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.
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.
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!