislodged and/or unstuck from a gate, pipe, railing or nut. There was jaundice, appendicitis, meningitis, flu, fevers, infections of endless varieties. Fist-fights, injuries on the playing field, and various corrective surgeries. Once even alcohol poisoning. That was her job. Dad only brought in when critical which thankfully was nearly never. She would have made a damn good doctor. Calm, collected, thorough, decisive. Could administer a cold compress (to suppress bleeding) with one hand, a baby in the other, all the while calmly conferring with a doctor on the phone.
She was attentive. When in conversation, it was about us. Never about her. Those stories we told her never got turned in her direction. She was happy to discuss it as thoroughly as we pleased. Never admonishing us for blabbing on or to get to the point. Even when at our worst, she always thought the best, and because of that, eventually, we were able to live up to those expectations.
She was that way with everyone. With Dad, she would happily watch him carry the room. That she did for most of her life. She stood in the background. An elegant presence.
I can remember one day, must have been 2nd or 3rd grade. She came to my classroom to bring cookies (or something). It was a HUGE deal and I was bursting with pride. The other boys, catcalled and hooted (which she ignored). Probably had on some kind of groovy dress, with stylish boots, hair was always perfectly done. This in Perry, Kansas, a town of 499 (491 after we moved away). A bit of Hollywood glamour in the middle of the cow pasture.
She excelled at everything and worked (out of the house) when we got older. One of her big questions, what if she hadn’t got married at a young age, continued past college into the workforce? My answer, she would have had a sensational professional career, if only born twenty years later.
As it was she flourished in things there was time for. Art was a particular strength, progressing to the point where she ran the art program for a local retirement community.
I was always proud of her, but I feared her judgement. In my teens, as I went through a rebellious phase, she approved of just a few friends. Those she did, I found out later were gold. Those she didn’t, not so much.
She did not suffer fools, everyone knew where they stood with her.
She and Tim came to our wedding. Just those two. It didn’t matter, having her (with Tim) was good enough for Cindy and me. Her endorsement rang clearer than a wedding hall of thousands.
And then when the babies started coming, she was there. Grandma on the train, my kids called her. In those early days, before Dad and she remarried, she’d come by Amtrak. The kids adored her. She was fabulous with them and we had such good fun.
Later, with Dad, it was more of the same. Always about us, never them. They brought strange and wonderful things. Once, a hamster, Goldenberg he was called. Fully outfitted with the hamster trails and what not.
But there was more. Bikes, toy trucks, dolls, puzzles, legos, books, clothes, and lots of love. We’d eat out, go to the park, zoo, hike, bike, bowl, swim, dig, dive, drink. Didn’t much matter where as long as we were together, it was all good.
In many of her last years was a dysfunction that slowly robbed her vitality. A GI tract ruined in a botched procedure, by an incompetent surgeon. Most of us (in the first world) eat too much and she could hardly at all.
Near the end, as her body wasted away, she soldiered on. Weight down to just 70 pounds and still a brave and dignified face. Making the most of what remained.
I feel cheated. We should’ve had another ten years. She held up her end of the bargain. The graduations, weddings, great-grandchildren that will never know.
But, the time we had was more than we could have asked for.