Adventure Travel

Those things physical

As I have aged over the past fifty or so years, I look back at the varying physical challenges that I have overcome. Many of my friends, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and other special forces share these memories. For me, those physical challenges included Marathons, Half Marathons, working in the fishing industry, Tough Mudders, even basic training in the US Marines. All of them had their own unique obstacles and all had some blocking point that had to be overcome. As I look back, probably the most challenging of them was the UNQ platoon in basic training for the US Marines. This isn’t part of the normal training within boot camp. This was, well, unique to a small band of schmucks that couldn’t qualify with the M16 on qualification day.

I was in second phase of Marine boot camp, snapping in at Camp Pendleton when I caught pneumonia for the second time during several “pit calls” (we will get to that in a minute). While in the Navy hospital at Camp Pendleton, I had some young Marines warn me that I may get recycled, but if they offered me the “UNQ platoon” which is short for “Unqualified” that I would be better off getting recycled, and under no circumstances should I pick that platoon. They didn’t say why, but the impression that I had was that the UNQ platoon was a “super bad” place to end up at for any period of time. One of the thoughts that echoed quietly in the back of my head was that “First and foremost, all Marines are basic riflemen, and the Corps takes great pride in that”. That alone should have been a red flag. To discredit the Corps by not being able to do something as simple as shoot a rifle was about as bad as it could get.

snapping-in

I returned to the rifle range, to be greeted by one of my own Drill Instructors, Sgt. Rovenek, the “good DI” who was now the Senior DI for this “UNQ Platoon”. These were recruits that couldn’t qualify with the M16-A1 rifle during qualification day. So, instead of going on to Mess and Maintenance, the Marines instead created a platoon for the “non-hackers”. Sgt. Rovenek told me I had a choice, get recycled (again, due to pneumonia) or stay with him and the UNQ platoon and I could catch up with my regular platoon during ITS (Infantry Training School).

Hell that was an EASY call; I told him I would go with the “UNQ platoon”. I had already been in boot camp for three weeks longer than I wanted to be due to two weeks in Balboa hospital with bi-lateral pneumonia and I had NO intent of staying any longer, much less getting recycled to another platoon.

I am not sure if he smiled or frowned, but either way, the decision was made. Sgt Rovenek assembled the platoon of “unqualifying f****” on the first day and in his normally loud voice he pronounced that we owed him one hundred bends and thrusts at his cadence, and if we failed to deliver on that? We would owe him two hundred bends and thrusts, and each time we fail, it would be one hundred more on top of whatever we owed him. I knew that we could bust out one hundred easily, so no worry about that issue.

Over the two days of shooting, I noticed that ALL the DI’s were very reserved in their treatment of us “unqualified f****”. I qualified the first day, high expert, and most did, a few did not. However two days into it, we all qualified. Sgt Rovenek, true to his word, marched us to the “pit” at the snapping in range. This Pit sucked. It was about four maybe five inches deep of very fine powdery dirt. It was kind of like what women’s make up is made of; very fine, very light, goes everywhere you don’t want it to go. We assembled our weapons outside the pit and marched into this “dirt circle”.

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We began with bends and thrusts. Hands go down, feet go out, feet come back up, and the body goes up. “One Two Three Four, I love the Marine Corps”, along with other entertaining chants, and this went on to the count of about ninety something when somebody screwed up. Now? Two hundred bends and thrusts. All the while the other two junior Drill Instructors are in your face, screaming, yelling and doing very well at just pissing us off.

We were about 45 minutes into this “thrashing” when Sgt. Rovenek uttered the words “STOP!”  “SIR STOP! AYE AYE SIR!” was our response. He had us run to the ladder-well (stairs) going down to the .45 caliber pistol range, beating each other with our covers (hats) to knock the dirt off.

We then ran across the .45 range, twenty yards or so, up the other ladder-well, went into the concrete head (bathroom) that was 50 feet from the stairs, washed ourselves off as best we could, used the head if you had to, and get into formation outside the head. We were so relieved; it was OVER! Holy crud, that was a tough thrashing! “Forward march” were the words, and then?

“Column left” and right back into the pit. And we went at it again. DI’s yelling, screaming, and kicking dirt in your face, pushing you down with a boot on the back. Recruits scream, some started crying, others just getting angrier, many in a pretty serious daze. Another 45 minutes goes by, we are up to about 500 bends and thrusts when we do the same thing again, run to the ladder-well, hitting each other with our covers, across, back up, into the head, out into formation and then? “Forward march” then? “Column left” and back into the pit we went.

This was repeated over and over from about 0700 until chow time around 1100, at that point? We were mud-caked, sore, beat, angry, tired, and owed who knew how many bends and thrusts to Sgt. Rovenek. But we were thrilled, the thrashing was over. We chowed hard, seriously starving after that kind of beating and as I got into my second mouthful of that outstanding noon chow it dawned on me… We had nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do for the next three days. NOTHING.

I stopped eating and put my fork down. I realized what was about to happen to us for the next three days and the rest of today, we were going to thrash. And that is ALL we were going to do. I quit eating, and focused on drinking water… and not too much, I had seen what happened if you puked in the pit, you got to cover it up with dirt, and then? Put it in your pockets.

Been there, seen that. And no thanks. I nudged one of the guys I had made friends with, and told him what I thought. He said “No way” they won’t do that. I said ok, but I wasn’t taking chances. When we finished chow, most of the guys were fat and happy at that point, in mud caked utilities and covered from head to foot in half inch deep cracked mud. Our faces were grime streaked from sweat and fine powdery filth. The other recruits were content, chow was had, and they had survived a serious thrashing. We began marching back to the pit, and one by one, I saw the lights come on. Every recruit there had an epiphany. We had just been introduced to WHY you don’t go to the UNQ platoon.

For the next three days we spent close to 6 hours  a day or better in that pit, bends and thrusts, grenade drills, push-ups, side straddle hops, or being cockroaches that bury themselves when they die. Grenade drills involved running as hard as you could across the pit, and when the DI screamed GRENADE! You dropped like a rock into the dirt. Then when he yelled CLEAR you got up and started running again, full tilt boogie. I saw recruits puke, cry, pass out, get revived and start again. That was a thrashing that is probably the worst the military has to offer including Hell Week from the Seals or any other elite force.

By the end of the week, almost all of us were barely able to get out of the rack, and our utilities stood in the corner by themselves. I don’t know that the dirt ever came out of those “cammies”. The “UNQ Platoon” was a serious motivator…. And Sgt. Rovenek motivated the hell out of that entire platoon. It took me days to recover from that kind of beating. I didn’t know it was possible to exercise that hard, and still keep moving. Shortly after we left the rifle range, we caught up with our platoon for ITS. Infantry Training  School.

ITS was the Marine equivalent of the Navy Seals “Hell Week”.  By far, the UNQ platoon had been my “Crucible”. Today, the Marines have changed ITS into the “Crucible” where you are given little sleep, little to eat, and pushed to your limits physically, mentally and emotionally. Many times in that pit I questioned what in the hell I had got myself into, but? Quitting was never an option. Giving up was never an option. This is what separates the recruit from becoming a Marine.

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Moments. Those that stick

For the past few weeks, I have been in a combination of feeling morose, no, strike that, reflective and elated. You see, having been through many life’s experiences, a person needs to sit back and take account. Maybe not a full accounting but one that takes measure of their life. The people, the places, and of course, the events.

I look back over the years, now spanning into decades, and in that reflection, I realize that I have been most fortunate. I spent 6 years in the Marines, some of which, I have a dubious accounting of. I make jest of most of it, some funny, some making light of some very shitty circumstances, but for me, overall, it was something that I needed.

mom lynda me

Most of my life I have had a pretty lousy opinion of most authoritative figures, some conscious, some unconscious, but all in all, a pretty lousy opinion all the same. I had run ins (multiple) with an assistant principal in which I lost the battle,

every.

single.

time.

It began with witnessing the aftermath of a school mate who had committed suicide in his backyard using his dad’s .300 savage at point blank range through his mouth. The sight stays with me to this day. This was a moment that stuck.

I arrived at school that morning after seeing that bloody wad against a wall, who had been someone I knew. The principal felt obliged to explain to me and a few of my compatriots that suicide was a one way ticket on the express elevator to hell. I felt obliged to tell him where he could place his holy book and I left his office. Two days before the semester was out, he summarily dismissed me from school for a day I had missed without an excuse a few weeks earlier. It never got any better, so I finally decided that my ticket out was the armed forces, and more specifically the US Marines.

usmc-logo

In the first four years of my six year tour in the Marines, I made some serious mistakes, and had some epic adventures. I flew for the first time in my life to San Diego, CA where I attended boot camp. I traveled to Okinawa Japan, where I spent 14 months and 29 days of some of the screwiest times I had ever had. I fell in love, tried to make that a permanent situation and it blew up in my face. I ran with some great guys and laugh heartily at the temporary insanity that we all experienced over there. I had yet another run in with an authoritative figure which I handled well, in my opinion.

okinawa 83

I returned to California where I spent time in 29 Palms California. That was epic. We were assigned to go out into the field in the “Stumps” and inventory all the gear that Supply had out in the storage vans and 50 cubic inch boxes that they had scattered through the area they called “Supply”. When we arrived, we got off the “Deuce and a half” (two ton large truck), and were summarily marched to the large 20 man GP tents that were waiting for us. First thing you noticed was the heat. it was around 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and not a cloud in the sky, much less shade. The first thing they told us was at NO time were we to try to get shade in the tent, or sleep in it. It could kill you. and within the first week, one guy tried, and almost succeeded… in dying. The tent amplified the heat, it didn’t reduce it.

We had been there for two nights, where the temps dropped to about 20 degrees at night, so you bundled up in your sleeping bag on your cot and get the best sleep you could. On the second night I woke to a rumbling sound. In the haze of a good sleep I kept trying to figure out what I was hearing, and it just didn’t compute. I got up, and looked down and noted that there was running water on the ground. I kept thinking “what the fuck” did someone take a leak in the tent? Then two things happened. I realized that the folks that originally setup the entire supply camp had placed it in a very old dry river bed. and that we had a 3 or 4 foot wall of water coming at us.

The mad scramble to get our shit out of the tents, up the sides of the river bank was something you would see in the three stooges movie clips. We had our cots and gear floating downriver, the tent collapsing, and the water was rising. After a few minutes the water was from bank to bank and flowing furiously. a couple of guys went downstream a bit before they came out spitting muddy water and cussing like only a Marine can.

When first light came around the water was almost gone but with that? so were the big wooden boxes with a LOT of our supplies in them. Everything from tires to electronic chips to starters to repair parts for just about everything. and as we looked down the creek bed we saw tires sticking up out of the dirt, boxes buried by dirt, and all we could say was “HOLY SHIT”… So we spent the next three months sifting through and digging supplies out of the dirt all down the creek bed. Needless to say we were cussing the folks who initially planted our Supply depot in the middle of a creek bed. In seven different languages.

So after weeks in the heat, freezing at night, and living in the desert, it was getting old. I started walking to the concrete head (showers and bathroom) that they had in this camp. I was walking in the required red shorts, white t shirt, and either boots or shower shoes, carrying my shit shower and shave bag along with towel, pretty much on autopilot just slogging through another day. I look to my left, and I see a naked woman. running. I rubbed my eyes, shook my head, opened my eyes as she went right past me. naked as a jaybird.

It was a woman Marine, who had started out from the Women Marines tent, that was surrounded by concertina wire to keep the males out. (believe it or not) and she was scootin down the dirt road heading for the other end of the camp. I looked down the road and saw what appeared to be either a Colonel or Lt Colonel just chewing the shit out of a very young Marine who had obviously done something he didn’t like while on guard duty. This was the entrance to the camp, and the guard was required to stop every vehicle and ask them some kind of asinine question… anyhow, they both stopped, mid sentence and watched the gal sprint on by, laughing her ass off.

The officer then shouted at the guard to go catch her. He ran after her asking, no PLEADING for her to stop and she just kept trucking, dodging this way and that, laughing the whole time. He finally tackled her, and quickly covered her in his jacket and she kept laughing. I found out later that the gals had a connection with Motor T, and got a bottle of tequila brought in.. The gals proceeded to get pretty shit faced, and they bet her five bucks she wouldn’t streak through the camp. and off she went.

Later, a group of us were talking about it, and they went on and on about how stupid it was to do, funny, but just stupid.. Then I popped up, and said, well, while we are here in the “Stumps” baking every day, she is back in the BEQs in Pendleton, 3 people per room and has AC.. not sure how stupid that is.. they stopped, and agreed. Fast times in 29 Palms.

streaking

I also got to spend time in San Luis Obispo, and of course the fun loving town of Oceanside. All this, and more, courtesy of the USMC. I decided to get out in 1985 and go home via a road trip that I had planned for months. I rode my motorcycle from San  Diego, to Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, and made a grand tour of freedom after my first tour in the Corp.

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I spent a few days in Kings Canyon, then made my way to Yosemite National Park. I was told there were no camping spots available, and that I could ask the local ranger if they had a spot at each campground. I found a ranger who looked at me, then at my gear, then asked, “You in the Marines”? I said that I had just got out. He smiled, put his hand out, and replied “Semper Fi”. He too had been in. He pointed up a gully and said that I could camp there, but watch out for the mosquitoes. He wasn’t kidding. My helmet stayed on, as did my clothing while I put up my tent. Once inside, I had all I needed, a six pack of beer and a smile that wouldn’t quit. This was one of those moments that stick. Lying in a tent, in Yosemite National Park, a beer in hand and nothing but time… It was glorious

When you find yourself actually in a dream that you had been working on for months? It feels good, in fact, beyond measure. Happiness doesn’t begin to describe the elation of that experience. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone. Over the next few days, I went from California to New Mexico where I prepared to leave for Alaska.

You see, I had also bought a ticket to visit my older brother in Alaska. While I was enlisted in the Corps, my brother left Texas and New Mexico and went to Alaska. Over the next four years, I received these wild letters and pictures of my brother and some of his adventures in AK.

garrett-and-daonne

I was truly impressed and felt I had to go explore Alaska. I spent a few weeks there, did a 10 day kayak trip into Prince William Sound, and fell in love with AK. I watched Orcas by the kayak, spent nights in a tent on the shore of a glacier and listened to it growl. The feeling of complete freedom, and a respect for nature and all she had? this was another one of those moments that sticks

orca

I returned to New Mexico and found myself exactly where I had left. Lousy no pay job, no education, and heading nowhere fast. I reminisced about the Corps and talked myself into re-enlisting, and with that? I was sent to North Carolina, and shortly after that, to the Mediterranean, where I got to explore Europe which I also fell in love with. The people were welcoming once they got past the “you are a rude American” opinion. and I explored with gusto. On board ship, I got to experience what the first navigators of the ocean must have had. The stars were from horizon to horizon and there were so many! The sky was packed with stars, and finally I could understand how you could navigate by them, and fall in love with crossing the ocean. We would lay out on the flight deck and just watch the sky, another moment that sticks.

stars

My Lt who was in charge of Supply had decided that the warehouse would be on the LKA while he and the office staff were on the LST, a flat bottomed “Gator Freighter” where the brass of our MAU (Marine Amphibious Unit) were going to be. He was a fantastic brown noser, but not much more when it came to planning. That left us on a ship that never pulled into the same port they did. Which meant we were on our own as long as we kept our heads down, and after a rather terse discussion with the other Corporal, we all decided to stay quiet. We ducked our heads, stayed low key, and we “skated” while we were in the Med… We didn’t pull duty, we didn’t pull guard watch, my troops didn’t have to pull mess duty, this was golden.

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We were able to go out on liberty every night, go on every tour that the ship offered,  and had no one to answer to. No duty, no watch, no responsibility other than to ourselves. Marines NEVER get it that good, but by god we did. And we went from one end of Europe to the other, and saw as much of it as we could. Another moment that sticks

backpack

My plan, while being in the Corps, was to save my money, and each year, take my leave and return to Alaska with the hope of buying land and a home. And by the time I retired? I would have a place I loved and it would be bought and paid for. Have you ever heard of “better laid plans of mice and men”? I spent endless hours buying books from our catalog and from mail order companies, then studying in great detail my routes to Alaska and places I wanted to see. I bought my backpacking gear with every intent on using it as often as I could just to prep for AK. I fantasized, I planned, I dreamed. On the mess deck I was living the dream of returning to Alaska.

mess-deck-1986

Eventually I was medically discharged, so my retirement plans vanished, but my plans of being in AK did not. And this is one of the most exciting memories of those days. I bought a small RAM D50 pickup truck, and with my dad’s help, put a small camper shell on it, built some small cabinets over each wheel well, and laid a foam crate type layer in the bed where I would sleep for the next two years. My father, who had divorced my mom when I was 12, and left us cold? Well, after years of being pissed off to no end, I had finally made peace with. and his helping me with that truck was a moment that stuck.

The adventure of going back up to Alaska was a dream reborn. I drove from New Mexico, visited some friends in Oceanside on my way up to Cordova, AK. We had all got out of the Corps about the same time, and they were all just hanging out in a 2 bedroom apt on the beach. about 6 or 8 guys sharing an apartment, but free of the suffocation of the military and the freedom to do as we pleased. Most had jobs that barely paid the bills, but it was freedom, that is much maligned by my civilian friends that have no understanding what freedom truly is. Let me repeat that. Civilians, never having served in the military have NO idea. This was a moment that stuck.

For about a week, I just relaxed with some great guys, and enjoyed Southern California. But eventually I had to pack and go. I was heading to Alaska. I loaded up and moved on. One of my regrets was not getting everyone’s full names and phones, as last name basis doesn’t go far in white pages. Sometimes even both names don’t work in looking up old friends.

I got to Oregon, and while there I stayed on the beach in a campground for a day. It was raining so I got my fishing gear on, and went for a walk down the beach. I can remember feeling incredible, I was, after all, a free man. I am sure the people who saw me out dancing a jig in yellow rain gear during a downpour on the beach was an odd sight indeed, but I cared not. The sheer overwhelming emotional overload of no longer having anyone to answer to was a joy. Those that have never served in the military will never understand what I am talking about. This was again, a moment that stuck.

rain-dance

Over the years, I have had so many moments like these, moments that have been my candle in the dark, or the impetus to plan yet another adventure that would make this life just that much sweeter. Since then, I have been blessed with the company of my wife, who was also my high school sweetheart. Lynda of whom I have multiplied those moments that stick by a factor of thousands.

I hope, no, strike that, I would ask, that each of you who read this? follow Mark Twains suggestion, and join me in those “moments that stick”.

 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore.

Dream.

Discover.

– Mark Twain

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Canada O’ Canada (You I will not see) Late post from 2015.

Well, another minor adventure in our travels, one of the kind that makes you want to pull your hair out, and slap people viciously…  To explain….

I have wanted a shotgun for home protection for some time. I have always had the opinion that the sound of a round chambering in a twelve gauge is unmistakable. Everyone knows that sound, “CHICK, CHAT”, and if they keep coming in our rig after hearing that? Well, their next step will be their last.

I finally came across a shotgun that fit all our needs, it has a longer barrel than I like, but it would fit the legal needs to go into Canada with it. Longer barrel, pretty much a hunting shotgun at this point. I went to the US embassy site and read up on the legalities of bringing a shotgun across the border, in a few words? Should not be a problem. I mean I sat there and read all the rules and regulations several times over, and based on my interpretation? No problem.

We chose to go through Canada primarily due to the short distance to get from Grand Rapids Michigan to Bangor Maine AND get to see Niagara Falls! woo HOO. Off we go! We arrive at the border crossing early afternoon, we have plenty of time. I have placed the ammo in a drawer that cannot be accessed and put the shotgun (empty) on the bed, and we pull up to the check point. “Passports?” Drivers license? yep yep. “Have anything to declare”? “Yep, a twelve gauge shotgun”. The guys eyes get BIG and he starts to stutter.. “Uh, you got that where exactly”? I reply, “Empty, out on the bed for easy access”. He still has those big doe eyes, “And it’s empty, right”?

Lake Harmony

I look at him funny and think what part of “empty” did you not understand boy? But I stay nice and say, “yep, it is empty”. “Do you have any other weapons”? “No” I respond, “I know that handguns are illegal in Canada”. He asks a few more questions then again, “Any other weapons”? “No” I reply while thinking to myself “What part of NO did you NOT understand boy”? But I remain pleasant. He is just doing his job. He sends us over to be inspected, which I knew was coming.

The Canadians had us get out and went into the rig after the shotgun. Meanwhile, two more join the party. The guy with the shotgun asks me if I am going hunting, and that I reply “No, just going to Niagara Falls”… Wrong answer. The cop takes the shotgun and goes inside. Then comes back out and says “Well, we don’t have any rules about just transporting your weapon into Canada, but…” We can’t allow you to take it either”. The question he had was whether I could ship on or just have to turn around at the border, and back in he went.

In the meantime, the dogs board the bus, looking for that elusive Colorado grass that they are SURE we were smuggling across from the US after declaring I had a weapon on board. Yep, I’d be that smart indeed. And of course Lynda has all manner of plants sprouting in the rig.. Looks like a regular green-house and to the untrained eye? Probably all looks a lot like pot. That mind altering plant that does all manner of nasty things to your brain. Just ask the Federal Gummint about that. Anyhow, the dogs go through, the people go through, and close to three hours later? Do we get to go to Canada?

Nope

We got sent back to the US… We didn’t do anything illegal but not quite legal either. So much for the US embassy look up that I had spent time on JUST to avoid this problem. We turn in traffic and head back to the USA.

We arrive at the US side, a quarter mile from where we just spent 3 hours having our house torn apart by the polite Canadians. But at least we didn’t have them come out waving my syringes saying “WTF is this?” Instead they looked at the legal drugs and went.. “boooooring”.

As we pulled up to the US side, the guy reacted the same way, the same doe eyes and “You have a shotgun”? Well he spent about 4 minutes putting that into a computer and sending us on to the inspection guard. This guy had us pull up and put our hands on the dash until he could see what we were doing and that we weren’t Haji, of course I SO look like a rag head bent on killing and maiming citizens of the US. He pointed us inside where a very laid back older LT. said “You did what”? and laughed. He responded that sometimes you get through and sometimes not, this must have been a not day.

He got the numbers off the shotgun and checked to make sure it wasn’t stolen. On that note, if the shotgun wasn’t registered to anyone? It is now registered to me due to that neato skeato check. The Lt. held us for a few minutes and eventually sent us on our way. All said and done? about 4 hours of waiting, being searched, and turned around, re-searched, waiting, and going on our way, several HUNDRED miles out of our way just so you know, but no worse for wear. Other than my shortening fuse…

Lesson learned.. no weapons into Canada… and Canada, O’ Canada?

You I will not see.

 

 

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Christmas! (and Landmines) and Angels Galore

Well, we have settled (for the time being) in Grand Junction, Colorado. We decided to park it here in Colorado for a plethora of reasons, however the main reason was that Lynda is pursuing her Masters in Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The cancer she was diagnosed with, and sentenced to, has been dealt with, a stage 4 prognosis that western medicine states that there “is no cure” seems to have been cured.

Lynda

Now, we are always reluctant to scream out “CURE” as cancer can be a sneaky bastard. so we go with NED.. (No Evidence of Disease). We have been in Colorado for what, a year and a half? 6 months in Breckenridge two winters ago, and last year here in Grand Junction. It has been pleasant, and we seem to be settling in nicely, but one never knows what the future may or may not hold. The past, however, is a different beast.

Lynda and I finally retrieved our stored “stuff” in San Diego, of which, included our Christmas decorations. We were both really looking forward to putting up the tree with our own stuff, and items with history to them. I began pulling the boxes from our shed and garage, and Lynda began putting them up including the fake tree

“click”

“What was that”?

“Hmmm hmm hmm” listening to country Christmas music we laughed and guffawed, eager to setup our home in the best of the festive new year.

BOOM

crater

Landmine.

I opened a box of ornaments, and staring me in the eyes was an ornament that Connie, my first wife who I lost to pancreatic cancer, was lying. It hit me like a brick. The date on the ornament was  1997 and I found myself propelled back to our home in Alaska, putting up the tree, along with my two cats, Einstein and Champagne, and I was acting a fool watching the two cats bat the balls around or chasing tinsel. Suddenly I realized that those days were long gone. She was gone. As were my cats. And I know that doesn’t sound like much, but they were my first family… and they weren’t coming back. It hurt.. soul deep.. something that is expected to last a lifetime? Doesn’t.

Connie

I  have spent much of my life trying to anticipate what was coming next, simple things like how long my truck would last, or heck, even if the stock market was going to go up or down.. you name it, I have continually failed at guessing what the future holds.. But I sure as hell didn’t foresee Connie dying, or my family vanishing one by one. I mean, yeah, I know that the cats had an “end of life” time on them, but while you are living the life, we simply don’t comprehend that end.

my einnie 2

And when it happens? It is as if your world suddenly stops spinning and there is this “Holy shit” moment that is impossible to describe.

At the same time, Lynda stepped on one, and it was an ornament that her mom’s picture was on. It was an emotional scene. We didn’t break down and lose it, but neither of us were far from it. Then? Top all that emotional energy  and with the fact that based on western science, Lynda shouldn’t be here either.

At that point we decided to go get me some coffee… (any excuse to take a breather). It is at moments like these that we realize how tenuous our lives are here on this planet, and all of us should celebrate each moment we have with ones that we love.. Because sometimes that 100 years you are given at the start of life, suddenly becomes a lot less.

We took the break, did some reminiscing, took stock of where we were and where we are. Dabbed our leaking eyes, steeled our hearts, and went back to it again. This time? Not so bad. the initial blasts caught us off guard, but only for a moment. I think that our experiences, our losses, have taught us to cherish what time we have, however much that may be, and to be mindful of our pasts, to not repeat any mistakes we have made over the years. and we both have made our few.

This year, we celebrate 10 years married, 12 years together, a record for us both. It has been by far, the best years of my life. I shudder to think what would have happened if Lynda had lost her fight as Connie lost hers. I won’t waste anytime contemplating nightmares, but I will, however, share a story about what I consider to be an angel among us.

 Angels – you never know when they might pop up.

 

Lynda was in bad shape. She was officially stage 4. This is terminal in any doctors book. And with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone, it is a fast moving prognosis.

We had gone to Arizona to get her treated holistically by a naturopath Dr. Joe Brown. First, don’t let anyone tell you that holistic therapy is any less painful than allopathic (standard medicine). This was not the case for Lynda.

Lynda was in pain from the shots she received, and was not doing well at all. We had no idea if we were winning the war on her cancer or losing it. The xrays showed a spot on her shoulder that we refused to have biopsied, but we were sure it was cancer that had metastasized. This is commonplace for breast cancer..

The therapy was very expensive and insurance didn’t cover any of it. This was all out of pocket. We spent somewhere around 50-70K treating Lynda. We had cashed out our savings, our retirement and were going all out. For me it was an easy choice. I can survive without retirement, but I wouldn’t make it long without my wife.

I was working 4 ten hour days in San Diego, then driving to Mesa, AZ when I got off work and stayed with Lynda until I had to go back. I would go to therapy with her, hold her at the townhouse that her brother had bought earlier that year and let us use for free. (It was a rental property for him that he had just purchased). I will never be able to thank David enough for that place for her to stay.

I was exhausted. We were in financial binds that Lynda knew nothing about, we were looking at losing our house, most of our cash, and I was truly surprised that she still had a job.  Emotionally I was trashed. I was tired from the driving back and forth to CA, but I hoped that I showed none of this in front of Lynda. I told her from the start I was her “rock”. I would hold the course when nothing else could. She could stand on me, hold me, and I would always be there for her, no matter what. And if she got too tired to fight the battle? Somehow, I would find a way to fight it for her.. no matter the cost.

I had just left her at the townhouse, and was heading back to San Diego. I found a cornerstore to gas up at. I reached in my wallet and was scrounging for cash or card. We had spent a fortune, and money was starting to get tight. I think that was an understatement, it was tight… Medical expenses were stacking up, the house payment was looming and I was stressed. I stepped out of the car, swiped my card, and started pumping gas. Out of nowhere, this black guy comes around from in front of my truck and starts talking.

The first thought that goes through my head is “Shit, I am about to get mugged”. And as he stops, and begins to speak, I “SEE” this guy. I will never be able to explain this, but here is this guy, my height, but muscular, I mean in really good shape, dreadlocks, dressed neatly. I mean not ghetto, not all thrashed like most bums, but cleanly.. and he is asking for money. any change I can spare. but what has my attention is the aura of this guy. His presence… Suddenly?

The world gets small. and quiet. one minute I can hear the traffic, the planes people talking on their cell phones, doors to cars opening and closing and suddenly?

Nothing. Not a sound. It was as if time was displaced.

It is as if the universe just took in it’s breath, and is waiting to see what I do. In that moment, I was convinced I was looking at an angel. I can’t explain it any other way, and I am not a Christian by any stretch. But somehow this guy was a turning point in my life.. How I treated him would be given back to me… Ten Fold.  I could turn him down and send him on his way, and I was convinced that if I did?

The same would be done to me. I too, in some way, would be turned down. When I say that, I mean that if I decided to brush this guy off like I normally did most people begging for money, the universe would treat me the same way… Brush off any requests that I had made. Including the life of my wife…

I stopped him, told him to hang on a moment, and went into the store. I could see his shoulders sag a bit, and his smile lose some of its shine, and the world seemed to go a little darker. I went to the ATM and pulled out what I could afford to give, and then some. I went back and placed the bills in his hand,  and told him that it was what I could give.

The smile he put forth lit the area up. Suddenly the world was in motion again with the sounds and smells filling the air. He hugged me, thanked me for the cash, and walked away. I turned to look at my truck then back to where he had headed. He was gone. I mean POOF. He should have had another 200 feet to go, but he either moved quickly or something else happened.

At that moment, all the anxiety, fear, anger and sadness was gone. I mean gone. And filling it was the absolute certainty that my wife and I would be together for a long time. Lynda has often questioned how I can be so sure about her health. How can I not question everything? and in that, I can only reflect on that moment, that I had met something, someone that I could never explain, but the interlude left a lasting impression.

Now, since then we have had our challenges, and our scares, but today? she is still by my side, still healthy, and still my first and last love in life. That guy that I met? May very well have been just a bum and I was just tired and exhausted. Me? I like to think that it was a test. A challenge of my basic humanity, of who I am as a human being.

And like that test of my humanity, so are these “land mines”. they are a test of the love we still hold for those that have passed, and our love for those that are with us still. Not all landmines kill, some reaffirm our lives and our humanity

What I would ask of each of you that read this, reflect some, and hold those near you a little closer this year, and the strangers that you meet? Help where you can, you never know who they might truly be.

Merry Christmas to all. Be kind, open your heart, and help where you can.

 

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Grenade… How quaint

You know, I just saw a quick cut of a movie called “The Faults in Our Stars” about a young girl with cancer and her life story. (I have avoided it like the plague as I don’t need any more emotional roller coaster rides from hell than I already have, thank-you-very-much)

She explains to someone that she is a “grenade”, and that, my friends is a pretty good descriptor. What she missed is, that she is a faulty grenade, as the pin is pulled the the timer?

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has a mind of its own

Anyone who has had the word “cancer” and their name used in the same sentence understands exactly what I mean. When someone does that to you, suddenly you become a grenade. A faulty one. You may go off, you may not. The pin may get reset, or you may stand there for years, staring at that fucking pin and that damn grenade and wonder, “Exactly when are you going to explode”?

Then the clock starts. You don’t know how much time you  have. Nor does anyone else. But a lot of them step away from you pretty quick or hide behind life avoiding the blast if they can. At least limit the damage they will experience. Tick tick tick.. fucking life’s clock just keeps on going. In the meantime? You stand there staring at the pin trying to figure out exactly why it got pulled and whether or not you can put it back in.

Then the circus begins.. A true three ringed circus, clowns and all. The doctors that are looking at another grenade, working to slow the timer. Nurses poking and jabbing, they too, doing what they know how to do to slow the tick tick tick of that fucking grenade. Then you begin to wonder, what can I do? what can my spouse do? what can anyone do? and in the background of life you hear that god damned timer still ticking.

You research, study, learn things about health and life that you really wish you hadn’t. and not sure exactly what to believe as half the shit on the internet is someone trying to make a dime, and statistics are made up 73% of the time on the spot. The deeper you dig the more confusing it gets. You hope for something, anything to help silence that ticking sound that is scratching at your brain like a splinter in your hand that you can’t get out. It is maddening. And still you hold that fucking grenade and pin…

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Slowly, if you are that lucky, you realize a couple of things. While you are driving yourself mad trying to stop  that fucking ticking sound, you can forget the single most important thing that you should be doing…

Living

Each tick is a moment wasted if you aren’t doing what you truly love. Each tick is something you cannot get back. Time is a commodity that you cannot trade or earn, you get what you get. So for those of you out there reading this? If you think cancer patients are the only folks holding a grenade in their hand waiting for that horrific moment that it decides to go off?

They aren’t the only ones.. You might want to look in your hands and see that each of us have pulled that pin, and time, for all of us is winding down. Cancer patients may have a shorter run of it, they may not. After you read this, you might want to re-examine where you are and what you are doing. If you aren’t doing what you love to do and who you love to do it with?

You might wanna change that before that fricking grenade in your hands goes off.

crater

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Resilience

I read a post on the New York Times today, about a lady, Lisa Boncheck, who recently died from metastatic breast cancer. In the world of cancer, this is not unusual. In fact, in almost every case, when you are diagnosed with metastatic cancer of any kind, the diagnosis is almost always fatal. In fact here is the quote that I read years ago.

“The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the five-year survival rate after diagnosis for stage 4 breast cancer patients is 22 percent.”

Other quotes are considerably less, and, as the years progress, the survival rate drops over time. It truly depends on a multitude of variables, and for some, just dumb luck seems to be the case. Each person picks their mode of therapy when first diagnosed with cancer, of any kind, and personally I do not believe there is a right or a wrong, only what works for that person.

Sometimes the patient gets lucky and they find a therapy that kills cancer outright. Others are not so fortunate. Still, others find therapies that function for a while, then, like a bad penny, the cancer re-appears and the patient is given options from everyone. I know we certainly were. And while everyone, including the health care folks, mean well, it is a very, very personal fight. I know, I have watched my mom fight lung cancer, my first wife Connie fight pancreatic cancer, and finally my high school sweetheart and my wife of almost 10 years fight breast cancer as well.

And being the “support guy” I could not, cannot tell you how crazy that battle is. I have watched each of those ladies fight the most personal war of their lives. Each trying to find a way to come to grips that this mortal conflict was both private as hell and as public as it can be. Everyone wants to know how you are doing. Privately each of these ladies could bare their emotions to me. At least to some degree, each holding back what they feared would topple my sanity. On the other hand I was also the sounding board for the fear that held them in a lover’s embrace. Fear of life, fear of death.

On one hand no one wishes to die, to throw off these mortal coils and see what happens next. On the other hand, to live in constant misery of chemotherapy and radiation, each a miserable wreck on the body, in the far reaching hope that somehow this might be the answer to a cure. That by some miracle, walking through this physical hell you might obtain the brass ring in the merry go round of life and get to stay for just a bit longer. And in all honesty?

That is one fuck of a long shot.

Then there are friends that try to help, and like me, find that there is a serious lack of words and honesty. You can’t allow the elephant in the room to grow any larger, but day by day, bit by bit, that elephant fills the room. Until it is much to late to even acknowledge it, and suddenly that elephant is gone, as well as the person that was hiding it.

The lady that wrote her blog and had a lot of followers was brutally honest and descriptive of her experience with breast cancer. I have read only bits and pieces of it, as I find it much too easy to let my mind revisit days of lying with Connie as her cancer marched on with the sounds of gestapo boot heels in the corridors of my mind. It is all too familiar to allow myself to re-visit, so to me, it is something to avoid. Her words and her actions were much the same for my ladies, painful, loving, and honest. An honesty that escaped my Connie.

My mom was beyond forthright, she tackled death with as much energy as she tackled life. When she realized that time was rapidly fading (and long before the movie “Bucket List” came out)

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She determined that she would take care of her “final arrangements” and was calling all the funeral homes in Albuquerque. She finally called one who explained to her that it would cost about nine hundred dollars to cremate her, then there was the container which would vary in cost from three hundred to several thousand. She popped off “Why can’t I just come out in whatever box I am in”? and the response from the curator was “That would hardly be appropriate”.

She laughed and told him, “I am gonna be dead, I could care less what I come out in”. “In fact, hell, you could take me out in a coffee can”. then she summarily hung up the phone and turned to my younger sister and told her “That’s it!” “You can put me in a Folgers Coffee can”.. “Just make it Gourmet Blend” and off she went.. laughing the entire way. And, what remains of her ashes are in a Gourmet Folgers coffee can to this day.

Mom and Halibut

 

My Connie did not have such  a sense of humor. Her defense was denial. While she went through chemotherapy (what little she could tolerate) she simply would not speak of the finality of her disease. The cancer she had was pancreatic, and it was easier to say where the cancer was not, than it was to say where the cancer was. They had missed the diagnosis for probably five years or better. By the time they found the cancer, it was everywhere.

The oncologists were truthful, Dr Stewart informed here there was little they could do. Connie insisted on trying. and after repeating that comment several times to the doctor, I finally pulled the oncologist off to the side and explained to her that while I knew there was little she could do, “by god she would get on board and do something, if nothing else to give Connie peace of mind”. When she saw the anger in my eyes and my clenched fist, she got on board.

One hundred and sixty three days, and my girl was gone. We did all that western medicine could do for both Connie and my mom, but the hard fought battles were lost. In both cases, I closed off those last days in a very tightly sealed corner of my brain, only to revisit them in times of sorrowful loss and woeful memory. Something I do not allow myself to experience any more than I absolutely have to.

Connie

Then in 2006 Lynda’s mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. and shortly after that? Lynda was diagnosed with stage 3a breast cancer. My absolute worst fears had just returned. Understand this, there is little, if anything that I truly fear in this world. The last man I ever feared was my Marine Drill Instructor and during that training, I learned that there was no longer any reason for that trepidation ever again. Until I was faced with a demon I could not wrap my hands around.

Cancer is that devil. No person in this world can hold that emotive response over me. I either lose or I win in combat, but there is no need to dread it. But when there is a disease that threatens the one thing that you hold most dear and you discover that you cannot grapple with the bastard? That is the feeling of someone walking over your grave, and you are aware of it. To sit back and be able to do nothing is the hardest single thing in your life you will ever do as a caregiver.

Yes, I can research, I can study, I can chase down all the potential therapies day and night. I can discuss those until the cows come home, but other than that? There is nothing to kill that enemy, no way I can plunge a knife into it, wrap my hands around its throat and choke the life out of it. I can do nothing but be there. It is a sense of foreboding that I do not wish on anyone.

I also determined that if that is all I can do? Then perform that duty as best I can. Be the support, be that rock that my wife can depend on.. at all times. I think that for those that have played this role? you will understand more than most. It was an honor to escort my mom and my first wife to their next lives. and an absolute nightmare as the person being left behind at the door to that life.

Lynda chose a different modality. She felt that chemo and radiation were a bad idea. We went through a boatload of cash, a few friends, and drove some of our family nuts. She stuck with the concept that something was out of balance, and once discovered and corrected, that her body would heal itself. My skepticism was tempered by the fact that most who had chosen standard western medicine were dead. So to quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity: to do the same thing over and over and expect different results” echoed in my head. So I shut my trap and got on board. I researched we researched. We had trials and tribulations we had success and failure. But at the end of the day?

Lynda is healthy and still by my side.

Colorado Mesas

Coming back around to the start of this post. Some choice news editors had unfriendly or misplaced words for the lady who has just passed. Those posts seem to have been taken down due to the lack of civility or perhaps crass nature, I am unsure. But to those that criticize the writers of this new epidemic, and yes, cancer truly is an epidemic, I say this. Before you lash out with uncivil comments or some incredible argument against those that are fighting and are leaving their thoughts and hearts for posterity.

Try having someone use your name and the word “cancer” in the same sentence. It will change your life forever.

For you critics out there, that feel the need to hassle this gal at the last day of her life?

 

I leave this:

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Namaste…

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Sleepless in Anchorage

Last night Lynda and I decided to have a snuggle night and with my tv (she won’t claim to own one) we decided on “Sleepless in Seattle”. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.. Innocent enough, and Lynda mentioned she had never seen it.

For those of you that have not seen it, the story is about loss and renewal. The story is of a husband who loses his soul mate to some undefined disease. The opening scene is from a graveside service with the boy and the dad standing at the grave site and his dad is trying to explain to his son that there didn’t seem to be any specific reason for his wife dying, that it was simply life being random in its selection of those it takes. and even more so: “If we start asking why, we’ll go crazy”.. I quit asking why her very, very quickly. Anger is an emotion that can spin out of control.

While Lynda and I lie on the couch, the year 2001 came roaring back in vivid color. My emotions, while under some sense of control, was given the reminder of what it means to lose a soul-mate. Something, even as I write can cause my eyes to leak. The movie went on that since his loss, “Sam” the person that Tom Hanks plays, cannot sleep. I remember that well. At the very best,  I could catch 1/2 hour cat naps once or twice during the day. And for those that know my penchant for sleeping at the drop of a hat, that is a big statement.

At that point in time, as far as I was concerned, my married days were over.  Sure, I would date, but the idea of finding another soul mate in this life time was zero. I had my time in the sunshine, Connie was my girl and she was gone, much like Sam’s in the movie. Eventually I became functional, but the words that Tom Hanks uttered hit home harder than I expected.. he was quoting me… “Wake up, take a breath, remember to breathe out, take another step”.. repeat. and remember to breathe in.. and take another step.

It was if “Sam” and I had walked in the same shoes down the same dark trail. Scary indeed. Lynda checked in with me a couple of times, but I was determined to watch the movie through. I can remember doing much like the character, lying on a couch talking to Connie as if she were standing right there. that was my new normal.

At some point in the movie there was a part where Sam was about to get mixed up with the wrong person, and his son fixed it for him. I can remember coming dangerously close to the same thing. Someone I was dating was looking for much more than I was willing to give. But in the end that ended well.

As the movie progressed it told of “fate”. of “knowing” when you have met someone that you have no doubt you will love for the rest of your life. That you have “found home” even knowing you had never seen it before, that this was where you were meant to be.

To quote Sam: “I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic”

When Lynda and I reconnected, I was nervous.. scared. Worried that again, I was making a mistake in reaching out to someone, but the funny part? I knew it deep in my bones that Lynda was the only one on the planet that had a chance of pulling me out of the world I had grown into.

When we met at the airport, that world began to melt away, the darkness, the loss, the hurt suddenly began to dissipate, evaporate. The passion was there, but there was something else. Like with Connie, when I heard her laugh at that restaraunt, I knew something was about to happen, and when I laid eyes on her, I knew.. I knew in my heart, that she was going to be my wife.

Lynda and I left airport terminal and went out to my truck. We hopped in and I started the engine. I reached over and took Lynda’s hand and the world stopped. I mean it stopped cold. That touch, that hand hold, took both our breaths away. At that point, I realized two things.

One.

I had judged every hand I had ever held based on that very same hand that I held from my high school days. With no doubt, every girl I dated, every female I had ever held hands with, that hand, Lynda’s hand, was what I judged every woman on, for better or worse. It was one of the most wonderful epiphanies I have ever had

Two

I had just become the luckiest guy in the universe. I had found what I deemed impossible, a second soul mate. I mean that. When you meet someone, that one person, you know it. There is, and was, no doubt, that Lynda and I would spend the rest of our days together, however long those days would be.  I describe it as the world suddenly “clicking” into place and the hands of fate had come full circle.

The movie helped me to remember that sometimes, when you lose something special, that in that moment, the universe is by far the most cruel thing there is. And in the next moment, when you find yourself staring at a magical place in time, that you use that memory to reach out instead of hide.. take that leap of faith and see what may be.

There is magic in this world, just remember to keep your eyes open to it. Sometimes it is something as easy as an email to someone you haven’t seen in 22 years.

May your new year be just that, a new year, full of excitement, adventure, fun, and love. Keep those that you care about close to you, never let them doubt how you feel, and live with a sense of urgency… Live the life that you dream of, and keep your eyes open.. The universe is stranger than fiction.

 

 

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The Christmas that shouldn’t be

I look at that title of this post. and I re-read it again. It has been four years since Lynda and I were hit with the cold hard fact that her cancer had spread. and without Lynda in the room, I asked Dr. Sinclair the question that would bounce around in my head in more ways than I could ever imagine it would.

How long?

How do you spit that question out? How do you wrap your head around that kind of a question? My tongue was numb, hell, I was numb. I was in probably the deepest state of shock I had ever been in, but also I had known from the first PET scan that Lynda, my second wife was in trouble. Just like I knew Connie , my first wife, was in trouble when the words “pancreatic cancer” rolled out of that surgeons mouth in 2001. I knew that the likelihood of Connie making it for any period of time was nil.

Now, there I sat, with my second wife and now this ugly beast had reared its head in the dark and turned our way. Staring into the eyes of a dragon is a life changing event.

Dr. Sinclair, who I considered to be an excellent oncologist prefaced his statement with “We don’t know”. It could be… and at that point I tuned everything out. As I watched his lips move, I was rocketed back to the days with Connie. Spending days in the hospital bed, cuddled up next to her realizing that time was getting shorter with every passing day. And I was so wrapped up in losing her that I couldn’t figure out how to live… for those last few weeks, it was as if I was sitting around an empty coffin, just a matter of time before I found it filled.

I came back to the conversation finding Dr. Sinclair looking down at the floor, we both realized that this diagnosis was as dire as any that I had ever heard. Lynda and I left the office that day, and went for a walk, trying to talk about what we thought was coming. The options, any ideas? What in the hell do we do now? It was crushing. We talked, we cried, and we sucked it up and determined that we would do everything we could to beat this dragon.

As it progressed I think a light bulb went off in our heads. We are all going to die at some point, the end is never the destination, the journey is. Life is the journey, and it is what you make it. I remember a line from the “Shawshank Redemption”

Get busy living or get busy dying

Damn straight.

Lynda and I have always lived full tilt boogie, ask any of our friends. We don’t take life lightly. We decided to up that a notch, and go for the gusto. The road trip, Belize, getting in touch with old friends, making sure our family knew how we felt about them, then re-confirming all that once again.

Lake Harmony

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erick and Lynda bristlecones

Over two years later, and that dragon that had turned to us in that rough night is now sleeping. It rustles every so often, but does no damage other than remind us that life is uncertain, an ending is forever possible, and at some point, inevitable. But we think we found the secret to life. Live it. Run it as hard as you can, you won’t get a second chance, unless you get lucky like we did. We are in our second chance now. And it is good.

Us in Guatemala

Me and my wife

Me and my wife

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What has cancer done for us? Our sister in law has often asked “How can serve you” (can cer v u). and it has in more ways that I can count. This disease has made me appreciate every day I have with my wife and friends. It has made me a better man. And together, it has made us a much closer couple. Lynda is healthier now than she has ever been. As am I. Mentally we are tough enough to deal with anything that life has to offer, and perhaps a bit more.

Then there is the Christmas time of the year. This was Connie’s favorite time of the year as it is Lynda’s. For me it has always been tough as I get nostalgic remembering the Christmases of my past. The Charlie Brown Christmas tree with Connie. Connie and I decided to cut our own Christmas tree in Alaska, and found what we thought was the area to cut a tree, found one in Chugach National Forest and proceeded to cut it down, waist deep in snow.

We loaded it up in my little Dodge D50 pickup truck and off we went back to our happy little trailer in Anchorage. We  put it in a tree holder and filled the tree stand with water. A couple of days went by and it began to turn brown. I kept wondering what was going on? I looked at the water level and it hadn’t changed. added a bit more water and watched. Slowly over the next couple of weeks, the needles fell out and we were left with a bare tree with all its decorations about it. A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Then I realized that the stump was bout a quarter inch or so above the water line. We laughed about that for years.

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There fun we had as kids with my mom, never realizing just how little money we had, yet Christmas was such fun. The Pinatas, friends coming over, the smell of turkey in the air. I can remember the squeal of delight from my younger sisters as the threw themselves at the wrapped toys under the tree. I took great delight in that. Knowing that my brother Danny and I had spent a lot of the evening, wrapping those same presents. My mom in her chair at the dining table looking down with a worn but happy smile. those were magic times.

I realize now that the conversation with Dr Sinclair hung in the back of my mind for all this time. Lynda should not be here. Based on patient history of  those whose cancer that has spread, she should be gone, and I should be a widower yet again. and had this scenario played out, I am at a loss as to where I would be. and that thought chills my bones to the core. However, I am humbled by this Christmas that shouldn’t be.

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It is by far one of the greatest gifts that the universe could have ever bestowed on me. And my promise? I won’t squander it, and instead of being “Grinchy” I opt more for the “It’s a wonderful life” attitude. This is indeed the Christmas that shouldn’t be.  And may there be many more, not only for us, but for all of you who read this post as well.

Merry Christmas to all  and a quote from “It’s a wonderful life”

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he”?

Here is to the lack of holes in your world.

Merry Christmas to all

Note*** And especially to Regina, who just lost her husband, I truly know the loss, and if ever we can be of help, reach out, we are here.

 

Erick and Lynda Carpenter

 

 

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This time of the year

I find myself more reflective than normal. While I always try to remember where I am, and where I am going, I find myself melancholy this time of the year. Memories come and go, with the ebb and the flow of tide of the day. I have quick flashes of truly delightful Christmases with my siblings back in the day.

I gleefully remember waiting for my younger sisters going to sleep so my brother and I could put their presents under the tree that we had all worked so hard on. Stringing popcorn and cranberries, along with my brother and I trying to figure out which bulb was burnt out so we could get the lights going again and hung up on the tree.

I remember laughing quietly as we went through the wee hours of the night trying to make it all look good. I know my mom who was at work at the bars being either a waitress or a bar tender while teaching school during the day would come home to a worn smile, knowing that she didn’t have to do it all herself. I realized I probably received more happiness from that alone than almost anything else.

My younger sisters would bound out of bed early on, only to squeal in delight as they opened the hard earned presents that my mom had bought with her tip money or had put on layaway the equivalent of a credit card back in the day. On one hand the delight my sisters and I got out of the gifts almost outweighed the underlying guilt I felt that my mom had worked her butt off so hard only to spend it on us kids.

However, my mom, long black hair and her stunning indian features would sit in the dining room of our trailer and look down on us with such a bright smile. It was a moment that I know she treasured. We bought her gifts as well, nothing quite so grand, but we all did what we could do to either make them or buy them to present to her as kids do.

Some of the gifts, long since faded into history, were hand made. Nothing wild, but often it was clothes or some type of plaything that we enjoyed for awhile. During those times I learned that all things, as fun and as enjoyable as they are, fade over the years. The clothes become tattered and eventually discarded. But the emotion, the memories, have stood the test of time.

I often have coffee at home, and sitting at the kitchen table, the memories flood back of my mom sitting there with  her smokes, laughing, chatting about the events at the bar or at school, and at the time, they were amusing. I loved sitting at that table at christmas time, the white octagonal table that we spent so many years rushing in and out of the home, but somehow seemed to find the time to sit, have coffee, and enjoy each others stories.

Those memories remind me that life can be fleeting, but can also be relived over and over as the years go by. and the enjoyment often grows over time. I sit here in our home in Colorado, and I have a small kitchen table where I can pour a cup of coffee and sit back to remember those days. What a true delight it is.

To those that are just beginning families, or have families that are growing, do you and your family a favor, put the electronics away when you come home, turn off the TV, start a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, and have a conversation if even for only a little while. In the years to follow, those will follow you and your children for a lifetime, and in that, provide you memories that last for generations.

Mom? I feel your presence to this day, here in our home.

Merry Christmas.

 

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Cancer, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Angels among us

Mark Neidig posted on facebook today, Mark is a friend that was the director of what I consider to be a cure for cancer. (I hope that the company he worked for proves me right). He brought up a point about how he gave some money to a homeless man and said quote “There was just something in his eyes…perhaps, I entertained an angel unawares!”

And it reminded me of a turning point in my life. OUR lives. Have you ever had a moment in life where you are about to do something and it is if the world pauses for a moment, catching its breath right before you make that choice or do that thing? Yes, that thing that at the time was a pretty small endeavor, a little thing that later, cascaded into a life changing event? The one where you look back and you can see that event taking place as clear as a sunny day?

I have had a few of those in life. One was when I was a teenager, around 14 or so, give or take a year. But we were in a Sears department store, and my mom was having us shop for clothes. The girls were running around picking out what they liked, as was I. I had selected a few pants and shirts, and as I came around the corner, I could hear my mother say “I don’t know how I will pay for this, but oh well, will find a way”.

That hit me like a brick. I put back all my clothes except for one pair of pants and one shirt. My mom looked at me and asked me where the rest of my clothes were. I told her I would pay for my own “stuff” from now on. I meant it. From that day forward, I paid for everything that I ever owned. I learned lessons from that event, some good, some bad, but it was a life changing event that I can see as clearly as the lack of hair on my head.

Later, there was another event. One with “different” players. Lynda had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and on a CT scan she had a spot on her shoulder. We freaked. Scared was not a good descriptor, frightened, petrified, those didn’t come close to the feelings of those days. I had lost my Connie to this monster in 2001, and now? Lynda was in the same playing field. One with land mines every other inch, and one mis-step and she would be gone. My intent was to be her rock, to be her Gibraltar, never swerve never stray from the single fact that she would win this battle with cancer. I think, I hoped that I did a good job of that.

We went to Arizona to see a doctor who had a pretty good track record of treating stage IV cancers. Including his own. He was treating Lynda now, and I would drive back and forth from California to Arizona, stay for 3 days and drive back to California to work. We were in the process of realizing that we were spending all of our retirement, and I had come to realize that we were going to lose the house. All of this therapy was out of pocket with no guarantee that anything would work. I realized that I didn’t care, that I would spend my last penny if it meant one more day with Lynda… It was worth every last penny and any that I could find.

Stress was at an all time high, my mind was focused on keeping Lynda alive, no, not alive, healthy, to get her back to “no cancer” that was all I wanted. When Connie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I did something I had not done much at anytime in my life. I prayed.. I actually bent a knee and dropped my head. I offered a deal, you cure Connie, and I will take her place. Deal? The answer was “no”.

With Lynda? Even after I had sworn I would never ever again bend my knee, I did so, without hesitation. I made the same deal. You cure Lynda, and I will swap places. Nothing. Not even a chuckle or a curse. So I decided enough of that, waste of time. I traveled to Arizona, spent the 3 days with Lynda and was on my way back to California. I was tired, beat, bone fucking weary, and now that I was out of sight of Lynda I could show it. I pulled into a gas station, some 7-11 or some such spot, and jumped out of my truck to fill it up and head back. A voice came from the front of my truck and I looked up.

A black man with dreadlocks, arms the size of my legs, about my height, but twice as wide and it was all muscle was talking to me. I stepped back and at first I thought, “Shit, I am about to get mugged” and balled up my right fist with my keys protruding through my fingers.. Figured we could go a couple of rounds before whatever happened happened, then? I saw him. I mean I really saw the man. He was righteous. There was an aura about him that was undefinable, it was as if he was physically glowing… and at that point? I realized that I was looking at an angel. I mean the energy pouring out of this guy was nothing short of magic. Call it holy. I listened to his words, which were eloquent, but what I truly heard was something altogether different.

I heard my universe take in a breath, and pause. I knew here, right then and there, was a moment that would change my world forever, and how I treated this man, what I did to him, would be done to me a hundred fold. He was asking for money, but in a way that I had never heard before. I usually just brushed people like this off, go find your booze money someplace else or your drug money elsewhere. Seen it a million times. But this guy? This was different. I could feel the universe in a pause mode.

I told him to wait a second, that I would be right back. I could hear him sigh, and I walked inside the convenience store. We didn’t have a lot of cash on hand, most of it we had used for therapy, but I took what I could and went back out. I handed him about 40 bucks, more than I could afford, but there was something going on here that was different. When I came back and handed him the money, the universe let out its breath and it went through me like a spring breeze of peace and dare I say it, love. The aura this guy projected grew.. I mean really glowed. He took the money, and gave me a dazzling smile and hugged me. And somewhere in that hug, I knew everything would be ok.

For the first time in weeks, I had my first night of complete rest. The spot on Lynda’s shoulder never changed. It never got worse, it never got better. We had some very serious ups and downs since then, but know what? Lynda is still by my side, and I am convinced she will be long into our golden years. That man? Maybe just a bum, but in my mind? Proof that there are angels that walk among us, and how we treat them, who we are to them?

Maybe, just maybe, it is a turning point in how the universe decides to treat us.

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Cancer, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Spiritual, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

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