It’s Thanksgiving here in the former New Spain Colony of Alta California which used to be claimed by various Native American tribes before those pesky Europeans came and conquered. With everything happening in the news it is a tough day as a nation to settle down and focus on family and friends for a bit. Although Thanksgiving is a national holiday, I give thanks everyday minus the turkey and all the other stuff. The day used to signify that the official Christmas shopping season would begin early on Friday. That particular milestone has disappeared. As a matter of fact, back in early September I went to a Walmart and fake Christmas trees were already on sale. Maybe Baby Jesus was actually born in September. Consumerism trumps family…again and stores will be open for those must-have “bargains” on Thanksgiving Day. There’s news of the Keystone Pipeline which, if built over Sioux lands, screws over the native Americans yet again with another broken US treaty. Welcome to our lands Europeans. Manifest destiny, ain’t it grand? Then, of course, there’s Ferguson… This is my first Thanksgiving since I have been back in the U.S. Last year it was just another work day in the Czech Republic. Only the Americans on staff knew what the day meant. Thanks to Skype I could stay connected with the folks back home. Looking at my country from 7,000 miles away gave me a whole new perspective of the crazy politics, outrageous knee jerk reactions to government, head shaking insane “defacto” statements, conspiracy theories made up by Fox and others and the ton of non-sequiturs that made (still make) no sense even now. I was living in a country although not perfect, had, at least, civilized dialogue over differences without the demagoguery. I was an ex-pat with a unique view of the 50 states. I think not having a TV going 24/7 made a difference. Maybe with the run up ’til Christmas like during Advent, we can shut off the news and only watch a half hour a day. Yeah, that’ll happen…not.
But back to our story this week…It has been almost a month since our grand daughter, Charlotte was born at Adventist Hospital in Portland Oregon of Northwest Passage fame, the first of the three cities of this piece. What a morning of delight! The thrill of being in the birthing room at the hospital with my wife, my daughter, Sarah (of course) and her husband Andy and assorted doctors and nurses. Unlike most events in my life, I actually remember everything about that morning and the profound joy I felt as I watched this new person coming into a shaky new world. She was and still is, beautiful. I remember holding her for the first time and feeling her remarkably soft skin. Her full head of hair was the most striking thing about her. So little, so dependent so lovely. If I had any doubts about coming back to the United States from Eastern Europe they evaporated at that very moment. Of course I should be here, no doubt about it. Earlier in the year when I was debating on coming back to Vsetín and my English classes in the Fall, I had come to the conclusion that I would be back. I’d go home for a month in the summer and return to the CZ in August. The announcement of my daughter’s pregnancy changed all of that. As I had mentioned in an earlier piece, leaving Moravia was bitter and sweet at the same time. Bitter because I was leaving wonderful people and a lifestyle I had come to embrace and sweet because I was coming home to witness a new generation being born and being with family. Leaving was a push pull kind of thing like life. I am just glad I was able to live long enough to see this miracle girl. Three in one lifetime is a bonus, two kids and a grandkid. Leaving Portland was difficult, but I know that one day my grandkid and her family will be neighbors.
Redwood City, California
The day after we returned to Northern California my wife complained of chest pains and a quick trip to emergency and a seemingly clean bill of health brought us back home. On Monday of that first week back, she went to work and did her job complaining a bit about back pain when she got home. I started making dinner and she began to feel faint. So off to the emergency we went. The doctor’s initially thought it may be a virus in her muscles but when she tried to get up, she nearly passed out. So began a long two days of an episode of “House” in the ICU. Diagnoses takes time. It was determined that she had a leaky valve in the right side of her heart and a blockage in one of the arteries. A stint was called for. So she was packed off to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara in an ambulance with lights and sirens going for the 40 minute trip down 101 during rush hour.
Santa Clara, California
Immediately upon arrival she was whisked into surgery for the stint procedure and the insertion of a balloon pump to give her heart a breather while it tried to repair itself. (Who thinks of this stuff?) It was a time of helplessness on my part. Asking her if she wanted anything was about the extent of what I could do with all the IV drips beeping and the balloon pump whirring away. It was only later that the seriousness of the situation was told to us. At best, she was in the premier Kaiser hospital for cardiology and at worse, if she had gone home 12 days ago after the second visit to the ER, I might be writing something quite different today, if at all. It was that bad. After the balloon pump was removed, I asked the doctor if it had a happy face on it. Humor takes strange detours sometimes.
I knew she was getting better when she started to make lists for what to get the kids for Christmas and beginning to organize the December party in our apartment complex. The old self was peaking out from under all those IV lines. So we are home now, taking little steps to build up endurance and beginning to eat healthy stuff. She always did whereas I think a cherry turnover from 7-11 covers all the basic food groups. The irony of it all.
So this Thanksgiving is also sweet with a few bitters thrown in. Sweet for the birth of my granddaughter and bitter for the initial fear of the unknown in the case of my life partner, lover, best friend and wife. It all turned out well and we can only hope for good things in the future. (Knock on wood) I am not so naive as to not be aware of our collective mortality. I know that and it has been in my face for the last month. But as we move forward, whistling past the graveyard we are overjoyed and thankful of the life we have been privileged to witness and to live every day. Happy Thanksgiving 2014.
and so it goes…