Aug 052013
 

 

class reunion

 

What is it about class reunions that take us down a nervous, funny, sentimental and retrospective pathway?

I recently went to my 40th class reunion.  I graduated from Helena High School in 1973.  We had about 580 plus classmates—one of the largest for our school before the school district added another high school.

David and I both graduated from the same school and the same year.  There are others like us, but typically, there are couples that leave a spouse home  (who likes to spend the evening being an outsider to stories and relationships that you were never a participant?) Or those who drag their “foreign” wife or husband who have to pretend that they are having a good time hearing about an historically irrelevant event that has everyone choking in laughter or tearing up in sappy sentiments.

Now for David and me, we ran in different crowds.  He, a farm boy with small town “East Helena” roots, me, a “city girl” whom David often frames as coming from “IN CROWD”.

 

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No matter—we cross over one another’s friendships with mutual ease.  Having been married 38 years has meant that we have shared most of one another’s history and know one another’s childhood and adolescent events.  Not many unshared secrets or mysteries between us.  We have fun poking one another about past relationships and enjoy complete security in our marriage.

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David and me at the Saturday night buffet

But, having said all that, I still have to admit that for me, the days running up to the first event were variously afflicted with anxiety and excitement.   We make ourselves commit to go, then begin the preparation for the initial entrance for the first slate of fun.

So, why the anxiety?

Who doesn’t wonder about whether they will recognize their classmates?  (Thank God for nametags) Or, will they notice that I weigh 10 pounds more than I did on that last day of your senior year?  Or how will I face my ex-boyfriends?  Or will my senior English class members recognize me, will they make conversation with me even though we were not friends in 12th grade? Will they notice my wrinkles and varicose veins and the “cheesecake” appeal that has turned into “cottage cheese”?  Which glasses will I wear, the ones that see the distance across the room, or the reading glasses that allow me to read the name tags on an unrecognized person’s chest?

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I do weigh more—I’m okay with that.  Thankfully, a health scare involving the “C” word put me through a week of trepidation that burned off about 4 lbs. Read my post about my Brush with the Pink Path here. Not a fun way to lose that extra fat, but hey, if there is a silver lining to a $3,000 biopsy, then I’ll take it.  Thankfully, the worst part about the biopsy is having to pay for it.  Maybe I will take off the other 10 lbs. worrying about how to pay it off.

But I must admit: I found myself upset about a broken fingernail and fact that my tan had faded (like I could be Jillian Michaels because I lost 4 lbs and had my nails done with a pearlescent coral!)  And then the adult acne that had been absent for years reappears the day before our debut on Friday night.   Good grief.  Stupid obsessive vanity ruled my emotions, only to be outdone by my fear of rejection and insecurity about making conversation with people unseen for 10 years.

Finally, I made peace with myself after an hour of two of foolish debate.  What difference does it make?  I am okay with who I am and how I look.  Not to my own credit—I know it’s my good genes and mostly clean living.  I have all my original parts and pieces.  I have great health, still have never met a stranger, and really want to reconnect with past school mates.  I want to know what and where people have been and experienced. I want to hear about where life has taken these class mates that I spent three years with during those tempestuous and formative years that we all call high school.

So why go?  Me? I want to reconnectAnd the truth is: I hate surface chatter. I don’t want to just go through the motions and keep it surface.  I want to know what is below the “hello, you look great or, how many kids do you have? and where do you live now?” questions.

Unfortunately, class reunions can be full of pretense, disguise, or omissions of the dark details of hurt, illnesses and financial failure.  It’s not that I want to dig up dirt, or find out how much they paid the IRS last year.  Not at all.  I DO want to know about kids, grandkids, jobs, siblings, parents. Say the word “grandkids” and see the same unashamed smiles wash across our faces.

So it is not the dark detail that I want–but I hate small talk. I want substance, what matters-to-you and what-has-happened to you. Discussion about spiritual condition of our lives.

And so I must tell you that I learned one truth long ago about how people relate to David and me.  They eagerly open up about their health issues, scares, and diagnoses.   I listen often about their trials of treatment, frightening prognosis and good or bad outcomes.  We have faced difficult symptoms, some treatable, some not.  We were even a part of a successful drug study and now are spokespersons for a drug to treat one of the symptoms of MS called Pseudobulbar Affect.  More here— you may know someone who could be helped!

I theorize that it is because our physical trials are readily apparent.  Who can ignore the wheelchair?  No one can pretend that nothing has happened to our lives.  The chair is a tangible reminder that catastrophe  has visited our lives. (read more here) But the wonderful part of what sounds like a complaint is this:  It becomes a conduit to whiz past the surface stuff and get to what people have lived through.  So it becomes a valued accessory for my strategy to get below the surface.  It makes conversation meaningful and creates bonds.  I get to:

  • hear why one class mate is so slim—not because she went to Weightwatchers (like I did) or because she popped pills to stop her hunger (like a friend of mine did)—it is because she lost her husband to an unknown illness and she faced a life choice:  alcohol or exercise.  And she chose exercise.
  • Or how Karen and Frank nearly lost a son to suicide, and instead of hiding the pain from the world, took on a vision to help others in a tangible way—Out of the Darkness Walk and internet website to help others facing life and death emotional or physical pain.
  • Or how a casual friend was diagnosed with MS and seems normal to all those around her, but undoubtedly knows the fear and uncertainty that the doctor’s words cannot define nor the drugs that they prescribe can limit or eliminate.
  • And then the swimming team friend who was wrongly diagnosed with MS and then persisted until she got the correct name for her symptoms.
  • Or the woman who read my blog about my breast biopsy and private messaged me on Facebook to say her experience came back with different results.
  • Or the guy who told David about losing a large part of his lower colon to cancer…
  • Or the class standout whose cancer diagnosis may mean he will NOT see the next reunion.
  • And then there is the alcohol.  Every reunion seems to have the alcohol component that helps many to relax the fear of rejection or smooth the nervous conversations. The “social lubricant” if you must.  Don’t get me wrong—I am not a teetotaler.  But sadly, one cannot ignore the visible signs of those whose faces reveal years of addiction.   Though we think it to be self – inflicted, the sadness and fallout are still real and pervasive to them– and to those who love them also.

I would share names—I suspect most would not mind, but it is not my call to make.  Unlike us, their trial is not readily advertised by an orange wheelchair.  Their story is made public only because they choose to tell it, or because someone like Arlene Diehl is probing to find out what life have brought their way.

None of us live in a rose garden, and no one, not even Jesus Christ promises that the garden with roses will be available to even the most devoted and diligent human being.  There are days when I ask the why questions, and go to my bed or pillow with tears of searching for peace in order to face the sorrow and sickness that I see.  It could be a life shattering piece of news that drives me there, or simply the worries that being a mom present because your children trust in you enough to share their fears, disappointments and questions.   Being a “below the surface” person makes you vulnerable to hear the joys and sadness that this side of heaven present to us.  But it gives you the opportunity to enlighten others that there is a peace that passes all understanding–The peace that I found through Jesus Christ.

So if the last sentence was jarring, or made you think me “religious”, then file this blog post under irrelevant or maybe, offensive to you. If you aren’t  getting what I’m saying, file this for future need. Life may throw you a curve and you may find the need to investigate.

But the truth is that making Jesus Lord of my life has made my life liveable.  My husband fights the disease that my father fought and lost– the fight that Multiple Sclerosis won, year by year, day by day, until the summer of my graduation from high school, August 20th, 1973.  Many, if not most of my classmates never knew, for I was the surface person that found it painful to share my pain. I did not look for someone to share it with. Only a few knew—mostly my friends who had visited my home and saw his bedridden state.  For my intelligent, moral and loving dad died at 45 from a disease that, 40 years later, still has no cure.

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My father, before Multiple Sclerosis began

 

It is because of that sad event that I started my journey to follow Jesus Christ.

So I… we… press on.  David, who never feels sorry for himself; me, who am thankful that my self-pity is kept at bay by a relationship with a loving God who has sustained me through David’s many scary health events.

 

So for sure, we look forward to the 50th reunion.  And we will likely lose more of those who walked the halls of HHS in 1973.  Many of the same conversations will repeat, and surely a new question will arrive:

How many great-grandkids do you have?

But a reality of life is, none of us know who will have passed into eternity between now and then.  But as for me, my intention is live a life and leave a mark that cannot be erased.  That is why I go below the surface to hear the hearts of those who live this side of heaven, and just what they plan to do before mortality arrives at the doorstep of life.

 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NLT)

I hope you will consider doing the same.  Your eternity hangs in the balance.

And just so you know, this side of heaven won’t be so bad if you start today.

http://www.harvest.org/knowgod/  is a good place to start.

Questions? Try this:

http://www.harvest.org/knowgod/frequently-asked-questions.html

Love,

Arlene

 

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Jul 202013
 

20130717_172353 (1)Just a short post about  the pink path:

It has been about a month since I had my stereotactic breast biopsy.  I wrote about it last week and have received many comments.  Thank you to all who rejoiced with me in regards to a clean bill of health.

My sister Kathy rejoiced with me (as you might imagine).  She had informed me that the plastics factory that she works at manufactures the “needle” that they use to retrieve the suspect tissue.  Just today, I mentioned to her that I was pretty sure that “needle” was not a very accurate description, since it seemed that they actually used an auger to get the sample that they wanted to look at.

My sweet sister agreed – telling me that it was far from what we think of when we talk needles.

Today was the first time I Googled the procedure that I had.  I’m glad that I did not do that before the adventure.  Watching it afterwards made me squeamish, if not downright nauseous.  However, given that it is relatively non-invasive, I am still very glad that I have access to a hospital that can perform it.  And glad that the recovery is quite quick.

If you are curious, check it out here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeP3fBh6JKc

 

Now, my next nausea will  come when I get the bill…

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Jul 172013
 

So no, I have not fallen off the face of the earth. 20130717_185335 (1)

It has been over a month since I posted anything.

It has been one of those… well you know, one of those months.

Busy, crazy, a bit scarey and sick.  First off, I now know the fear that a woman faces when the doctor calls to tell you that there is something that needs checking.  For me, it was an abnormal mammogram.  I got called back for further pictures, and I knew that when the radiologist followed the technician into the room, that I was not going to leave with relief that day.  Without sounding alarmed, he explained that there were some calcifications that were misshapen (as if they must conform to a certain size and shape) and that there were a group of them hanging out in my left breast.  Basically, he explained that it was “suspicious”.  A word that my brain would try to interpret in a thousand different ways….

I was a bit dumbstruck.  I expected that all would be normal.  I always do.  So I walked with the technician to speak with to Pam, the nurse navigator who would explain how I would have a stereotactic biopsy that was minimally invasive and done under mild sedation, if I liked.  But first they would inform my primary doctor and then I could wait for her to schedule my visit with the surgeon (even though it was the radiologist that would perform the procedure).

So I followed the proper channels, asked my nurse daughter to accompany me to see the appointment with the surgeon.  Because she understands all the medical jargon.  David will stay home and pray for me.

Except before I did that, I had to see the cardiologist.

My other health crisis was a nagging irregular heartbeat (that I have had for over 10 years) that now became more that a bit nagging.  A bit concerning.  My doctor agreed, so off I go for tests, Holter monitor (to track what my irregular heart was doing) a visit with the doctor and his stethoscope that revealed a heart murmur that I never knew that I had.  So an echocardiogram reveals that yes, I have a floppy valve, but nothing to worry about and news that a change in prescription would help.  Sigh.  Relief.

So the biopsy was scheduled on the day that we were supposed to leave for Wisconsin for my nephew’s wedding.  But I made the adjustment and went ahead with the schedule offered me.  I accept the offer of a mild sedative—only because, well because.  With a heart rate that has been so uncooperative, I decided that the sedation might tame it for the procedure.  Again, I call my nurse daughter to come along for the adventure.  I still have the sense that all is well, but better go through with the test to be certain.

Stereotactic biopsy is done using radiology technology to locate the exact position of the “suspicious” area so as to guide the radiologist’s needle to the area that they want to suck out and give to the pathologist.  Sounds simple enough.  They use a modified massage table (not really) that has areas that allow your, um, breast, to hang into the area that allows the radiologist to photograph and then guide a needle into the “suspicious” area.  I’m glad I couldn’t see the picture of me in that position.  While staying as still as I can, I compose a letter of the valuable input for the designers of this “padded” table.

Now simple it may seem, but let me tell you, not simple to remain in the same position with your arms and shoulders pressed against padded plastic while your breast is sandwiched between two plastic vise grips.  My jaw is pressed against the table in such a way that I can barely answer the questions that the “audience” poses.  The temptation to move is overruled by your strong desire to cooperate so that the task can be completed.  After 2 hours and three tries (they do numb you, but not enough, so I ask for more), they were able to capture the “suspicious” little calcifications that we wanted the pathologist to peer at under his trusty microscope.  I must tell you—if they were going to have to make a fourth try, I’m just not sure I had it in me to “hang” in there for another “stab” at my “chestalarea”.  Thankfully, I did not have to “press” through.  The nurses were so very supportive, compassionate and affirming.  The mammography nurse, Patti, did inform me that I would be “quite bruised.”  Epic understatement. I am sent home with small pink gel packs to control the swelling.

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Since we were headed to Wisconsin, I had made the follow up appointment for the day AFTER we returned.  Getting a call while 1,000 miles away was not going to change anything, so I asked NOT to be called so that I could be home and able to act, should I have to face any more action.

But I did get a call.  A call during another call, so I did what I never do—call the unrecognized number to see who was trying to get me.  We were in a poor cell reception area, so all I heard was the receptionist answer and identify the surgeon’s clinic name as the call’s origin.  It was the surgeon’s office!  So now I cannot find out why they called when I had asked NOT to be called.  My mind raced—did they not get the memo that I was 800 miles away on a trip and did not need to hear bad news that would disrupt my week, my entire vacation, and my life, for that matter???  I went back and forth.  Maybe they had good news and wished to dispel my fears.  Or, maybe they just got it mixed up in the office and were just doing the usual routine:  call the women when they need to schedule a lumpectomy or mastectomy.  Just do the job they way they always do it.  Or, they needed

to change my appointment because there was a conflict??  For about three hours, I had this silent debate in my head.  Finally, I tell David that I need him to pray for me.  My solid peace has just disappeared like the water that swirls down the drain at my kitchen sink.  My stomach is in knots, my head in overdrive.  So pray we did.  Talk we did.  And process I did.  If I had to have more done, then I would find that place of peace that Jesus and I have together in spite of all that David and I have been through.  I know that place, I trust His Face.  He has never let me down. I would wear pink on my pathway to health if my news was not good.

We continued on the drive through North Dakota until my cell phone rings again.  I recognize the number this time.  It is the clinic.  They are calling to tell me… to tell me that the biopsy was normal, nothing to worry about, all is well.  They simply wanted me to know so I would enjoy my trip.

I asked the nurse if she could hear the relief coming from this side of the phone.   She certainly could.  Suddenly the fear slipped away as quickly as it arrived, my stomach regained hunger and my heart, well, my heart raced with joy.  I had spent about 3 hours arguing with my speculations and was near to the place of peace that I knew and have known for so many years, making my mind up that no matter what, His grace and love would carry me wherever I would go.

And now life was carefree once again.  Those visions of wearing the pink scarf and walking the hard path have vanished.  I privately condemned myself that a few sentences from the surgeon’s office would so quickly bring peace when my personal faith had struggled so hard to achieve the same peace on that highway between Bismarck and St. Paul.  Why did I have to take that journey through the “what ifs?”  “how bad?” “and where to next?” when faith would have spared me all the wrenching speculation?  I don’t have the answer for that, but I do have a new compassion for those who get the calls with bad news.  For several hours, I lived in their bodies, their minds and felt their fear and anxiety.  It was real for me and I will never forget what those minutes and miles were like.  Though my news was reassuring, many do not get that assurance that life will continue normally.

So I am past the heart scare, the breast biopsy, the 2,400 mile trip in 6 days, and company with eight kids for almost eight days, and the consecutive bout with a respiratory bug that brought fever and aches while I trudge through.

I will overcome, I say to myself.  Living with David, who has faced all sorts of life’s obstacles and illnesses, I have learned courage and faced down my enemy, self-pity.  His example has made me know that I can appropriate what David has owned, that peace and solidity that his faith in Christ has brought to him.  If David will overcome with the help of our Lord, then I will go look for it also.  Because for about three hours of interstate highway between Bismarck and St. Paul, I know that was it there for me because I sought it.  But seek it, you must.

It has been said that people don’t follow Christ because Christians have not made their faith attractive to unbelievers.  I reject that philosophy—rather, I hope that your need, whatever it is, will take you to that road where you seek the One who brings the peace that passes all understanding.

Because ultimately, this life will have its sorrows, sicknesses and disappointments.  If you have not been attracted to that peace that He offers, then it is you that I bear sorrow for.

So now you know, I have not fallen off the face of the earth.  Just distracted by life in general, and faced with a deficit of time to type out my journeys.  I hope to have a bit of boredom for a while—like the moment a few days ago, when I realized that my house was quiet and clean for the first time in about three weeks.  I just wondered for how long… and how long it would be before I wished for the chaos of a houseful of family and grandkids to pick up after.  For I know me, and clean and quiet will suit me for only a just a little while.  Because believe it or not, a week where I run my dishwasher only twice, is a week of too much quiet and clean.

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 Posted by at 7:37 pm
May 192013
 

 

Soon after I posted my blog about the  wonderful phenomena of the bread machine, I attended a presentation at the Montana Historical Society  titled “A Taste of the Past: What We Can Learn from Historic Cookbooks.”  The topic of cookbook evolution fascinates me, and before your click to go read something else, please hang with me while I tell you how lucky we are to live when we live.

Everyone has struggled with a recipe that was sloppily written, or missing important elements necessary for a successful dish.  Or, maybe you have a grandmother’s recipe with unconventional vernacular, like: “add a teacup of sugar,” or “place in a hot oven.”  Obviously, we have come a long way and most of us have no clue what it was like before we had the standardized recipe format from Fannie Farmer–  or experienced what it is to bake without the convenience of the electric oven.

Back to the presentation:  The Historical Society has a collection of cookbooks that go back to the 1880s.  The oldest in the collection was “The Montana Cook Book” that with a compendium of recipes “adapted to the Rocky Mountain region.” The “Crumbs of Comfort” cookbook dated 1893, and tells how to make a lettuce sandwich.  Lettuce sandwich?

The early cookbooks took much for granted.  No, OODLES for granted. There was major assumption as to how much skill a cook possessed.  Clearly, most girls were tutored by a mother or grandmother on the basics of food preparation. Most postmodern high school graduates might mistake these recipes for a grocery list.  Many recipes seemed only to list what went in, in what order, and voila’, a finished culinary creation appeared! Or, not.

And clearly, they did not have ready access to the variety of staples that we take for granted.  If a recipe called for butter, one did not buy it at a nearby Costco or Sam’s, but likely milked the cow, skimmed the fat and churned the cream.  Imagine that?  Or, baking that cake meant stoking the wood stove and testing the heat by “placing a bit of flour on a sheet and waiting until it was browned!”  Sounds more like a science experiment to me.  (And to think how often I opt for the boxed cake mix so to avoid the “tedious” measuring.)

Another point of interest are those with pictures of the pioneer kitchen.  Oh dear.  It wasn’t even apparent that the room pictured WAS a kitchen!  A stove, yes, but counter or cupboards?  No, I wondered how well I might have fared, since I felt deprived because it was 30 years of marriage before I had the convenience of an in-sink garbage disposer.  And speaking of a sink?  Did not exist in these pictures.  And I am ashamed to think of my own dismay that I neglected to include a pull-out cutting board for my new kitchen!   Nowadays, we are infatuated with stainless steel appliances, ice cube makers and granite countertops.  A decadent and pampered generation of cooks, we are.

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Perhaps the most detailed and well- written cookbook in the Montana Historical Society’s collection is one titled “Manual for Army Cooks” (Prepared Under the Direction of the Commissary General of Subsistence, 1896.)  Though not of any particular Montana significance, it does describe the best way to gauge the temperature of your stove  and  how to dispose of garbage “so as to not attract flies” — A skill still yet to be conquered – I still miss those fabulous “No Pest Strips” that I used in the 90’s.  (For those who don’t know abut those amazing hanging slabs of insecticides—they were a fab invention that killed those pesky flies from the corrals.)  The only disturbing aspect of this wonderfully detailed cookbook is that its author was most likely a man.  I guess that tells you I am that most definitely gender biased.

100_1974And yet, while I admire the determination and solid work ethic of the pioneer cook, I am abundantly thankful that our technological advances have freed up women for other pursuits, like helping professions, Bible studies and volunteer work, not to mention, Zumba dancing, spray tans and gel manicures.   And to think, Martha Stewart has made millions by teaching us how to master these pioneer domestic activities!  Who’d have thunk it?  She has re-established homemaking as a hobby, yes,  an artistic and vogue pursuit even.  (I’d like to know if Martha makes a lettuce sandwich?)

Finally, a clear indicator that we now speak a different language of political correctness—one of the collectibles featured was “The Montana Federation of Negro Women’s Club Cookbook”.  Published in 1925, they boasted that theirs was a superb publication because “they make their living by cooking.”

It was an interesting night.  I appreciated the history lesson and reflected happily how grateful I am for my microwave, 5 burner gas stove and my ever-so-wonderful bread machine.  Sometimes it only takes an hour long peek into our past to celebrate the timing of our birth into this world.  And though I am intrigued by Martha’s reinvention of our domestic opportunities, I’ll stay comfortable with my level of energy and commitment in the kitchen.  I have far too many other pursuits (a job, gel nails and Bible Studies) to fill my days!

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 Posted by at 8:23 pm
May 092013
 
me and gun2

Armed with vaccine

The whole mystique of ranching invokes pastoral scenes of mother cows nursing calves, cowboys atop horses and pitchforks of heavy hay. But behind every dreamy scene or idyllic impression is the reality and truth of what life really is.  Raising cattle in Montana would be a dreamy lifestyle that city dwellers would love to live.  For the most part, it is all that and more.  But let me tell you this:  branding cows is dirty, stinky work.  Which is why I prefer cooking.  Cooking for branding, that is.

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My niece– tough as bullets, pretty as a princess

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My granddaughter, Havyn, perched for the best view

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My daughter in law, Mindy and my niece, Bonnie. They do the ear clipping and vaccines. Oh, and Bonnie’s hitchhiker? One year old Brenner in the back pack.

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My grandson, Gavin, my “grand”cowboy

And the reality of branding is this picture:  smelly, smoky (think: burnt hair) soggy or dusty manure (depending on where you step) and noisy, crazy pandelarium.

I suppose that some ranches have a pretty as a picture operation.  Our ranch?  It’s a “git ‘er done” picture.  Rounding up the cow and calf is usually not on horseback but rather, on foot or four-wheeler.  No pretense here– we are real, and it works better than the Hollywood version.  David and his family have never embraced the cowboy image that makes a magazine spread.

So we round up the cows on four wheelers, on foot and sometimes horseback if someone wants to go to the extra work to catch one and saddle it.   Once the cows are corralled, the next step is separation.  This involves a process of herding/ scaring/pushing the moms to one corral while coaxing the babies to another, which eventually leads them to a barn, which eventually leads them to the chute, which takes them to the “treatment.”  All this happens with several generations of Diehls and volunteers—kids, grandkids and friends who want to be “cow”boys for a day.

So if you don’t mind getting dirty, smoky, stinky and endure a bit of verbal abuse (cutting out calves can provoke a few angry commands) then you might just love it.

Me.  I don’t love it.  I don’t like to get dirty, I get my “feelers” hurt easily and I am not very brawny. All of which explains why I head for the kitchen duty.

Harken back:  I remember the first time that David brought me to the branding event. (I was a city girl, remember?) I thought it barbaric.  And every once in a while, I revisit that scene in my head—how the burning happens, the calf cries out and the ear is snipped (part of our brand.)  Add to that, a vaccination, and oh, if you are a boy calf, you suddenly will become a steer by way of the “elastrator”– a simple device that “rubber bands” the jewels so that they eventuate into bits of lifeless flesh that returns to the soil.  When I first saw the process, it was not so kind.  A calf was emasculated with a knife, and the testicles saved for “Rocky Mountain Oysters”—which we women would bread and fry.  And just so you know, if you must, they taste like chicken.  Yes, chicken Nuggets, sort of.  But alas, the risk of infection and the danger if reaching into a calf’s groin to retrieve the little gems no longer make it worth the little morsels that some consider a western delicacy.

So, once all this is completed, the calf is released and returned to its mom, and then gets the once over “smell and taste” test until mom is certain the calf is hers (since every calf we own is all black, I am in awe of the magic of God’s greater design.) They all smell of manure and burnt hair, so His plan works well for the cows.  If cowboys had to pair them up again, I am not certain many men would enter this occupation.  They simply would have no patience for the hormonal components of that task.

Once the happy reunion is complete, it seems that all is well for both mom and baby.  They make their way to the hay or pasture as though nothing was amiss— whether it be ear tip or  jewels, of both as it is for the males specie.  (for those who are privately wondering why we castrate the male calves, you have never eaten “bull hamburger”.  And if you did, then you would never wonder again.)  Only a few calves “make the cut” to remain bulls– those are either sold as breeding components for other ranches, or we keep them to help keep our ladies pregnant.  If you get what I mean.

Now before I end painting this picture for you, I want to tell you about the journey to the chute, the pathway to the treatment. For many years, the task of holding a calf was manual labor, and not for the faint of heart.   It requires that one must grab a calf’s hind leg, gripping a kicking, shaking and sometimes slickery hoof and dragging the surprisingly strong little animal until you could get your partner to his part.  Doing this feat requires a fair amount of brute strength and certain courage.  Once the leg is in firm grip, the calf is pulled to center arena, where another “cow” boy secures the front end, with knees into the neck and front leg turned so as to be immobile.  This isn’t always a ballet, for often one or both ends can wriggle loose of the holds and take out a few pieces of flesh, a tooth, or inflict a few contusions on the cowboys.  Our son in law, Trinity, was the recipient of a precision strike to his front tooth.  Not only did the hoof extricate the tooth, but catapulted it, root and all, to the pit of his stomach, never again to be seen (or at least I think that is the story.) Hence for Trinity, this began a many year process of flippers, bridges and eventually, bone graft and implant to make his smile pretty once again.

So greater wisdom, or, more likely, older age prevailed, and now we make use of a branding “table.”  Not to be confused with the lunch table, this is a contraption wherein the calf is pushed down the chute and squeezed into t pivoting table that secures the baby for the treatment.  Kindly, it holds the calf in position, exposing all necessary parts and pieces for branding, clipping, injections and, for the males, jewel banding (Google “elastration.”)

nick and trin2

Our son and son in law at the table

nick and mindy

Our son and daughter in law making the brand– VL- and the snipped right ear. Niece, Bonnie ready to give the vaccination.

brandingnick and trin

Trinity, our son in law steadying the hind leg

So by now, perhaps you can understand why I prefer the job of cook? I’d much rather endure bacon grease, flour caked, and apron-stringed decorum for my branding day.  And because we usually have volunteers enough to straddle the gates and push/pull the tails, it works fabulously.  It is a long day that ends with tired bones, terrible dirty jeans and not a few bruises and nicks.  For me, the worst damage is a full dishwasher or sink full of dirty dishes, all of which make me happy to be the cookie.

And although I’ve posted a picture of me with a vaccine gun, let me inform you that it was posed.  Completely posed, because the only shooting that I did on that day, was on the other side of a camera.  Because in spite of the romance of the cowboy life, my romance remains firmly ensconced in the kitchen, which is why I volunteer for cooking duty every time.  My favorite contribution this year to our hamburger feast,  Grandma Marge’s Baked Beans with a whole pound of bacon added — because the extra calories will not go to waste (or to the waist on this hardworking day.)

And I think I will keep it that way.  Which makes everyone dirty, happy, tired and hungry.

And me? Happy, tired, clean, and  … appreciated.  Which is good enough for me.

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 Posted by at 6:44 am
Apr 142013
 

trike

 

When we first met, I was not unlike most girls I knew.  Riding horseback seemed like the most idyllic endeavor a girl could pursue.  For David, however, riding a horse meant work.  Days spent moving cows to summer pastures was not always a fond experience, so saddling up two horses for a “pleasure ride” was not on HIS radar.  Horses were work and a necessary part of cattle ranching.

And since David’s 1991 bout with Transverse Myelitis, this cowboy hasn’t ridden a horse for over 20 years.  As you might imagine, if he had normal legs, he probably would jump at a chance now.  (If you are new to my blog, you may want to click here for more background.)

However, he has traded his reigns for chains— bicycle chains, that is.

And his bicycle?  Well, his bicycle isn’t really a bicycle.  In fact, it has three wheels, so technically, it is a tricycle.

So yes, I fell in love with a cowboy (who preferred NOT to ride horses) and ended up with a guy who rides a bicycle—or rather, a tricycle.

Seriously, you say?  Yes, seriously.  And since David “sat down,” his bike riding has become a very serious endeavor.

We bought the trike in 1996.  It set us back $1200 for a 36 gear hand cycle that was a demo model.  The color?  Candy purple.  How very inappropriate for a cowboy.  But very appropriate for a penny pinching cowboy.

The first few years, he didn’t ride it much.  I privately growled to myself about spending so much money on such frivolity.  But as the years have passed, he took a more active, or should I say, passionate interest in it.   Now, he rides it faithfully whenever the skies allow, many times logging over 1,000 miles a year on it.  There have been times when he trails behind our cows as we move them to the lake pasture.  But most of the time, he rides on the highway that runs alongside our wheat fields.

But I must tell you, it has not been without some of the same dangers that trotting on a horse would present.  Four times he has broken his legs while doing his ride. The last break was his right femur. His right femur–if that did not shock you, let me inform you that the femur (thigh bone) is the biggest bone in your body.  Additionally, he has acquired pressure sores from the friction this generates on his cheeks. (Let me explain: when you cannot feel your butt, you aren’t getting the signals that tell you that you are assaulting your skin.  Thus, the birth of a pressure sore.  I am arguing with myself as to whether to tell you more about this in another post.)  But each break has a story worth telling—these definitely will go to press.

Broken bones, pressure sores —all this from using your arms to accomplish what legs normally do. (I have tried to ride this contraption—it is a challenge to push enough to motion forward.)

And then there are the people who ask me, “Why do you let him do this?” (Like I could hide it from him or tell him NO!)   I suppose they consider it dangerous to ride a trike on a major highway.  The stories about the injuries do make most people cringe. They think me to be apathetic or cavalier about the safety my husband.

I tell them that I forsook my protestations years ago.  It simply doesn’t accomplish anything to nag at him.  I liken it to preventing a cow dog from herding cattle—it is just too essential to him for me to “yank his chain.”

So, if the day’s weather seems to be cooperating enough, then ride, he will.  I suppose that there are cowboys that have similar sentiments about riding their horse.

Not to say that we haven’t made changes to reduce the risk.  Since the transfer from wheelchair to trike has resulted in three of the four breaks, we rigged up a swing set with overhead slings so that David can pull himself up and over to make the transfer.

Now since riding a horse was never really one of David’s passions, he has not yet attempted to saddle up and ride since he “sat down and rolled”.  Not to say that he wouldn’t give it a shot.  But given that riding a trike does so much to fill his quest for normalcy, why “fix what ain’t broke”?  And although we would hope to “fix” all that is broken in his body, we will ride this one out, even though we would wish for a different “ride” or even better yet, “a walk in the park”.  Call it what you wish, our life continues and our dreams and faith endure.  The cows and horses, hayfields and a tricycle.  Not the picture we chose, but one that we do not hesitate to call blessed.

Oh, and riding those horses?  No longer a pursuit of mine.   I’ll ride a four-wheeler or walk behind the herd of cows before I’ll get on a saddle.  Sometimes what seems so very keen to a 17 year old passes with time and circumstances.   Possibly wisdom overrules romance?  Or perhaps it is because walking behind a herd of cows is the best way to burn calories or to savor the simple pleasures of life that we all take for granted.

Now that, I am NOT cavalier about.

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 Posted by at 4:41 pm
Apr 132013
 

So when I posted about “marrying the man I love, but married into the life I love”,  I found out that, yes, people like my recipes, but they seem to want to read about the ingredients of my life.  While I still have many more recipes in me, I will oblige and post more about our somewhat out-of-the-ordinary life.

 

So, here is an expansion of a previous post:

 I “married” the man I love, but “married into” the life I love

 

Most people associate a rancher with cows, horses and ropes.  I did, especially when I was 17 years old and a city girl.

Even though I lived in Helena, Montana, I was as “citified” as any city girl could be.

So when I determined that this handsome guy, David, was going to be my next boyfriend, I soon discovered that “citified”– he was not.

I knew that he wore cowboy boots, which most of the other boys did not.  I knew that he liked country music, which I did not.  I also knew that he worked hard most every day, which the other boys and I both did not.

David lived a different life than I did.  I knew very little about cows, horses and wheat and barley.  David seemed to know everything about the aforementioned.  We would go check on the cows that needed watering during the hot summer months.  He would arrive at my house with the water truck and we would wind our way up into the gulch until we got to the spot where we would open the spigot to fill the rusty trough.  He would then proceed to tell me the history of each of the cows and heifers that we were watching.  (Never mind that I had no clue what a heifer and a steer was and never fessed up until many years into our marriage.  I eventually put two and two together through observation.)

Later in that summer, we would take his 1972 Pontiac Ventura down to north side of the ranch where I would watch him flood irrigate a portion of what they called the section hayfield.  As I batted the mosquitoes, David trudged through the soggy soil with shovel and dam in hand, looking at the lay of the land and the gravity pull of the water flow to estimate where the dam needed to be placed across the ditch.  If you aren’t following what I am describing, then you are likely as ignorant about farming and irrigation as I was.  I could explain more, but it might be easier if you read here about “flood irrigation” to see about this age-old skill.

But if you find this all to be quite boring, you are not like I was.  Or, at least there is no leading man in the picture to draw you into the story. For me, not only was it interesting, but the leading man was a handsome cowboy to boot.

By the summer’s end, I had decided that this boyfriend that I chose in May, was a cowboy that I had grown to love.  I even remember the day that I decided that it was he that I loved.  And where it happened.

It was not as we gazed at a picturesque Montana sky, nor when we rode on horseback into the fading sunset.  David did not even like to ride horses– that fantasy faded in childhood when cows were moved miles away to mountain pasture and horses was the best way to make it happen.  No, riding horses- though a dreamy pursuit to me- was at the bottom of David’s “things I like to do” list.

Nope, it was none of those.   It was a day when I watched him flood irrigate that hayfield.  Like a bolt of lightning— it was not. Nor was it a flood of emotion that stole my senses or enveloped my heart.

More like a moment of truth.  A moment when I realized that David was who I wanted and his life was the life I wanted to live. It was a realization that this 17 year old farmer possessed a work ethic and maturity that made my respect morph into a love that would eventuate into marriage.

And marriage it did become, in the summer of 1975.

So as the nursery rhyme goes, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. We soon had three children, a dog and a “home on the range.”

Now as life goes, sometimes you hit a curve.  In 1991, when David was finishing the wheat harvest, a pervasive numbness that began in his feet soon turned into a piercing pain in his back.  Within 5 days, he went from a strapping 35 year old farmer, to a complete T-11 paraplegic.  What began as a frightening ride to the local emergency room eventually ended with a 6 week stay in the hospital.  With a diagnosis of temporary paralysis called Guillian Barre‘ (what we now know was incorrect), we went home to expect a gradual return of his motor and sensory function.

A “return” that never returned.

So, the truth is:  medicine is an art, not science.  Neurology is sometimes  a practice of guessing what lab work cannot accurately define.  David’s paralysis diagnosis proved NOT to be temporary, but instead, permanent.  It was called something we had never heard of: Transverse Myelitis.

So cry, we did.  Lament, we did.  Our prayers were a combination of crying and lamenting. And the return we received was not what we hoped for.  For indeed, the paralysis remained and the eventual diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis added insult to injury.  My faith in my God was tripped by this painful repeat of my own history; for my own father’s life was cut short to 45 years by this same disease.  I had to press in to regain my faith; trust and lean on God, a God who made heaven and earth – yet who allowed MS to assault our lives.

As I write this, I ponder the evolution of the last 20 years since “David sat down”.  We raised our three kids.  They have married and produced grandkids for us to adore.  We have built a wheelchair accessible home that is above any or all dreams that I would have dreamt.  We often lie in bed at night and say to each other how good our life is.  Gratefulness has often been the antidote to the self pity that creeps in when we face any new challenges or defeats.

But so far, 38 years since our wedding day, we continue to live and love in Montana.  And, because God has kept us, we have remained faithful to each other and to Him.

DAVID_&_ARLENE_232

 

More to come– why my “cowboy rides a tricycle”

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Mar 182013
 

 

 

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The Table came with the house.  Or should I say, the house came with The Table?  Since 1946, it hasn’t moved from its domain.  Like a silent family patriarch, a rich history is recorded on its sturdy benches and time worn surface.  Three generations from our family have poured coffee and broken bread ‘round its being.

It has no pretense for style or elegance, nor comfort and grace. The benches are hard and straight edged.  The table top, edged in a chrome-like metal, are sharp and hazardous. It is safe to say, The Table is not crème de la crème.

So when it was proposed that we get rid of The Table, I couldn’t believe what was said!  It was as though it had been suggested that tear out the apple trees!  Or burn the family Bible!  Or I had to repeat the idea in my head in order to digest it.  Get rid of the old Table???

We were planning a remodel, the second for this old farm house, and someone assumed that we would surely get rid of The Table. This was unimaginable … no, unthinkable! I had to agree, The Table was old in the sense of, well, seasoned.   And not very pretty, I’ll admit.  But it has a place in the history of this old house, and moving it to the barn or firewood pile would be like tearing away the precious or burning the sacred.

Built for Grandma Diehl in 1946, it is plain, but sturdily built.  Its 8’ by 4’ slab top is supported by plain Jane legs; the same style benches stretch the length of its expanse, posted underneath when not in use.  The bulk of its structure is painted milk white, the benches accented with black paint on the edges. Cream colored linoleum covers the expansive table top; inscribed with a mottled sheen, its surface is a semi-random road map of wear produced by years of passing potatoes and pushing hot coffee.  Yes, this Table is anything but pretty … but despite its lack of beauty, I cherish its company in the family kitchen.

Created for utility, its job was to accommodate thrice daily meals for hired help.  Grandma Diehl’s kitchen was the idyllic picture of what American farms provided for their hired help.  This was a time when room and board was common wage; Grandma prepared hearty provisions for laborers on the dairy farm that she and Grandpa Diehl operated in the Prickly Pear Valley near Helena, Montana.  Along with five sons of her own, the workers at the ranch were rewarded with home cooked meals served at The Table in the main house.   The benches endured field-dirty Levi’s and shop-greasy coveralls, being refurbished annually with fresh paint to cover the year’s scratch and dent collection.

When Grandma and Grandpa moved off the ranch to a home in town, my husband’s parents inherited The Table and the 1917 home that housed it. Peggy was the new keeper and cook. A new remodel replaced painted cupboards with varnished birch cabinets.  A new stove and dishwasher came on to the scene.  The ranch help now received twice daily meals, cooked by the young farmwife along with four of her own little diners.

The increase of technology brought decrease in laborers, but the quality of provender retained the Diehl reputation for home style and bounty. When I arrived on the farm in 1973, only one hired man was fed at The Table.  By this time, three of the young diners from Peggy’s table had become the workforce. The fourth was her mother’s assistant.  I watched with admiration, the joy and diligence applied to the cooking duty.  Pitching in was my internship; too wrapped up in teenage activity, this eighteen- year-old had never learned to cook.  Peggy’s farmwife ease in putting on the chow inspired my domestic side and her example of casual hospitality was a trait I desired and had determined to acquire.

In 1979, my turn came to move into the “main house.”  I looked forward to the prospect of filling these women’s shoes, or better, their potholders.  The farm technology now meant only seasonal need for a few hungry teens during the summer months.  While raising three small children, I relished the art of filling the hollow legs of two or three teenagers whose mothers rarely cooked such fare. In addition to our daily meals, holidays and birthdays gave occasion to surround The Table with the Diehl clan, an extended family then numbering 13 in all.

By 1984, the condition of the birch cupboards, battered by years of constant duty, necessitated a kitchen remodel.  A new design removed the wall between livings and dining area; the old birch cabinets retired to the barn and new oak cabinets took up residence.  A vogue country look replaced 60’s decor. The Table still stood, a quiescent body of stout furniture, though clearly outmoded with its cream colored linoleum and saddle sore benches.

Enter the question… get rid of the table… get rid of The Table?????

The thought never tasted a second of consideration, or a bite of regard.

But, after some food for thought and a pound of effort, The Table and benches made a debut with a fresh coat of robin egg blue.  The linoleum gave way to an oak trimmed slab of “almond leather” Formica, this time angled at the corners.  A smorgasbord of gum was scraped from the underside and hours of elbow grease had removed Grandma’s annual bench painting.

The Table remains in this remodeled state, with one alteration made in 1991.  The conclusion of that year’s wheat harvest brought change; a spinal cord infection stole the use of my husband’s legs.  A ramp to the old house would be built and a taller clearance was carved at one end of The Table, allowing David’s wheelchair to be seated at the head.

The Diehl family clan, then 24 in all, still allowed us to live in the house that is home for The Table, though our share of the work has been lessened by the presence of the wheelchair.  And sadly, Lou Gehrig’s disease claimed Dan, the third born of Peggy’s little diners. At present, the third generation dines at The Table.  Our son, Nicholas, after completing his college degree, declares his commitment to come back to the farm. Two sons-in-law, Trinity and Jeramy, have been welcomed to dine, and room for the fourth generation is numbered at five kidlets.

Now, at my new home, built to accommodate David’s wheelchair, I sit down for a solitary breakfast, (for my diners have all flown the nest), the sun’s slanted rays shine on the ranch to the west of us.   I now have taken  leave of its presence in the same way that Peggy and Grandma Diehl have done … a new home, away from the main ranch, built to our specs.  When we first decide  that we are moving from the old ranch house to a new house on the hillside, it  brings strong protests from our daughters, Paige and Andrea, saying “Unthinkable!” — For they are strong soul ties attached to this old house.  To them, the prospect of our leaving The Table and its 66 year residence seems….  sort of like tearing out the apple trees or burning the family Bible.

So while drinking the day’s sunlight, I am reminded of some things unalterable:   though my life inherited change and my kitchen moved, it seems that one thing has remained unchanged: The Diehl Table, loved as it is,  would stay in its original home,  and life would continue with all its new directions.  For there are some things meant to be unmoved, and The Table, and all its blemishes,  is numbered among them.

 

table 1

 Posted by at 2:14 pm
Mar 142013
 
DSC_0332

Photo by KJ Gregor

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I “married” the man I love, but “married into” the life I love.  David stole my heart during a June sunset as I watched him flood irrigate an alfalfa field.  As I sat in his brand-new ’72 Pontiac Ventura (bought with sweat), I fell for the romance that the hard- working farming lifestyle embraced.  In the midst of the hot, humid air, and pesky mosquitoes, my city-girl values came under review by the picture of the character that the farm work ethic produced in my 17 year-old boyfriend.  His commitment to getting the work done and the tangible fruits of his labor that I saw unfold that summer, made me see that life was more than earning a living.  It was about caring for the land, looking to the sky for favor, and harvesting virtue in your own character.

On that day, I decided that I would marry David, accepting the uncertainties included in the package. I knew that Saturday nights would be superceded by harvest and haying, overruled by a heifer in labor, or simply forestalled by the fatigue of my farmer husband.

   And now, like seed fallen to the ground, harvest has produced the next generation; today I watch our son walk in his father’s boots, forsaking city life seen at college to return to the soil.  To the joy of his parents, his love for farming is wrapped around fruits far beyond fields and corrals. A choice tied to the reward that farming reaps in the intangible: harvest in family, soul and character.

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Nick and his wife, Mindy ( who loves chickens!)

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
Mar 102013
 

The Wedding Chair

By Arlene N. Diehl

PN News article

Article as it appeared in the February 2003 issue of Paraplegia News.

            Winter had concluded and spring was upon us.  The April 5th wedding date was not far away.  Paige’s wedding had been on the front burner for several months and the female attention to planning every aspect of the big day had begun to wear thin on the male components of the wedding.    Nonetheless, the day was fast approaching and the dreams were beginning to encroach upon reality.

            So, following the advice of several wedding planner books, we made preparations for everything from wedding etiquette to reception detail. The ladies from our church transformed the old Community Center into a western style banquet hall, stringing white Christmas lights and positioning straw bales to create the ambiance of a Montana night under the stars.  With the decoration being complete, it was time to rehearse.

The detailed wedding planners had covered every practical to-do list and advised for every awkward family arrangement.  Their ready-made counsel seemed all-inclusive, except for the dilemma, our dilemma:  how to get Paige down the aisle?

Our dilemma did not include a blended family or a deceased parent.  No dysfunctional relationships had clouded this aspect.  Paige had a healthy love and virtuous respect for her father, one to be envied on any level.  Being most like her father, they easily tolerated one another’s view of life, and found that their shared objectivity often put them on the same page, reading life’s events in casual harmony.

So the question of who was to escort her was not a dilemma.  The question to resolve was a matter of transportation.  How would David escort Paige, his first daughter, to meet the man that she had chosen to spend the rest of her days with??

Our transport dilemma concerns the chair. David’s wheelchair.

Six springs had come and gone since David’s bout of transverse myelitis. Experiencing the grace and sufficiency of God, we had learned to adapt to David’s paraplegia.  Using creativity and ingenuity, we had resolved nearly any accessibility issue, including getting on a tractor.  Paige and her siblings knew a different kind of normalcy.

But this “different normalcy” still brought us to this dilemma:  how to have a “normal escort” down the aisle at Paige’s wedding?

We discussed the options.  With years of physical therapy, David had acquired the strength to ambulate with long leg braces; having never recovered the nerves for sensory or motor function, his gait was difficult and dangerous without a strong escort to assist every step.  Technically, he could walk her down that aisle.

Or perhaps David could hold her arm, while I follow, pushing the chair from behind?

Or how about both of us grip the wheelchair and sandwich David in between while steering our way to the front of the church?

None of these came close to normal, and certainly none was the picture that we were hoping to create.

Then our wedding organizer, Jill, made a suggestion.  Why not take the escort while sitting on David’s lap??  No, it was not normal.  But neither was it abnormal, since Paige was quite comfortable climbing onto her father’s lap for far less important occasions.  So, having eliminated all other possibilities, it was decided.  At an ordained moment in time, Paige was to appear at the top of the stairs.  When all was ready, she would seat herself on his lap, receive her bouquet and make ready for the escort.  David, strong and muscled, would wheel the chair forward and take his passenger to the front of the church, where Trinity would then take her hand to help her to her feet.

It was settled.  Rehearsing brought confirmation and emotion to all.  And since this was what Paige and her Dad wanted, it was natural for them.  We knew that the real moment would be a tearful one, even if David could walk.  But envisioning this picture, I mostly feared that the emotion would flood over father and daughter, making it all the more difficult for mom to stay afloat.  But that didn’t matter at this juncture.  A wheelchair ride is what it would be.

The day came.

All the effort put into the planning was not in vain. But all the painstaking anticipation did not predict that the plans of a girl and her father would upstage every detail with stunning display.  Every eye would record the picture of the bride’s radiance and her father’s victory over adversity as the two redefined the traditional trip down the aisle.

Did we remain composed? Of course not.  And even though I knew how the stage would unfold, I still had to fight hard to protect my makeup from the tears bursting within. So, with a curious mix of joy and sorrow, my wish for normalcy was drowned by immeasurable gladness for the two passengers on that chair.  There was a collective hush and strain to see as they forged ahead, both seeming unfazed by the outpouring of surprise and emotion erupting all around them.

The rolling escort concluded with a graceful assist to a stand.  Paige now stood, ready to say her vows and to be joined to a new escort in her journey into time. A simple escort was the day’s crowning glory.

 

Though ours is an abnormal journey, we thank our Heavenly Father that we can celebrate each season. We have learned long ago that although normalcy is what we desire, gratefulness has brought a different gladness.  And although we disdain the chair, that dark winter of life has forged our character within, bonding parents and children in a way that “normal” could not.

            It has been said that we could not appreciate spring if it were not for the winter.  I believe that is true… There are times like this wedding that our senses and emotions not only savored a wondrous spring, but at the conclusion of the day, it is certain to say that what our seasoned hearts had experienced …  was truly … the glory of summer.

Here is David with his daughters, Paige and Andrea, both of whom he “carried” down the aisle.

Paige and her father

Paige and her father

Andrea and her father

Andrea and her father

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 Posted by at 7:38 am
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