I drove the long, isolated highways for nearly two hundred miles before stopping in front of our family home. I’d sung my way there, with the aid of a stack of eight-track praise and worship cassettes. In spite of the heat, I’d faithfully kept my cervical collar in place, not wanting anything to interrupt this trip.
Five hundred miles later, Mom, Dad and I joined my older sister’s budding family at the lakeside home of her in-laws. We’d all be celebrating Donna’s twenty-eighth birthday, and meeting the newest addition to the Hawley-Weeks family, Lisa Marie.
Seven years earlier, Hayden Lake had also been the gorgeous setting of my new position as Auntie. The tiny, squirming, smiling bundle of joy placed in my arms had been named Tracy Lynn. I’d only been to visit the family home a few times since that introduction, so I looked forward to getting re-acquainted with Tracy.
On this first meeting, little Lisa had just passed fourteen months, and definitely had too much energy to be wrapped up in a new auntie’s arms. She had places to go, people to see, and just couldn’t take the time, you know? Lisa power-walked around the house, stopping every few seconds to practice her new facial frowns, and latest string of sounds, “Diddle-Diddle-Diddle,” before hurrying off again. Except for a man-sized breakfast in her high chair each morning, Lisa cared little for meals. Such a fun toddler.
All went well the first couple of days. I loved being with Tracy, as she discovered new things on the lake-shore.
Floating on an air mattress in the clear-blue lake had always been a favorite summertime treat. The stresses of the new job and recent health crisis banished to the recesses of my mind… until the day of Donna’s birthday.
I awoke feeling a little off-center, a small headache trying to take root. “You feeling alright, Honey?” Mom said. “You’re squinting your eyes.”
“Mornin’ Mom,” I said sitting at the breakfast table, already prepared for the meal. “I don’t really feel sick, but I feel kind of weird. I have a little headache, so I may be unconsciously squinting.”
Mom sat the steaming cup of coffee before me as she spoke, “Maybe you had too much sun yesterday. You get something into your stomach; and if you don’t feel better then, you can take some aspirin.”
I nodded as I sipped the lovely aroma of the black morning brew. My stomach didn’t feel much like allowing the offering Mom placed before me, but I knew she’d been right; I’d likely feel better after I ate. This time Mom had been wrong.
My stomach churned for half an hour after I’d swallowed the aspirin for the headache that’d gone from slight to moderate. I’d not worn the collar while floating on the lake, so perhaps I’d messed something up. I headed for my bed, expecting a little nap would help.
However, my body had no time to relax into sleep. I no sooner set my head on the pillow than my inner volcano started its upward flow. I rushed to the bathroom, flipping the toilet lid up at the exact moment the stomach contents released. Behind me, I heard rapid footfalls advancing.
“Oh Sweetheart. You are sick,” Mom said, rubbing my back as I hunched over the bowl.
After a couple more cycles of brief resting and mad-dashing to the bathroom, Dad brought a plastic bucket to my bedside. “Should we try to take you out to the hospital?” Dad said, wiping my forehead with a cool, wet cloth.
“I don’t know, Daddy. Do you think I got the flu or something? Or maybe it’s because I didn’t wear my collar all day yesterday? I don’t think I’d be able to make that long trip out on the winding roads now.”
“Okay, you just rest and we’ll see. I’ll close the curtains on my way out. Try to get some rest, Honey.”
“Daddy?” I said as he approached the doorway. He turned towards me. “Is Mom okay? I mean, she hasn’t come in here for awhile.”
“Yeah, she’s fine. She wants to come, but she said she just can’t. You know your Mom; I’d be emptying two buckets if she did.” Daddy chuckled, waved and closed my door behind him.
Mom did pop in from time-to-time, bringing small glasses of ice chips, and offering the family’s remedy for a tummy-ache—Ginger Ale or soda crackers. I just couldn’t eat anything. Each time she came in the room, she kissed my forehead and stroked my cheek, wordlessly saying, “I’m here, Honey.”
I had never in my life had my father tend to me during sickness; it had always been my mother at the bedside. This time, Dad jumped to answer every retch or minor stirring. Sometimes, while my stomach settled, Dad read Bible verses to me or chapters from a book.
Naturally, these spoiled vacation days hold memories of disappointment, especially since it’d been eight years since I’d been at a birthday table for my older sister. However in the midst of the sadness, the tenderness my military father had shown to me over those endless days of retching and vomiting remains a treasured memory.
I recovered from the miserable episode the afternoon prior to our departure. While all of us rejoiced that the sickness had come to an end, none of us had any idea that a critical set of dominoes had begun to fall weeks earlier with that first crisis in the shower. I hadn’t really recovered; the illness had simply taken another break.