This is the post excerpt.
I’ve been glued to the Winter Olympics. What impresses me most is athletes like Lindsey Vonn who have such determination that even after several bad falls—crash ’n’ burn stuff that would keep most normal people bedridden for a month or longer—they come back only weeks later, ready to compete in the world’s premiere sport venue.
I get to finish watching the games on TV before facing yet another surgery, this time a total knee replacement not long after my lumber fusion. My unsteady gait makes walking difficult, let alone downhill skiing.
Several docs have asked, “What happened to you? Were you in an accident?”
Thinking about it, I pondered:
Maybe it was the time a pony threw me against a tree when I was ten or when a horse later fell on top of me at a full gallop. Or maybe when I tore my ACL downhill skiing or hit a tree while careening off the edge of the slopes. (Trees are not my friend.)
How about when a golf ball hit my jaw, knocking my lights out? Or when a merchant peddling trinkets I wouldn’t purchase sucker-punched me on the Mt. of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, also knocking me unconscious.
Then there was that time I had a serious disagreement with a rock while whitewater canoeing. (The rock won.)
After such reflections, I answered my surgeon, “Life happened.”
As of next week, I’ll have titanium rods in my jaw, hip, back and knee.
“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology … Better. Stronger. Faster.”—Steve Austin’s bionic surgical team.
Yes, it’s been arollickingride!
A fever, body aches, stuffy sinuses, headaches, and sneezing without warning. It’s called the flu and is making the rounds.
Throughout my own convalescence this January, I spent half the month in bed, half-awake, half-watching TV through one half-open eye, and so loopy I didn’t realize they were reruns from the fall; it was like seeing the show for the first time. Had the flu waited to attack on Super Bowl weekend, the numerous replays would be fresh news to me.
I’m not sure where I caught this year’s grunge. Now retired from dentistry, I no longer work just inches from a patient’s mouth where saliva, blood, and pulverized tooth dust sprayed my face on a regular basis. (I’ll bet you thought those masks actually worked.)
So, I can’t blame it on my profession. And the kids have grown-up and moved away, no longer bringing every bug home that’s circulating through the schools. I did get a flu shot, for all the good it did. Apparently, most batches were tainted anyway.
During my bout, Kate had lined-up more social engagements than we normally have, even over the holidays. Unable to lift my head off the pillow, I missed all of them; she was fine going alone to avoid catching the infection from me. Using any excuse to keep her distance, she made countless trips to the garage for wood to keep our stove burning hot during the hard freeze, never a priority with her.
During multiple forays back and forth to the pharmacy and grocery store, she purchased bags full of various cough and cold remedies. One pack contained a nighttime formula and a small bottle of non-drowsy, daytime syrup. “So, what’s the point of the little one?” I asked through a coughing fit. They should sell bulk packages of the magic elixir during flu season.
I’m feeling better now and hope all who are afflicted realize a quick recovery. It’s been a bad season for flu victims.
“God bless you … or me.”
Kate and I look forward to the New Year with Great Expectations—yes, my favorite author is Charles Dickens, followed closely by Mark Twain. On Christmas Day, as promised, I gave Kate a necklace of imitation-pearl beads to match her plastic JOY pin, although it does look nicer in the photo. What a wondrous hubby she landed years ago!
Three major milestones closed the year for our married children and their families:
Russell and his wife, Monique, had a cutie-pie daughter, Lily in the spring. Her four-year-old brother, David loves her as much as do we. Russel almost finished his two-story, skyscraper shed, which will provide him with a man-cave to escape to when the kids are older!
Tara and her husband, Han built a four-story house, complete with elevator to accommodate their oldest son, Jakob’s disabilities—and mine, if I’m being honest. Erik will help his dad put the finishing touches on a fourth-floor bedroom this winter. I think our granddaughter Kate is most excited about her Harry Potter themed bedroom. Kate and I can’t wait to see their new home, finished and furnished.
Lastly, we are thrilled that Joel and Katerina will soon be moving into a 1940’s house they purchased in a historic, San Antonio neighborhood within walking distance of the Pearl and the famous River Walk. Once the foundation crew levels the floor, I won’t be as likely to trip while navigating the place on my gimpy hip.
Now, does this group look like they can handle such life pressures common to all young adults? Of course, they can: they’re our kids and use to it!
(Abridged from "So Help Me God" by Dr. Carroll James, due spring of 2018)
During my lean graduate school years, when my family survived on food stamps and other social services, I would cruise the closed Christmas tree lots around midnight on the 24th, looking for rejects that would be tossed the day after Christmas, and return home with a sad, scrawny sapling that only Charlie Brown would be proud of. But the kids were delighted when they woke up and saw what Santa brought overnight.
After becoming established in practice, I began the tradition of giving Kate a piece of jewelry just before the midnight, Christmas Eve service. For years I gave pearls, her birthstone, or diamonds mounted in earrings, bracelets, anklets, necklaces, brooches, or pins, which she wore that night. During a mission trip up the Amazon, I purchased a rare stone that resembled an emerald, directly from a remote jungle mine. I had it mounted as a pendant and, just like the pearls, she wore it once—that Christmas Eve—and only once.
Although presents aren’t supposed to be the focus, I’ve always enjoyed giving, if for no other reason than to see a person smile. After all, the Wise Men didn’t come bearing a lump of coal. When later I needed to spend obscene amounts of money on continuing education (for orthodontics) and set up a second office in my Gloyd home, we were flat broke. The financial crunch always seemed to come at Christmastime.
“No jewelry this year, Carroll,” Kate emphatically told me.
“I know,” I said, agreeing. “We really can’t afford it.”
At the Hallmark store, while waiting in line with a handful of holiday cards, I thumbed through the counter-top turnstile next to the cash register. A small plastic JOY pin caught my eye: it cost $4.95, less than one card. I neatly wrapped it in an old jewelry box and presented it to Kate before we left for church that Christmas Eve.
Her face turned bright red with anger: I thought she was going to throw it at me. “We talked about this,” she practically screamed. “I don’t need any more jewelry.”
I was sure she wouldn’t open it; but then she did and almost fell over laughing. Kate immediately pinned it to her blouse, and wore it to the Candlelight Service. Unlike most of the expensive jewelry I’ve given over the years, each year she proudly wears that cheap, plastic JOY pin on her winter coat throughout the month of December .
“It’s the thought that counts,” was the cliché that pulled my butt out of the fire that year.
I’m thinking a plastic-bead, snap-lock necklace this year.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Blessed New Year
Recently, my Physical Therapist asked what I was doing for Thanksgiving.
After he put me through a series of grueling exercises that left me aching and out of breath, I thought, Saying more will give me a brief respite. “Our daughter-in-law’s parents are having us over for the day.”
My PT took a minute to think about it—granting me a break from the workout—then skeptically asked, “Do you and your wife get along with them?”
Despite his obvious doubts, it’s true that we do. We’ve spent a couple of Thanksgivings and Christmases with their family in Woodbridge, which takes the pressure off our son, Russell and his lovely wife, Monique: they don’t have to split up their holiday time. And their two kids get a double dose of affection from grandparents. We appreciate Russell’s in-laws including us in this celebration: as a bonus, both are great cooks and a lot of fun.
We look forward to holidays with family, even if it’s only partial, having spent a few alone after the kids moved away and our own parents went on to their reward. Our adult children are all married and often must travel far to their spouse’s relatives.
When our daughter and son-in-law (Tara and Han) moved to Germany, Russell was living in Arizona and made plans with his best friend to spend Christmas overseas with them. Bummed that half the family would be gone, I said to my wife, Kate, “Get plane tickets for the three of us.” (Joel still lived at home.) Christmas in Bavaria, where the festivities were invented, was great.
We mourned those times when it didn’t work out to be with at least some family. To compensate, one Christmas morning, we invited two couples, good friends, who were in the same situation. I made my signature Eggs Benedict while Kate whipped up waffles and bacon and … Mimosas, so Christmas wasn’t all bad, even in the absence of family.
But I mostly remember the days when all the relatives came to our house for Thanksgiving—aunts, uncles, cousins, great uncles, and second cousins twice removed—and we could share what we were all thankful for.
First, Kate’s parents would show up to help start the turkey, then my Mom and stepdad, by which time the kids had climbed out of bed and were rearranging the furniture. They put both leaves in the dining room table, making it hard to maneuver in the now-cramped room; the kitchen table, with its leaf inserted, had to be turned cockamamie; two card tables were crammed into the foyer for the younger tykes; and various TV trays were scattered about the living room for those willing to forgo the Norman Rockwell experience in our formal dining room.
I never carved the turkey at the table, but butchered it in the kitchen with the same electric knife, now thirty-eight years old, used in our Pyleton townhouse. Our son-in-law recently carved the turkey at his dining room table in New Jersey, successfully keeping the drippings off the tablecloth, but he ended up covered in grease. He subsequently threw the shirt away. Han and Tara are now throwing the whole dining set away by selling their home and moving into a new house down the street, hopefully by Christmas. I look forward to seeing what Han does at his new table but fervently hope he carves the turkey in the kitchen.
Sadly, we won’t be with Joel or his wife for Thanksgiving this year but will see them in their new home in San Antonio afterward, when they will be singing a classical set with the San Antonio Choral Society, A Choral Society Brass Christmas, coupled with sing-along Christmas Carols.
I do miss those bygone, chaotic, yet fun times, including the exhaustion at the end of the day. At least, I always slept well that night. And when Kate prepared the turkey at our home, we had leftovers the following day, which to us was the best part of the meal.
She never braved the Black Friday crowds and instead would announce, “Get out of bed, kids. The turkey sandwiches are ready.”
“Pleeease …. No more turkey!”
Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody
I was a basically serious child, as mentioned in I Swear to Tell the Tooth. Not that I didn’t enjoy a good joke or birthday party fun—loved the ice cream and cake—but I disliked silliness. Why do parents march kids around a row of chairs until the music stops, then make them all sit although there’s one chair missing? Old pictures at a birthday show me wearing a pointy hat and sporting a forced smile. I hated pointy hats.
At Halloween, a costume was required when yelling, “Trick or Treat!” Desperately wanting candy, I discovered that dressing up as Roy Rogers was fun. Complete with cowboy hat, boots, and cap pistols with holsters, I was in my element, wearing the getup year after year until I outgrew it … or maybe it fell apart. Thinking about it, Mom likely tossed it.
In contrast, Kate loved dressing up for Halloween. The more outlandish, the better. When we first moved to Pyleton, she talked me into dressing up for a Halloween party. Love does strange things, which requires a close look at the picture below.
She’s wrapped in a dog food bag and a dog bone hangs from her neck. I’m sporting a “fur” sweater, paws, and puppy dog ears. My nose is painted a shiny black. But what really shows the love is the dog collar around my neck with Kate holding the leash. I’m sporting the same forced smile I had as a kid in costume.
After that lesson in humility, I grew up and began to enjoy the holiday. When we hosted a Soviet diplomat one October, Kate helped her get ready for a Halloween bash in Washington, D.C., then dressed herself as a cat lady for the same party. I reluctantly agreed to go as a tube of toothpaste: Kate cut holes in a white sheet she had painted with the Crest logo, draped it over me, and put a lamp shade on my head as the tube’s cap.
A couple years ago, we traveled to New Jersey to join Han, Tara and our grandchildren for a Star Wars themed trick or treat walk through their suburban neighborhood. Can you guess which one is Kate the Elder and which is me?
We both had a blast, which shows how far I’ve come. I wonder what I’ll be this year? Now that I’m retired, maybe I’ll go as a dentist—scary!
Happy Halloween, Harvest Festival, All Saints Eve … !
I earnestly pray for all those directly affected by the senseless tragedy in Las Vegas. I hope that as a people, we will rise above this evil and unite to promote the common welfare and reach for the potential good that each of us possesses deep within. The brave first responders and the people sacrificially protecting their loved ones have shown us that that is possible.
God Bless You, Carroll James