Yesterday afternoon Cal’s homework was to come up with a word prompt for each letter of the alphabet for something he could tell a short personal story about. His list began like this:
Doctor (telling about NHL)
First time to grandma’s cabin (cow poop)
The next step of the assignment will be to write some of those stories. I can’t wait to read his work.
The other day I realized that the school year is more than half over – how did that happen?!? I was thinking about Cal’s first week of middle school, and the night when he was enraged with me because of the binder I’d bought him: it had been difficult to set up in class, very embarrassing, and nobody else had one like it. He said he just wanted to be “normal.” I fumbled my way through soothing him, trying also to get across why it’s important not to worry too much about being like everyone else. I hope the experience of writing about his life, and hearing his classmates' stories, reinforces for him that it’s ok, more than ok, to be himself. And I hope that he always has people in his life who accept him as he is.
My aunt Doris is one of the people who does that for me. She’s the second from the left in this picture, next to my grandmother Lorene. To her right is my dad, then my uncle John, then my grandfather Bill, my aunt Linda, and my uncle Donald.
Doris met her husband, Roger, because he lived two doors down from her. He saw her coming and going and wanted to meet her; one day he worked up the courage to ask her to go bowling. They got married on February 26, 1961, and moved from Texas to Colorado. Their house sits on what used to be a sunflower field, and in the summer sunflowers still volunteer all over the neighborhood.
It was around the time I started this blog that I really got to know Doris, and by extension, Roger. She used to email me their responses every time I posted something. Now we mostly text. I send her pictures and updates, usually about the boys; she sends me news about my cousins and their kids, and what she and Roger have been up to, and commentary about whatever sporting event they saw that day (“Watched Texas Tech TCU football game in Ft Worth. Both teams needed their try not to suck t-shirts on...”). She’s the only person I hear from every day, aside from my spouse and kids. She has – they have – helped me keep things in perspective as I'm parenting, offering the long view about what matters, and what doesn't.
I took this picture when they came to see us, in 2011, at the beginning of hockey season. I love that they got to see the boys play.
Doris once wrote, when I asked what they were up to, “Roger and I are just being retired. Best part of life, except you're old.” She makes me look forward to being old with Alexi. They grew old inseparably together, traveling and watching sports and spending time with their family, but I always pictured them growing older together.
Roger’s health declined over the past couple of years, and then almost exactly a month ago, he fell and was admitted to the hospital. Although it sounded bad from the day he got there, I tried not to think too much about anything except his getting better. But he never left the hospital. On Monday morning, February 6, Roger passed away, with his family around him.
I hope, when I'm gone, I'll be known for having made Alexi as happy as Roger made Doris; for being as involved in the lives of my children and grandchildren as he was with his. One of the albums I used to listen to when I was Cal's age has a song I've thought about a lot the past couple of days.
I know all your life you wondered
about that step we all take alone –
How far does the spirit travel on the journey?
You must surely be near heaven
and it thrills me to the bone
to know Daddy knows the great unknown.
-- Rick Springfield
I like thinking about Roger knowing that part of the story none of the rest of us knows yet.