Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Three Musketeers

I grew up in Absarokee (above), a small town in the mountains of Montana. My dad and brother still live there and I visit as often as I can. I love the area and still consider it home. Those of you who regularly read my blog have seen pictures of the area. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

For most of my childhood, the town had a population of around 600. Back then you didn’t have to worry about your children getting abducted by a stranger or molested by the next door neighbor. It probably happened elsewhere, but not in my home town. Those were the days.

Mom and dad grew up in the area. Mom, a full blooded Norwegian, was born and raised on Butcher Creek, also known as Lutefisk Valley. She had 7 brothers and sisters; Nora, Helga, Jeanette, Leonard, Nels (Norman), Bjarne and John. My dad’s father was a lineman for Montana Power Company and the family lived at Mystic Lake Power Plant. Dad had four brothers and sisters; Norma, Diane, Buck, and Jack. My dad’s family all moved away, but mom’s stayed in the area.

Butcher Creek, near where mom was born and raised

Near Mystic Lake Power Plant, dad's old stomping grounds

Mom stayed in close contact with her sisters and brothers. They drove her nuts from time to time, but blood was thicker than water and she kept them close. It was great for us kids. Most of the time, especially in the summer, the house was full of family. It was a wonderful way to grow up.

My aunt Jeanette spent as much time with us as she could. Her husband was a mean s.o.b. and anytime she and her sons Danny and Dale could get away from him, they did. My aunt Helga, and her youngest daughter, Kay, also spent quite a bit of time with us. It was great having them around. Life was good, back in the day.

It was inevitable that the cousins would break up into age groups. Mike and Danny were older, so of course they hung out together. They went dirt-biking and hunting. They were entirely too mature to have Kay, Dale and I tag along, so the three of us went off on our own. Those were great times. We spent entire days hiking in the hills above town. We would leave the house in the morning with our lunch and some water. We’d be gone until dinner time. No one thought to worry about us. We were all country kids and knew the ropes. We had forts in those hills and our favorite spring was available to give us water whenever our canteens ran dry. We’d sit in the grove of trees that was home to the spring and talk about anything and everything.

Every spring we’d pitch a big Coleman camp tent in the back yard. Dale, Kay and I camped out every chance we got. It wreaked havoc with mom’s beautiful yard, but she didn’t complain (much). We waited until the first big snow to take it down. It was our club house; the place we hatched great plans and dreamed big dreams.

Sometimes our adventures would take us to the Rosebud River. Our favorite place was an old hydro-electrical plant. It had long since been deserted, but the battered shell of the plant was still there. The road to it was abandoned and decrepit. We risked life and limb climbing down to it, but went there as often as we could, even as teenagers. My mom called us The Three Musketeers. We were proud of that handle.

The abandoned hydro-electric plant where we used to solve the problems of the world

Time passed and life became more complicated. Jobs and families took precedence over our time together, but still we kept in touch. We were there for each other nearly every step of the way. Whenever a significant event occurred in any of our lives, we found ourselves together. A bond had been forged. It evolved and changed over the years, but it was still there, strong as ever. Even though sometimes we went months without seeing each other, when we did get together, it was like we never parted.

Kay’s mom died when she was twelve. It had left her a confused pre-teenage girl with only a disinterested sister and sad, lonely father in the house. Dale and I spent as much time with her as we could. Much later, when her young son died, Dale and I rendered as much aid to her as possible. We were all the family she had. It was a long road to recovery, but she made it back.

When I married and my son was born, both Kay and Dale were there. I still have picture of Dale, with a long beard, kissing my young son. What a precious memory. The day my divorce was final, both Dale and Kay showed up to help me “celebrate”. When my mom was sick, Kay spent dozens of hours watching over her in the hospital, often spending the night when mom needed someone there. When she died, Kay and Dale were nearly as devastated as my dad, son, brother and I were. They were there for our family during that awful time. I will never forget.

Dale’s mom passed away in October of 2005. She woke up one morning and collapsed to the floor. There was nothing anyone could do. She was gone. Their father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years before, so Dale and his brother Danny were left to grieve. Their dad had never been a nice man, but the disease had rendered him completely insufferable. Until their mom died, neither Dan nor Dale knew how dreadful he had become. They were both wracked with guilt over her having to take care of him by herself for so long.

I was in Denver visiting my son when I got the news; I left first thing the next morning to come back to Montana. Aunt Jeanette, like my mom, didn’t want a funeral, so we held a Celebration of Life at my dad’s house. Kay came and spent an entire day helping me get the house ready and after the memorial was over, Dale, Kay and I went into my mom’s room where we lay on the bed and talked and cried for hours.

Fast forward to October 2006; Dale, who hadn’t been feeling well for several weeks, nearly collapsed at work and drove himself to the hospital. After blood tests and emergency procedures it was determined that he had acute leukemia, the worst possible kind. He had 5 days to live if he didn’t start intensive chemo-therapy. After conferring with his brother and his doctors he agreed to the therapy. The treatment helped to a certain extent. His blood count improved and after a month he was able to leave the hospital. He was weak and swollen from the prednisone and other medications they pumped him full of, but his sense of humor was intact. He had us laughing the whole time. However, the news wasn’t good. The cancer was still there. He went back to the hospital for more intensive chemo. To be honest, it knocked him on his ass. He lost all of his hair and it took every ounce of strength he had to walk across the hospital room to go to the restroom. But still, there was that sense of humor. He was always upbeat. He knew he was going to beat this thing.

Now, here it is, March 2007. The only option he has left is a bone marrow transplant. The whole family was screened but none of us were a match. Amazingly a donor has been found. The ETA for the transplant is March 26, in Denver. Cousin Dale asked if Kay and I could get away from our jobs long enough to go with him to Denver for the procedure. Without thinking, we both said, “Yes, of course, when do we leave?”

And that is how it sets as of right now. I haven’t received the itinerary yet, and knowing my cousin, I may not see it until we are on the outskirts of Denver (if I'm lucky). I’m a planner and I can promise you; this concerns me. I like to mapquest things, search for the best possible route to the hospital, the doctor’s offices and the local tavern in case it all gets to be too much and Kay and I have to retreat for a toddy of some sort. But right now the only thing I know is that I leave in the wee hours of the morning, March 14, and meet the cousins at the
Purple Cow Restaurant in Hardin for breakfast. What happens from then on is a mystery. I may be gone two weeks, or a month. I’m assuming it will be awhile, so I’m working long hours to make sure that all of my duties at work are taken care of. I can also work from Denver, so things shouldn't fall too far behind.

After Tuesday the 13th, my blogging and commenting will most likely be sporadic, but I want you all to know that I care and I’ll miss you.

Please keep my cousin in your thoughts and prayers, and know this; the Three Musketeers will persevere. We will fight this thing together and win!

Fear not, my cousin, we are with you, always. All for one...and one for all!


Courtney said...

With Guinness in hand I say, "Sláinte!" (A cheers, or best wishes for your health.)

So glad to hear that Cousin Dale has found a donor and that he has the support of two great relatives/friends. And please send him my best wishes. In difficult times it's hard to find reason to celebrate. I think you can all celebrate each other.

(No, I'm not drunk.)

Carol said...

Oh, Laurie, this is terrible news. Travel safe knowing that you are in my thoughts. You are lucky to have each other and lucky that a donour has been found for Dale. I'll be thinking of all of you and sending heartfelt good wishes to you all.

Laurie said...

Courtney, thank you! I agree, we are going to make this an adventure. We will celebrate every day, no matter what it brings. We will be together and that is what counts. Thank you!

Carol, thank you. We do feel very blessed that a donor has been found. Thanks for your good wishes. I'll miss you...

Anvilcloud said...

What an amazing group of friends. Maybe blood isn't always thicker than water. Warm wishes from here to there.

LauraHinNJ said...

Sorry to hear such grave news, Laurie but I think it means the world that you'll be there.

Blessings to you all and thanks for sharing the beautiful pics and story from your family.

Laurie said...

AC, thank you. Please send healing thoughts this way.

Laura, thank you for the blessings. We are going to do our best to keep his spirits up, though if I know Dale, he'll be the one making jokes.

Homo Escapeons said...

I kept seeing images of Legends of the Fall..I think those panoramic pictures wrapped around your epic tale of generations and made your story come to life.
Those sunny, carefree days of yesteryear become more precious as we get a little older and wiser and finally realise how unbelievably special it is to be young...

before the calamity of adulthood steals every moment and Life itself is completely changed.
What a great story...I wish you and your extended family every ounce of luck in the coming days.
It is wonderful to see that your bond has held firm..and that you treasure it so.
Don't worry about us we'll be here, take good care of yourself.

wd said...

Remember my thoughts/prayers will be with you ... especially during this time ...

(HUGE bear hug) ....b

Mary said...

This was a heartwarming story of your family, Laurie. You are right, things were different within families when we were young - they lived in close proximity and stuck together. Nowadays, families are scattered all over the country and we lose touch, except when something like this happens...

I wish the best for him and also hope you are able to take a sigh of relief now and then when you are away. Stay in touch when you are able.

Laurie said...

HE, well you do know that Legends of the Fall was filmed in Montana :). It's the last best place, in my opinion.

And I truly believe that my cousin will survive this and go on to live a full life. I have to believe it.

Wd, thank you for the prayers and the hug. Hugs back to you.

Mary, I was truly blessed to grow up in a wonderful place with a loving family. It kept us close. And I will be grateful for that for as long as I live.

And I will keep you all posted as best I can.

Cuppa said...

Hugs, thoughts and prayers are coming to you across the miles, and I will continue to send them each day. Hope you can feel them and they warm your heart during this difficult time.

Anonymous said...

Have a safe trip! I'll say an extra prayer on behalf of you and your loved ones.

Dave said...

Have a safe trip. Your cousing Dale sounds like a saint. Humor and a strong sense of life. These are the ingredients needed to overcome life's obstacles. I send prayers out to you and your family. I will do a distant Reiki for your cousin Dale. May you and he receive the energy of the universe and make your journey a little more comfortable.

Thailand Gal said...

Sounds like a wonderful group you have there and you'll get through this. I'll be thinking good thoughts for your cousin. ;)



Laurie said...

Cuppa, thank you so much. I feel very blessed to have friends like you.

Thomas, your prayers are greatly appreciated.

Dave, thank you!

Chani, our goal is to keep him laughing as much as possible. Thank you.

Cathy said...

Laurie - Your concern and love for your cousins - the childhood memories you share - the strong bonds of family - you are all blessed. No matter what lies ahead, this precious connection is a large part of why you are the person you are today. God bless you all and may Dale find the healing he seeks. He's got all the love he needs. Good luck. Take care. (Oh! You'll get to spend time with your son! Yea!)

Bonita said...

Have a safe, happy journey, Laurie, and I'm wishing all the best for Dale and the whole family. You've got a great family there. Enjoy.

Squirl said...

Wow, good luck with the bone marrow transplant. All should be well. I just don't know how much time it takes.

Like you, I'm a planner when it comes to trips. I'll have an atlas out 2 months ahead of time checking routes. I can truly understand how the not knowing could be driving you nuts.

Hang in there, laugh a lot, and know that there are a lot of us out here who care.

Menchie said...

I agree with HE, it IS very Legends of the Fall. I love the place where you live.

You and your cousins are lucky to have each other.

jen said...

oh honey. i am sorry. take good, good care.

you will all be in my thoughts.

Laurie said...

Cathy, that is a bonus, for sure. I will get to spend time with my son and my favorite cousins. Thanks Cathy.

Bonita, I agree, I'm very fortunate. Thank you!

Squirl, I found out today (during a 2.5 hour conversation with Dale) which hospital he will be in! I have mapquested it and the hotel and my son's place too, so I'm doing much better. It's good to hear that I'm not the only one that worries about that kind of thing.

Menchie, I'll take lots of pictures this spring and summer! You can see legends of the spring and summer too :).

Jen, thank you, we will.

Within Without said...

What fantastic pictures to go along with such a heartwarming (sometimes heartbreaking) story.

Sticking together is the only way to go, through thick and thin. All the best, Laurie, for all.

Pam said...

My love and prayers are with your cousin and with you. So glad a donor was found.

Your story was facinating and the pictures wonderful. Take all that lovely energy along with you.

Laurie said...

WW, we have been through a lot together. I know he will be alright. Nothing else is acceptible. Thank you.

Pam, thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos.

threecollie said...

I hope all goes well.... those are amazing photos. You have a real talent with that camera.

Homo Escapeons said...

The town scenes for Legends were supposed to be filmed here in Whateverpeg.
Unfortunately the Hysterical (Historical) Society wouldn't allow the film company to replace the existing sticks (trees) with 'better' trees in our Exchange District! DUH!