I am in the shower, at my parents’ place. I left in such a hurry to get here that I forgot all the essential stuff — shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant — all of it. There hasn’t been time yet to get out and buy replacements, so I’m going to have to use theirs. Through the water running over my face and in my eyes I scan the shower caddy in the corner of the tub looking for shampoo.
Mom’s got some Vo5 that’s supposed to smell like green apples. Pass. There’s another bottle, nearly empty, of some dollar store brand I’ve never heard of, and then, I see it. Body Shop Ginger shampoo. Ah, that’s what I want.
It’s dad’s shampoo. He uses it because of his psoriasis. I remember telling him about it years ago.
I’ve got sensitive skin and an especially sensitive scalp, so I’m kind of picky about the products I use. When I told him about it, I remember, he was dismissive like I was trying to lay some kind of quackery on him. He was like that. You’d tell him about something you liked, or something you’d heard about that was a bit different and he’d say something like: “There’s probably no damn ginger in there. Just a load of bs. I like my _________, thank you.” And then, like with the ginger shampoo, you’d find that he tried it. And liked it. That was dad.
It makes me remember Neil Diamond and his album Hot August Night. I was fifteen or sixteen and was upstairs in my room listening to said album for about the zillionth time. Like most moody teenagers I spent as much time as I could shut up in my room whenever I could get it to myself. With seven brothers and sisters we all had to share a room with a sibling. I shared with my sister who was a year younger than me.
Dad usually gave me grief about whatever I happened to be listening to. He particularly hated Queen, couldn’t stand Joni Mitchell and just generally despised anything that wasn’t country music. And I mean country like Charlie Pride and George Jones. To this day I can’t stand either of them. When The Snakes Crawl at Night. Please!
So, when Dad came pounding on my bedroom door I readied myself for another fight about my music. When I opened the door he surprised me by asking what it was I was listening to. Being all prepared for an argument I didn’t know what to say right away. I guess I just gave him a blank look. This was confusing — he never showed any interest in anything that I liked; I just didn’t know how to react. Then I managed to collect myself and told him who it was and showed him the album. He stood there looking at the pictures of a wild-looking Neil Diamond and reading the liner notes for quite a while. We listened to that amazing record together and I played him a couple of my favourite songs. I really like this, he said. And I felt ridiculously, incredibly happy and proud.
Why am I remembering this now? While I dance around in a shower that refuses to stay one temperature — it either blasts me with cold water or scalds my boobs with hot. I want to scream. My heart hurts. It’s been an exhausting three days since we found out my mother fractured her leg. And that both she and my father are in the hospital.
I’ve come home because he is dying. He has end-stage kidney cancer. The man who was once larger than life, who in turns terrified me, frustrated me and, who, more than anything, I wanted to make proud is small and frail and frightened. He needs me and I’ll be here until he no longer does.
I pour his ginger shampoo into the palm of my hand and as I rub it into my hair begin to cry.
. . . but it was a good night, too. I think I made some new friends, which is always a good thing, and we all did a good thing, which is great.
Foote Field was drenched in rain when we arrived at 3:30 p.m. We unloaded the vehicle, and while I went to park Kyle and Heather got the tents set up. Did I say that I love you two? That was awesome! Ashley, Saranya and I hung around inside waiting to register and drop off our fundraising envelopes. Because we were there so early, this went quickly — about the only thing that did, for a while.
When we joined up with Kyle and Heather and got our living arrangements all sorted out we went to find a cup of coffee or tea to help warm us up, only to find that there was none. This could have made us grumpy, but seeing that the thousand other folks out there on the track with us were in the same predicament, it somehow didn’t seem appropriate to whine too much. So. . .
. . . we went and grabbed a granola bar and a juice from Sturgeon’s hospitality tent and went and set up our Scrabble game. The ‘real’ walking hadn’t started yet, so we figured — what the hey? — at least we were out of the rain (which hadn’t yet turned to snow) and having some fun. We never did finish our game — got too cold and too hungry and had to go searching for something warm.
Though this event didn’t turn out exactly as I had imagined (or, anywhere near what I had imagined, for that matter) it was a wonderful experience, nonetheless. Unbelievable the amount of people who came out in such lousy weather to support such a worthy cause. At no time during the 12 hours we were there on the track, or in the Saville Center, did we hear even one person complaining. The survivor’s parade at the beginning, which kicked the whole night off, was moving and sad and wonderful. All those people in their bright yellow survivor’s t-shirts, walking past us smiling, waving and saying thank you with their eyes — it was inspiring. I only hope I have that sense of grace should anything terrible ever befall me.
After that, we got down to the walking. That’s when it started to snow. Big fluffy snowflakes, being driven by a sharp breeze right into our faces. We just laughed, shrugged our shoulders and marched on. And while we marched, others ran. There were a few people there that I’m sure ran their entire shifts. More than once. In all honesty I have to admit that our team did not walk the entire 12 hours in shifts, but, because we chose to stick together as a group during the walking we figured, in the end, that our collective time had to equal the 12 hours.
It simply was impossible to stay out in the cold and the wet non-stop. Despite the laughs and the jokes and the chatter, eventually we just got so cold we had to go in to pee and get a cup of something warm. (The Starbucks people eventually showed up around 8 o’clock — thank God and insulated plastic coffee urns!) Heather, who NEVER drinks coffee, had two, with cream and sugar. All three of those things can give her deadly migraines, but, seriously, that’s how cold she was. Not to mention hungry. Because. . .
. . . for some reason we couldn’t fathom, there was no food for us walkers until after 8 o’clock, either. Now, that did make us a bit cranky. By the time we’d finished our first shift on the track we were starving, so the pasta, buns, salad and squares they fed us seemed like manna from heaven. In truth it was over-cooked, too salty and just not that good, at all. But, hey, it was better than eating cheese popcorn, Almond Joy bits, KitKat nuggets and gummy bears. (My stomach starts heaving all over again, just thinking about that appetizing combination.) Truly, though, these things were delicious at the time, the five of us sharing them and laughing as we crammed crap down our gullets.
In between stints of walking we’d clamber inside our tent and wrap up in blankets to keep warm and just sit and talk. Or, we’d head inside to use the can, and see what was going on inside. We played bingo, ate more crappy food, drank much too much coffee and laughed a great deal.
I’ve got to send a holler out to Saranya’s parents and her boyfriend Collin and their friend, Lucky. Twice they came to Foote bearing coffee or hot chocolate, and donuts. So nice of them to go out of their way for us. We truly appreciated it. And, Collin and Lucky got to join us for Bingo. Let me just say that Kyle is a mad bingo player! That boy was playing 16 cards! By the end he was frothing at the mouth and hyper-ventilating. And still, he didn’t win a blessed thing!
Then it was back out onto the track, the snow had slowed to a light misty, slushy-type drizzle that coated our glasses and soaked through our hats and hoodies. It was around mid-night by this time, and the temperature had dropped considerably. Our feet, knees, hips and backs were sore. I was beginning to feel like that character from Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman’s story, The Long Walk. The track was dark, and bodies were just shuffling en-mass around it in the wet and the cold, knowing there was a purpose in putting one foot solidly in front of the other, but unsure anymore about continuing to do so. But then, you’d catch a snippet of hushed conversation from a group nearby and you’d remember. Or, one of the signs placed as memorials would catch the corner of your eye and you’d think, this I can do, for those who can’t. And so, on you’d go, round and round.
And then it was 2 o’clock and we decided to try to get some sleep. Kyle and Heather managed to drift off. Ashley, Saranya and I talked and talked and talked. Finally around 3 we quieted down. I drifted off but awoke 1/2 hour later as Saranya was slipping out of the tent. “Can’t sleep,” she mouthed, and went out to continue walking. I drifted off, fitfully, but around quarter past 4 decided enough was enough. I was too uncomfortable trying to sleep comfortably in a folding chair, I was freezing and I thought I might as well get out there and put in another hour. So, I did.
At 5:30 I spied Heather leaving the tent, it took me nearly half way around the track to catch up with her, but when I did, I told her that my hour was up and I needed to pee and get coffee. Off we went into the warmth of the center. There the smell of eggs and sausage greeted us. I had told myself I wasn’t going to eat anything more, but the cold does funny things to your appetite. So, we both chowed down and I drank more coffee, even knowing that I’d be unable to sleep when I finally got home. (I managed a couple of unsettled hours, but finally had to give up. Hence, I’m sitting here blogging.) Ashley, Kyle and Saranya came in about an hour later and we decided that was it. The snow had started again, the wind had picked up and so it was time for us to do the same.
Team Sturgeon wanted to do a last victory lap, but as Ashley said: “The fact that we’re still here, this IS our victory lap.”
So, quietly, we packed up and knocked down. Kyle went and brought my vehicle up, we hailed a golf cart to haul some of our stuff and then we dragged the rest of it across the sodden field to the parking lot. We threw it in as best as we could, said some hurried good-byes and that was the end of our 16 hour marathon called the Relay for Life.
Thanks, everybody, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We did good.
Can you believe it — the 1st of May is here! Unfortunately, because of our geography we don’t have any May flowers, but they’ll be coming, I’m sure.
Lots to be thankful for this weekend:
the sun is shining
my family is safe and healthy
I live in a wonderful country
I live in a warm, comfortable and beautiful (to me) home
I have time to be creative
I can do things to help others
That’s a short list and no where near complete, but it’s what came to mind in the moment.
Moments are precious — so much can happen in one — you can discover love, you can discover faith, you can discover belief in yourself, and you can discover just how fragile all that can be when in a moment your world is turned inside out by tragedy.
At the end of this month I’m going to be walking in a 16 hour event called the Relay for Life. Teams of 10 put 2 people out on a track to walk and then, in relay fashion, walk for sixteen hours in support of cancer research. It’s my first time doing an event like this and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s my little way of honouring and showing love to all the people I’ve known/know whose lives have been affected by cancer. I’m going to post a link here so that anyone who wants to can go online and pledge their support for me. Any donation is welcome — 5 bucks will be greatly appreciated, but if you can donate more you’ll receive a tax receipt for any amount over $25. My personal goal is to raise $1000 — I could sure use some help.
It will only take a moment of your time — and it will help so many.
Follow this link to find my personal Relay for Life page. All the tools you need to contribute are there. You can also find me on Facebook.