A green and white neck brace encompasses Larry’s 171/2 in. neck making him look like a turtle. He does the impression quite well. His large head pokes in and out like a Sesame street character.
His speech is sometimes garbled, but I’ve always had to interpret for Larry whose original language is mumble. The neck brace doesn’t allow for much mobility. Although his neck fusion happened in January, 2010, he continues to wear the brace occasionally to deal with yet another problem: swallowing his tongue.
Yes, I controlled his every move for a month or so. I was the Siren in charge of his destiny. Even if I’m not quite five ft. and he is six-two and-a-half, he cringes at the thought of me driving his 4×4 testosterone laden King cab pickup truck. It has a special button to raise the pedals enabling me to drive. This is good because Larry refuses to add blocks with electrical tape like my dad did when I rode my first tricycle. I have to adjust the side mirrors which I haven’t quite mastered. Scary, since the rear view mirror is useless. He has to submit to my wonderful driving techniques. We had a Fox River Grove policeman as a neighbor who would stop me on the way to school telling me my stops were totally sloppy and what was he going to do, give me a ticket? For some reason, I was always in a hurry.
When we take off, Larry holds his head; otherwise it might fly off and topple to the ground like the headless horseman in a future horror flick. I threaten to push him out in the snow if he complains one more time. I have waited years to get even. This is the man who, while laughing, throws my pillow down the hallway a half a block when I get up at 2 AM. My secret desire has been to exchange weights and heights for at least a week to get sweet revenge.
Every once in awhile, he takes off his neck brace and turns into a frog hopping from one activity to the next. Maybe if I kiss the frog, he’ll turn into a handsome prince. But the doctor’s orders are that he remains a turtle for at least a month.
So now I eat with a turtle
I sleep with a turtle
I drive a turtle around town
If he doesn’t behave, I threaten to turn him into turtle soup. Control over men is what Geoffrey Chaucer has said every woman desires.
Unshaven— retired—Larry is dressed in his usual ragged attire of holey blue jeans and a multi-stained red flannel shirt. He is feverishly pulling weeds in our front yard flower garden while tunes float from his iPod. His newly purchased cell phone is securely fastened to his tattered belt for instant retrieval. Less than a year ago, macho 6’ 2” Larry would not be caught dead with either one of these devices. He mocked the cellular world by taking a dead phone and banging it on the table shouting, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me, now?” But Larry wanted to buy a travel trailer for retirement years to see two of our grown children and grandchildren in Montana, and I would not approve of the purchase unless “I” got my desired wish—a cell phone. The devices are now precious commodities to him. I was given the golden cell phone rule, “Thou shalt not talk on the cell phone while driving.” If I committed such a crime, my punishment would be confinement to the backyard shed for a week with nothing more than bread and water for sustenance.
Life has radically changed over the past year. Now that I am also retired from teaching, I have more time to clean the house and to do the wash properly. Did I say properly? Honestly, I checked his pockets, but missed his precious iPod in his back pocket. To my dismay, it was doing a backstroke on the bottom of the washing machine. It has been secretly drying out in the kitchen drawer for a week now. Do I tell him or continue to lead him to believe the iPod is missing in the cluttered menagerie of the house? I called Best Buy and Circuit City for life support and advice on how to renew sanitized iPods. Their bleak statement was to run while the running was good, or I might be confined to the attic with no food at all.
I reminded myself that it was just a gift from our precious daughter, Julie, and her husband Geoff so they didn’t have to listen to Enya, Elvis and Hank Williams while Grandpa Larry remodeled their 118-year old home in Chicago. They only downloaded 750 songs for him.
Have I heard somewhere that being retired is like returning to those carefree days of yesteryear? What carefree days? Who has them with the economy on the brink of disaster, and bread at $4.00 a loaf? Now that’s a thought; I might not get bread while serving time in the shed.
To the astonishment of us all, the iPod did dry out and works well today.
I peered into the sad eyes of a 25 year old 6’4”man named Bob sitting in a wheelchair. He had a handsome ruddy complexion and a desire to communicate. It wasn’t long before he told me his life story. Five years ago he was in a snowmobile accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. A few years later he lost his mother. I wanted to comfort him like I would my own son. My heart was heavy when he responded fatalistically, “It is what it is.” We talked about medical science and the progress they were making helping people like Bob and we talked about God and his plan for his life. “You know what I miss the most,” he said, “the adrenalin rushes. That’s why I am here at Adaptive Adventures. I was hoping to ski today but the slots are filled.” I put it on my calendar to be there when Bob tried a sit ski for the first time. AdaptiveAdventures provides an opportunity for a handicapped person to down hill ski with an able bodied person. My husband and I love volunteering with them. As fate would have it, Larry was Bob’s teacher. They worked together learning to ski at Wilmot Ski Resort. Just like an able bodied skier, one directional turn can be stronger. But by the end of the day, it all clicked and Bob triumphantly cruised down the hill solo all the way to the lodge with Larry and his good friend following. He was ecstatic about his new accomplishment, and he certainly experienced an adrenalin rush. Bob now has a passion for skiing and other sports offered by Adaptive Adventures. Bob now has hope for a better, more fulfilled life.
The week before, Larry worked with a client named Ted who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force while Larry was merely an E5 in the Marines. This was quite a role reversal for both of them. Larry’s method of teaching was to treat the Vets as though he was their gunnery sergeant. “Turn left he would shout. Make it a harder left turn. Get up and do it again.” Ted, Larry’s client, was a pilot in the Air Force. When he was discharged, he joined the reserves and started working for United Airlines. But during the Iraq war, the Air Force Reserves took him from his job and family to serve where he suffered an injury as a result of a cargo plane crash. Today, he walks hunched over with a cane as a result of being partially paralyzed. But he has a passion for skiing and his dream is to join his lovely wife and child on ski adventures in Colorado.
While Larry worked with Ted, I volunteered with Vince, the gentle bull dog. He was a guerrilla sniper in the 80’s. He talked about his deployments in Grenada, El Salvador and Panama. He vividly recalled a rescue effort of nuns and priests in El Salvador. Sadly, they were all executed before his team of guerrillas arrived. Vince suffered trauma on his final deployment and currently has a rebuilt shoulder and hip. He also suffered a stroke that has limited his movement on the left side. My fellow instructor could understand Vince’s condition; he also suffered a stroke on the same side. As the only able bodied skier, my job was to demonstrate how to ski down the hill and to help Vince stay steady. We took him up on the magic carpet and worked on getting him down the bunny hill which looked like Mt. Everest to him. Vince did fall a couple of times and we wanted him to quit, but quitting was not in Vince’s vocabulary.
Larry and I both have worked very hard in Adaptive Adventures, but the real heroes are those that are overcoming their disabilities with courage and passion.
Why did I choose the subtitle “Band-aids and Screwdrivers”? Geoff, our son-in-law, was helping Larry put away his tools after a hard day working on their recently purchased 118 year old house, and he asked him what he wanted to keep. Larry looked around and said,”Leave just the band-aids and the screwdrivers.” Geoff announced, “There’s a great subtitle for Sue’s ” Life with Larry” blog which was lost in the process of moving from Go Daddy to Word Press. Be patient and I will be redoing this blog from the past to the present. We have so much to share about marriage, family, retirement and living a full life. You’ll be sure to gain a refreshing perspective on life.
The band-aids represents Larry’s many wounds. His grandchildren affectionately call him,”Grandpa Owie”. Larry replies, “I do have a name”. Not only has he had a bicycle and motorcycle accident, but he has broken five ribs and punctured a lung while skiing. His body, like an old car engine, has gone through a complete rehaul. It includes hernia, nose, back, neck, shoulder and knee surgeries. He occasionally sets off the metal detector at O Hare Airport. However, you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. He still rides in the Hilly Hundred Bicycle Ride in Indiana, tears down a black diamond hill in Montana, and teaches skiing at the Wilmot Ski School in Wisconsin.
The screw-driver represents his skill as a carpenter/builder and his occupation as a high-school Industrial Art’s teacher. Currently, Grandpa Owie is using his retirement days to volunteer in organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Bright Hope, Love Thy Neighbor, His Working Volunteers and Faith in Action. As a retired English/Speech teacher, I’m learning how to use power equipment and how to drive a nail before 12 attempts. Larry and I are a team.
Larry loves to laugh and play practical jokes. He scared our son-in-law’s mother by wrapping Geoff’s arm in a catsup covered rag. Bonnie freaked out when Larry asked,”Where’s the nearest hospital.” Geoff is an Urban Planner and construction was a trade he was learning from Grandpa Owie. His mother feared for his life and his limbs.
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The last three nights, it has rained in torrents. Fortunately, the days have been clear. We camped at Devil’s Lake with friends and our sweet little granddaughter, Natalie. At night, the rain pounded on our trailer and all slept through it, but me. During the day, we hiked around Devil’s Lake enjoying the beautiful scenery. Natalie and her friend Mikey looked for quartz stones and collected the gems in their pockets. After a delightful weekend of hiking, swimming and kayaking, we returned home.
It rained again last night, and Larry was busy tying flies in the basement when he said,”Oh no, it’s flooding in here.” So he donned his raincoat and boots and shoveled dirt near the base of our house to stop the onslaught. Now it was 9:30 PM and it was coming down like cats and dogs—–but it didn’t stop Larry. He came in like a drowned rat—-but he got the job done.